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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 ‘Business Cards’ Category

Commercial Printing: Enlarging Low-Resolution Photos

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

A print consulting client of mine recently asked a question on Facebook regarding the best software package to enlarge photos that were not of sufficient resolution. I responded, voicing my concern that she might not like the results.

First, to give this some background, my client is laying out a print book for her father-in-law. She herself is a writer, and her background is somewhat spotty in graphic design and printing. Her print book is 220 pages plus cover, 6”x9” in format, perfect bound, with black-only text and a 4-color cover. It will contain a number of halftones, so her question on Facebook pertains to these photos.

With this in mind, here’s the response I posted on Facebook. I noted that all photos should have a resolution of twice the printed halftone line screen. That is, if the photo halftone line screen in her final print book will be 150 lines per inch, then she should make sure all of her photos are 300 dpi. In a pinch, however, I noted that 266 dpi would still yield a good halftone image.

That said, I told her that the resolution needs to be computed at the final printed size of the image, since, for instance, a 300 dpi image that is then enlarged (let’s say doubled in size) would otherwise have a resolution of half the original or 150 dpi. At this size the pixels would be visible. There would be a squarish, moasic-like pattern across the image, which would be the visible picture elements that make up the photo. At a smaller size, let’s say 300 dpi at 100 percent of the size to be printed, these pixels would be below the threshold of visibility.

Both enlarging and increasing the resolution of a low-resolution image, however, could cause problems. As noted above, just enlarging the photo would make the pixels visible. However, also resampling it (called upsampling when the enlargement of the image is combined with an increase in its resolution) actually creates picture information that is not in the original image. It fabricates color or black-and-white hues and tones based on averages of the pixels that are actually present, and this can cause visible irregularities, noise, and artifacts. So for important images, it’s usually not a good idea to upsample.

Options for My Client

As with anything else, rules are meant to be broken. It just helps to have some knowledge and to know what problems might occur.

Here’s one work-around I have used. I found this online.

If you open the bitmapped image (raster file) in Photoshop and then open the “Image Size” box, you can check the “Resample Image” option and then choose “Bicubic Smoother” from the menu to its right. According to the information I read, the next step is to change the document dimension pop-up menu to any value between 105 and 110 percent. (You can enter percentages in this dialog box as well as actual sizes.) Then you click OK, and you’re done. Each time you perform this operation, the image increases in size. Photoshop does add pixels (as I noted before), but there is very little image degradation.

I myself have tried this work-around and have been successful. However, if you attempt this, make sure you only increase the size in small steps of five to ten percent at a time. This will yield the best results. Online information I’ve read stresses this last point as well.

The one thing I would add, from my own experience, is to encourage you (and my client) to view the resulting image in Photoshop at various sizes, especially at 100 percent of the size to be printed but also at larger sizes, to make sure you see (and can live with) any image degradation that might occur. Based on my experience and the articles I have read, if you upsample the images in this way, there’s a good chance of success, but I just like to be safe. It’s better to see the results on your monitor, where corrections can be made for free, rather than in a printer’s proof (or the finished print book).

Another Option

Another visitor to my client’s Facebook page suggested a different approach: using PhotoZoom Pro 7. I have not used this software package myself, but interestingly enough, an earlier version was referenced in the same article from which I learned the trick regarding the 105 to 110 percent successive enlargements. So I’d suggest that you research this software if you need to enlarge lower-res images.

That said, I still would encourage you not to take a 72 dpi image from the Internet and try to upsample it and make it usable for digital or offset printing. After all, it is important to remember that you are still creating picture elements (pixels) that were not originally in the image, so the final result will be less than optimal.

To give you some background on PhotoZoom Pro 7 (from the BenVista website), the software is for both enlarging and reducing the size of images, and it works both as stand-alone software and as a plug-in for Adobe products (Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Lightroom) as well as Corel products (such as PHOTO-PAINT and PaintShop Pro).

PhotoZoom Pro 7 is optimized both for final printed output and also for on-screen viewing (such as websites).

To quote from the product information: “PhotoZoom Pro 7 is equipped with S-Spline Max, a unique, award-winning image resize technology which excels at preserving clean edges, sharpness, and fine details.” It allows you to avoid the noise and JPEG compression artifacts that usually appear when upsampling images.

Furthermore, PhotoZoom Pro 7 automates many of the image manipulation options, so once you have tweaked the photo to your liking, you can batch process your other images using the same settings. (In the case of my client’s print book for her father-in-law, this would be most useful, given the potential number of photos the 220-page book will contain.)

