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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Archive for the ‘Brochure Printing’ Category

Brochure Printing: No More Z-Fold Self-Mailers

Monday, July 29th, 2013

I had a close call with a print brokering client recently, and it has made me doubly certain that US Postal updates are vital reading material and not spam.

The Problem with the Fold

In a recent blog I mentioned that a client has been producing a Z-fold (or accordion fold) brochure yearly for a few years now. It has been a self-mailer, closed on both the top and bottom with wafer seals. To make this clearer, picture a twelve-panel piece (six on each side of the sheet, with alternating back and forth parallel folds) starting with a flat size of 10.2” x 27” and folding to 10.2” high x 4.5” wide. The commercial printing job is produced in four color process ink on 80# white gloss cover stock.

After reading an update by the US Postal Service in January, I had been concerned, or at least wary. The relevant piece of information from the USPS newsletter was that self-mailers had to have a fold at the bottom and be wafer sealed at the top in order to be automatable and machinable. That is, to reap the highest discount for bulk mail, folding and tabbing had to happen in this manner.

But a Z-fold mailer has no fold at the bottom (or long edge). Since the panels go back and forth in their accordion fold sequence (leaving both sides without an actual, closed fold), the postal requirement would not be met. I thought I had read this somewhere, but I wasn’t really sure, so I was relieved to hear that my client had asked her mailshop.

Keep in mind that the commercial printing supplier had already provided an estimate for the Z-fold self-mailer. After all, he could produce the job as specified. He had done it for at least the two prior years. But the mailshop caught the error (and the US Postal Service Business Reply Mail Specialist would have done the same), fortunately before any ink had been put on paper.

What If We Hadn’t Caught It in Time?

There’s always that “what if.” Let’s say the client had approved the job and the commercial printing vendor had produced the Z-fold self-mailer. What then? Picture a mail drop at the Post Office rejected for not meeting spec, or picture a larger postage bill due to machinable and automatable requirements not having been met. In the worst case scenario, my client could have sidestepped this at the last minute by placing the Z-fold mailers in custom envelopes. This would have cost more (the cost of approximately 4,500 printed envelopes), but it would have solved the problem.

What Are My Client’s Options?

Fortunately we have a little time. We caught this early. My client suggested a barrel fold (all panels parallel folded in the same direction, in contrast to the back-and-forth folding of the Z-fold (or accordion fold) piece produced in prior years.

I asked the custom printing supplier for some suggestions as well, and I worked out a few myself.

First of all, my client had mentioned the possibility of a partial Z-fold brochure, with the first four panels (eight actually, since we’re talking about both sides of the press sheet) folding back and forth, and the remaining two panels (actually four, two on each side) wrapping around the piece. I checked with the printer, and this would work (i.e., there would be no extra cost because the job fit on the folding equipment and all the folds were parallel).

My client could also do a barrel fold, or she could even fold the piece in thirds (the outer four left panels folded from left to right, and the outer four right panels folded from right to left), and then she could fold this in half.

As confusing as this must sound, the gist of the matter is that the printer could fold the panels individually or in groups of two or three (per side of the sheet) for no additional cost. And as long as there was a fold on the bottom (long side) and wafer seals on the top (other long side), the self-mailer would be postal-legal and would reap the automation discounts.

If This Happens to You, Make a Mock Up

One day all of this may happen to you. Hopefully it will be during the preliminary design stages of the job. As you decide how to solve the problem, first make a physical mock-up of your brochure printing job. If you have a twelve panel brochure (six panels on each side), make a little sample out of paper. Then fold it in different ways until you like it.

How Will You Know You Like It?

How you will fold the piece depends on how you want your reader to digest the information in the brochure. Group your copy by relevant subject matter, and, as you try different folds, consider how your reader’s eye will absorb the content. Do the folds contribute to this, or do they impede understanding? If they will confuse the reader, do something else.

Also consider grouping information by making some panels a solid color and reversing the type out of the solid. Or use screens of a color in the background. The goal is to put the content of the brochure in a logical order, in small chunks, to aid the reader’s comprehension. Make sure the folding (which is part of the design) reinforces this goal.

Brochure Printing: Scrutinize Specs for Recurring Jobs

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

“The specs will be the same as last year’s job.”

As a printing broker, I love recurring publications, anything from book printing to brochure printing jobs. However, I don’t like to make assumptions. So when I read these words recently in an email from a client, I carefully reviewed the specs from last year’s job.

