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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for June, 2019

Book Printing: Disc Binding, a New Bindery Option

Monday, June 24th, 2019

In commercial printing, I’m almost never surprised by new technologies, whether these involve closed-loop sensors that use computer feedback on a press to keep color accurate, or new printing technologies such as the ink transfer method called Nanography. I’m always excited by these things. But in post-press finishing and binding equipment, I’m more surprised by new technology. Somehow I expect to always see the perfect binding, saddle stitching, velo binding, tape binding, GBC (or plastic comb) binding, post-binding, and plastic coil binding I’ve grown used to over the past 40+ years.

But I’m happy to be wrong.

A friend and colleague sent me an article this week about a new binding technology called disc binding. I have actually seen samples before in stationery stores, but until now I haven’t looked at the new technology closely.

What Is Disc Binding?

If you can picture a disc with an extended rim, like a wheel, that extends beyond the central disc on both sides, you’re well on your way to grasping this concept. Disc binding is similar to the three-ring binding of a notebook, but the rigid wire loop has been replaced by a series of solid discs with extended rims.

To bind a notebook with this new method, you hook pre-punched pages onto the ridge on the disks. The pages, when punched, have holes and little tabs that will grasp the ridge of the discs, which can be applied one by one, every inch or every few inches down the length of the bind edge. Even though this sounds like a lot of work to set up, it is similar to a binder in that you can easily remove pages and reorder them within the notebook.

Presumably, you would then add a cover at both ends of the stack of pages. Just like the interior pages, the covers are also pre-punched with little tabs that grasp the extended ridges of the disks.

If you want to add your own pages, you can buy a notebook hole punch that will match the pre-cut holes on commercially produced pages.

What Are the Benefits?

When I first saw these little books in the stationery store, I could see some benefits. Compared to a three-ring binder (even a small one), a disc bound notebook is slim, compact, and attractive. Clearly the designers wanted to make this an aesthetically appealing product.

You can also fold back the covers, which you cannot do with a three-ring binder. Therefore, writing in a disc bound book takes a lot less space. (Your “footprint” on the desk, if you will, is much smaller.) Of course, you can also do this with a spiral bound book, a Wire-O bound book, or a plastic coil bound book.

Unlike a spiral bound book, however, facing pages of a disc bound book (when laid open, flat on a table) exactly align with one another. If you have any image or text extending from a left-hand to a right-hand page, this can be a benefit. (It’s impossible with a spiral wire book because of the ascending/descending nature of a spiral. Facing pages will always be just slightly out of alignment with one another.)

With traditional mechanical binding methods (which include GBC, plastic coil, Wire-O, spiral, velo, tape binding, and notebook ring binding), you often have size limitations. If, for instance, you have a long print book, the page count may exceed the capacity of the binding method.

Let’s say the book printer tells you your 400+ page print book won’t fit the minimal binding capacity of a plastic coil. In this case, even though the plastic coil is more aesthetically appealing, you may need to move to GBC binding (which is a plastic coiled comb that curls through the holes punched in the collated paper sheets of your book). In my experience, this binding method can cause problems, since pages often come unhooked from a GBC bound print book. It’s also a very cumbersome process to unhook the plastic comb and then add sheets of paper to the print book.

If you’re using the disc binding system, it is much easier to expand the capacity of the rings. You can just replace them (swap out .5” rings with 1.5” rings, for instance). This is easier and more aesthetically appealing, and it allows you to add, remove, or reorder pages when you swap out the rings. So overall, assembling the disc bound books is an easier process than assembling traditional, mechanically bound print books.

Unlike some other mechanical binding methods, disc bound books also lie perfectly flat. This isn’t even true about most perfect-bound books, not to mention print books with mechanical bindings, like post binding, tape binding, and velo binding (all of which grip the pages with enough pressure to limit your ability to open the book so the pages lie flat). With disc binding, you can easily lay your book flat on the table, making writing in it a breeze.

Another benefit is the variety of cover materials, including textured, leather, and poly. Presumably, since the process is easy and the styles are standardized, you can swap out these covers at will.

Is It Ready for Primetime?