In addition, PhotoZoom Pro 7 includes multi-processor support, 64-bit support, and GPU (graphics processor unit) acceleration. (All of this speeds up image processing time.)

So, as with everything else, rules were meant to be broken. Just understand the potential pitfalls and break them wisely.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you are a graphic designer, all of this information will not be new to you. The rules of resolution your book printer or commercial printer requires will still apply, but fortunately there is a work-around (or in this case actually two work-arounds) if you ever need to use a lower-resolution image. Also, fortunately, the flaws that usually crop up (artifacts, noise, blurry images, loss of fine details, and jagged edges that should be clean and crisp) can often be successfully avoided.

Beyond this, it does help to understand why the printer (digital or offset) wants you to submit the crispest possible images at the proper resolution and why upsampling is generally a risk yielding disappointing results.

My assumption is that in addition to PhotoZoom Pro 7 and the work-around I found (involving successive small increases in image size from 105 percent to 110 percent), there are more image processing software packages in the market that now do this sort of thing. Since I know nothing about them, I’d invite you to do careful research on your own before taking the leap.

Custom Printing: An Example of Functional Printing

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

I’ve been brokering a functional printing job for one of my clients. It’s a color swatch book, much like a PMS swatch book but for the arena of fashion design rather than graphic design.

What makes this interesting to me is how different its purpose is from most of the material for which I either provide design or print brokering services.

It is a product, an object. The goal is not to inform or persuade, as might be the case with a print book or brochure. It is a functional piece. In essence, the graphic designer and I are doing product design.

Description of the Color Swatch Book

As I have mentioned in prior blog articles, this color swatch book is a series of rectangular cards digitally printed on a Kodak NexPress, drilled for a screw-and-post assembly, round cornered (diecut), and assembled. There are almost twenty versions of this product, each containing different colors.

The Approach: Very Different from Commercial Printing

As I help the designer and client conceptualize the job, create a template and mock-up, and coordinate the final production of the multiple color swatch books, I’m noticing how the difference in the goal (functional rather than commercial printing) affects many of the design and production choices. Here are a few examples:

  1. In a commercial printing job, the paper is important. It has to make the colors look their best. In this functional printing job, the paper substrate must be a bright enough white sheet to showcase the colors in their most vivid nature. However, the whiteness of the sheet is more important. It must be neutral. It cannot alter the colors of the swatches. Their CMYK values must be maintained for the product to be useful.
  2. In a commercial printing job, the coating used on a cover of a book or a brochure is often added for its decorative qualities. It may also be applied for the durability it provides (if a print book cover will sustain heavy use). But in this functional printing job, the color swatch book will need to last a long time and not be damaged by fingerprints or fingernails. Durability is essential to the usability of this functional design job.
  3. A binding method for a book often depends on its length. For instance, an 80-page book might be saddle stitched, and a 160-page book would most probably be perfect bound (for aesthetic reasons and to keep the pages from falling out). However, in the case of the color swatch book, the drilled pages and metal screw-and-post binding serve a more practical purpose. They allow the book to be disassembled, so pages can be added or removed depending on the color needs of the end user. This capability will make the book more functional.
  4. The final and most complex of the characteristics of functionality in this particular job is its variable data nature. The multiple versions of the book will involve database work, or at least a focus on creating multiple products with certain common colors and certain unique colors. Having the right colors in the right order is essential. So accurate assembly is a huge part of the job. This is what makes the printed product a useful fashion design tool to those who pay a premium to own it.

In all of these cases, the common element is functionality, not aesthetics. In addition, the product does not need to persuade or educate.

What Are Other Examples of Functional Printing?

Inkjet printing in particular has opened many avenues for functional or industrial printing. For example, an inkjet printer can use a conductive material in lieu of aqueous ink to print circuit boards for electronic products.

In addition, three-dimensional printing of everything from jewelry and shoes to bodily organs and food (depending on the substance used in the digital inkjet equipment) would also qualify as functional printing.

How You Can Apply this to Your Own Work

Staying relevant as a designer or a commercial printing vendor involves being aware of trends in the industry. In the wake of the “death of printing” meme, I’m seeing a very different future materializing. From my reading, I’m seeing the growth of labels; folding cartons and flexible packaging; large format printing; and functional or industrial printing, to name a few. All of these provide opportunities for savvy designers and printers. None of these products will migrate to the Web.

Business Card Printing: Ganging Up Jobs to Save Money

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

A client of mine is buying some business cards, a brochure, a table runner, and a retractable banner stand for an upcoming convention.

I gave her prices for the items, suggesting an alternate paper stock to bring down the cost, and I think we were both pleased with the results. In fact, a simple paper substitution brought the price of 1,000 business cards two dollars below the prior cost of 500 business cards.