What to Look For (Don’t Forget to Review Any New Post Office Requirements)


My client’s job is a 3-panel (6-page) brochure. Last year’s version was a Z-fold piece (like an accordion, with the panels folding back and forth in a “zigzag” manner). Since then, my client has sent a similar brochure to a commercial printing supplier I represent, but it had a barrel fold (also known as a wrap fold), with all panels folding in the same direction, end over end, without zigzagging. This is an important distinction–and a departure from last year’s job specifications–so I corrected the specification sheet.

Press Run

Last year the brochure printing run was 1,000 copies with two separate mailing lists of 500 each. This year the lists are shorter: 300 addresses each. I learned this from the email, so I again updated last year’s specification sheet.

Finished Size

The specifications note a finished size of 10.2” x 4.5”. This will stay the same as last year’s job. That said, I recently received a list of US Postal Services design requirements for self-mailers. Effective January 5, 2013, there were some changes in USPS requirements. The new maximum size for a self-mailer is 6” x 10.5”. Fortunately, my client’s job will meet this requirement. Nevertheless, it’s still important to stay abreast of USPS mail design requirements. A mistake in size could either trigger a postal surcharge or get the job rejected outright. (The lesson: Don’t assume that last year’s specification sheet meets this year’s postal regulations.)

Paper Weight

Like last year’s brochure, this year’s version will be a 4-color job printed on 80# white gloss cover stock. According to the update from the Post Office, self-mailers weighing up to 1 ounce must be printed on at least 70# text weight paper, and self-mailers weighing more than 1 ounce must be printed on at least 80# text weight paper. My client’s paper stock exceeds these regulations significantly, but again, it’s important to know that 20# and 24# bond (i.e., laser printing/photocopy paper) will not meet the USPS specifications.

Other Specifications

The Post Office has made changes in its requirements for self-mailers pertaining to tabbing, glue dots, finished size, paper weight, address-panel placement, placement of remittance envelopes, and placement of folds. Getting these specifications right will save money and prevent aggravation.

What You Can Learn from This

  1. If your client says the custom printing job will be the same as last year, make that a starting point for a completely new specification sheet. Then determine what actually will change and update the specification sheet accordingly.
  2. Stay current with postal regulations (size, formatting, tabbing, etc.). You can get this information online or from the bulk mailing specialist at the Post Office. If you have any doubt whatsoever as to the accuracy of your design, go to the Post Office and show a physical mock-up of the job to a bulk mail specialist.
  3. Keep in mind that the specification sheet is a contract with your commercial printing supplier (and probably the best reminder of what actually will change from year to year in a recurring print job).
  4. Consider all aspects of the project, from prepress (the format in which the job goes to press), to custom printing, to finishing (folding, binding), to mailshop, fulfillment, and distribution. Make and update checklists as needed to help yourself review all aspects of the job.
  5. Once you have updated last year’s specification sheet, check everything again. It’s easy to miss something. Then save a copy of the completed form for reference next year (by which time you may have forgotten the detailed changes from this year’s version).
  6. Make sure the printer and your client (or boss) agree with all information in the specification sheet. The document may remind them of things they have forgotten to address as well.
  7. Finally, maintaining a specification sheet of recurring publications will help you see whether prices from commercial printing vendors are competitive and accurate from year to year. If something looks odd (such as a dramatic price increase year over year), ask your custom printing supplier to explain why.

Commercial Printing: Case Study in Negotiating Skills

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I had a rather intense discussion today with a custom printing vendor who had offered to trim a step-down brochure printing job by hand to save my client the cost of the die, but who was now having trouble due to the complexity of the job.

The Specifications for the Job

The custom printing job is a booklet with thumb tabs. The front and back cover extend a full 6” x 9” to allow for tab closure to meet postal regulations. Starting with the first page spread, and proceeding throughout the 16-page booklet, each right-hand page has a diagonal cut-out thumb tab. And each cut-out is slightly less deep (by about 3/4”) than the following cut-out. To complicate matters, there are diagonal, printed color bars, one on each right-hand page thumb tab. Turning the pages of the book reveals the color bars one at a time.

The Custom Printing Supplier’s Dilemma

This is an exceptionally difficult job to trim, particularly by hand, particularly without a die. So when the printer came back to me and asked to raise the price by almost $500.00, I sympathized with him. After all, with a press run of 2,500 and all these diagonal cuts on each press sheet, trimming the job would be torture.

