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Who We Are

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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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

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Book Printing: More Thoughts on Paper Choices

June 3rd, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: More Thoughts on Paper Choices

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.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: More Thoughts on Paper Choices

Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

May 29th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

A client of mine regularly prints decks of small fashion color cards that are bound with a screw and post assembly. They are very much like a PMS swatch book. My client’s clients use these small books to help them choose clothing and make-up that match their complexion. My client reprints this job maybe four times a year, and I have brokered this commercial printing job for almost five years.

So this is a nice little job for my client, the printer, and me (as the custom printing broker).

Just recently my client decided to expand her offerings based on her proprietary color system. She now wants to print color chin cards with little curved notches die cut for the chin. This will essentially place the 8.5” x 11” color swatch sheet (huge in comparison to the original, approximately 1.5” x 3.5” color swatches) up against the subject’s face, where it will be easy to determine whether the color does or does not “work” for make up or clothing.

In each set, there will be 66 colors. On the front of the card, the digital press will print the full-bleed color swatch, and on the back of each card there will be a description and any other information my client wants to add. Unlike my client’s small color swatch book, these 66 sheets will not be bound. They will be loose but collated in a specific order.

Following, here are some of the issues that are arising as the job progresses. I thought they may be object lessons for you if you ever do similar design and custom printing work.

How to Spec Loose Pages

My client’s color swatch book is bound with a screw and post assembly. In contrast, the color chin cards are not bound at all. When I listed specifications for the swatch book, I noted that it comprised 118 pages, with 4-color process ink on the front and black-ink-only on the back. In contrast, for the chin cards, this is how I specified the job: 66 leaves (front and back, printed with 4-color process ink on the front and black on the back). The word “leaves” implies one piece of paper, front and back. If you are printing anything like a book that will not be bound, use this language in your spec sheet. You may also want to add the words “loose sheets” and “unbound.” In short, the more precise you are, the more accurate your printer’s estimate will be. In contrast, if you’re specifying the page count for a bound print book, each side of each “leaf” is one page (a right-hand page is called a “recto” and a left-hand page is called a “verso”).

Laminating Both Sides of My Client’s Chin Cards

The chin cards will be much larger than the 1.5” x 3.5” swatch cards. In addition, they may be used in damp environments such as bathrooms. If the back of the tiny color swatch book pages were to get a little damp, it is unlikely that they would curl, even though they are laminated on only one side. After all, when the book is not fanned open, all of the pages press on each other due to the tension of the screw and post binding. In contrast, the 8.5” x 11” chin cards are all loose, large, and potentially not laminated on one side. In spite of my client’s requested specification (to laminate one side), I suggested that she still ask for an additional price to laminate the back of each card. This extra lamination would seal up each individual color card. No moisture would be able to get in to the paper, so even if the collection of 66 pages is used in the bathroom to choose make-up and clothes, there will be no chance of curling. I expect this will cost an additional $250-$300, depending on the overall press run (how many sets of 66 cards she orders).

Producing a Prototype (Sidestepping Potential Problems)

This job will be printed on an HP Indigo. I already have preliminary estimates from three printers. One of them will print one set for $100. Another will print one set for $400. You would think this choice would be a no-brainer.

Nevertheless, I have reminded my client that the printer with the higher price has successfully produced the smaller color swatch books for a number of years (for a reasonable price). This printer’s color accuracy and color consistency from reprint to reprint have been excellent. In contrast, the printer offering the $100 price has had color problems in the past. In addition, there have been bubbles under the lamination (gassing off of the HP liquid toners trapped under the lamination).

You might argue that my client should buy the prototype from the lower-prised vendor and then the final press run from the higher priced vendor (to ensure the quality of the final press run). I would disagree. After all, what good would it be to have an inexpensive prototype that might not match the color of the final copies?

So there are three object lessons here:

  1. Not all color digital presses at all printers produce exactly the same colors. This is even true when you compare output from the same brand of digital press located at different printers.
  2. Therefore, printing a prototype at one printer and then printing final copies of the chin cards at another printer might lead to inconsistent color.
  3. Always start with a hard-copy proof of a job. Screen proofs do not reflect accurate color. There are too many variables, including the commercial printing technology you’re using (digital vs. offset), the ambient light around the monitor on which you are reviewing the screen proofs, etc. Once your printer has produced a color-accurate proof, you can use screen proofs (virtual proofs, PDF proofs) for all subsequent reprints of the job.

Making a Mock Up for the Printer

Finally, my client’s job has a die cut space for her client’s chin. In a case like this, a printer will ask, “Where should the die cut be positioned?” and “How large should it be?”

I suggested that my client use any program she preferred (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator) and draw a mock-up showing exactly where to start the die cut (2.5” from the top of one long side), and how wide (6” in diameter) and how deep (2.5”) it should be. This will be invaluable to the printer. It will leave nothing to the imagination.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. It always helps to have a physical mock up. It leaves nothing to the imagination. Also, when you’re making the mock up, sometimes issues will arise that you hadn’t thought of before. For instance, if my client makes a physical mock-up of a chin card and it feels flimsy at that particular size, then she can adjust the paper specification (avoiding being disappointed with the final print job). (In my client’s case, we increased the paper weight from 12pt–which was the thickness of the swatch book cards–to 14pt. In addition, laminating both sides of each sheet will make her printed pages feel thicker.)
  2. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. The cheapest printer may not do the best work. Also, shifting from one printer to another for different components of a job might result in inconsistent color (particularly if some components of the job are printed digitally and others are printed via offset lithography). Usually you get what you pay for.
  3. Consider the ambient conditions in which your printed product will be used. My client’s chin cards are not unlike a menu. Both are used in damp conditions (the first with water, the second with food). Moisture can cause single-sided laminates to curl (think about print book covers you’ve seen). Paper is like a sponge, so consider sealing it up entirely by laminating both sides of certain print projects.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

May 21st, 2019

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

As with anything else, sooner or later you have to pay the bill for the commercial printing services you have purchased. Since printing involves both services and materials, there are certain established rules for payment as well as preferences among certain vendors. In your own print buying work, what is reasonable?

An Example

As a custom printing broker, I regularly negotiate payment terms for my clients with the printers I frequent. Most payment agreements are similar, but some are very different.

Net-30 is a common example—payment within 30 days. Some printers offer a discount for payment before the 30-day limit. (This would be for a credit account rather than a cash account, which is why payment can occur after the completed job has been shipped rather than before it leaves the printer’s plant.)

And here are a few other examples of negotiation terms (these terms, in contrast to those above, would be for non-credit accounts, which is why payment must be completed before the printer ships the job):

  1. 25 percent, 25 percent, 25 percent, and the final 25 percent after viewing samples but prior to shipping
  2. 1/3, 1/3, and a final 1/3 payment at specific points in the manufacturing process, prior to shipping
  3. 50 percent before the printer starts the job and the final 50 percent before the printer ships the job

Establishing Credit

One of the services printers have offered my clients is the ability to pay up to a certain amount of time after delivery of the printed products (i.e., the printers I work with bill the clients directly). I will start with this option because it is the most convenient for most printing clients.

