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Archive for the ‘Brochure Printing’ Category

Grow Your Business Through Brochure Printing

Monday, October 5th, 2020

Do you need to get brochures and other marketing materials printed for your company? This will always be a long term requirement and so the contract must be struck with a highly reputed printing company. The company that provides brochure printing services must always give importance to quality. At the same time, it must be abreast with the latest in printing trends. Such print companies will continue to survive because print still appeals to a larger audience as compared to digital marketing.

Current printing trends

  • Technology- Manyprinting companies have incorporated modern technologies such as IoT-based web-to-print software to meet the needs of new generation media houses
  • Clarity of design- Too many images in the design is a big no-no. Instead, companies are focusing to have clearer and uncluttered designs on their printed pages.
  • Print buyers get free services –Certain print coordinating agencies help clients find the best online printing companies in the world. Such agencies share print quotes with their clients, who invariably do not have to pay to receive these quotes. Instead, the print companies pay the coordinators a meager fee to be enrolled with them.
  • Use of Artificial Intelligence-A few reputed companies have already entered the field of Al and are using the same technology for print. AI helps schedule printing tasks, with more possibilities in the next few years.
  • Customer security– Most businesses such as educational institutes, media houses, hospitals, and banks invest a tremendous amount of money in ID identification, to get printed reports. This will ensure that no employee gets access to confidential information. With its success, many businesses are using it within the printing business sector.

Over the years, many advances have taken place in the digital marketing space, which often makes it seem as though printed materials are not in use. Instead, the reverse is actually true; the demand for print has definitely gone down but still forms the main means of existence for many companies. Therefore, it only makes sense to use both brochure printing and digital marketing methods to create successful brand promotion strategies in today’s times.

Elements of a brochure

  • Color– You will normally get more than one color in the form of options for your company’s brochure. Full color print will always help attract your readers by the dozen. In addition, including high quality pictures inside will create a positive image of your company.
  • Type of paper– If you select a printing paper with a coating and slightly heavy weight, the final product will have a well finished look
  • Folds– Three fold options are available for brochure design- half fold (single fold with 4 pages), tri fold (left and right flaps to display promotional message), and Z fold (folds like an accordion)
  • Design and layout types– Based on design and layout, you can have:
    1. Self mailers
    2. Tri fold
    3. Catalogs
    4. 4 page brochures

In terms of sizes, there are two main print sizes for brochures in the market- 11”X7”, and 8.5”X11”. Complete the basic requests mentioned here for print companies to place bids on your job.

Brochure Printing: Producing a Gatefold Brochure

Monday, May 14th, 2018

A print brokering client of mine who is a graphic designer has a new client, a local restaurateur. That means I, too, have a new client. The first commercial printing job I won from this new client is an eight-page gatefold brochure selling the food and service for the restaurant. I’m excited.

The Brochures

This particular client of mine, the designer, is very easy to work with, in part because she is so complete in her descriptions of her jobs. To begin the bidding process she sent me not only written specs for the job but also a PDF version of an early draft of the brochure showing color and type placement, bleeds, and folding.

The job is 16” x 6” flat, folded to 4” x 6” final size, with the two outer flaps folding in to the center. This is what makes it a gatefold, just as the name implies. After some discussion with the commercial printing vendor, my client and I decided to put the job on a white, uncoated press sheet (Accent Opaque). Specifically, we chose this stock over a fancier paper to ensure that, with the complexity of the folds, the paper would not be likely to crack (as might have been the case with an eggshell or felt finish paper stock).

We decided the paper should be 100# cover stock to ensure that the folded brochure will be thick enough to meet the US Postal Service regulations for automation, to make sure the overall heft of the folded brochure will project a serious and opulent tone for the restaurant client, and yet to make sure the weight of the folded piece will not unduly raise the cost of postage.

My client requested pricing for 1,000; 1,500; and 2,000 brochures.

What makes her mock-up so useful is that it shows the amount and placement of process color on her client’s gatefold brochure. You can see in the PDF sample that the interior of the brochure will have a white background, a row of small color photos across the bottom of the four panels, text, and scattered headlines reversed out of slanted strips of color. The two outside, or rear-facing, panels of the brochure will be light brown, with all brochure cover copy and the back mailing panel printed in black type with black line art. Finally, the fold-in panels of the gatefold are light blue with black surprinted text and line art reversed to white.

With this unfolded visual representation of the brochure as a PDF, I could visualize the final printed and folded brochure, and the offset printer could do the same.

Considerations for the Print Job

I have already mentioned the reasons behind the choice of the paper stock, regarding the physical requirements of the Post Office (size, folding, and placement of the address and other postal information). In your own print design and print buying work, to ensure adherence to postal regulations (i.e., to make sure that the Post Office will mail your job), it is wise to have a business reply mail specialist at your Post Office review a mock-up of your job. He or she can make sure it will be the right size, aspect ratio, and thickness when folded; that the folds will be in the right place to ensure machinability; that the wafer seals or fugitive glue seals will be in the right place; and that there won’t be any surprise surcharges (or worse) due to design or printing problems. It’s always best to get the blessing of the business mail specialist before you print the job.

In addition, it’s always good to get the commercial printing supplier’s feedback regarding the foldability of the paper based on its surface formation in order to avoid any paper cracking.