That said, I knew the client would not go for the additional cost for the following reasons:

  1. The printer had been explicit about not needing a die and instead trimming the step-down pages by hand.
  2. Although the designer had changed the specifications after the initial bid by increasing the number of pages that would need to be trimmed, the designer had provided a PDF of the job and the printer had increased the cost to cover additional hand-trimming and stitching. The client had accepted the charge as necessary and reasonable. At this time, there might have been an opportunity for the printer to acknowledge the increased complexity of the job and request the cost of a die. But he did not do this.
  3. The client had found it challenging to acquire additional funding to meet the increased cost. This involved a bit of fundraising. Alternatives such as design changes and a reduced press run were even considered before the client finally committed to the total cost and specifications.
  4. The commercial printing vendor’s request for additional funds came at the color proof stage, after the job was already under way.

My Response to the Printer

I made it clear that I understood the printer’s dilemma. I even reminded him of my initial concern with foregoing the die and trimming by hand. I noted that I did, however, trust his skill completely based on prior complex jobs, so I had deferred to his professional assessment.

I told the printer that I could not “go back to the well” under the circumstances. I asked what he could do.

He thought for a moment. He then said that his initial plan to hand-stitch the books might not be necessary. He had reviewed the job and could do this portion of the work on his finishing equipment rather than by hand. He thought this savings would cover the additional cost of the die for the step-down tabs. The printer said he understood why I could not ask the client for more money at this point. He was very reasonable, in addition to being creative in finding a solution that would not add to the cost of the commercial printing job.

Plans for Future Commercial Printing Jobs

Each of us—the printer and I–saw the other’s dilemma, and we found a solution that would meet each of our needs. This supplier’s integrity and willingness to compromise makes me want to bring many more jobs to his commercial printing shop.

After we had resolved this difficulty, we worked out a plan to identify potential problems that might increase the cost of similarly complex jobs in the future.

The printer had reviewed the digital file provided by the graphic designer, but there had been some confusion. I suggested that, in upcoming jobs of this complexity, the designer be asked to provide not only a digital file but also a folding dummy. This would show exactly how the thumb tabs would work and how each page would cover the color bar at the diagonal trim of each successive page. The printer agreed. This would avoid assumptions and clarify any points of confusion. We had a plan for future work.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Print Buying Work

  1. Question everything. If the bid seems to leave out a critical element (such as a die for die cutting), ask the printer to explain. Review the bid several times. Questions may arise, or you may catch errors, on each pass through the estimate.
  2. Understand that the printer may need to adjust pricing when he sees the actual artwork. This is reasonable. However, at this point you can negotiate alternatives and compromises with the printer.
  3. Once the job has actually begun (at the proof stage, for example), it is reasonable to push back if the printer requests more money. Do this forthrightly but respectfully, asking for specific reasons for any cost overruns.

Custom Printing: More News on the Power of Print

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I subscribe to a monthly magazine called GD USA (Graphic Design USA). An article by Gordon Kaye entitled “Print Is Getting Smarter” in the June 2012 issue of the magazine challenges the notion that commercial printing is dying with their 2012 GD Print Design Survey.

I find this interesting, and you may as well, since the survey supports a number of pro-print assertions with both statistics and commentary from the design community. Who is better than a designer to know what kind of custom printing work is being produced and why?

It’s a long article, so I’d encourage you to search for it on the Internet through the GD USA website, but I want to share with you a few of the survey’s findings under the actual subheadings of the GD USA article.

Finding: “Designers Still Value Print”

Quotations in this section of the survey focus on the unique character of custom printing work as a personal, sensory experience (in contrast to the primarily visual nature of the computer screen). The designers quoted in the survey used such words as “tangible,” “texture,” and “dimensionality” to describe print. One designer even noted that “holding something in your hands can have more impact than just seeing it on a screen.”

Finding: “Print Is Crucial to the Business of Design”

This section of the GD USA survey quantifies the importance of custom printing in the mix of communications channels. The survey notes that 74 percent of the average designer’s time is spent working on print projects and 71 percent of the average designer’s projects include a print element.

Interestingly enough, the accompanying list of the kinds of media the survey respondents have designed in the past year includes print and online in the top two positions (96 percent and 72 percent respectively) and point of purchase/packaging (at 62 percent) as the third medium.

This actually supports my own view, expressed in prior blogs, that boxes and cartons, and at least certain types of signage, will be with us for some time. More importantly, however, it shows that almost every designer who responded to the GD USA survey creates custom printing projects.