Although it is much easier once negotiated, this option requires a credit check. Some of my clients (particularly individual freelancers and small publishers, or even self-publishers) have chosen to forgo the credit check and just pay by Visa or electronic transfer of funds. (If they pay by Visa, they usually need to pay the 3 percent service fee levied on vendors by credit card companies.)

In contrast to the small publishers and self-publishers, most of my clients in large organizations operate on credit terms, and in some cases if they pay quickly they get a discount. Paying early, particularly for multiple jobs over a length of time, will also give these clients more clout with the printers. That is, the printers have more of an incentive to keep prices low to ensure repeat work, and to quickly correct any problems if a job goes south. After all, nothing beats a customer who keeps coming back with more work and keeps paying on time or early.

If you’re an art director at a large for-profit or non-profit organization, and you plan to do a lot of work with a particular vendor, you might want to look into this.

Alternatives to Credit

One of my clients always arranges for an electronic transfer of funds from his bank to the printer before the printer starts his job. In fact, a prior printer of his required 110 percent payment prior to the onset of the job. Is this reasonable?

To answer this question, consider first that a commercial printing supplier has to do a lot of work before sending the finished product to the client. This is a labor- and materials-intensive field. A lot of people need to get paid for everything from prepress work to binding to carton packing. Plus there’s the cost of shipping. But beyond all of this, a printer has to buy paper (and other supplies that will go into the manufacturing of the client’s project). If, for instance, the project is a long-run print book, the printer’s cost for paper might be sizable, and he might have to pay for this up front.

To get back to my client, the book printer required prepayment of 110 percent of the estimate to cover any overage. That is, a printer is usually allowed to bill for up to 10 percent more copies than you order (this is often negotiable). Printers produce more copies than needed to allow for spoilage in subsequent operations. That is, if they printed text blocks for exactly 1,000 books (of a 1,000-copy print run), and then 50 books were damaged in the bindery operations (spoilage), the total number of copies they could deliver could be fewer than requested. In most cases, if you read the small print of a commercial printing contract, you will see that there is a range (called overage and underage) that the printer can deliver and bill for. Industry standard is 10 percent over or under the requested press run.

So in my client’s case, he was paying 110 percent in advance to cover any possible overage as well as to prepay for the paper and for all printing and binding operations.

Now the printer in question could not arbitrarily overcharge, of course. At the end of the process, sometimes my client had a credit in his account. He could then have the printer send him the funds or keep them on account for the next print run.

Cash Customers Pay Before the Ship Date

In most cases, with most of my clients, who at the moment are micro-businesses and therefore are paying cash (rather than going through a credit check to “secure terms”), the printers (many of which I frequent for various jobs) all require a certain amount of money before any work starts and then the balance of payment, including freight, before any boxes of print books (or whatever printed product) leave the printing plant. This is the norm. My clients understand this and abide by it.

But Some Printers Don’t Work This Way

I work with another printer that just bills my clients. This is unusual. But it’s the printer’s choice. This vendor just takes my word that the client will pay. That said, this is a mom-and-pop operation, a very small commercial printing establishment. Presumably, they are willing to take the risk of nonpayment from time to time to bring in the business.

As you see, everything is negotiable.

Paying Earnest Money

Over the past several years I have been frequenting two book printers, one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast of the United States. Recently, both have gotten very busy. Their schedules have tightened up and their lead times have lengthened. During the same period I have brought in three titles from a small publisher. Based on price and the quality of prior jobs produced by these two printers, I have asked my clients to accept the longer than usual schedules. I have also asked that they sign contracts early in the process and even put up “earnest money” in the form of deposits on the three print books.

Is this reasonable? They think so. I think so. Some would say absolutely not; just go elsewhere. My approach, and the sales rep’s approach at this particular vendor, is that earnest money makes a job “real.” These three jobs can be put in the printer’s schedule early, and the printer will have an incentive to do a good job on time.

Keep in mind that this is not the first job for this printer. I have done a lot of work with this particular vendor, so I was able to pose this as an option and get both the printer and my client to agree. What makes this so important in this particular case is that my client’s (the small publisher’s) print book distributor will reject the book outright if the printer delivers copies even a day late. The schedule is firm and non-negotiable. In this case I think it’s reasonable to “sweeten the pot,” to give the printer the incentive to provide the best possible work within the schedule, when so many other customers have strained this printer’s capacity in the near term.

Others may disagree.

The Takeaway

Paying for a print job is probably one of the least glamorous or creative aspects of the job, along with perhaps arranging shipping terms. However, nothing gets done unless both the printer and the client are happy. So, in your own work, it behooves you to think like a business person and to consider your goals and the printer’s incentives to meet those goals.

Here are some further thoughts:

  1. Negotiate only after you have developed a good working relationship. Prior to this, I would just ask about payment terms and options. Everything is negotiable, but it’s easier to successfully negotiate with a long-term business partner than a vendor who has never seen you before—or may never see you again.
  2. This is a good time to ask about allowable overage and underage amounts. Don’t let this slide and be surprised by the extra costs on your final bill.
  3. Consider your goals. If the job deadline has wiggle room (unlike my client’s print books that will be useless if the delivery date slips and the distributor gets the product late), you may want to choose another printer rather than pay a deposit a month or so ahead of the job.
  4. Remember the hidden payments. A 3 percent fee to use your Visa can really add up if the job is an expensive one. An electronic transfer of funds (which is often, if not usually, free) might be a better choice.
  5. Get in the habit of reading the small print in the contract. If your printer doesn’t provide a contract, you may want to ask for one. I personally do a lot of business just based on emails. More often than not I just receive contracts for large book printing jobs for my clients. But I do keep all of the email threads, in which everything is clearly spelled out, from the project specs to the freight costs, from the overage specifications to the schedules. Be safe. Do the same in your own work.

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

Custom Printing: Choosing a Printer for Chin Cards

May 13th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Choosing a Printer for Chin Cards

A commercial printing client of mine has been producing fashion color swatch books for a number of years through various printers with whom I have professional relationships. Recently she has expanded her product offerings beyond these small books (akin to PMS swatch books but for choosing fashion colors and make-up based on one’s complexion). She now wants to produce “chin cards.” These are similar to the color books but much larger (8” x 10” rather than the approximately 1.5” x 3” format of the swatch books).