In addition, I provided pricing for 250 and 500 brochures. My client had thought these prices were a bit high.

Background on the Jobs

To give a little background on the two jobs, the brochure is a two-color, 8.5” x 11” piece wrap folded to 3.66” x 8.5” on 100# Finch Fine text, and the business cards are the standard size, printed on both sides on 130# Finch cover, with a bleed on the back of the card.

Both jobs had started out with short runs (50 copies of the brochure and 500 copies of one business card). Therefore, they were initially bid as digitally printed jobs to be produced on the commercial printing vendor’s HP Indigo. Although the viewer would perceive them to be two-color jobs, the business cards and brochures would really be printed in 4-color process liquid toner. In prepress, the printer would convert the PMS colors to their nearest process color builds, and then the jobs would be run as process color work. (If I understand correctly, the color conversion may even be made on the fly in the HP Indigo press.)

A New Wrinkle in the Jobs

My client wanted options and good prices. Who could blame her? She also didn’t want to buy more than she needed. Therefore, my client asked if instead of 1,000 business cards (with one name), she could have two sets of 500 cards (with two names). Presumably for the same price.

I said this was not possible. On a digital press, the jobs could not be ganged. I was wrong (and partially right, regarding price).

When I asked the custom printing supplier about this option, he said that he could in fact gang up the jobs, which would save money. However, the two jobs together would still cost more than one 1,000-copy press run because of the extra prepress work involved. (This last part is what I was expecting, but I was pleased that there would be a discount for printing both 500-copy sets of business cards simultaneously.) I knew ganging was possible on offset equipment, but I assumed the smaller format of digital printing would not allow this. I was pleased to be wrong. So was my print brokering client.

Still Another Wrinkle in the Jobs

The best price I could get on the brochures was about a dollar a piece for digital custom printing. The press run at both 250 copies and 500 copies was too small to move the job to an offset press. It would have not yet reached the point at which the unit cost would have been cheaper for offset than for digital.

My client asked about printing 250 or 500 copies of the brochure in English and 50 copies in Spanish. I said this would be two press runs, and the 50-copy press run would be expensive on a unit-cost basis.

Based on the printer’s stated ability to gang up digital jobs (business cards), I do wonder about ganging up the English and Spanish versions of the brochures. However, for 50 recipients of the Spanish version, my client opted to move this portion of the job to the Internet.

Since she still wanted to pay less than a dollar a brochure, I suggested that I request pricing for 250, 500, and 750 copies. This would allow my client to compare total costs and unit costs. At the 750-copy level, the job might even be more economically printed via offset lithography. I will leave that to the custom printing vendor to determine.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to consider:

  1. If you have received a printer’s price for 1,000 copies of one version of a job, changing the job and providing art for two separate versions will not cost the same total amount as the cost for one. This is because there is more prepress work involved, even if there’s space to gang up both jobs on one press sheet.
  2. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking about ganging up multiple elements of a job. This may still save you money.
  3. Printing 500 copies of a brochure in one language and then 50 in another yields two jobs, not one, even if the art (photos, design, etc.) is the same in both. This will be reflected in the price, but, again, there may still be a savings for ganging up the jobs. However, if your jobs will print digitally, remember that the maximum press sheet size is often much smaller on a digital press than on an offset press (approximately 13” x 19” vs. 25” x 38” depending on the digital and offset equipment). Particularly if your job will bleed, there may not be room on the press sheet to gang up the jobs.
  4. Always ask your printer about options. You might even suggest moving from digital equipment to offset equipment (or vice versa) to ensure the most economical custom printing process.
  5. If you’re splitting the components of your job between digital and offset equipment, remember that the former operates in a 4-color environment and the latter in a 4-color and/or PMS match color environment. If you produce a portion of your work using one process and the balance in the other, the two components may not match.

Business Card Printing: Digital vs. Offset Case Study

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

I received a business card to price a few days ago. My print brokering client wanted 500 copies of one version of a two sided card.

I had printed a business card for my client a few years prior, so I asked about the paper stock. I asked whether she had liked the last version of her card, and also whether the inks on this digitally printed card had been sufficiently rub resistant.

I had wondered about the durability of the business card since it had been printed on an Indigo digital press using liquid toner on an uncoated paper stock. I knew this would have been slightly less durable than a comparably designed business card offset printed on an uncoated paper stock. After all, digital toner particles sit up on the surface of the paper, while offset printed inks seep into the paper fibers. From a user’s perspective, the digitally printed business cards would therefore be more likely to lose toner particles to rough use and fingerprints than would the offset printed business cards.