Finding: “Brochures and Collateral Are Bread and Butter”

The top ten kinds of commercial printing projects respondents have created in the past year include brochure printing and collateral at the top of the list, then sales promotions and self-promotions, invitations and announcements, direct mail, posters, advertising, identity materials, packaging/point of purchase, annual reports, and finally publications.

From this I can infer the following: While printed periodicals and corporate documents may have become less pervasive, advertising, graphic displays, and the simple but direct vehicle of the brochure still exert a strong print presence. Somebody must read them because marketing firms are paying lots of money for their production and distribution.

Finding: “Print Is Getting Smarter”

The GD USA survey notes that 72 percent of respondents are “designing print projects that have digital or interactive components (QR Codes, etc.) built in” and 70 percent are “designing print projects that are extended or repurposed from online versions.”

Commentary on this aspect of commercial printing work notes the important place of digital printing. The variable nature of digital presses allows publishers and marketers to tailor their printed products to the specific needs and interests of their audience.

Moreover, the ever increasing ability of marketing firms to segment and target their prospective clientele allows them to reduce the number of printed pieces while ensuring that each printed piece conveys important information to an interested reader. And the increased number of ways to respond to a printed direct mail piece (for instance through QR Codes and PURLs) allows interested prospects to immediately connect with the company, research their interests in greater depth, and take the next step in the buying process.

In short, the goal is to use custom printing wisely as one of many coordinated channels for communicating with one’s audience.

Finding: “Everything Old Is New Again”

Here’s a good quote from a GD USA Survey respondent: “It is special receiving a well-designed printed piece in the mail or on my desk. It cuts through the online noise like nothing else.”

I get a whole lot of spam in my email box. Granted, some is useful. Sometimes I relish the information that comes to me through news aggregators, online brochures for computer equipment, and blogs about printing. But I do get a huge number of emails.

I can therefore appreciate the views noted in the survey by designers who see a particularly well-executed print project as rising above the crowd of other marketing messages.

Here’s one final quote: “Print may have a smaller market share, but it will have a larger impact on people’s attention.”

In Conclusion

Print is not going away. However, it is no longer the only communications medium. The goal is still to make one’s message stand out from the noise. Savvy marketers and other communicators are those who can successfully convey their message through an effective mix of the available media to interest and influence their readers.

Check out the rest of the GD USA Annual Print Design Survey. It addresses other issues as well, including views on sustainability, what designers expect from their printers, the role of the paper mills, and online print buying.

Brochure Printing: Spice Up Your Design

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Designing a brochure that really grabs a reader is a challenge. Here are a few design ideas to jump-start your creative process.

Explore Type Options

Beyond everything else, type must be readable. If someone picks up your brochure and does not immediately engage with the copy, you’ve lost them. So pick a typeface with readability in mind. For custom brochure printing work, a serif face (with strokes, or “tails,” on the letterforms) is easier to read than a sans serif face.

That said, to complement your body copy, consider novel uses of type as a design element. These might include reversing type out of a solid block of color, or starting major sections of the brochure with either a large initial capital letter or a few words in small capital letters (or small caps).

You can also dramatically enlarge the words in a short headline so they become design elements in themselves. Or you can enlarge a few words and then screen them back (to 10 percent or 15 percent of an accent color used elsewhere in the design). These could then function as a background design element.

Or consider typesetting a section of the body copy in a shape (maybe an oval or circle, or in the shape of a simple letterform).

Placement of elements such as type can go a long way in making the design compelling to the reader. Just keep things simple, consider readability first, and be mindful of how you want the reader’s eye to move through the brochure.

Organize Custom Printing Content with a Layout Grid

Repetition is a key element of custom printing design work. It sets up the reader’s expectations. Creating an invisible underlying structure for the images, type, and white space (known as a design grid) will help you organize the brochure content and lead the reader’s eye through the page. For a brochure, consider one column per brochure panel, or a larger column next to a smaller column. In this case you could extend the photos or headlines into the smaller column (which is known as a “scholar’s margin”).

A good rule of thumb is that anything you place on the page should align with something else. In fact, the fewer grid lines (or axes) with which you align the design elements on the page, the better. Keep things simple.

Don’t be afraid to use large areas of white space in the design of your custom brochure printing job. You don’t need to fill every inch of the brochure with type and images. In fact, too much copy or too many images will overwhelm the reader. Make it easy for her or him to read the text and to immediately know what’s important.