But there are other things to consider as well.

For instance, the outermost panels fold in and touch in the middle of the brochure. For this to happen smoothly, the two outermost panels must be slightly shorter than the two innermost panels, or they will bump into each other when the brochure is folded. To be safe, in a situation like this, it is always wise to ask the custom printing vendor just how large to make each panel, to make sure the columns of copy fall in the right place (vis-à-vis the folds) and to make sure the folds are also appropriately placed.

Another thing to consider is the benefit of this particular format: the gatefold. In my client’s case, the first thing a recipient of the brochure will see is the gestural, freehand drawing of both the logotype and the restaurant image surprinted on the light brown background of the front cover. This will set a festive and casual tone.

Upon opening the two outer panels, the reader will see the two inner doors of the gatefold, and the light blue will provide a contrast to the outer light brown panels. Most probably the inner light blue will give a lightness to the piece after the more toned-down brown panels, and yet the similarity in style of the freehand drawings (reversed out of the light blue) will show a consistency of design style between the outer panels and the gatefold doors.

Finally, the reader will open up the brochure fully to display the interior. In this case the airy, white background will provide visual relief from the light, full-bleed brown and blue screens. And the slanted presentation of the headlines reversed out of the solids will provide a bouncy, informal tone to the interior, linking it with the exterior of the gatefold brochure.

This treatment of the headlines along with the horizontal line of photos along the base of the interior will provide contrast to the line drawings on the outer panels. But at the same time it will maintain the visual consistency of the brochure through its informal presentation.

With any luck, the reader will come away feeling hungry and ready to eat at this classy, upscale and fun restaurant.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

  1. Carefully plan out the interior and exterior space of a gatefold brochure. Think about the order in which the reader will see each chunk of information (image or text). How will the reader’s eye fall when she or he sees the closed brochure, then when she or he opens the outer panels, then when she or he opens the other panels. Ideally, when the reader reaches the interior of the gatefold brochure, the four innermost panels will be like a wide billboard, offering 6” x 16” of horizontal marketing space (or whatever other dimensions you choose).
  2. Remember that the feel of the paper is important. Think about the appropriateness of coated or uncoated stock, but also think about the physical limitations of the paper. If the felt stock you absolutely adore will crack when folded, choose a more appropriate paper.
  3. Always include the US Post Office in your design decisions. If something is wrong (anything from the folded size, to the placement of the folds, to the aspect ratio, to the placement of the type), your job could be unmailable, or it could incur a surcharge. Find this out and fix it before you print.

Brochure Printing: Pairing Good Page-Design with Soft Paper

Monday, December 14th, 2015

I’ve always been interested in the stock market. It seems that when you identify a successful company, not only the financials and stock price but even the building design and marketing collateral scream quality. I include both Chipotle and Whole Foods Market in this category, probably because they’re local and I eat there. To me they are real, not just numbers on a computer screen.

The Sample Brochure

My fiancee and I stopped by Whole Foods for ice cream and bagels the other day. Whenever we enter Whole Foods, I always take note of the environmental design (colors, lighting, signage), the package design, and the print collateral. I always learn something, because this company clearly understands branding.

In this particular case both my fiancee and I were immediately attracted to a beauty-care product brochure. Here are some of the things I think Whole Foods marketing got absolutely right:


The four-page, 8.5” x 11” brochure was printed on bright-white uncoated stock. My fiancee thought the paper was coated, and it is in fact very smooth, but under a loupe I only see a sheen where the ink has been laid down.

Whole Foods positions itself as both health conscious and environmentally aware. Commercial printing paper choice works a subtle magic on the reader. A bright white sheet reflects back a lot of light and brightens up the colors. At the same time, an uncoated paper both softens the colors printed on its surface and also gives a more approachable “feel” to a design piece. It also suggests lower costs (whether or not this is true) and environmental sensitivity. And it feels less corporate. All of this supports Whole Foods’ stated mission.

Exterior Page Design

Greens and browns, as well as the yellow of sunlight, continue this environmental feel. On the cover of the four-page brochure you see the back of a woman’s head. She has long, curly hair, and she is holding a puff ball, presumably preparing to blow its seeds across the grass so new dandelions will grow in abundance. Behind her head in the top left corner, the sun brightens not only the sky, but also the trees in the background and her abundant curls.

What is exciting about the sunlight and its golden colors is that it seems brighter than anything else on the page. However, if you fold over the interior page to compare the bright white shade of the commercial printing paper to the printed sunlight, you will see that it only appears to be brighter due to its contrast with the surrounding elements on the page.

(That is, nothing can be brighter than the paper white of the press sheet; however, a savvy designer can make the reader see a hot, blinding sun on the cover of this brochure. In fact, if you look at the smaller type in the right-hand corner, as well as the even smaller Whole Foods logo—both reversed to pure white—you’ll see that the sun in the sky and the highlights on the woman’s curly hair are actually darker than the type and therefore only a well-crafted illusion of blinding light.)

Interior Brochure Design

Inside the four-page brochure, the headlines seem to be hand drawn. This makes for an approachable design when paired with products strewn around the two-page spread, some bleeding off the page. Most colors are earth tones, reinforcing the color scheme on the cover, although there are bright greens, oranges, reds, and yellows as well.