Reviewing the Specs and Art, and Choosing the Appropriate Printing Technology

My client wanted 500 business cards printed on both sides. The front of her business card art included type and a logo printed in blue and type printed in black, but there was no abutting of colors (therefore no trapping). This would make printing easier.

I looked closely at the business card sample she had given me using my printer’s loupe. I could not see any halftone dots in the blue type; therefore, I knew the job had been offset printed. Had the sample been printed on digital custom printing equipment, the blue color would have been a process color build. There would have been overlapping screens of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black creating the illusion of blue type.

I wanted to make sure the commercial printing vendor could hold register on the Indigo digital press and produce a crisp version of the blue type and logo, so I emailed him a copy of the art file. I also wanted to make sure he could determine the correct percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black comprising the blue type by preflighting the PDF I sent him. Would the color build match the blue PMS color on the offset printed cards? He suggested that I send him a printed business card to use as a target to ensure color fidelity.

More Business Card Printing on the Way

My client seemed to be happy with the pricing I sent her the next day, because she then sent me three business card fronts (three names) and one business card back as high-res PDFs.

Having three business cards to work with might change things. I still consider offset printing to be superior to digital, even if by a small margin. Digital print pricing for my client’s prior business card printing job seemed to be about a third of the cost of offset for a run of 500 copies printed on one side.

So I asked the printer to bid the three business cards digitally and also as a ganged offset job, with all three versions on one press sheet. I knew this would effectively spread the cost of custom printing (set up, printing, finishing) over three jobs, making each business card effectively less expensive than one business card printed alone.

Now a Brochure As Well

I was even happier when my client added a brochure to the mix. The first iteration was a press run of 50 copies, so it would need to be a digitally printed job to be cost effective.

The brochure, an 11” x 8.5” six panel job wrap folded to fit in a No. 10 envelope, also had a two-color motif (blue and black). Of course, as a digital job the blue color would need to be a build of process toners. Therefore, I was concerned about registration. Would the colors used to build the blue be in register, or would they not be precisely aligned and therefore look a little fuzzy?

When I looked at the PDF, I noticed that the type in blue was set in a sans serif typeface, and it was not overly small. I felt better. There were no small, finely drawn serifs in the letterforms to break up or to show any misregistration. I also felt that the blue was probably only built with two of the four colors, probably only cyan and black. After all, it’s easier to get two colors in perfect alignment than four.

Increasing the Number of Brochures

Within 24 hours the press run for the brochures had increased from 50 copies to 250 to 500. I’m not sure where the break-even point will be for shifting from digital custom printing to offset, so I have asked the commercial printing supplier to provide pricing for both.

I even suggested ganging up the business cards and brochures on a larger press sheet (for offset printing). Again, this would distribute the make-ready cost among three business cards and one brochure.

It is true that the business cards will be on 130# stock and the brochures will be on a much lighter press sheet. However, given the short press run it seems that even throwing away some brochures and some business cards (extras printed on the wrong paper) would be cheaper than changing plates on the press. One press run, lots of waste, but overall only a minimal amount of paper. We’ll see what he says and how the pricing looks.

What You Can Learn

This case study reflects one particular print job. However, it also suggests ways to approach many other custom printing jobs. Here are a few things to consider for your own work:

  1. Will your press run be short enough for a digital press? Your printer can answer this based on the trim size, number of pages, and press run.
  2. If so, consider how the colors will be produced: i.e., four-color builds rather than the PMS colors used in offset printing.
  3. Will the type be too small or too intricate if produced with screens of the process colors?
  4. How will the liquid toners behave on an uncoated sheet or a coated sheet? Will they be rub resistant? Ask your printer.
  5. If you produce part of the overall job on digital equipment and part on offset equipment, will the two printed pieces (let’s say a brochure printed digitally and a set of business cards produced via offset lithography) look alike?

Custom Printing: An Approach to Integrated Marketing

Monday, April 14th, 2014

A few weeks ago while visiting with a book printing client of mine, I made a few suggestions about promoting three new titles this small publisher was about to produce with my help. He and his wife had a website and some marketing postcards, and they had asked my opinion of how to approach the promotion of these new print books.

I was excited about the helping this couple, so I closely reviewed this publisher’s printed and online materials to get a sense of their current marketing strategy and hopefully help improve it.

My Approach to Their Website

First of all, the three print books I have helped him and his wife produce have been glorious, with French Flaps, deckled edged cream paper, and a heavy cover stock. They epitomize the tactile qualities that only a good print book can provide.