My client’s chin cards are 14 pt. laminated stock with half-circle die cuts in the center of one 10” side. The goal is to be able to hold them up under the chin of a fashion client. The half-circle die cut allows the cards to be placed that much closer to the person’s face. This makes good sense, since the goal is to match the client’s skin tone and hair color to specific colors for clothing and make up. Unlike my client’s color swatch print books, which are bound with a metal screw-and-post assembly, these will be loose (with no binding at all). There will be 50 colors per set. Each set will just be printed, laminated, die cut, and collated.

Choosing a Printer

My client gave me the specs for this job recently and asked me to find a custom printing supplier. She wanted to know what it would cost to produce one full set (as a prototype with which to sell her concept) and how many copies she could get for $1,000.00.

This is what I learned from two of the three printers I approached. (The third printer’s prices were much higher than the prices of the other two.)

One printer could produce one set as a prototype for $101.00. Actually, this really surprised me, since I knew the die for the chin cut-out should cost about $300.00. I can only assume this printer has a similar die from another job.

The other printer would charge $433.00 for a single copy, more than four times as much as the first printer. To put this in perspective, the third printer, which had been high overall and higher in general on many other jobs, didn’t even bid the single prototype but did estimate a five-set press run (50 copies x five sets) for slightly over $1,000.00.

These were my thoughts in response to this information:

  1. The $101.00 price could be wrong, or, as I mentioned, it could be based on the printer’s already having the metal die. Plus, if the price is in fact wrong (I will probably ask, to avoid surprises), then the revised price may still be much lower than the second printer’s price of $433.00.
  2. Reviewing the pricing for the multiple sets (from all printers) was very instructive. The same printer that offered to produce the prototype for $101.00 could produce 20 sets of 50 chin cards for $1,000.00. In contrast, the printer that would produce the prototype for $433.00 could produce 25 sets of 50 chin cards for $826.00 ($174.00 less than the first custom printing vendor would charge for 20 sets). So this was a good deal. Unfortunately, it also meant that if my client wanted a single prototype and then shortly thereafter wanted a full press run (presuming the chin cards were a hit with her clients), she would be printing one job at one printer’s shop and the follow-up 25 sets at another. That is, to keep costs at the lowest level, this would be the prudent choice.
  3. I didn’t think this would be a deal breaker, however. My client needs “pleasing color,” not “critical color.” This means she will tolerate a little variation. Since both printers have HP Indigo digital presses, there would be a good chance that the initial prototype colors would be very close to the follow-up press runs, even if the two jobs were printed on different digital presses by different printers. I also knew I could make color matching easier for the follow-up printer by handing off the prototype (once it was no longer needed for sales) as a “proof” for the commercial printing supplier to match.
  4. As a side note, to put the pricing in perspective, the third printer would charge over $1,100.00 for ten sets of 50 cards, so their pricing was much higher than that of the other two printers.
  5. I thought about why the low bid (which was actually from a book printer and not a commercial printing supplier) would be so low. Based on the specifications for the job, I assumed that the book printer would have die cutting capabilities on their premises for book production (their bread-and-butter business). I knew that if they had in-house die cutting, this would not eliminate the need for a metal die, but it would keep the prices low and their control over the process (and turn-around time) high.

The next steps are to wait for my client to review the pricing (which I just sent her) and then to share my thoughts, as noted above, and see how she wants to proceed. She may in fact want to have one printer do both components of the job (the prototype and the final press run). We’ll see.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If you are doing a commercial printing job and you have a book printer with whom you’ve developed a close professional relationship, you may want to request a bid even if the job isn’t a print book. You may be surprised by the price, as I was. However, if your commercial printing job is complex, make sure the printer can handle it. Ask for samples.
  2. Even within the realm of commercial printing, not all printers are equally skilled in all kinds of work. Personally, I have a go-to printer whom I approach first if a client of mine is beginning a unique marketing project. After all, this is their bailiwick. None of the other printers I work with know more about this specific realm of printing. I also strongly believe in referrals from printers, if the printer I approach is not equipped to do the specific work I need done. Keep in mind that almost no printers have all equipment.
  3. On that note, think about the specific equipment that will be used for your job. My client’s job needs to be die cut. Many printers do not have this capability in house. If you can find a printer who does, the prices will be lower, and the schedule will be tighter.
  4. If you need critical color, it is usually wise to have the same printer do all components of a job, such as all elements of a marketing campaign. Others may disagree with me. After all, color has become more controllable and consistent over the years. That said, I personally am conservative in my approach. If you do want multiple printers (two or more) to participate in a multi-item print job, then provide a hard-copy proof as a color matching tool.
  5. If your job includes die cutting, keep in mind that if you reprint the job (or a successive year’s update of the job), you can use the same die (if next year’s version will be the same design as this year’s version). Therefore, you can back this price out of the total cost for successive years (although the cost for the actual die cutting will still be an expense, just not the cost for the die itself). And this could be a significant cost savings ($300.00 in the case of the die for my client’s chin cards, as priced by one of the vendors).
  6. Set aside time to do all of this preliminary cost comparison in a measured, thoughtful manner. Don’t rush. You could save yourself a lot of money while still ensuring a quality product.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Choosing a Printer for Chin Cards

Custom Printing: Future Directions in Digital Printing

May 5th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Future Directions in Digital Printing

I read a lot about commercial printing every day. I find it interesting, and it supports my work in print brokering, graphic design, and, of course, my blog writing for PIE. Once in a while I find an article that encapsulates what I’ve been seeing on my own, particularly regarding industry trends.

I found just such an article this week, entitled “Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry,” written by Kuldeep Malhotra, Vice President Sales, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, India Pvt. Ltd. I found it on the www.deccanchronicle.com website on 04/19/19.

Digital Printing Trends

“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry” captures in relatively few words the trajectory of digital commercial printing. This article specifically addresses digital fabric printing, but it applies, I think, to all digital custom printing.

To begin with, Malhotra’s article notes a striking statistic: “The global market for digital printing is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.48% to reach USD 28.85 billion by 2023; digital fabric printing alone is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25%” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”). That is significant growth when you think back several years to articles about the death of print. Without a doubt, custom printing is growing again.

Malhotra’s article highlights the position within the printing arena of newly developed technology (artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and automation), and then goes on to explain how digital printing will benefit from these new technologies.

More specifically, Marhotra identifies five trends in digital custom printing that allow it to produce unique, personalized products quickly and cost-effectively:

  1. “Booming demand for personalization”
  2. “A shift toward sustainable operations”
  3. “User convenience and optimized operations through cloud connectivity”
  4. “Short-run and on-demand execution”
  5. “Elevated print-led brand marketing experiences”
    (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”)

Here is the gist of Malhotra’s findings:

Demand for Personalization

Personalization enhances “customer experience, loyalty, and retention” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”). Customers expect brands to address them directly and to provide a unique, personal experience. In other articles, marketers use the term “unboxing” to describe the experience of opening a package of a particular product. If customers feel valued and understood by a brand that reflects the same values they themselves espouse, these customers reward the brand with their loyalty. They buy the product, or other products, again and again. And marketing wisdom holds that retaining a customer is much easier than acquiring a new one.