As with all new technology, from Barry Landa’s Nanography to the science behind the HP Indigo press (light years ahead of its cousin, the photocopier), things take time to become useful.

Currently disc binding does not come in all sizes. I’ve seen reference to 5.5” x 8.5” and 8.5” x 11” formats. In contrast, you can make a spiral bound book almost any size you want. Then again, three-ring notebooks also only come in standard sizes. But unlike three-ring binders, disc binding is based on adding a new ring every inch or every few inches based on the length of the book’s spine.

It seems to me that you would have a lot more flexibility with this overall concept than with the three-ring binder model. After all, the rings in a ring binder are attached to a metal strip running down the book’s interior spine. This has to be a fixed length. In contrast, with disc binding you can add more or fewer discs as needed (based on spine length), and there’s no need for the fixed-length “metal” (as the mechanism holding the binder rings in a three-ring binder is called).

Another problem is that disc bound books have no spine on which to print a book title. Now this doesn’t need to be a problem. After all, only a few of the mechanical bindings I have mentioned have spines. These include the three-ring binder (onto which you can screen print a title) and GBC binding (plastic comb binding), which also provides a screen-printable spine. In contrast, Wire-O, spiral wire, velo-binding, tape binding, and plastic coil binding do not have printable spines.

Final Thoughts

I realize that disc bound books, at the present moment, are high-design novelties you can buy one at a time at stationery stores. That’s their current purpose: a one-off product. That said, I personally look at the technology as a book printer might and ask how these can be used for long runs of print books.

In my experience, mechanical binding has always been the choice for short-run products (prior to the advent of digital commercial printing and short-run binding). For instance, a corporation hosting a seminar might produce 100 bound reports or workbooks for an event, and the technology of choice might be GBC binding.

For longer runs, mechanical binding has never been quite as efficient (i.e., it costs more per unit) because mechanical binding is usually labor intensive (i.e., it requires a lot of hand work). It also does not look as crisp and professional as the automated bindery methods (such as perfect binding).

That said, I can envision a seminar leader passing out disc bound workbooks. Since they’re so futuristic in design, this would even reflect well on the company brand. In fact, I can see disc binding potentially replacing many of the other mechanical bindings due to its ease of use.

When it comes to competition with long-run automated binding, such as perfect binding and saddle stitching, I don’t think this technology is ready for prime time yet. However, I could be wrong. All it would take would be a robotic assembly system that could add all the binding discs to a book at the same time. And that is within the realm of possibility.

Book Printing: A Cover and Page Design Analysis

Monday, June 17th, 2019

A consulting client of mine is a print book designer. She does work for government organizations like the World Bank and NATO. About five times a year, when she hits a snag in her book design, she brings me in to offer design suggestions. Having been a book designer myself at one point as well as an art director–and now working with my fiancee doing art therapy with the autistic–I can offer my consulting client (and long-time friend) a unique point of view.

My client’s strengths include her ability to balance simple page geometry (crisp, sparse design) with intriguing font usage, ample white space, and integrated color schemes. Keep in mind that the content of the print books is often rather dry, focusing on economic and social conditions in countries across the globe. So an approachable design that promotes readability is a major asset. This my client does well, and periodically I help.

The New Book Cover Design

In this instance, the print book addresses the ecology of a small African country, Malawi. My client sent me a PDF draft of her page design, including the cover and all interior text pages. She requested my design feedback since she felt the overall look could be improved.

To start with the cover, the design was based on a central photo of several people seated in a small boat. A man standing in the rear of the boat guided a long paddle back and forth to move the boat forward. Above this cover photo, my client had typeset the title of the book in an informal font that looked hand-drawn, and had then (for contrast) typeset the subhead in an austere, sans serif typeface.

One of the elements of the design that I felt worked well was the color scheme. This she had taken from the colors within the cover photo, the browns and greens and mustard color of the foliage behind the boat in the water. All together, these colors evoked an earthiness that was also reflected in the informal headline type. My client used a yellowish brown and then a dark brown (to emphasize words) in the coloration of the headline type, and then switched the placement of these two colors in the subhead (using the yellowish brown this time for emphasis).