I reviewed the publisher’s website and made these suggestions:

  1. He and his wife should have a goal in mind. The website should be more than an online brochure. It should reflect the visual branding of their books, and it should invite the reader to contact the publisher and order more books, sign up for a mailing list, or whatever else my client wants the reader to do. But it needs to encourage the reader to actually do something.
  2. The website should be simple and easily navigable, with links to print book descriptions, a publisher’s contact page that can accept reader address information, and perhaps a calendar of the book launches and other promotional events the publisher hosts periodically. These links should be immediately visible at the top of the web page, and should perhaps be accompanied by a large image that reflects the tenor of his and his wife’s publishing house. I don’t think the website needs a lot of pages. Only a few, with immediately visible contact information, will do nicely.

My Approach to Their Postcard

The publisher suggested that we create a marketing postcard that would ask for information about the reader to create a book sales list and a subscription newsletter. I encouraged him and his wife to also link electronically back to their website, perhaps using PURLs (personalized landing pages), which would give a consistent look to the promotional campaign.

The postcards could be inserted into the books, so readers could immediately get back in touch with the publisher, get on a mailing list, and continue a dialogue about the book. I thought that a tie between a print book presence, a marketing postcard, and an online presence would reinforce each of the three marketing initiatives. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to not only insert the marketing postcard into the books but to also send it to a select list of prospective buyers.

My Approach to The PURLs

My client could add a web link to the postcard text that the recipient of the postcard could type into his or her browser to connect to the publisher’s website. Or the publisher could include a 2-D barcode (known as a QR, or Quick Response, code that the reader could capture with his or her smartphone). This could send the reader to the publisher’s website. If my client wanted to go further, image recognition software now exists that would allow the reader to point his or her smartphone camera at a photographic image on the postcard (not a QR code) and be linked to the publisher’s website.

My Approach to Their Signage

My client and his wife also attend trade shows. As a small print book publisher, they can expand the visual identity reflected in their books, marketing postcards, and website by choosing from a number of trade show graphic devices.

They could cover their trade show table with a table-throw, which could have their logo and identity information emblazoned on the side facing the show attendees.

They could also produce banner stands (large format print graphics that could completely surround their space at the booth), or smaller collapsible graphic stands.

Some of the banner stands are miniature, and would go nicely on the top of the table. Others are larger, and could be placed on the floor for a more dynamic look (one at a time or three or more side by side). And the most dramatic large format print graphics would completely surround the back of the booth, providing a startling view of the color, imagery, and tone of my client’s publishing house.

Business Card Printing: Design with Printing Limitations in Mind

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I had mentioned in my last blog posting that I was designing and purchasing the custom printing for three new jobs: a business card, an oversized postcard, and a large format print banner. I’d like to share a few things that have happened along the way because they may help you in your own design and print buying work.

Keep “Live Matter” Art Away from the Trim

I had saved a copy of the business card file in PDF format. This had eliminated all visible InDesign rule lines and grids, making the job look exactly like the final printed business card would look. Sometimes InDesign’s measurement tools and grid lines can make it hard to see the underlying design. Making a PDF will solve this problem while preserving the InDesign measurement notations. You can turn off the measurements in InDesign, but sometimes it’s nice to have both the InDesign file with the measurements and grids and a PDF copy of your file open at the same time.

The Problem

On the back of the business card, I noticed that the small text was close to the trim. I was concerned, so I reduced the leading between paragraphs slightly.

The Lesson

In your own design work, keep all “live matter” text at least 3/8” from the trim. Assume that there will be some variance in the custom printing vendor’s trimming equipment. After all, trimming is a physical process which by its very nature can be imprecise. An error here can make type look uncomfortably close to the edge of your business card.

Be Mindful of Legibility with Light Ink Colors

The Problem

My client’s business card looked huge on my monitor, even though it was only a 2” x 3.5” standard card. Therefore, the type size was misleading as I was designing the job.

The Lesson

In your own work, never rely on the computer monitor for a digital or offset custom printing job. It’s always prudent to print a hard copy of the job. This way you can actually hold in your hand a facsimile of the printed product your client will distribute. Handing out business cards is a physical, or analog, process. Check your card mock up in a physical medium, and make sure all information is readable.

Another Problem

I had set some type on the back of the card: a list of tips provided by my client. (In marketing parlance, this is “content” that will establish my client as a “thought leader.” In reality, it’s helpful information for those receiving the business cards.)

I had made the 11pt. “Quick Tips” headline blue, using the accent color from my client’s logo. I had also made the 9pt. “Bonus Tip” in-line headline blue. They looked great enlarged on the monitor.