So when marketers pair artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and automation with the variable-data nature of digital commercial printing, they can target each printed product to a particular customer in a far more efficient manner than would be possible with traditional analog printing (offset printing, flexography, etc.).

Feeding all of the data gathered through new computer technologies into digital printing processes makes marketing far more efficient (lowering the cost of acquiring new customers) and at the same time fosters “the robust growth of the digital printing industry” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”).

A Shift to Sustainable Operations

Malhotra notes customers’ increasing focus on the sustainability of everything from the manufacturing to the marketing of the products they buy. This is particularly true for millennials, a huge and growing market.

Digital printing uses renewable resources and consumes/produces far less toxic material than traditional analog printing methods. But it goes beyond this. By merging the computer data systems and faculties noted above with digital commercial printing, it is possible to reduce the volume of printing while increasing the effectiveness of each brochure or catalog (for instance). Digital printing based on comprehensive data makes marketing more efficient, and this reduces both emissions and waste. (For example, there’s no obsolescence in printed matter when it can be digitally produced as needed. There’s also only a limited need for storage and warehousing of digitally printed products.)

One area in which this is particularly evident is ink production for digital printing. UV inks are environmentally friendly and cure (dry) instantly under UV light. They are therefore suitable for printing on everything from fabric to plastic (i.e., both porous and non-porous substrates) while retaining their vibrant color. This allows printers to “meet their sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”).

Cloud Connectivity

More and more of the data-acquisition, data-management, and even print production functions have been digitized and have also migrated to cloud computing. This means everything is accessible from most devices, and communication among participants in data management, marketing, and custom printing can be seamless and not based on time or location.

Marketers can update print materials from any computer at any time (even with multiple people collaborating on the same document simultaneously) and then send the jobs seamlessly to press.

This allows printing processes to be automated and to occur around the clock as needed, enhancing work flow efficiency as well as print product quality.

Short-Run, On-Demand Printing

Marketers are finding that they can send fewer print marketing materials to fewer prospective customers while at the same time increasing their response rate. They are marketing more efficiently, spending less (and creating less waste) to make more money. Because of this, customer demand has driven down the average print run. This is also true because marketers are finding it more effective to marry Internet marketing and print marketing, producing cross-media campaigns rather than just print- or Internet-based promotions.

Digital printing is ideally suited to these shorter runs. Since there is only minimal make-ready in digital printing, printers can reduce set-up costs and waste. At the same time, the marketing writers and designers can make last-minute changes far more easily on a digital printing platform, and this makes it possible to send customers the relevant, time-sensitive material they need.

Print-led Brand Marketing Experiences

According to “Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry,” “new-age consumers do not just consume; they tend to rate products or services based on the entire experience, from ownership to usage.” To current and prospective customers, the buying experience is important, and they tell others when they’re happy or displeased with this component of their purchase.

To benefit from this awareness of current consumer behavior, marketers are incorporating AR (augmented reality) into their marketing materials. A consumer can scan a print ad and go to a brand’s Internet site that provides an experience of “virtually” using their products. This technology can work seamlessly with both the immediacy and the personalization capabilities of digital custom printing. And marketers are learning that providing the same brand message across multiple channels (print, Internet, signage, podcasts) both enhances and reinforces the message for potential buyers.

What You Can Learn from This Article

  1. The better you understand how information technology, big data, marketing, consumer behavior, and digital printing work together, the more likely you will be to find your own niche in this expanding, profitable world. This is true whether you are a designer, a print buyer, or a printer.
  2. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to read everything you can get your hands on regarding these individual subjects and the ways they interact.
  3. I personally have found that Internet aggregators (Google has one) provide a broad selection of articles on whatever interests you. Every night Google sends me one group of articles on digital printing and another set on offset printing. Even if you just read the headlines each day, you’ll learn something. And as they say, knowledge is power.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Future Directions in Digital Printing

Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

April 29th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing, Digital Printing, Soft Cover Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

A print brokering client of mine is a husband and wife publishing team. Usually they print one or two new titles a year, mostly books of poetry, fiction, and essays. I’ve written about them in these PIE Blog articles before. They both appreciate the finer points of a physical print book, so all of their projects include French flaps (extensions on the front and back covers that are folded inward toward the inside front and back covers). They also have soft-touch laminated covers (a coating that gives a nice rubberized feel to the matte cover), a press score running parallel to the spine, and faux deckled edges on the text block (actually a “rough front” trim).

This client team appreciates quality.

Another way they show this commitment to quality is to initially print 50 or 75 copies of a “galley” proof of each print book (prior to the final run with the French flaps and such). The galleys go to “readers,” who review the books and make suggestions, which can then be incorporated into the final print books.

The Pricing (and Then the Revised Pricing) for the Print Books

Just recently, I requested pricing for 75 copies of each book and provided this to my clients as a benchmark prior to the actual design and layout of the books. Keep in mind that these are 5.5” x 8.5” format, perfect bound books: relatively standard, with standard 70# offset text paper inside and 12pt. covers. The text blocks are black ink only without bleeds. The covers are 4-color process with bleeds.

After I provided my clients with their pricing for the three galley books, their book designers (a different designer for the text and the covers) produced the book art files. In all three cases, the page counts increased significantly (upwards of 100 pages in one instance), and the press runs dropped from 75 readers’ copies to 50 readers’ copies.

I collected this new information, revised the specification sheets, and went back to the book printer’s sales rep for revised estimates. When the prices arrived, the sales rep and I were both surprised by how much the prices had jumped. In fact, the unit costs were almost double those of the first estimate.

Why Did the Prices Go Up So Much?

After the initial shock, this is what I did. I took one of the three book estimates and analyzed the pricing. I multiplied the initial press run (75 copies) by the number of pages (256 pages) and came up with 19,200 pages total. Then I multiplied the revised press run (50 copies) by the the revised page count (382 pages) and came up with almost the same number of pages (19,100 total book pages printed).

This was a bit of a happy accident, because it showed that even though the book was much longer, the total amount of digital press work needed would be about the same. Almost exactly, actually.

Then I compared the initial price ($462.00) to the revised price ($727.00), and determined that the first estimate for 75 copies would cost $.024 per page while the revised price based on the lower press run and higher page count would be $.038 per page.

At this point I asked the sales rep to have his estimating department explain the discrepancy (to his credit, the sales rep had initially called me and offered to do this). We agreed that we wanted to know whether the pricing was accurate (or a mistake). And, if it was accurate, why was it so much more than the initial bid? All of this would occur before I went back to my client with the revised pricing.