But experiment with the placement of headlines, photos, and columns of text. I once read that when you have chosen the typeface and the images, most of your remaining design work will involve deciding how and where to position them in an interesting way. Align elements, create a pattern and then break the pattern to create visual interest. Look at custom brochure printing samples you like, and analyze them to determine exactly why their design appeals to you.

Find elements you can repeat, if possible. If you use a photo on the front panel, consider extracting an element of the image and using it within the brochure as well, either at full intensity or screened back to a ghosted image.

Make the Images Unique

Try something different. Everyone uses full-color images. Make your brochure stand out by using rich black and white photography (i.e., 4-color images made to appear black and white). Bleed an image off the side of the page to make the photo seem more expansive. Or surround a photo with generous white space (some of you may remember the “Think Small” VW car ads of the late 1950s, which placed a small car in a vast expanse of white). What the reader doesn’t expect will shock, compel, or intrigue her or him. So do something different.

This might involve how you crop the images in the brochure. Not all images need to be simple portraits or group shots. Crop tightly on the face and hands of a subject, or make the photo tall and narrow, or wide and very short. Let the photos display the content in novel ways. Or consider unique photo edge treatments, such as a vignette or torn-edge look for your custom brochure printing job.

Try Different Folds

Your brochure folding options include the wrap fold (also called the barrel fold) and the zig-zag fold (also called the accordion fold). But consider going further. Ask your custom printing supplier for samples with unique folds. You might find something you had never envisioned. Granted, some of these may require special cutting dies, which will cost extra, so ask about this as well.

If you do consider unusual folds, remember to bring a custom brochure printing sample to the post office to make sure the job will be mailable (without a surcharge).

Brochure Printing: Design Tools to Help Position Your Brand

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Think of your next brochure printing run as an advertisement. Everything you design and print is really an ad because it presents your company, or your client’s company, in a certain positive light. The paper choice, typeface, choice of colors, even the way you fold the brochure, all say something about the values and goals of the company. When potential clients pick up the brochure, they either like it or they don’t. If they like it, they read further and ask themselves, “What’s in it for me.”

Look closely at the design of brochure printing samples you like.

You have a blank page before you, or on a computer you have a blank screen. Where do you start? One way to approach this task is to collect samples of previously designed brochures from the company that will use the final printed job. After all, a reader should be able to identify the company by seeing the similarity among all printed collateral from that company. There should be a visual congruence when you look at the company’s identity package, marketing collateral, and even publications such as newsletters, books, magazines, and directories.

Address these six critical elements while designing the brochure printing job.

With printed samples in hand, you can begin to deconstruct the design of those that appeal to you the most. Consider these variables:

  1. What kinds of images are used? Are they photos, illustrations? Are the images presented in black and white, full color, perhaps as duotones (two colors)? How would you describe the subject of the images, and their tone or feel? Are they images of people or things? Are they cropped very tightly, or is there ample space around the subjects of the photos?
  2. What kinds of typefaces are used (hopefully just one or two, to keep things simple)? Are they serif fonts (with tails on the letterforms: easier on the eyes for reading lots of copy)? Are they sans serif fonts (with no tails on the letterforms)? How would you describe the overall tone of the type? Playful? Serious? Upscale and trendy?
  3. How is color used in the brochures you like? Are the photos full-color? Are spot colors (PMS colors) used to highlight type?
  4. What kind of paper was chosen for the brochures you like: coated, uncoated, perhaps a tinted sheet like a cream paper stock?
  5. How does your eye travel around the brochure. Think about where it goes first when the brochure is open on the table. Maybe your eye goes to the photos first, or maybe the headlines. Notice how spot color leads the eye around the page. Notice how even the direction people in the photos are leaning, or where they are looking, influences how your eye moves around the page.
  6. Now close up the brochure. Look at how it is folded. A brochure can be wrap folded (around and around, as though it were wrapped up panel over panel). Or it can be folded in a zig-zag pattern (called an accordion fold). It can even be folded in half and then in half again (double parallel fold). At its simplest level, even a flat flyer is a brochure, of sorts. You just put all of the information on the flat sheet, with no folding—just like an ad in a magazine.