I had used a bold sans serif typeface in both cases (less problematic for registering the halftone dots of a 4-color build).

The color composition of the blue type was c77m19y14k0. There were only two predominant colors: cyan and magenta. The yellow would have been light enough to have been invisible had the type been out of register. Mostly it was cyan ink. But at such a small size–9pt. and 11pt.–it would have been a challenge for the commercial printing supplier to hold the color register throughout the press run.

To compound matters, when I reduced the screen image of the business card to its actual size, the blue type was almost unreadable. I realized that black type would be much more legible. So I changed the design, putting readability and printing limitations ahead of my aesthetic “wish list.”

The Lesson

  1. Consider the composition of a color build used for type. Remember that it will be made up of halftone dots. If you’re screening type that’s of a small size, the halftone dots will be larger relative to the size of the type letterforms. Within a small type size, these 4-color dots laid over one another may impede readability. If they’re out of register, they will also look fuzzy. For a color build, try to use only two process colors, unless one is yellow, which is light enough to be forgiving. And expect the printer to not hold perfect color register.
  2. Consider readability. Text printed in a light colored ink is harder to read than text printed in black ink. Since type letterforms are not a solid block of ink, the PMS chip (or 4-color chip) from which you have chosen the color (prior to conversion to 4-color process ink) will look darker than the actual type. After all, the chip is a solid square of ink, and the type is made up of lighter strokes and curves.

Business Card Printing: Avoid Toner Scuffing

Friday, December 14th, 2012

I’m in a bit of a quandry.

I’m have contracted with a commercial printing supplier to print business cards for a brokering client of mine. My client wants 500 business cards on Classic Crest Eggshell cover stock. The plant manager noted that my client’s digital print business cards will not be as abrasion resistant as offset-printed cards. This will be especially true if someone puts a business card in his/her wallet or if the card gets a lot of handling (i.e., abrasion from the natural skin oils on people’s hands). The commercial printing plant manager said the Indigo toners will scratch more easily than offset ink because the toner does not seep into the paper. Instead, it sits up on the paper’s surface.

I let my client know that her options were to print the card digitally, assuming there might be some scuffing with heavy use of the cards, and yet also knowing the digitally-printed job would cost considerably less than an offset-printed job ($77.00 vs. $204.00 for 500 business cards).

Based on the price and the appearance of the digital business card proof on the chosen stock, my client opted for the digital business card printing route. If the HP IndiChrome ink (liquid toners for the HP Indigo) would only scuff under rough treatment (moving against other cards in a wallet or enduring heavy handling), my client could accept that.

A Different View from Another Printer

I mentioned the first printer’s comments to another custom printing vendor who was pricing a different job on another Indigo press. He said that the liquid IndiChrome inks were suspensions of pigment in oil, so the fluid would be absorbed into the paper fibers and give the toner something to hold onto. He thought there should be good rub resistance even on uncoated paper.

My Online Research

Since I was confused by the differing views from the two printers, I did some online research. Here’s what I found. You may find it useful when designing business cards:

  1. Any printed piece not coated with varnish, liquid or film laminate, UV coating, or aqueous coating will have some tendency for the ink to rub off.
  2. Some Indigo operators have had trouble with more offsetting and scuffing on HP Indigo equipment than they had expected; however, there seem to be ways to lessen surface ink abrasion.
  3. Choosing an uncoated press sheet will be more likely to result in abrasion and offsetting of liquid toner onto adjacent sheets.
  4. Coated sheets seem to have fewer problems with rubbing and offsetting.
  5. HP provides a list of certified paper stocks that accept the liquid toner more readily than do other paper stocks.
  6. HP provides a Sapphire coating for paper stocks that can be applied to improve liquid toner adhesion to the paper’s surface.
  7. Some operators have found through experimentation that certain paper stocks that weren’t supposed to work well on the Indigo do in fact work just fine. Other paper stocks do not. In these cases the liquid toner scuffs or won’t adhere to the sheet.
  8. Adjusting the blanket temperature on the HP Indigo can make some otherwise unsuitable paper stocks work just fine (higher temperatures for solid ink coverage; lower temperatures for screens of a particular ink).
  9. Total area coverage (the amount of ink, or in this case toner, on the press sheet) makes a huge difference. According to one printer, total area coverage should not exceed 240 percent (the total aggregate percentage coverage of all screens of all colors). For example, C80 M20 Y40 K20 = 160 percent total. Printing 100 percent coverage of all colors (400 percent) would saturate the press sheet and just make a mess.
  10. Apparently, not using a full 100 percent coverage (but rather a 98 or 99 percent coverage) for solid ink can help avoid scuffing.
  11. When problems persist, take the product offline and add a UV coating or a silk aqueous coating.
  12. Using a gloss or silk coating will minimize scuffing, whereas a matte coating may make scuffs more obvious rather than less obvious.