The designer has set all body copy in a simple, sans serif typeface, in contiguous columns grouped toward the center of the spread. The products lay casually toward the outside margins, interspersed with sprigs of rosemary, leaves, and botanical flowers to add contrast and continue the natural tone of the piece.

The back page continues the casual design and color scheme, adding a coupon to the mix (a “response vehicle” to facilitate “conversion”). That is, Whole Foods shows the products to be healthy, beauty enhancing, natural, and environmentally friendly through the designer’s choice of color, typefaces, and the design grid, and then makes the initial purchase easy and affordable with the discount.

One thing that puts this particular brochure over the top is its utility. On two of the four panels it educates the reader as well as selling the product. One article provides pointers on how to color your hair, while another gives you a recipe for a hydrating hair mask, including silhouetted photos of each ingredient.

The Verdict

Whole Foods knocks it out of the park with this brochure. Then again, I’m not surprised, since it fits in beautifully with the large format print signage in the store, the lighting and paint color palettes of the interior design, and the product packaging. Clearly the marketing department understands design, sales, psychology, and finance. It’s gratifying just to see this.

The Pocket Folder Brochure: Challenges of Being a Custom Printing Vendor

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

I mentioned in a recent blog post that a long-standing commercial printing client (a designer) had come to me wanting to produce a brochure with a pocket on the inside back cover for sell sheets. We discussed this over the phone today since she had just met with her client (the end-user).

Interestingly enough, my client wants the brochure to be oblong (landscape rather than portrait orientation) since much of the other collateral she has designed for this company has been produced in this format. What this means is a 24” x 9” flat brochure (12” x 9” folded) with either a horizontal or vertical pocket on the inside back cover, and four or eight interior pages.

I had initially directed my client to a pocket folder manufacturer’s website, where she had reviewed page after page of dielines for pocket folders (drawings showing the trim size, folds, and pocket size/placement but with no design: no type and no images). My client had found this useful in collecting her thoughts, and I could look at the drawing she provided and instantly understand what she wanted. It was an ideal way for us to communicate about format.

What About the Pocket?

My client floated the idea of a vertical pocket. She wanted to know what I thought. I said that I liked the idea because it was more unique than a horizontal pocket. However, the sample dieline she showed me had a 4” horizontal pocket, and a same-sized vertical pocket might not adequately cover the 8.5” x 11” inserts (only 4” of the 11”). My concern was that the inserts would then flop around, particularly since my client’s client (the end-user) planned to produce the inserts on the fly using their laser copier (i.e., probably on 50# or 60# uncoated text stock).

Thoughts on the Paper for the Job

At this point my client and I began to discuss paper thickness for the job.

As you can see, our first concern had nothing to do with the graphic design of the pocket folder brochure. Rather we were approaching the job as a physical item to be held in the hand, opened, and closed. We were looking at size, paper thickness, pocket dimensions, all in an attempt to visualize a finished product. The graphic design would come later.

My client noted that she would only want about four to eight pages in the brochure, saddle stitched, with each page in a stepped-down format (i.e., with each page being slightly shorter than the following page).

With all the information she had shared so far, I asked my client if she would consider a thick paper stock for the interior pages (perhaps 100# text if the brochure covers would be 130# cover). I wanted to make sure the brochure didn’t look skimpy. Four to eight pages is a short booklet. Thicker pages would make the brochure look opulent.

Or, as another option she might consider, I proposed making the brochure a self-cover piece. Perhaps the front and back covers plus all stepped-down interior pages could be 120# or 130# cover. My client said she would consider it.

Die Cutting and Embossing

My client asked whether a vertical pocket would require a die. If the pocket was essentially an extension of the back cover, would a die maker need to fabricate a custom die? I said he would, since the glue flaps used to secure the back pocket would be an irregular shape (i.e., would need to be diecut). My client understood this.

She also asked about die cutting a window on the front cover and perhaps even embossing or debossing the company’s logo on the front cover as well. I said all of this could be done. Some printers would create dies for the cutting and other dies for the embossing and and lock them all up in a chase (a frame to keep all the cutting rules together and in position), while others would do the die cutting and embossing steps separately.

The Press Run—Oops!

But here’s the real challenge. My client’s client only wants 100 to 250 copies of the brochure.

This actually opens up a whole new set of options. Let’s assume that the dies will cost about $500 to $1,000, or possibly even more considering the embossing (depending on its complexity, i.e., whether it is “sculptural” or “multi-level”). In a job this small, a huge percentage of the entire cost will be for make-ready for expensive processes, not for the equipment run time, since there will be so few copies.

Granted, this is early in the process. My client and I are just discussing options, requirements and limitations, and general costs. However, I have mentioned the possibility of digitally custom printing and digitally finishing the pocket folder brochure. The technology for digital printing, coating, embossing, and die cutting exists now, so I have started putting out feelers among the printers I work with. Fortunately we have time.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’re printing anything like this (a short-run, high profile piece), consider approaching the job in the following way:

  1. Start very early, and involve your commercial printing vendor from the beginning.
  2. Play with different ideas, considering all options. Don’t limit yourself during the initial brainstorming phase.
  3. Do extensive research. If you have a short run, consider digital custom printing. Digital finishing (laser cutting and such) is now available.
  4. Review samples (check dielines at online pocket folder maufacturers). Also ask your commercial printing supplier for unprinted paper dummies, as well as printed samples, so you can see and feel what the finished job will be like.
  5. Expect to pay a lot. Choose your custom printing vendor for the job based on the quality of his printed samples, his references, any working history you may have with the printing company, and your level of trust for the supplier–not on price alone. In cases like this, you usually get what you pay for.