What she achieved was the following. By using hues sampled from the photo to add color to the head and subhead, she unified the cover design. The type and photo shared a color scheme, providing a sense of balance and unity to the cover. For contrast, the bright green of some of the foliage in the photo stood out against the reds and browns and yellows (in both the type and photo). This is because green is the complement of the predominantly brownish red of the dark headline type. And because complementary colors are opposite one another on the color wheel, each of these hues will intensify the other when they are placed in close proximity.

In addition, the blue of the water was aesthetically pleasing next to the green of some of the foliage. (This is because green includes blue and yellow hues, so the two of them together create a sense of unity.) At the bottom right of the cover, my client placed the logos for the organization, which include bright blue elements. (These also fit nicely with the blue water and the green foliage.)

Moreover, the image of the boat on the water, the earth tones of the foliage beside the river in the photo, and the informal typeface for the headline all work together to create a natural, relaxed feel to the cover. Not only does this work on an aesthetic level, but it also makes what would otherwise be a dry textbook appear more inviting.

Inside the Print Book

My client then continued the color scheme of the cover within the book’s interior, using the yellowish brown and the dark brown in the heads, subheads, and callouts of the text. This unified the design of the cover and the text, particularly since my client also brought the casual cover headline type and sparse sans serif subhead type of the cover into the design of the print book’s interior.

To make the interior text approachable, my client used the sans serif typeface from the cover as the main typeface for the text. She created a page grid comprising either one or two columns (slightly offset toward the center of the book, leaving a larger scholar’s margin to the outside of the book pages). Within this scholar’s margin, my client placed the folios (page numbers) reversed out of what appeared to be a horizontal stroke of yellowish brown paint (with jagged edges like a brush stroke) in the same color she had used on the cover. And under any large heads at the top of the page (section headlines, for instance) she placed a rule made in the same fashion (like a swoosh of paint). The distressed and reversed type of the folios and the horizontal rule at the top of the page added to the approachable, informal feel of the print book while unifying the design of the interior pages and the cover layout.

As noted before, my client is very good at simple page geometry. She groups all related elements into simple geometric shapes to make their relationship immediately clear. In this case, my client did this by setting type in justified columns, in the sans serif type noted above, and with generous leading (extra space between lines of type). She also included generous amounts of white space around the columns of type (this allows the eye to rest periodically; it also helps the reader’s eye group the columns of type together visually and cognitively as being related).

As I now look at a string of my client’s book pages along the left panel of my computer screen, with the large book page in the adjoining window of the PDF page image, I can identify everything in the approximately 1” x 2” thumbnail images. By color, relative size, and placement in the generous surrounding white space, I can see what is a headline, a subhead, an initial capital letter, a run-in subhead, and text copy. Because the images are so small, I can’t even read the largest headlines, but I can identify the purpose of each chunk of type and each color. That is good design. Why? Because it leads the reader’s eye through each page. The reader never has to wonder what to read next.

And because the overall “look” of the cover is echoed throughout the text of the book, there is a sense of unity. The reader can be carried onward, from the cover to the front matter to all interior text pages of this print book.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Although I have read many books about book design, and design in general, what has taught me the most about the craft of design is actually looking at printed samples I like and learning to articulate why I like them. I would encourage you to do the same. Keep a file of brochures, books, and posters, or any other commercially printed items that appeal to you.

Then look at the typefaces, color usage, page layout grids, and paper choices, and think about how these were chosen to give a sense of visual unity to the printed piece.

Then consider the use of white space. White space is anything that is not subject matter (not images or type). Nevertheless, white space is just as important as the subject matter in conveying to the reader what visual elements are related as well as their levels of importance. Ideally, when you look at a print book or brochure, you should be able to identify the hierarchy of importance for all visual elements, even if the printed piece is in a language you don’t read or speak.

The best way to learn this craft is to study the design work of those who are better at it than you. That’s how I learned. In fact, I often look at this client’s design work and say to myself, “I wish I had done that.” She’s that good.