Possible Answers

Here are some possible reasons that the increased cost per page might not be either an accident or an unreasonable charge:

  1. Due to the short press run, these three books will be printed digitally, as opposed to by offset lithography. This is true even though the text block of the example discussed above (one of three books) is almost 400 pages. In spite of this book length, the press run is only 50 copies for initial reader review.
  2. Offset commercial printing requires a huge amount of make-ready: that is, preparatory work to get the printing, binding, and any other operations in print book manufacturing ready. For each process, the make-ready precedes the actual run. It contributes to the overall cost, but since offset printing runs are usually very long (perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 copies or more rather than 50 copies), this larger amount of money attributable to make-ready can be spread across the 5,000; 10,000; or even 100,000 copies of the press run. In fact, the longer the run, the less each copy costs, and the less impact the make-ready charges have on the cost of each print book.
  3. In contrast to offset printing, digital printing has relatively little make-ready. But it still has some. The prepress operators and pressmen still have to set up each individual step in the process: everything from producing the digital proofs (if they are printed on an inkjet or laser device) to printing the actual run of pages to all binding, trimming, and packing operations.
  4. This make-ready expense is increased if multiple finishing operations are necessary (anything that follows putting ink or toner on paper). In addition, there is the spoilage that occurs during these extra steps. For instance, after the pages have been printed, the books need to be perfect bound. And to complete all manufacturing processes with a total run of exactly 50 books, more text blocks and covers must be produced to allow for spoilage (in this case, books damaged during the perfect binding process). The same potential for spoilage exists during all printing and finishing operations, and addressing this inevitability (by initially starting with enough copies to accommodate the loss) drives up the overall print book manufacturing cost.
  5. In my client’s case, the page count for each of the three print book titles went up, but the press runs dropped from 75 copies to 50 copies. What this means is that the cost of make-ready (time spent setting up all pre-press, press, and post press operations) and spoilage (books damaged during production) is above and beyond the cost of the actual 50-copy press run (referred to as “make-ready” vs. “press run” on some estimates).
  6. In my client’s case, this cost of preparation or make-ready will now be spread over 50 books, whereas this cost initially (on the first book production estimate) was to be spread over 75 books. When you compare this process to a 10,000 copy press run (or more) of an offset printed book, you can see that a much greater portion of the make-ready cost gets allocated to the unit cost of each of the 50 copies (produced digitally) vs. each of the 5,000; 10,000; or 100,000 offset-printed copies.
  7. This is a hypothesis (albeit a legitimate, potential reason for the increased cost). Plus, the books will be significantly longer than initially expected.
  8. That said, the only way to know for sure is to have all three revised estimates re-checked, which is what the print sales rep has offered to do.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. The initial human response to something like this is disbelief and possibly anger. But that’s not productive, so if this happens to you, just ask for a check of all specs and pricing and an explanation of the increased unit cost. After all, your printer is a business partner, not an adversary.
  2. The more additional operations you must do (prepare files in prepress; print the job; fold, trim, and bind the job; etc.), the more money will go into make-ready. If you need die cutting as well, or foil stamping, this make-ready portion of the job will increase even more.
  3. The more steps in the process, the more spoilage will occur (and the more copies will be needed to compensate for this spoilage). Some processes, like perfect binding, may also cause more spoilage than others.
  4. When in doubt, ask your printer to break down your cost by “make-ready” and “cost per run.”
  5. Without printing more copies than you actually need, requesting a higher (vs. lower) print run will reduce the cost per unit of the make-ready portion of the total expense.

Posted in Book Printing, Digital Printing, Soft Cover Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

Book Printing: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

April 22nd, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

A print brokering client came to me recently with a book project. She wants to print 300 or 500 initial copies of her 432-page, 6” X 9”, perfect bound book (potentially with our without such high production values as French flaps and deckle edges on the text pages). She plans to follow this initial press run with a print on demand contract through one of the online POD (print on demand) vendors.

The Paper Specifications for My Client’s Print Book

My client specifically requested 100# gloss text for the interior of the book. I suggested a 12pt cover (rather than a thinner option of 10pt). I noted that with or without the French flaps (an extended cover folded in on the back and front of the book, making the perfect-bound book appear to have a dust cover), the overall feel of the cover paper would be more substantial at 12pt. I said this heavier cover stock would be consistent with the heft of the text block (at 432 pages, as noted above).

So I sent the specifications to six book printers.

The vendors that offered digital printing all limited the paper choices, and some sent me an email restricting these paper choices to just an uncoated 80# cover stock and 50# or 60# uncoated text stock. Based on my knowledge of commercial printing, I believe the printers did so to keep prices down (fewer paper choices allow print suppliers to buy only a few kinds of paper in bulk, at a lower rate, while avoiding specialty stocks that would require costly minimum purchases).

In addition, based on notations on one of the estimates from one book printer (a reference to inkjet compatibility), it seems that paper choices are limited in some cases to ensure that the printer’s digital printing technology will be effective on the specific paper chosen for the job.

So, to summarize, paper limitations seem to reflect two things: the economy of scale in paper purchasing and the desire to choose paper that readily accepts either toner or inkjet inks.

In spite of these paper limitations, two of the printers agreed to bid the text of the job on coated paper: an 80# gloss text, closer to what my client had specified. This drove up the overall price by just under $1,000.00, even for the short press run (300 or 500 copies). Granted, the text was long at 432 pages, so the paper usage was substantial, but still nowhere near as high as for a 1,000-copy run one printer required to move the book from digital technology to offset printing.

One of the vendors who was willing to include an option for 80# coated text came in with exceptionally attractive pricing. So I asked him if he would produce the text blocks digitally, and then print covers with French flaps on an offset press, and marry the digital texts to the offset covers. He said he could not do this because the two printing plants (one digital, one offset, owned by the same printer) were nowhere near each other geographically.

So, in this case I learned that limits on hybrid book printing (marrying offset and digital printing technology), at least in the case of larger book printers, may be based solely on logistics. Since it’s cheaper to separate a large digital press installation from a large offset installation, marrying the output from each may be impossible (or at least financially imprudent).

To complicate matters, once the printers were already in the process of bidding on the print book, my client offered a description of the text. All text ink would be black, but, in addition, there would only be a handful of photos.

This last specification got me thinking. Why had my client specifically requested 100# coated text for the interior of the book? What was the purpose? So I asked. She thought it made for a classier looking book.

In response, I explained the reasons for selecting coated text paper. I said coated stock was ideal for a 4-color text, because the ink would sit on the surface coating of the press sheet rather than seeping into the paper fibers. Especially for 4-color images in the text, this would be essential. Gloss text is good for making photos “pop” (i.e., to appear as crisp as possible), while dull coated text would be better for printed words and other line art. A dull coating is kinder on the eyes than a gloss coating, minimizing reader eye fatigue.