How to get from a blank computer screen to a finished color brochure printing job

Becoming comfortable with design, and even becoming good at it, takes time. More than likely you will start with some bumps in the road. But as with most other skills, the best way to learn something is to look at what has been successful for others and then try to understand why. Then you can incorporate the same elements into your own work. So to recap, this is how I’d suggest that you approach your next color brochure printing project:

  • Review relevant samples of the company’s brochures and other collateral to grasp the overall visual “look” and feel of the company.
  • Consider the elements of design: paper weight, surface, and texture; typefaces; color usage; treatment of images; design grid; and folding.
  • Do something. Starting with a blank computer screen in InDesign or Quark, set up a grid with the proper number of panels, front and back. Place an image or two, import the text into the file, and start testing typefaces and point sizes. Experiment. Don’t censor yourself. Play a bit.
  • Print out laser proofs and compare your various attempts to the printed copies you collected and liked. Make changes (even if you mark up the proofs with a pen as you get ideas), and print out revised laser proofs. Show them to other people in the office, and get feedback. Revise as necessary.
  • When you get stuck or frustrated, go back to the building blocks of a successful brochure: consider the typefaces, design grid or structure, treatment of photos, paper choice, and folding.

Color brochure printing is something almost all printing companies can do for you, regardless of their equipment. Think about whether you will need a printer with digital equipment for your brochure printing run (if you will need fewer that 300-500 copies), or offset printing capabilities for longer brochure print runs.

Brochure Printing and Large Format Printing: Mass Personalization

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Not that long ago, when your custom printing supplier delivered your job, you received 500, 1,000, or 10,000 copies that were all the same. This is called “static printing,” since the output is fixed, rather than variable. It has served us well since Gutenberg invented movable type. However, direct mail companies that have sent the same brochure to all prospects have historically received about a three percent return. Only a few prospects have turned into clients. Part of this has been due to the generic nature of the printed direct mail. There was nothing personal to distinguish the printed pieces recipients found in their mailboxes.

What is personalization?

Over the last decade, mass production has turned into mass customization. Using digital printing technology, printing companies can tailor each individual item in a brochure printing, large format printing, postcard printing, or calendar printing press-run to a different recipient.

  • You can include different text or photos, depending on the demographics or psychographics of your intended audience.
  • You can digitally print addresses on the envelopes and begin the direct mail letter with a salutation including the prospect’s own name.
  • You can include a link to a special website aimed only at that one prospect.
  • You can even write the prospect’s name in the sand in a beach photo (using image personalization techniques).

Why now?

The short answer is that the technology has improved that much. The first inkjet and laser prints I saw in the 1990’s as an art director were ugly. Now custom printing produced on digital equipment rivals offset printing to all but the most technically astute (with a loupe and extensive printing knowledge).

What are the benefits of personalization?

Marketing is about getting the attention of potential clients. We are bombarded with thousands of images each day from custom printing products, from huge building wraps to business cards. We are only aware of a small number of them, and of this small number, we only remember a few.

Nothing is sweeter to the ears of a potential client than the sound of his or her name, and a personalized direct mail piece produced by someone who took the time to get your name, understand your interests and needs, and incorporate these into a custom printing piece just for you will be more likely to cut through the clutter in the mailbox. The technology now exists to do this in a polished manner, with quality printing and targeted address databases. You can offer a potential client relevant information that will educate as well as persuade, addressed directly to him or her.

Think of it as “mass personalization,” the 2011 version of a “mail merge” program.

What might you personalize?

With high-end digital laser presses (such as the HP Indigo) and sheetfed and roll-fed inkjet presses, your custom printing vendors can print personalized information on almost anything, but here’s a short list to get you started:

  • Your business printing service might be able to personalize the address information on an envelope in which you include an invitation to an event, noting a different consultation time for each potential client.
  • Your custom printing vendor may be able to include a person’s name on all twelve images of a yearly calendar. Using image personalization software, your printer can write the person’s name on a theater marquee, in the sand, or in vapor in the sky as though a skywriter had written the name using the exhaust of a jet.
  • Printing services that produce your direct mail may be able to write each prospect’s name on a vanity license plate attached to a Ferrari in a poster aimed at your high-end clientele.

The list goes on. The only limit is your imagination. Bring all of your printing companies into the direct mail design discussion early to ensure that the vendor you choose has the digital printing capabilities to make such projects a success.

Brochure Printing: Is It Digital or Is It Offset?

Friday, September 16th, 2011

A custom printing service I work with stepped up today and put quality above profit. Although I was not surprised, I was pleased. I had received samples of a single-page brochure printing job that would be a companion piece for a pocket-folder and step-down card package for a client.