Book Printing: Considerations for Perfect Bound Books

Monday, June 10th, 2019

A print brokering client of mine is a husband-and-wife publishing team. Each year they give me titles of poetry and fiction books to bid on, along with readers’ galleys for each new print book. The galleys are perfect-bound, 5.5” x 8.5” print books, and the final books have French flaps, deckle edge text paper (faux deckle edge, actually), press scores, and lay-flat soft-touch film laminate. In other words, the first set of books are for my client’s readers to review and critique, and the second set of the same titles are salable print books with superior production values (all the bells and whistles that set print books apart from their digital cousins).

The reason I bring this up is that I just bid out three sets of these books, and a number of issues arose that you might find interesting as either a print book designer or a print buyer.

The Trim Size and Page Count of the Books

Based on specs I had not yet adequately updated, I bid out the final books and the galleys with the same trim size: 5.5” x 8.5”. When the bids on the final books came back, the printer had changed the trim size to 5.75” x 8.5”.

This is not unusual. It just means that one has to read closely and match the specs of one’s project to the specs the printer provides in his estimate. Seeing the discrepancy, I questioned the sales rep, and he said the book had to be 5.75” x 8.5” due to the deckle edge.

To begin with, a true deckle edge was created (actually as a flaw) on the oldest paper-making frames. These feathered edges were often trimmed flush. Later, certain paper-making machines simulated this feathered effect.

In my client’s case, the deckle edge is really a rough-front face trim. That is, the outer side of the pages (the long dimension parallel to the spine) is uneven (some pages longer, some pages shorter), a quality achieved (as I understand it from several printers) by turning off (or adjusting) the trimming knife that chops all pages flush. When I was growing up in the ’60s, most of my family’s hard cover books had this uneven face trim. It added to the tactile quality of the pages, and I found that it actually made grasping the pages a little easier. For my client, it just adds to the overall feel of the perfect bound print book as a quality product that readers will want to hold.

The point of this is twofold. When you’re specifying the trim size for a book, discuss with your printer the following issues:

  1. the most efficient size (that will fit his particular press equipment)
  2. and the physical requirements of the binding process (in this case, to ensure that the folded French flaps cover the rough-front trim, and to ensure the accuracy of the rough front trim)

In my client’s case, there were also changes in the page count. For one book, my client specified 100 pages; the printer bid on 104 pages. For another, my client specified 250 pages; the printer bid on 256 pages. In each case the printer changed the page count to the nearest number either divisible by 32 pages (ideally), 16 pages, or 8 pages, but not 4 pages. This was to ensure a fit (compatible press signatures) with his particular press equipment. The ideal was a 32-page signature (for example 256 pages = eight 32-page signatures). In your own print buying, remember to discuss this early with your printer.

The French Flaps

French flaps are part of a book’s cover. They extend 3.5” (more or less, depending on the book design) beyond the face trim of the book and then fold back part of the way over the blank (or printed) interior covers (front and back) of a book. They make a paperback book look and feel like it has a dust jacket. These, apparently, are very big in Europe. I think they add a cosmopolitan feel to a book, and since these particular clients of mine publish books of fiction and poetry, the French flaps are ideally suited to the ethos they want to project.

So far, French flaps have worked just fine on the 5.75” x 8.5” format of my client’s print books, but if you decide to incorporate these into your own print book design, discuss the size with your printer to make sure everything works on his printing and finishing equipment.

One additional thing I have found over the years is that for these flaps to fold in and still extend over the face trim of the book, the book must be trimmed twice. That is, the face trim of the book’s text block must be trimmed separately from the covers. If the folded front and back covers with the attached (and folded in) flaps were trimmed at the same time as the text block, the flaps themselves would be chopped off at the fold. Instead, the folded flaps must either be trimmed too short (they must not reach the edge of the text paper) or too long (they must extend over the edge of the text paper).

(If you look at the perfect-bound magazines in the grocery store, you’ll often see some space between the face trim of the magazine and the folded covers. The folded magazine covers with their French flaps–used to add space for an additional fold-out advertisement attached to the cover–often end about a half inch–more or less—short of the the trim of the interior magazine pages.)

The take-away from all of this is to discuss with your printer—early in the process–any French flaps or other cover extensions or modifications.

In the case of my client’s reader’s galleys that precede the final, salable books, the book trim size can actually be a true 5.5” x 8.5”, since the reader’s galleys have no deckle edge and no French flaps.