The long and short of it was that my client agreed to a 60# white opaque text sheet. This will bring down the cost somewhat, and it will be thick enough (when compared to 50# white opaque paper) to minimize show-through of the photos. (This is the unwanted ability to see the photos on one side of a page through the back side of the same page.)

The one thing I should probably add at this point is that I did not immediately contact all of the printers and request adjusted estimates. Instead, I will compare all bids on 80# coated text. Then I will choose a few of the estimates I like (maybe two) and request updated estimates on 60# white opaque text paper. The initial bids on 80# coated text will provide a relative price comparison of all of the vendors. Then, by shifting one or two vendors’ bids to 60#, I can bring the price down a little. Any other approach would create chaos in the printers’ estimating departments.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

This project is still in flux, but here are a few rules of thumb you can use in your own print buying or design work as you narrow down the specifications for a book project:

  1. Consider an uncoated text sheet for a book that is text-heavy. You will save money, and your readers will probably be equally happy. I personally consider coated text sheets to be more appropriate for full color book interiors or photo-heavy texts.
  2. If your print book has a 4-color interior, or a lot of large photos, consider a coated stock. Ink has better “hold out” on coated paper. That is, the ink sits up on the surface coating rather than seeping into the uncoated paper fibers of an uncoated stock (which dulls down the look of the images). 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.
  3. Consider the weight and opacity of a commercial printing paper. A 60# white opaque press sheet is less transparent (less chance of show-through with photos) than a 50# white opaque sheet, and opaque paper in general is less transparent than offset text paper.
  4. Don’t assume an uncoated paper will always be cheaper than a coated one. I have found some premium uncoated papers that are more expensive than lower quality coated sheets. Be safe. Ask your printer.
  5. Start at 10pt (thickness) for a cover stock. For a weightier paper, choose 12pt. These are usually specified as C1S and C2S. The former means there is coating on one side, while the latter means there is coating on two sides. If you’re only printing on the outside covers, consider a C1S sheet. But if you’re printing on the inside covers, too, make sure you specify a C2S sheet. Otherwise the ink will look different on the inside and outside covers (because ink sits on top of the surface of a coated press sheet but seeps into the fibers of an uncoated press sheet).
  6. Some printers will specify cover stocks in pounds rather than points (80# cover rather than 10pt, for instance). I’d encourage you to stick to 80# and 100# cover stock, but, to be safe, ask for samples. You can even request a paper dummy, which is a bound, blank paper book created at your chosen page count with the text stock and cover stock of your choice. (Your printer can have the paper merchant make one for free.) It helps to get a sense of exactly what the book will feel like in your reader’s hands.
  7. Make all of your decisions based on what you see and feel with your hands (printed samples or paper dummies), because it’s all too easy to make a mistake if you only look at the specifications (paper weight, finish, opacity, coating, caliper or thickness, surface formation, brightness, whiteness, etc.). These specs are useful, but they ignore the fact that reading a print book is a physical, tactile experience.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

Book Printing: Paper Prices Can Be a Killer–What to Do

April 15th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Paper Prices Can Be a Killer–What to Do

A book printing client of mine is producing 300 copies of a long print book. At the moment it is 428 pages, 6” x 9”, perfect bound with a 12pt cover and 60# white offset text paper.

Initially my client had asked for 100# gloss coated text stock, so I had the book printer price this paper. However, when I saw that the book was text-heavy with no screens or solids and only ten halftones, I made a suggestion to my client.

Choosing Paper

I said that gloss text stock is better for photo-heavy books. The coating reflects a lot of light directly back into the viewer’s eyes, and even though this makes photos seem crisper and more dramatic, it does tire the eyes. In contrast, a matte or dull coated stock diffuses the light it reflects (sends it back to the reader’s eyes in a more random way).

Photos on dull or matte stock are less dramatic, but the paper coating is easier one the eyes. I noted that the subject of the book (by this time I had seen the text and the cover) was medical in nature and seemed to be directed toward middle aged or older readers. And the eyes of such people (including my own eyes) are less flexible and more prone to tiring. (Remember, once you tire your reader’s eyes, they’re no longer reading your book.)

Moreover, since I noticed that the content of the book was scholarly (i.e., more traditional in content), and since there were only ten photos, I said the book might be fine on an uncoated paper stock. Having champagne tastes, I suggested 60# Finch Opaque. I did this for the following reasons:

  1. 50# stock would be too thin and would make it likely that the reader would see the photos on the back of a page while reading the front of the page. This is called “show-through,” and it can be distracting. Thin paper is less opaque; thicker paper is more opaque. I thought 60# (the standard) would be best since 70# uncoated text stock would make the 428-page book thicker than necessary.
  2. I chose opaque paper to minimize show-through with the photos, just in case.
  3. I chose Finch (followed by Husky, Lynx, and Cougar) because I liked the bright blue-whiteness of these papers. In contrast to lower-quality, dingy-white sheets, the best blue-white sheets (to me) seem more dramatic. They tend to enliven the look of the print book page.
  4. I told my client that the alternative might be a 70# matte coated sheet but that this might have more chance of show-through than the uncoated text stock. The matte coated paper also would make the book look more like a magazine and less like a scholarly textbook (in my own opinion).
  5. In addition, I said the Finch Opaque might cost a little more than the gloss coated or matte coated paper stock. I told my client that sometimes a premium uncoated paper will cost more than a lower-quality coated stock.

Oops: A Dramatic Cost Difference

Boy was I surprised. The revised pricing came back $500.00 more than the initial $2,200.00 bid for 300 print books. Ouch. I told my client, and she was not happy either. Here’s what I learned from the printer:

  1. Even though I thought the price might go up a bit, I had actually chosen a superior paper, which even for 300 books would still incur a surcharge since it was a special order item.
  2. Premium sheets (known as #1 press sheets) are brighter than #2, #3, or #4 stock, and this drives up the price. Presumably, the initial bid from this printer on 100# gloss text stock included a lower quality (i.e., lower brightness) of paper.
  3. An opaque sheet can be pricier than just an offset paper because it has been treated to make it more opaque (less transparent). This is good for minimizing visibility of anything printed on the back of a page when you’re reading the front of the page. However, it costs more.
  4. Specifying a paper by name tends to cost more. If I had asked for a 60# white offset “house” sheet (or even a house opaque sheet), the price increase might not have been so dramatic. A “house sheet” is something a printer buys a lot of, so it tends to cost less (i.e., the pricing reflects the economy of scale).

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Fortunately, by having the book printer compute a cost for 60# white offset (generic house brand) I brought the price of the overall job back down to the initial $2,200.00 for 300 copies. So the client was happy.

Here are some thoughts I had as I recovered from this pricing shock.