The press run for the entire custom printing job was 250 copies. Normally, I would assume that such a small job would warrant digital printing. However, since the pocket folder (prior to folding and gluing) exceeded the largest press sheet size for the digital press (an HP Indigo), I knew the pocket folder had to be offset printed. That said, I had assumed the series of step-down cards had been digitally printed. After all, five masters and 250 copies of each seemed much too small a run for an offset press.

Offset vs. digital custom printing runs

At this point it is important to note that much of the cost of offset printing (relative to digital printing) goes into makeready: that is, all the procedures involved in preparing to put ink on paper. Because of this, the longer the press run, the better—for offset lithography. The closeness in the cost of a 5,000-; 7,000-; or 10,000-copy press run of a single-page brochure would probably surprise you. The longer the run, the less each copy of the custom printing job costs to produce.

Digital printing, on the other hand, is priced at a “per-click” rate: The unit cost of one brochure, 100 brochures, or 500 brochures is essentially the same (at least for the printing). Of course, the prepress work and postpress work (such as folding and binding) will add to the cost, but the printing cost itself is on a “per-click” basis.

This is why you might print 250 copies of a brochure on a digital press but 500 or 1,000 copies on an offset press. Up to the cut-off point, the makeready costs of offset drive the overall cost of the job above the cost of the 250 digital copies. This switches at approximately 500 copies, as the digital price starts creeping up on a linear basis, while the unit cost for offset becomes less and less.

Back to the samples: Look for the dot patterns in the custom printing job.

I received samples of the brochure from my printer. I checked the samples with my loupe (high-powered magnifier), and I saw rosettes (a halftone dot pattern created by all the process color screens being at slightly different angles from one another). Under the loupe, the orange highlight color of the brochure was composed of the circular, rosette dot patterns of an offset printed piece.

I understand that even a color laser print (which is what an HP Indigo press essentially is) has a dot pattern. Under a loupe, you can see varying sizes of dots from laser printer output that come close to what a rosette looks like, but the mathematical algorithm of dot placement is slightly different on a digital laser printer, so you usually just see overlapping, or non overlapping, colored dots in digital press output, not a rosette pattern.

When I brought this to the custom printing vendor’s attention, asking about the printing method not as a criticism but as a point of information for my own edification, he said that he had run the job offset to match the five inserts (5 x 250 of each) and the pocket folder.

From this I inferred that he had chosen offset over digital in the initial job so the inserts would match the pocket folder, and then he had chosen offset over digital for the additional brochure to make sure all components of the job looked alike.

Business printing providers hate losing money.

This was beyond generous, particularly since the owner of the custom printing shop would not have told me or my client had we not asked. The printer had charged a fair price for the five inserts (approximately $400.00), assuming all could have fit on one press sheet. But for the accompanying brochure printing run, he charged only $139.00—clearly the price a digital press run of 250 copies would have cost.

This is how I think he avoided losing money.

This particular custom printing provider has a digital press and a small-format offset press, as well as larger press equipment. Apparently he also does not like to use spot colors (because they require wash-ups of the press). In my mind, this means that by using a very small press (which costs less to buy, own, and operate than a larger press), and by constantly running 4-color jobs on this press (and using four-color builds to simulate PMS colors), he is able to keep prices remarkably low.

But it still means that this business printing vendor cared enough to scrape by for almost no profit in order to give a client a superior brochure printing job that would match the other elements of their marketing campaign.

Brochure Printing: Experimenting with Unique Inks

Monday, September 5th, 2011

When you’re designing a brochure printing run for your custom printing service to produce (or any other kind of publication, for that matter), one of the first decisions you must make, along with format, size, and paper, is what ink colors you will use. First to mind often are the process colors and PMS colors. But you needn’t stop here. Be creative. Reach beyond the norm. Here are some options.

Fluorescent Inks

Have you ever noticed that a full-color image printed on a glossy paper really “pops”? This is because all of the ink sits on top of the press sheet (called hold-out). In contrast, when your business printing service prints a four-color image on uncoated stock, the ink seeps into the paper. Although a wet press sheet may reflect intense ink colors under pressroom lighting, when your job is dry and you’re looking at the image under normal lighting, it may seem a little dull (this is called dry-back).

One way to inject visual intensity into process colors printed on an uncoated press sheet is to ask your custom printing vendor to replace some or all of the process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) with fluorescent versions of these inks.