The Reader’s Galleys

Let’s get back to the reader’s galleys. These are probably even more unusual than a print book these days. When I was in college in the ’70s, I first came upon a reader’s galley at a thrift store. It was taller than a usual book, and it had no pictures, just text. The cover was simple. Later, when I learned to set type and do paste-up (a manual process that has become fully computerized in the last thirty or so years), I would cut up the long rolls of typeset material to paste up into book pages. Presumably, the galleys of this particular time period were taller than usual to allow for fewer book pages to print. After all, the sole purpose of this printed galley was as a final proofing tool. Publishers produced galleys so that authors could see their books typeset and make any final corrections to the text prior to the final book printing run.

(Advance reader’s copies are similar but a little more polished, since they are used for book reviews and marketing purposes.)

In the case of my clients, the 5.5” x 8.5” versions of the books (actually used as both galleys and reader’s copies) without French flaps, hinge scores, soft-touch lamination, or faux deckle edges just give reviewers an extra look at the text for their final suggestions.

In the age of the digital book, what I find interesting is that my client still wants a good number of galley copies prior to the final print run. This year the husband-and-wife publishing team asked for 75 galley copies of each title instead of 50. The reason I think these are popular with my clients’ reviewers is that you can easily write in a physical print book. My clients’ readers can easily annotate the text with all of their suggested corrections and comments.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Consider the small additions that make a print book a joy to hold, those qualities that add to the tactile experience. In my clients’ case it was the faux deckle edge, the French flaps, the press score, and the soft-touch laminate. Remember that holding a book is a physical experience.
  2. Discuss all of these variables with your printer to make sure that you understand the requirements of his press and finishing equipment as well as the cost.
  3. Ask for samples. Nothing speaks to the quality of a printer’s work like a physical sample, and nothing makes it easier to tell a printer how you want your book to look than a sample book with a comparable printing, finishing, or coating effect.

Book Printing: More Thoughts on Paper Choices

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

I received an email today from a reader who had taken issue with a few of my comments on choosing paper for a book project I was brokering. Needless to say, I felt a bit chastened, but I was also very excited to know that people were carefully reading the PIE Blog, and that someone in particular had taken the time to draft a long email.

I write about a huge number of custom printing subjects, ranging from paper characteristics to various printing technologies to graphic design to marketing. I am a student of printing, not an expert. Since everyone has room to learn and grow, I took this as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge.

In that vein, I want to share with you what I had written in the initial PIE Blog article and what this particular reader had presented as an alternate point of view.

Moreover, this is a good opportunity to reiterate that no one knows more than your printer about how to put ink or toner on paper. This particular reader has been in the field for 23 years, working directly with equipment I have only read about and seen in custom printing plant tours. In your own work, as a designer, print buyer, print sales professional, or whatever other aspect of commercial printing you pursue, it is wise to learn from those who actually perform prepress, printing, and finishing operations themselves. They have learned the hard way by making (and correcting) mistakes on the job.

Choosing a Coated Stock

In a prior PIE Blog article I had said, “If you choose a coated stock, choose gloss coated paper for a photo-heavy book and dull coated paper for a text-heavy book that still includes some photos.”

I had written about how light is reflected off a gloss sheet directly back to the reader’s eyes and about how matte or dull stock scatters the reflected light, sending the light rays in different angles rather than directly back to the viewer’s eyes. I had said that this makes photos printed on gloss stock “pop” but tires the reader’s eyes if the book is text heavy.

The reader who wrote to me noted that on his equipment in his shop (mainly Xerox digital presses), a glossier effect can be achieved by printing photos on matte paper rather than on glossy stock. Over the reader’s 23 years’ of experience, he has also used other digital equipment to the same effect. He now specs matte stock whenever possible to ensure the customer’s satisfaction with the photos.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Always ask the printer’s opinion. If your job is a photo-heavy print book, tell the printer you want the photos to pop. In contrast, if you’re worried that your text-heavy print product might tire the reader’s eyes on a certain paper, voice this concern as well. It is often prudent to describe the results you want and then ask the printer how best to achieve them.
  2. Consider the technology in use. When I learned what I believe about gloss and matte stock (for photos vs. text-heavy content), it was the 1980s and 1990s, and most of the work I did (almost all of it) was traditional offset lithography. It would be my best guess that toner-based printing technologies (the ones the PIE Blog reader references with the Xerox printer) may yield different results from offset lithographic presses (regarding making photos “pop” on certain paper). It’s always best to talk with your printer and request printed samples to help you choose the right commercial printing stock for your job.