Considerations for Brochures with Pocket Folders

Monday, July 6th, 2015

A commercial printing client of mine is designing a cross between a brochure and a pocket folder to showcase her client’s business. My client, who is a designer, came to me for suggestions for a piece of marketing collateral that will be a brochure, or short booklet, in the front, but that will have a pocket on the interior back cover into which the end-user can insert multiple 8.5” x 11” single sheets of marketing material.

Physical Considerations for the Pocket Folder Brochure

Overall Size of the Brochure

I encouraged my client to consider a 9” x 12” pocket folder if the inserts that will go in the back brochure pocket will be 8.5” x 11”. This will allow room for comfortably inserting and removing the sell sheets.

Beyond the flat and folded size of the brochure, I asked my client to consider the need for a build for the pocket, the spine of the brochure/booklet, or both. For the brochure, the build would essentially be a spine. It would allow for a build in the pocket, which is essentially an extra piece of printing stock that will hold the pocket open (like a gusset), allowing for the inserting of multiple sell sheets. I have seen 1/4” or larger builds on pockets, but they are more fragile than pockets without builds, so if my client’s client only needs to insert a few printed sheets in the back pocket of the brochure, I’d encourage her to forgo the build. But it is something she has to address in some way.

Once the dimensions of the pocket folder brochure have been determined, it will be prudent to consider the shape of the rear-cover pocket. The pocket can be horizontal, allowing the inserts to be dropped in from above, or it can be vertical, allowing the user to slip in the sell sheets from the side. In either case, the designer can make use of the ability of the pocket to “hide” a portion of the first insert. In fact, the designer could even print an image on the pocket that continues onto the sell sheets.

Materials for the Brochure

For a job like this, I have suggested that my client choose a stock with a thickness of up to 130# cover. This would yield a substantial printed product. It would not feel flimsy. It would also accept lots of opening and closing over time, without the brochure‘s becoming worn or tattered.

Whether she chooses a stock coated on one side or two would depend on the ink coverage. If the ink prints on the exterior covers of the brochure (plus the interior back pocket, which is on the same side of the press sheet as the exterior covers), then a C1S (coated one side) sheet would be ideal (perhaps a 12-15 pt. C1S). If she will want to print on both sides of the press sheet, then a C2S sheet would be preferable (perhaps a 130# cover stock). For the sell sheets themselves, I would probably suggest a 100# text sheet (perhaps a dull or gloss commercial printing stock, depending on my client’s preferences).

As with any printed product that will receive heavy usage, it will be prudent to coat the exterior covers in some way. Options would include UV coating, aqueous, laminate, and press varnish. (Unfortunately, the last option, while inexpensive, can yellow over time or even alter the colors of the underlying ink. Therefore, it will be important to know how long the pocket folder brochure will be used.)

Approaches to Designing the Pocket Folder Brochure

Even before ink hits the page, it would be prudent for my client to request a paper dummy from the custom printing vendor. This will be unprinted, but it will provide a good idea of how the pocket folder brochure will feel in the hand, how durable it will be, and how the sell sheets will fit into the back-cover pocket.

In addition to paper dummies, I have suggested that my client look at pocket folders online. Some vendors that specialize in pocket folder printing will include a series of design options on their web pages, reflecting different sizes, different configurations and placement of pockets, even different shapes of the pockets (horizontal, vertical, scalloped, glued at the edges, with and without builds). It’s like an online “idea file.” With this information in mind, my client might then request printed samples to review options for both physical construction and graphic design.

The Dies for Cutting the Pocket Folder Brochure

Pockets such as these must be cut with metal dies. This increases the cost of the overall pocket folder brochure. In some cases, however, depending on the design, some printers may have standard dies on hand that have been used for other products. If my client wants a more unique approach, she will need to pay to have custom dies created for her design project. She will also need to build more time into the schedule for the die-making component of the job.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

You may find yourself designing a similar printed product. If so, start early by requesting printed samples and paper dummies from your paper merchant or printer. These will give you ideas for both the graphic treatment and the physical specifications of the project.

I would approach a number of commercial printing suppliers for a job of this complexity, since it will require printing, die-making, and converting skills, and since it will be a comparatively expensive project. More than with most jobs, a project like this requires specificity on your part, a printer you trust completely, and good communication with your vendor throughout the process regarding schedules, costs, and your expectations. On the positive side, you can experiment and develop a truly unique and powerful graphic product.

Analyzing Effective Marketing Packages

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Coordinating a marketing effort using all available tools (commercial printing, the Internet, and a telephone) would seem to be straightforward, but I think it is not often done effectively or with finesse. Or at least you could say that it is a supremely challenging assignment worthy of note when it succeeds.

The Sample Campaign

It has been over a year since our house fire, and my fiancee and I are just completing the rebuild of the house. At this particular point we are considering options for window treatments, specifically blinds.