  1. In your own work, specify paper qualities rather than brands, or at least tell the printer you would be open to paper substitutions to keep the price down.
  2. If there are photos, screens, solid ink coverage, or anything else that might be visible through the paper when you’re reading the other side of a page, ask about the opacity of the paper.
  3. Ask about the brightness and whiteness of a particular paper. Brightness is the amount of light it reflects; whiteness is the purity of the light it reflects. That is, you can have a blue-white or yellow-white paper. The blue-white is often called by such names as “bright white” or “solar white.” Yellow-white is often called “cream” or “natural.” Yellow-white paper can make people in photos look jaundiced when compared to the same images on a blue-white stock.
  4. Brightness is expressed in such terms as “premium” or “number 1 sheet,” in contrast to a #2, #3, or #4 groundwood sheet.
  5. That said, choose paper that’s appropriate for the job. A #4 sheet isn’t a bad paper stock. It’s just appropriate for a certain kind of catalog or magazine but not for high-end marketing materials.
  6. Ask about a “house sheet.” If your printer buys a truckload (or a train car load) of a particular paper, and if it’s appropriate for your particular job, why not share in his discount. It will save you money you can later use for a nice premium sheet for your annual report.
  7. Depend on your printer’s experience and knowledge base. Ask lots of questions.
  8. Always request samples. In fact, it helps to see not only blank samples of the paper you’ll be using but also printed samples. This will let you see how photos, text, area screens, and solid blocks of color will look.
  9. Once you have the printed samples, look at them under sunlight, incandescent light, CFL, LED, and/or fluorescent light (or as many of the above as possible). Each kind of light has a different “temperature.” (This is the technical term for its color, as expressed in degrees Kelvin. For instance, 5000 degrees Kelvin is daylight.) And each kind of light will make the color of the paper, and the text and images printed on the paper, look slightly different. (This is because many printing inks are transparent, and therefore the ink color is affected by the paper on which it is printed.) It’s best to know this before you commit to buying paper and printing the job.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Paper Prices Can Be a Killer–What to Do

Book Printing: Initial Thoughts on POD Book Printing

April 8th, 2019

Posted in Printing On Demand | Comments Off on Book Printing: Initial Thoughts on POD Book Printing

I’ve always been somewhat wary of on-demand online book printing because I’m a commercial printing broker. I work with brick-and-mortar custom printing suppliers, and on-demand printers are my competition. (That’s my disclosure for the sake of fairness.) That said, a client of mine came to me this week wanting to find an online vendor that could produce copies of her new 432-page perfect-bound print book as orders came in. But first, she wanted to have me find a brick-and-mortar printer to produce 300 or 500 initial copies of her 6” x 9” print book.

My Client’s Enhanced Book Specs

In my research on printing on demand (POD) in the past, I had found that a number of digital vendors offered limited options for paper weight and coatings. Some even limited the trim size of the books (their length and width) to a handful of standard formats.

These limits did not surprise me. My thought was that the online vendors had limited the number of choices to keep prices down. For instance, if a printer offers only 50# and 60# offset text for the body of a book and 80# cover stock for the perfect-bound cover, he can ostensibly buy these in bulk and keep the cost to the customer low. After all, small quantities of specialty papers cost more. In some cases, printers even must buy a relatively large minimum order of a non-standard paper stock. If a customer doesn’t use all of the paper, either he/she must pay for the unused portion or the printer must do so. So the limits make sense.

In the case of my customer, however, the client wanted the same high production values that my other, brick-and-mortar-printing customers request. (For instance, one of my clients is a husband and wife publishing team. This couple always requests French flaps, luxury matte film laminate, deckle edges on the face trim of the text, and a press score on the print books their small publishing house sells. My current customer wanted the same high production values.)

What I Learned from the Book Printers I Work With

When I approached three book printers I have worked with for the past 30 years, this is what I learned:

  1. Even with the long, 432-page book length, one book printer would have to price the book digitally (not offset) for both 300 and 500 copies. This printer reminded me that their minimum offset printing order is 1,000 copies (no fewer). They could produce the books via digital technology, but, if they took the job, the French flaps and deckle edge would not be available, and the choices for text and cover paper stock would be limited (the basis weight and surface coating).
  2. In addition, unlike the online, on-demand print shops, this brick-and-mortar printer could not do the storage and fulfillment. My client would need to take delivery of the 300 or 500 print books and send them out to clients herself. Then, once the initial press run had been exhausted, she would need to take the new customer orders herself and purchase new short digital press runs as her new clients ordered books. So, basically, this book printer could not match the online, on-demand printing model.
  3. Another book printer could produce the books as I wanted (French flaps and such), but they could not store and fulfill the book orders because my client only had one title (i.e., one master book of which copies could be reprinted and sold). That is, she was too small a client.
  4. Still another book printer made what I thought was an excellent suggestion. Her partner could have his print shop produce the initial print run in the following way. The text of the 300 or 500 books could be produced digitally, since the press run was comparatively short. He could then produce the covers with the French flaps as an offset print job. Then he could marry the offset printed covers and digitally printed text blocks. This would yield a 300- or 500-copy initial press run. It would have all the upper-level production values, and then when the book went on to be a Print on Demand (POD) title, the covers could be produced without French flaps and luxury matte laminate, and the text blocks could be produced digitally on 50# text stock. In other words, the books would be produced in a two-tier manner: one with more bells and whistles, one with fewer bells and whistles.
  5. This same printer had also developed a lasting business relationship with an online, on-demand print vendor. My client and I were both pleased, since this particular printer understood better than either of us the nuances of digital, on-demand printing and could therefore effectively coordinate the whole on-demand printing process.

Thoughts and Questions This Printer Posed to Us

This printer, whom I knew and trusted, included the following items in her list of questions (her items, mine, and my client’s):

  1. Editing/proofreading
  2. Design (cover and text)
  3. Printing
  4. Storage
  5. Fulfillment
  6. Marketing

These are discrete steps along the way. Either the client can do them or the on-demand printer can do them. All of this must be negotiated. Moreover, what the on-demand printer charges (and how much of the cover sale price goes back to the client) is affected by which of these processes are done and by whom.

The printer I spoke with also said that, for on-demand printing, the books could be paperback or hard cover with a printed cover or dust jacket and with very limited text paper options. This is why this printer liked the two-tier approach (one 300- or 500-copy premium press run and then the lower-production-value print-on-demand run).

Based on my client’s further questions, this particular printer addressed such issues as marketing/advertising/promotion, minimum orders, percentage of sales returned to the author (and on what schedule), and extent of reach the on-demand printer can offer (such as global reach, access to so many retail outlets, and so forth).

A Very Specialized Niche

So this is a very specialized niche, albeit a growing one. I found a number of such companies listed online, included IngramSpark (which apparently is related to LightningSource), Zazzle, and Amazon’s CreateSpace. I know very little about any of these, but I would encourage you—if you are thinking of producing an online, on-demand print book, to research all of them.