Choosing a 100# Gloss Coated Stock

The PIE Blog reader noted that he would have steered the customer away from such a heavy, glossy stock for such a long print book. He said it would have made the book heavy and unwieldy. I actually agree.

My own customer was initially wedded to the idea of a gloss coated paper stock, so I provided an estimate on this paper. She had wanted the feel of a coffee-table book, which is why I had initially suggested 100# gloss text. For a gloss coated stock, the PIE Blog reader who wrote to me suggested a 70# or 80# stock rather than a 100# paper, which I do agree would have been adequate.

However, once I had seen the PDF of the print book and had noted that there were only about ten photos scattered across more than 400 pages, I suggested a 60# uncoated text stock.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Again, ask your print provider for his opinion. I tried to give the customer what she wanted. Perhaps I should have been more direct initially with my reservations. Fortunately, over time we changed the printing paper from 100# gloss to 60# offset. Once I understood the content of the print book, it was easier to offer advice on the best paper stock.
  2. So in your own work, consider the content of the book when choosing paper. If you’re producing a coffee-table book of photos, I’d still suggest a matte, dull, or gloss stock (depending on the printing technology). But, as the reader suggests, I’d also consider the length of the book (100# stock is still heavy if the page count of your print book is high).
  3. If you’re unsure of the results, request printed samples on your paper of choice. Or, you can ask for an unprinted paper dummy (a bound, blank book made with your chosen paper stock). The paper merchant will make this for you. Your printer can coordinate this. Requesting a paper dummy is based on the belief that nothing is as good as a physical sample. You’ll know exactly how the book will feel in the reader’s hands. (For example, the reader’s comment that a high-page-count book produced on 100# gloss stock would be unwieldy would be proven to be true with a paper dummy. The book would be very heavy.)

Rebidding the Job to All Printers

The reader who wrote to me said he would have rebid the job to all vendors after having changed the paper specs. He noted that some printers that had been competitive on one paper stock might be either more competitive or less competitive on another. That is, one printer’s prices on 100# gloss text (if the printer’s prices are low relative to the other printers who provided bids) might not be in the same position (low bid) after a change of paper to 60# offset.

I agree with this. In my own case, I was actually only getting a ballpark price at the early stage of production to see how the overall cost might change based on the new paper spec. I had approached maybe four printers, and I knew there would be more rounds of estimates in the future.

Furthermore, I knew that print estimating takes time and effort (unbillable by the printer), so I wanted to minimize my requests for pricing. (I didn’t want to wear out my welcome with multiple printers.) So I chose one (who had been low bid on a number of similar jobs) to get the initial cost of such a dramatic change (from 100# gloss to 60# offset).

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. If you want to do what I did (get an interim price to see if you’re going in the right direction with a major change, whether it be a change in paper, book format, or whatever), start by asking your printer. He may give you a ballpark idea (for instance, maybe a 20-30 percent price hike because the change affects a major element of the price, like paper in a long print book). Or he may choose to defer to the estimator.
  2. That said, once you know what you’re going to do (once you’ve decided on the final paper stock, for instance), it is wise to go back to all the vendors for revised pricing, keeping in mind what the PIE Blog reader said, that different printers may well change the relative order of their overall prices once you make a major change in specifications. This applies to paper, format, post-press operations like die cutting, etc. Don’t just assume the printer with the lowest bid will stay in that position.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that the PIE Blog is always grateful for readers’ comments. If you read something and really like it or really hate it, put your thoughts in an email. We welcome a healthy dialogue. It makes for better articles that are more useful to readers.

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Tabloid, Newsprint, Newspapers
T-shirts: Custom Printed Shirts
Tshirt Screen Printers
Printing Industry Exchange, LLC, P.O. Box 394, Bluffton, SC 29910
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