In light of this rebuild, my fiancee recently received a marketing package from a blind and wallpaper vendor. I was quite impressed when I saw it, not necessarily with the edgy graphics and photography but rather with the usefulness of the package itself and with how easy this print collateral makes it to contact the store, select blinds, and order the right product.

Breaking It Down

My fiancee had ordered the samples: four miniature horizontal window blind slats that looked like thin, color-coordinated tongue depressors. The marketing package came to her in a synthetic 6” x 9” envelope, similar to Tyvek but with cross-hatched ribbing (like duct tape), presumably for strength. Clearly this envelope would protect its contents from damage or loss.

The custom envelope graphic, which contained a lot of information and visuals, included the following:

  1. The name of the company in an immediately readable size and sans serif font, along with the address and a large phone number. Upon receiving this marketing package, you would immediately know how to contact the vendor. This is not true about many marketing packages.
  2. A composite photo of about twelve different blind products, from flat slats to honeycombed blinds. In addition, the front of the custom envelope included a photo of the owner of the company.
  3. A star burst referencing a coupon, using reversed, all-caps sans serif type, as well as other large, reversed type referencing a guarantee for the lowest price. (An immediate offer of guaranteed low prices will catch the attention of any serious buyer.)
  4. A second copy of the phone number in large type, in case the reader has missed the first, along with an offer for the reader to call with any questions. The sincere nature of the wording (i.e., we’re here to help, not to sell you something you don’t need) also makes a difference.

This is just the front of the custom envelope. The back repeats the company logo, phone contact information, Internet contact information (website and e-mail address), photos of sample products, and a note (“Free samples inside!”) in bold type right on the flap of the self-seal, open-end envelope.

You cannot miss the important information. All of it is arranged logically, with color and type size clearly indicating the levels of importance, and color and type size used to lead the reader’s eye through the page. As much information as the envelope contains (i.e., you could argue that it is “busy”), you can immediately see all the facts you need.

The Product Samples

The sample blind slats are all labeled with the color name and number of the product as well as the product’s name and thickness of the blind slats.

In addition, each sample blind slat includes the name of the company, the phone number, and the website information.

The Brochure

Using type size and type color, as well as solid areas of color, to set apart chunks of copy and contact information, the brochure’s front and back covers repeat and expand upon the information on the custom envelope. In some cases, the designer even enlarged the first few words of a copy block to act as a running headline, again to draw the reader’s eye to a particular location.

On the front and back of the brochure, the company refers to its “100% lifetime lowest price guarantee,” to the reader’s immediate access to phone assistance and live chat, and to the company’s commitment to “your satisfaction.” (Nothing sells like a commitment to the customer.)

Inside the brochure the company has included a useful tool, a step-by-step guide to measuring windows for window treatments. It’s comprehensive, explaining ways to mount blinds either inside the window frame or outside the window frame.

Moreover, since the task seems a little daunting, the blind company includes a QR code. Readers can scan the code to get immediate access to help in measuring their own windows. Or, more specifically, the blind company has seamlessly leveraged QR technology, print design, and its website to help the customer easily buy window treatments.

The Coupon

To sweeten the deal, the blind and wallpaper company includes a coupon on laminated, thick card stock. It offers three levels of savings tied to three brackets of spending ($75-$124.99, $125-$174.99, and $175 or more). This just about covers any purchase. In addition to repeating the logo and all contact information in visually digestible chunks, the coupon makes the offer time sensitive (“coupon expires 7 days from today”). Nothing motivates a buyer like a sense of urgency.

The Take Away

Here are some thoughts to consider while designing marketing collateral:

  1. Make sure all contact information is immediately recognizable and repeated multiple times across the print campaign.
  2. Appeal directly to the customer. (Use the word “you” whenever you can.)
  3. Leverage all channels of contact with your client: print collateral, Internet (web and e-mail), and the telephone). Some people prefer one channel; some prefer another. Wherever possible, coordinate the various channels to present an integrated message and to use the qualities at which each excels (for instance, you can include a “live chat” option for those who prefer this to a conversation over the telephone).
  4. Include photos of your product and images of friendly, smiling staff to reinforce your message that contacting the company will be a pleasurable and productive experience.
  5. Look everywhere—especially in your own mailbox—for successful examples of integrated marketing campaigns like this, and then analyze, deconstruct, and study them. Learn from the masters. Better yet, if you receive print collateral in the mail and really, really want to buy the product, ask yourself why, and then consider all the methods the marketer has used to pique your interest.

Brochure Printing: Deconstructing a Promo Brochure

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

A friend of mine is a print book designer. She designs almost exclusively the multi-column, regularly spaced and formatted print books various government organizations publish to document their work. The consistency of her design is noteworthy, but she also has a flair for simple, elegant page construction that facilitates reading. When I was an art director, I would have hired her in a minute. And I am actually somewhat envious when she sends me page spreads to critique. She is that good at it.

That said, a client of hers needed a brochure recently.

My friend the print book designer had to step out of her comfort zone and learn a new approach to page design. When I saw her finished work, I was impressed. So impressed that I wanted to deconstruct the brochure design to share with you a number of things she did really, really well.

As a side note, I think the brochure design works primarily because it facilitates reading. When you look at the brochure, you know exactly how all elements should function (text, callouts, etc.). You know instantly what’s most important, then of secondary importance, then of lesser importance but still interesting. I think the designer’s success in creating a brochure reflects her breadth of writing and editing experience.