Also, and most importantly, ask for printed samples. Make sure you will like the final printed product. Look at the photos. Are they crisp, clear, with good detail in the highlights and shadows? Also check the evenness of solid areas of color printing. (If your book is primarily black text on a page rather than 4-color process, you should be fine. However, if your job is more complex and printed in color on coated paper, it is especially important to see samples produced on the same paper that will be used for your book.)

Discuss with the on-demand printer what parts of the process you will handle and what parts of the process the book printer will handle. How will this affect the percentage of the list price that you get to keep?

And above all else, make sure you retain the rights to the book. If you decide to print elsewhere (a future press run, perhaps), do you have the final say and ultimate control? Or have you compromised your publishing rights in any way?

This list of options, processes, and questions is only a starting point. Research on-demand printing yourself online, and try to find other publishers who have self published through online, on-demand printers. They may have suggestions you will find valuable.

Posted in Printing On Demand | Comments Off on Book Printing: Initial Thoughts on POD Book Printing

Custom Printing: Future Directions for Digital Printing

April 2nd, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

I read an interesting article today, sort of a State of the Union address but for digital printing rather than politics.

The article was entitled “10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019.” Written by Barbara A. Pellow, this article was printed online on 02/15/19 on www.piworld.com under the heading “Digital Success.”

“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019” comprises a number of assessments by three luminaries in the printing world: Marco Boer, vice president of IT Strategies at Green Harbor Publications, Jim Hamilton, publisher at Green Harbor Publications, and the author of the article, Barbara Pellow. The venue for this discussion was a Printing Impressions webinar.

(First of all, I have been reading Printing Impressions since I was an art director back in the early 1990s. I consider it a major source of commercial printing industry information. Much of what I now know about custom printing I learned from reading this magazine.)

So when I found this article and saw that it addressed future trends for digital commercial printing, I was excited.

What I Learned

Here are the ten considerations put forth by “10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019” and some of my thoughts in response:

    From Marco Boer

  1. “Skill Acquisition.” This implies the opposite of a tight labor market. Printing professionals are older than the average worker. That is, in all industries, according to Boer, the average age is 42, but in commercial printing the average age is 48. This means these printing professionals are approaching retirement age, when they will leave the workforce. Since commercial printing (whether digital, offset, flexographic, or any other technology) is highly technical, and since successful workers must have a deep understanding of a number of disciplines, it is essential that print service providers seek out individuals with a broad knowledge base. If they don’t, they will be caught short. From the point of view of the workers, this bodes well for job availability. Presumably, jobs are out there for knowledgeable, productive workers. And, yet, Boer also mentions automation. However, given the broad knowledge requirements in the field, I think well-trained individuals will still be in high demand.
  2. “Customer Demands Are Shifting.” Boer notes that it’s not enough to offer the lowest price and highest quality in digital printing. Print service providers who want to thrive must “provide customers with high value add with ultra-efficiency” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). As I interpret this statement, providers need to help clients achieve their business goals (strategic and financial) in addition to just putting ink on paper. (This might involve helping clients coordinate marketing collateral with an online presence as well as printed signage for a convention, in order to help the client present a unified brand image across multiple chanels.)
  3. “Look at Page Growth Opportunities.” Boer notes that “Digital print versus conventional print still represents a very small percentage of the overall market. While there has been some traction with digital print in transactional print, direct mail, marketing collateral, books, and specialty wide-format graphics, the movement to customization and micro-runs will drive even greater activity in catalogs, magazines, and all forms of packaging” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). To me, it’s very encouraging that digital printing of both periodicals and packaging has room to grow. This bodes well for print service providers and workers, and it implies that magazines and catalogs are not dead.
  4. From Jim Hamilton

  5. “Wide-Format.” Hamilton encourages print service providers to tie large format graphics, such as trade show graphics, into jobs they’re already printing for clients, such as brochures. Helping tie multiple printing products together in a unified campaign is a “value add,” to quote Boer (from #2 above). Hamilton notes that due to the “faster speeds, affordability, and convenience” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”) of the technology, the time is ripe.
  6. “Digital Packaging.” Hamilton notes that “digital printing is the next frontier for packaging production, and brands and package printers/converters are capitalizing on its efficiency, speed-to-market, and customization/personalization advantages” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). What this means is that brands can produce much smaller press runs (no need for the huge carton-printing press runs required to offset print and then laminate liners to corrugated fluting). Smaller press runs can accommodate product runs for small artisan breweries, for instance. They also allow for direct communication with customers, since the digital packaging can be targeted to smaller groups or even individuals. Digital packaging eliminates the need for generic promotion that might be irrelevant (or irritating) to the customer.
  7. “Enhancing Print.” Hamilton addresses finishing in this point of consideration. Print service providers can add value to digital printing (monochrome and color) by including such services as “cutting/trimming, stapling/stitching, folding, binding, foil stamping, diecutting, embossing, laminating, spot and flood gloss” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). In addition, Hamilton suggests widening the color gamut from traditional 4-color process ink by adding additional colors and focusing more on short print runs and personalization.
  8. From Barbara Pellow

  9. Pellow reiterates the importance of focusing marketing materials on individuals and not on a generic market, particularly since digital printing makes this cost effective. Moreover, she sees the importance of print service providers’ helping clients tie together a number of marketing channels to make sure the message is consistent, understandable, and relevant to potential customers.
  10. “All Channels On.” Pellow thinks print service providers should “support customers in moving seamlessly across all channels” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). In this particular instance, Pellow, I think, is articulating the need to not only bring together print and digital communication, but also to do this in an aesthetically striking and persuasive manner. Repetition reinforces a buying decision. If a customer sees a brand message in a print brochure, and then in an online email advertisement (and if the information is relevant to her/him), there is a greater chance that she/he will respond to the brand message. Helping tie the brand messages together across multiple channels is a useful service printers can offer.
  11. “Print Drives Digital.” Pellow makes it clear that print is not going away. Print and digital enhance one another in promoting sales growth. They are not enemies. In fact, print products are very effective in driving customers to digital media to further the conversation with a brand. Therefore, Pellow notes that providers should “understand how to integrate print with Augmented Reality, QR codes, NFC tags, and social and mobile channels” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”).
  12. Finally, all three speakers in the webinar agree that improving the quality and efficiency of operations should be an essential, full-time goal of all print service providers. This includes “understanding your cost base [and] getting the workflow right” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”).

What You Can Learn from This Article

  1. This article is very heartening. It means there are jobs out there for knowledgeable and skilled designers, printers, and pre-press personnel, as well as print sales professionals. The field is growing.
  2. Always focus on improving your skills and knowledge base. This will keep you relevant.
  3. Help clients tie together multiple sales channels in ways that target the end customer directly, providing useful (not generic) information.
  4. Focus not on putting ink on paper but on helping clients with their overall marketing, production, and sales goals.

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

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