Paper companies often print promotional booklets on uncoated stock showing full-color images with one, two, three, or four of the process colors replaced with fluorescent inks. You can get these booklets from your business printing service or your paper merchant.

Tinted Varnishes

Printing companies mix their inks using pigments and vehicles. The pigment is the material that creates the color or hue (usually minerals of some kind), and the vehicle is the fluid that allows the printing ink to flow and spread on the press sheet. In simplest terms, varnish (which is a major component of the vehicle) is ink without pigment.

To create a faint image on a press sheet, you can have your business printing vendor add just a little ink color to varnish and print a design element of your brochure (some type or a photo) in this way. The visual effect is a bit like screening back a PMS image or process color image, but you get the added effect of the gloss or dull varnish, sort of a faint pearlescence.

Silver Ink

Having your custom printing vendor print an opaque white ground of ink below sections of an image can make the image stand out and seem to float above the page. In a similar manner, having your business printing service add silver ink to a PMS or process ink can give the image a shimmering, metallic look (due to the actual metal flecks in the ink). In addition, since it is more opaque than most other inks, your custom printing provider can use silver ink to create a ground on which to print other inks without the background color of the press sheet’s altering the hues of the inks.

Magnetic Ink

Using magnetic inks really isn’t a design choice; rather, it is a functional one. Banks and other financial institutions have business printing services print the numbers on the bottom of checks with magnetic ink or toner. Unlike barcodes, these numbers are readable by humans as well as computers. In addition, since check printing companies magnetize the letterforms after printing, they can be decoded by machine even when other marks (such as check cancellations) obscure the magnetic letters. The accuracy rate for MICR (which stands for magnetic ink character recognition) is significantly higher than for OCR (optical character recognition).

Ask your printing companies about these options for your next brochure or other printing project. Custom printing services need to be involved early in the process to ensure success.

Book Printing and Brochure Printing: Ask for a Paper Dummy

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

If you ask him (or her), your paper merchant or custom printing vendor will give you what’s called a “paper dummy” of your job. It is an unprinted version of your project on the exact paper stock you plan to use. It has been folded, bound, and trimmed to the exact dimensions of your custom printing job. It will weigh exactly what an individual copy of your brochure, book, or flyer will weigh. Your business printing service or paper merchant will provide this as a free service. Here are some situations in which you might want to request one.

Post Office requirements

The Post Office is tricky about size, weight, and formatting requirements. If you don’t comply, or are not aware of a particular requirement, you will pay a per-piece surcharge. This can add up to hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars in extra postage costs, depending on the size of your mailing.

Although an unprinted paper dummy will not show the placement of address information or barcodes, it will reflect the size and weight of the piece. If you hand off a paper dummy and a laser print of your job to a US Postal Service representative, you will get advice on anything that will be problematic (from the aspect ratio–the ratio of the width to the height of the piece–to where the folds should be). Adhering to USPS requirements will save you a lot of money.

Postage costs for your job

Your postal representative can also weigh your paper dummy and tell you exactly what the per-piece postage cost will be. If you want to pay bulk mailing rates, make sure to take the address database with you to the Post Office, since the overall postage for a mailing may depend on the number of copies you mail, their weight, and their destination (depending on the class of mail).

Folding concerns you may have

If your custom printing vendor prints an accordion fold, or a wrap fold (also called a barrel fold), brochure on printing paper that is too heavy, and your printer folds it too many times to its final size, you might be disappointed with the result. Your barrel fold piece (in which all panels wrap around one another) might not lie flat. Your accordion (or Z-fold) brochure might be much thicker than you expected. Maybe the paper thickness will cause the brochure to gusset (crease in unsightly ways due to the trapping of air between the folds) when folded too many times. Perhaps even the book that you asked your custom printing supplier to saddle stitch, because it was cheaper than perfect binding the book, will be too thick and not lie flat. All of these potential problems can be foreseen and therefore avoided by requesting a paper dummy from your business printing provider or paper merchant.

The color and feel of the paper

Printing is tactile and visual. This is true even before printing companies apply ink to paper. Your custom printing supplier can show you swatch books of various paper samples, but if you have any concerns about how the brochure, book, or flyer will feel in your hands (its weight, the tooth of the printing sheet, or the color of the paper), it would behoove you to request a paper dummy. You won’t see how the printing will look, but you will get a really good idea of what a copy of your print job will feel like when your reader picks it up for the first time.


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