A Description of the Brochure

According to the PDF “properties” search tool, the brochure is a flat 11” x 18” document with six panels, three on each side. It will fold down to 6” x 11”. It is a four-color piece, with two full-color images, as well as area screens of blue and beige built from cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The text is black, and some of the heads are reversed, as are the callouts. Finally, text and heads are set in various weights of one (or possibly two) sans serif type families, with some levels of headlines set in all caps and others set in caps and lower case, depending on their use.

It is a rather large brochure in format, since many similar brochures would be 8.5” x 3.5” when folded down, and would fit in a #10 envelope. This format provides a lot of space for the two images, one chart, callouts, and text. It allows for a feeling of roominess. Nothing seems cramped, even though there are a lot of design elements.

What the Designer Did Right (in My Opinion)

  1. First the designer considered the flat brochure as a single design space, rather than approaching the panels as separate pages. This gave a sense of “flow” to the images and text.
  2. She then added a full-bleed, light blue background, which covers the front and back panel as well as the inner, fold-in panel. This distinguishes the exterior of the brochure from its interior (providing different places for small chunks of information). It also allows for visual contrast between the fold-in panel and the lighter interior of the brochure. This looks good, but it also divides the brochure into distinct “spaces.” And nothing facilitates reading (particularly in a promotional piece) like being given small chunks of information in an easy to follow format.
  3. When opened flat, the interior of the brochure has a full-bleed, two panel background of light blue on the center and right, and a light beige panel on the left. There is a full-color photo knocked out of the light blue screen. This division of space makes it clear to the reader that there are two kinds of information to read on the interior, three-panel spread.
  4. To create callouts, the designer reversed all-caps type out of solid boxes of blue, and then set the running heads (heads within the first line of text) within the callouts in a heavier weight of the same typeface. In some cases she also set a few important words within the callouts in bold type. Overall, the effect is to identify brief bits of important copy that will provide a summation of the entire brochure (everything else will amplify these few points). Since the background of these callouts is blue (principally cyan), they remind the reader of the full-bleed solid on the outside of the brochure, and therefore provide a visual continuity to the brochure.
  5. The designer varied the number of columns of text on the brochure panels (sometimes two columns; sometimes one). She did this consistently and with purpose in a way that reinforces the meaning of the individual text blocks. This provides visual variety, but having only two options within the design grid also gives a form and regularity to the brochure.
  6. The designer considered the activity within the photos when placing them. On the front panel an African woman in traditional garb is looking squarely at the reader. She catches the reader’s eye immediately. On the interior of the brochure, an African woman is shaking out a blue blanket. The image is on the right interior panel. It leads the reader’s eye off the page. At the same time, the blue of the blanket echoes the blue full-bleed solid background of the brochure’s exterior panels.
  7. While all of this may sound incredibly busy, it is not. This is because the designer set up only a handful of visual rules (everything from the grid to the color usage to the choice of typefaces) in a consistent way that groups the text into coherent bits of information.

Here Are Some Things to Consider in Your Own Custom Printing Design Work

  1. Approach the brochure design as a whole. Think about how you want to lead the reader’s eye through all the panels, Make sure the visual appearance reflects the logic, flow, and content of the brochure text.
  2. Use all design elements at your disposal (page grid, color placement, typefaces) as tools to group and present the textual information. Use these consistently, always for a reason.
  3. Choose samples of commercial printing work that you like, and then deconstruct them. Consider what the designer has done and how the visual choices support the promotional goals inherent in the brochure text. “It looks good” is not an adequate reason to make a design decision.

Commercial Printing Case Study: Is It Digital or Offset?

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

I received a promotional brochure from a custom printing vendor today, and I was struck by several aspects of its printing quality.

First of all, the brochure had been printed on a thick stock (15 point cover stock, six panels folded to 4 5/8” x 6 1/8”). The thickness of the paper made me feel that the company cares enough to spend a little more on paper and postage. It suggests opulence.

Due to the thick black ink, which has some kind of coating with a smooth, almost rubbery texture (perhaps a soft-touch UV), I initially thought it had been printed on black paper. The brilliant white of the press sheet shows through the ten square 4-color images on the cover, and the text is rich and seems to be printed in white.

As Seen Through a Loupe

I wondered how it had been printed, so I pulled out my loupe. I expected to see the text screen printed or stamped in white foil, but obviously as soon as I opened the brochure, I saw that the white sheet had been “painted” in black ink, and I saw that the script typeface of the text had been merely reversed out of the black.

Looking closely at the black ink, I could see process color halftone dots hanging out of register, ever so slightly, so I surmised that the black ink was actually a rich black (a combination of black plus screens of other process colors).

Surprisingly, I could see very little cracking at the folds, in spite of the extra heavy ink coverage. I thought this was odd, and I wondered what the coating was made of.

What About the Halftones?

Upon closer observation, I saw that the brochure was actually an invitation, with photos and a schedule inside the folded piece. I was struck by the brilliant colors, particularly the yellow ink. Under the loupe I also saw green dots, so I surmised that the brilliant color had been achieved with extra inking units (hexachrome, or high fidelity color, a custom printing technique that adds such colors as green and orange to the usual CMYK color set).