How You Can Use This Information

The best way to use this information is to share it with your commercial printing supplier. In most cases, he will already know the pitfalls. Ask for a sample of your business card on the paper stock you like. See if it scuffs when you rub the toner. If you’re concerned, ask your printer to add a paper coating offline. Or change the paper stock. Also make sure your printer is using a stock that has been certified by HP. If all else fails, print the job using offset lithography.

Stationery Package Printing: Effective Self-Promotion

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

In the last blog I noted that refrigerator magnets are miniature billboards. I’d say the same thing about business cards. In fact, I feel very strongly that every piece of printed material you produce is an advertisement for your services.

A stationery package is a prime example of such self-promotion. When a client opens a letter you have sent, he or she unconsciously (and perhaps consciously as well) judges the quality of your design work, your professionalism, your attention to detail, even your ability to spot current marketing trends and distill them into your self-promotional print design work.

Design Letterhead, Envelopes, and Business Cards Together

Because an identity package is so important to your image, it is wise to design all elements together. There should be an overall cohesiveness to the design. You can accomplish this with consistency of the typefaces you use, the point sizes, spacing, and alignment of the typefaces, and similar treatment of such graphic elements as logos.

Find samples of business cards, letterhead, and envelopes that appeal to you and analyze them to see how the designer approached type size and placement, design grids, balance, and placement of graphic elements. Then design a few samples of your own. Try different typefaces. See how the overall image suggested by your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes changes as you set the text in a serif face (perhaps a more traditional image) and a sans serif face (perhaps a more modern image).

Try different alignments of type (flush left, flush right, centered). Try different colors and color placements. Lay each set of mock-ups on the table in front of you (business cards, letterhead, and envelopes) to make sure they give a unified look, and then make changes as needed. Show your work to colleagues to get their reactions. Strive for more than just a graphically pleasing appearance. Try to capture a reflection of your business: it’s goals, values, and overall tone. A lot of this is very subjective, but I think you’ll know when you’ve hit the right design. It may even help to jot down a few words or sentences describing your business before you work on the actual design of your identity package.

Sometimes it’s even a good idea to put the samples you have designed aside for a day. When you come back to the work, you can approach the design more objectively. Ask yourself what you would think if you received your mocked-up business cards, letterhead, and envelopes from a prospective custom printing vendor. Would you like what you see? Would you want to meet with the commercial printing supplier and perhaps send business his way?

The Paper Is Crucial, Too

Even more subliminal than the effect of the typefaces, point sizes, and logos is the effect of the paper on which you have printed your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes.

In my print brokering business, when I make suggestions to designers regarding their identity packages, I often suggest that they start with Crane, Neenah Classic, and Strathmore papers since these have integrated papers for identity packages. That is, they may offer a coordinated 60# or 70# stock for the letterhead and second sheets (printed, or blank, pages following the first page of a letter). They also may have 80# cover, or perhaps 110# or 130# cover for business cards, and they may have 24# or 28# stock for the envelopes.

There are many other identity paper manufacturers, particularly if you’re looking for a more avant garde look. The best thing you can do is either contact your commercial printing vendor or your paper merchant and ask for a selection of printed and unprinted samples.

When you are deciding which paper to choose, consider the color of the paper (brilliant white or a cream stock, or perhaps something entirely different like a pastel).

Also consider the surface of the paper. Do you want a pattern such as a “linen” or “laid” stock, or do you want a press sheet without a pattern (such as a “wove” sheet)? Think about whether you want a rough paper surface or a smooth paper surface. Review the samples your printer or paper manufacturer provides in different kinds of light (fluorescent, incandescent, and even sunlight). It might actually be good to use your inkjet printer to produce mock-ups of your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes in color right on the sample papers. Your commercial printing vendor or paper merchant can get you extra sheets of any currently available paper stock you see in the paper swatch books.

Again, remember that the identity package is often a client’s first impression of you. If all the component parts present a well-crafted image of who you are and what service or product you can provide, this will work wonders in helping you get your first meeting with a potential client.

Business Stationery Printing and Logo Design: Some Considerations

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

At some point in your career, you may be asked to print business cards or custom envelopes, or you may need to print business stationery. The job may involve designing a logo as well. If so, here are a few key concepts you may want to keep in mind during this process.

The logo will be presented in different sizes.