Inside the brochure I read copy referring to a Timson T-Press, a new web-fed inkjet press that accepts 52” rolls and prints up to a 64-page signature, or two 32-page signatures. I saw the traditional rosettes in the halftones (circular patterns of halftone dots forming an identifiable pattern due to the angles at which the halftone screens have been tilted). Therefore, although I had expected the brochure/invitation to have been printed on the Timson T-Press via inkjet technology, I rethought my position.

If you look closely with a loupe, you’ll see that a sample of inkjet custom printing is composed of tiny dots that look like the stochastic screening of offset printing (all dots are the same size, but there are more or fewer dots depending on the amount of ink in a particular spot). In contrast, the dots on the brochure/invitation varied in size but were consistent in their placement (all were equally spaced on a grid). To me, that indicated either offset printing or electrophotography (digital laser printing).

Digital laser printing usually yields photos that are brilliant in color, but in my experience the halftone pattern looks a little different from offset printing. I usually see a halftone pattern with different sized dots on laser copy, but I usually don’t see the same rosettes as on offset printed images. In addition, some halftones in the brochure/invitation had a brilliant yellow color, but others were more muted than laser printing usually provides. They were intense in their coloration, but they did not look waxy or overly saturated.

On the cover, I saw what looked like the streaking you sometimes find in solid colors printed via digital laser technology. But they could have been roller marks (they were even in thickness and localized). They could even have been ghosting, since the small photos surrounded by heavy coverage black might have provided ideal conditions for ghosting. And ghosting is a flaw that specifically affects offset printing.

What’s the Verdict?

I’m always hesitant to say for sure, although I did bring all of the previously described characteristics into my assessment. However, I’d say that the brochure/invitation was not printed via inkjet technology (even the best inkjet from the new Timson digital press). It was probably not digitally laser printed. I would say that due to the rosettes in the halftones and the varied saturation of the photos, the most likely case was that the printer produced this via offset lithography with a dull or soft-touch UV coating. He probably used an extended color set to expand the color range beyond that of CMYK printing (maybe he even added a little fluorescent ink to the yellow).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

When you see a printed piece you like, consider what technology produced the job. It will hone your skills in analyzing printed products, but more than this it will make you aware of all the various printing technologies and techniques that you can incorporate into your own design work.

Brochure Printing: Paper Color Affects the Ink Color

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

We all learn from our mistakes. In an ideal world, we may even learn from the mistakes of others and then not make our own.

In this light, I want to tell you a story about choosing paper for a brochure print job I designed about twenty years ago. My boss, the Director of Publications, suggested that I print the brochure on a warm coated custom printing stock to differentiate it from other marketing materials we had been circulating. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Pitfalls of the Paper Selection

I learned several things from the completed brochure print job that was delivered.

First of all, I had made the assumption that the cream tint of the paper would affect the color of the inks. It did. Since I had made this assumption early, I had had the foresight to check the colors on my computer monitor using a cream tint for the background of the entire print brochure. This had given me somewhat of an idea of the final outcome.

However, it only gave me a sense of how the ink colors of the text and images would look when surrounded by a cream background. I had not taken into consideration that the paper would affect the color of the ink actually printed on it. More specifically, the color of the substrate slightly affected the red and blue PMS hues that were the corporate colors of the logo. This was less than ideal. The substrate also altered the final appearance of the process color work.

Finally, when I saw how the final brochure print job looked beside the other collateral produced during the year, it did stand out. But I wasn’t sure I liked that. The difference in the paper colors between the new brochure and the other marketing materials made the new job look like it had been designed by another company. This wasn’t great either.

Fortunately, my boss, the Director of Publications, actually liked the brochure so I walked away from the job without losing face, but more importantly I took away some lessons that I have remembered and applied for the succeeding two decades.

Lessons Learned (or What You Might Keep in Mind When Printing on a Yellow-Tinted Paper)

Consider the following when you diverge from the norm by specifying a custom printing stock that’s different from the paper used in prior jobs for your company:

  1. Process inks are transparent. The color of the substrate will alter the color of the ink.
  2. The only way to know for sure how this will look is to request a press proof. This is incredibly expensive. Basically, you are setting up the entire press to print one copy of your job to see how it will look.
  3. Alternatives to a press proof include producing a digital print on the off-white (or any other color) custom printing stock. It will not be absolutely faithful to the end product (digital toners don’t behave exactly like offset inks), but it will be affordable. You may also want to tint the background of your file (for observation on your computer monitor only). Keep in mind that this will only approximate the look of the ink colors when surrounded by the toned paper substrate. It will not show you how the (potentially transparent) inks will behave on the colored stock. (Remember to change the background back to white before sending the job to the printer.)
  4. While process inks are transparent (i.e., you will see the color of the paper through them, and the color of the paper will alter the color of the ink), PMS colors are less dramatically affected, since some of them are not transparent.
  5. You can get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink (to a certain extent) by having the commercial printing supplier include opaque white in the PMS ink mixture.
  6. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using white paper and only simulating the yellowish tones of the cream printing stock. You can do this by printing the background in a tint of light yellow (or another color, depending on the results you want). This way you can knock out the yellow behind any type, process color images, tints, and/or solids.
  7. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using colored foils instead of ink (let’s say you’re printing on a really dark paper). The one downside is that you will need to have a die created for the foil stamping, and this will be expensive and time consuming.
  8. Consider designing a year’s worth of marketing collateral at one time. I realize this is impractical. You won’t have the copy for all the publications at one time. However, you can start to create an overall “look” of the booklet and brochure covers, the type and color choices, the paper colors, and textures. Things will look like they go together and represent the same company if you approach their design as a unified whole.