The logo you design will need to capture a client’s attention immediately and convey something about the business (what your client does, and also the tone or values of the business). On a business card the logo may be very small, but on a sign in front of the business the logo may be very large. Keep in mind that the logo is not just the mark (image, pictogram, etc.), but also the words (name of the company and perhaps the tag line). These must be readable and attractive in both large and small sizes.

Rule of Thumb: Make a mock-up of the logo (image and any related type) at multiple levels of enlargement to ensure that it is readable and conveys the company image in a positive light.

The logo will be presented in different orientations.

The logo you design will appear on a business card, on letterhead, on an envelope, perhaps on a statement of account and an invoice, maybe even on the side of a truck or the side of a building. It will probably even appear on the Internet.

Rule of Thumb: Consider how you will treat the logo in multiple orientations (flush left, flush right, centered–at the left top corner of an envelope vs. on a sheet of ). To be safe, create mock ups reflecting all potential uses of the logo and tagline (in different orientations). It will benefit the overall brand and look of the business if all elements of the corporate identity package reflect a coherent “whole,” and the best way to make this happen is to design them as a unified campaign.

The logo may not always appear in the colors you chose for the design.

Let’s say you want to fax a copy of the business invoice to a client. If you fax a document with a red and blue logo (for instance) at the top of the page, the client will receive the logo in black and white. Does a black and white version of the logo you designed still look acceptable?

Rule of Thumb: Design the logo and type treatment (tagline, etc.) in whatever colors you choose, but also see how they look in black and white. The same goes for use on the Internet. Not all web browsers or computer monitors render colors the same. Also, there are some colors that look better than others on the Web. So check your logo on several computers in several browsers to make sure.

Logo design comes up in many venues. Perhaps your client needs you to find a business card printing service, or a vendor for business envelope printing or even business stationery printing. Particularly if you are charged with either designing the logo yourself or hiring a designer and coordinating the design, the more uses you can take into account for the logo and words that accompany it, the better able you will be to provide a unified “look” for the entire corporate identity package.

“Runnability” on a Digital Press: The Need to Mix the Right Technology with the Right Paper

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

When selecting brochure printing services (brochure printing), a digital on demand book printing vendor (digital on demand book printing), or a supplier for business stationery printing and envelopes (business stationery printing and envelope printing), consider the best mix of digital technology, paper, and toner for optimal “runnability.”

“Runnability” is a printing term referring to the ability of a press sheet to move easily through press and post-press operations, yielding a satisfactory product with a minimum of stress and strain. Although it refelcts the printer’s perspective of not wanting to fight with a particular paper stock, it affects you as well: in terms of price and results.

To most offset printers, adequate runnability usually is determined by the manufacturing of the paper (its consistency of formation), the conditioning of the paper before use (proper temperature and humidity to prevent curling and avoid multiple-sheet feeding), its preparation before use (trimming squarely to size with no frayed edges that might deposit paper lint into the process), ink formulation (to allow for quick ink drying), and tolerance for post-press operations (ease of folding and such).

With the advent of digital printing, however, marrying the right digital process to the right ink (or toner) and paper takes on a new dimension. Here are a few situations that illustrate problems with runnability on a digital press:

  • You have chosen a soft and textured uncoated sheet for an invitation. Your guest list is short; you only need three hundred copies, but they will all go to Fortune 500 company CEO’s, so they need to be of optimal quality. You want to run the job on an Indigo digital press because of the superior product it will produce, but the paper you have chosen is too soft to feed properly through the press. In addition, the surface is too rough to accept a uniform lay-down of toner.
  • The same situation occurs with your own HP LaserJet office printer. You have chosen a thicker than usual paper stock to give the perception of seriousness and quality. But the paper jams repeatedly in your laser printer.
  • Or you have preprinted your letterhead with thermographic printing of your logo and type (powder added to offset ink and then fused to the ink with heat and pressure to create raised type). When you feed this paper through your laser printer, the heat and pressure of the equipment cause the thermographic print to melt, streak, and lay down track marks on the letterhead.
  • Perhaps you have designed a book for digital printing. Your design incorporates heavy solids with bleeds. Your particular printer only has a lower-end digital press, and the heat, extra toner coverage, and roller pressure combine to melt the digital ink and fuse the sheets of paper together. Your printer only gets one usable sheet for every ten he prints.

All of these nightmare situations have something in common: runnability problems. That is, an incompatibility between the intended product use and/or goals of the designer, the paper, the ink or toner, the printing process, and the equipment. The result? Trouble in press and post-press operations.

Talk with your color brochure printer, your custom book printer, business card printing service, or other vendor early to determine the best mix of paper, ink, toner, and digital printing processes.


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