Learn from my mistakes. Ouch.

Brochure Printing: Case Study on Paper Options

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Commercial printing reps can provide a veritable fountain of knowledge and information. However, when you start asking the same questions of different vendors, you’ll soon see that different printers offer different skill sets and often approach jobs very differently.

Back-Story and Specifications for the Brochure Printing Job

My print brokering client recently approached me with a brochure printing job: a flat 17” x 11” sheet folded to 8.5” x 11” and then folded again (at a right angle) to 5.5” x 8.5”. She wanted to print the job on 80# silk cover (a nice, tactile compromise between a gloss and dull sheet) in process color. An 8.5” x 11” slip sheet would be blown into the brochure. It would be printed in black ink only on 50# white offset stock. Once printed, the job would be folded (with the blow-in insert in place) and then tabbed (wafer sealed) in preparation for transport to a mailshop (and from there into the mail stream).

The Printers’ Responses

I sent out bid requests to three commercial printing vendors. What was interesting was their response to the paper choice. Two were concerned that the 80# cover stock would fold unevenly (bunch up) and look ugly—even if scored. One of the printers declined to bid on this stock and substituted a 100# silk text sheet in the bid (thinner than the 80# cover and less problematic for folding).

When I asked the second printer about the potential for folding problems, he agreed. He had had the same concern but had not voiced it, assuming the scoring would avert the problem.

The third printer said he could print the job on 80# cover stock and fold it without incident. He was confident that scoring the sheet would eliminate the chance for problems, and he offered to score the job for free if any problems arose in the folding operation.

What We Can Learn

Wow. Whom can you trust in a case like this? Ultimately I chose to trust all three printers. I took this to mean that two of them were uncomfortable with printing and right-angle folding an 80# cover sheet, so I wouldn’t ask them to do it.

The third was comfortable with the specifications. He was also the low bid, and since I have a long-standing professional relationship with this commercial printing company, I know that if the job doesn’t work on the stock, the owner (who also runs the presses) will do whatever is necessary to make it right.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust and confidence, and that takes time to develop.

The Brochure Printers Made Some Suggestions

I like it when a printer’s rep makes suggestions for doing a job better, faster, or for less money. It makes me more confident that he’s thinking of things I haven’t thought of—of better ways to meet my clients’ needs.

One of the brochure printers suggested (or, rather, bid on) a lighter stock—as noted above. That was a good option to bring back to my client. Another printer suggested producing the entire job (brochure and slip-sheet application) all on the same stock. He said my client would save approximately 25 percent of the total cost by printing the job as a six pager, wrap folding it, then slitting the extra black-only sheet and folding the job with the application in the center. This would allow for one press run on one kind of paper rather than two press runs on two different press sheets.

What We Can Learn

A good print rep will often make suggestions that will provide better value and higher quality—even before you ask. So it’s prudent to involve the printer while the piece is being designed and to keep an open mind when reviewing your printer’s suggestions.

More Information on the Paper Stock

The only problem my client found with producing the slip sheet application and main brochure on the same stock was that the black-only page (the application form) would need to be scanned or faxed back to the client’s office. It would need to go through a roll-fed scanner or fax without moving or jamming the machine. Moreover, it would need to go through any fax or scanner. We couldn’t just test the paper in one fax machine.

In light of this, one commercial printing supplier suggested producing the job on an 80# uncoated text sheet. The rough paper surface would make the paper more likely to go through the roll-fed scanners or faxes. Unfortunately, the uncoated paper would also dull down the intensity of the process color inks. The paper would absorb the ink. It would not have good “holdout.” My client needed the job to look slick and corporate.

Another printer suggested a 100# text sheet, but could not guarantee that this would go through any roll-fed scanner or fax machine. So the idea was no longer as attractive.

What We Can Learn

If you can’t prove that any potential client interested in contacting you by faxing a form back to your office won’t encounter problems, stop and reconsider the job. My client opted for either the 80# cover or 100# text sheet (silk coated for texture and to provide good holdout for the process inks). The application form would therefore need to go on a 50# offset press sheet. It was worth the extra cost. It was worth two press runs.

But What About the Mailshop Tasks?

If you’re involving multiple vendors, make sure the pricing reflects the various component parts of the job. Who would insert the application into the main brochure? That’s a mailshop function, but apparently all three printers could do it.

Who would add wafer seals in preparation for mailing? The mailshop. All three custom printing vendors agreed. One of the printers also explained why. The wafer seal machine is part of the inkjet addressing equipment. If the printer were to add wafer seals (using the addressing equipment without turning on the inkjet function), the job would cost more overall (two runs on the same equipment: one by the printer and one by the mailshop). Clearly it would be better to have the mailshop tab the job while addressing it.

What We Can Learn

Don’t make assumptions. Ask what all elements of the bid—such as mailshop—actually include. And remember that it helps to have a printer as an ally, and this kind of partnership takes time to develop. So nurture your relationships with your vendors.


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