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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 ‘Corporate Branding’ Category

Custom Printing: Producing a Client’s Identity Materials

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

I’m trying to win new commercial printing work from a client I lost about a decade ago. Now she works at a new job, a nonprofit, and she has just sent me specs for five projects, including her employer’s annual report, a conference program, a brochure, a 9” x 12” booklet envelope, and a fundraising letter.

Although my client put together a rather comprehensive specification sheet, here are some of the issues (or questions) that arose as I went through the specs a number of times.

The Annual Report

The annual report specs were straightforward: 24 pages plus cover, 8.5” x 11”, saddle stitched, 4-color plus flood gloss coating on all pages, 1500 copies, 80# gloss cover and 80# gloss text, PDF proofs.

Here are my thoughts (actually only one), which I think you might find useful, too, if you design high profile commercial printing products. That is, my client may want to consider an actual hard-copy proof instead of just a PDF proof. Colors onscreen are often misleading, especially since computer monitors are back-lit. They create color with light rather than ink or toner, and they often make colors look brighter than the final printed product will actually appear. It helps to see a physical representation of what you will actually get.

What You Can Learn

It’s very easy to view the on-screen image at larger than 100 percent size, which will make the text imminently legible and the colors brilliant, but which will bear no resemblance to the final printed product.

You may also want to consider what my client has done with the extra gloss coating on all pages of the annual report. The plus side is that gloss coating makes photos seem to jump off the page. The potential problem is that adding a fifth color might necessitate moving the job to a larger press at a higher overall cost. That said, most presses these days do have four units to print 4-color process inline plus a fifth coating unit. But it may be wise to ask your commercial printing supplier before making this assumption.

The Envelope and Letter That Will Accompany My Client’s Annual Report

This is where I noted problems in my client’s spec sheet.

She planned to print the logo and company address in one color (PMS Process Blue C). This is actually cyan, almost identical to the cyan used in 4-color process work. My client said this looked great on the computer monitor. My response was that she should print out a color mock-up (at 100 percent size) of this logo and address to make sure everything is readable.

Why? Because light, small type can in reality be a lot less legible than the same type printed in black ink. And on an envelope, the return address is functional, not decorative. It has to be readable. To be safe, I asked for her permission to amend the spec sheet. I plan to ask the printers I approach to price both a PMS Process Blue version and a PMS Process Blue plus black (2-color) version of the 9” x 12” envelope.

What You Can Learn

If you’re a designer, you can learn two things from this. An ink color might look great on a computer monitor, and the type may be legible. But when you actually print the job, the color might be too light overall and might therefore diminish readability. A square swatch of color in a PMS book is not the same as type printed in the PMS color. This is because the type characters have a lot of empty space between the strokes of the letters, so the white background will lighten the overall look considerably.

Therefore, it’s usually wise to choose a darker hue for type. This is a smart approach to any design. For instance, if you’re thinking of making heads or subheads in a book orange, it may look great, but will it be readable?

My client’s accompanying letter had the same issue, so I encouraged her to request pricing for two colors as well as one: black for the type and PMS Process Blue for the logo as well as a price for PMS Process Blue for both the type and logo.

But there was one other issue she raised. She said the letter would be “static,” as opposed to variable (all copies would be the same, in contrast to the alternative, in which each letter would be addressed to a different recipient). This ensured an offset lithographic printing of the letter (1,000 copies) as opposed to the digital run that would be necessary if the job had included variable data (a unique name and address for each letter).

This was especially useful information, and it was not on the original specification sheet I received. So I added it.

What You Can Learn

The take-away is that if you’re printing a letter for a marketing package, make sure you tell your printer whether you will print the same letter for all recipients or whether you need a digital job with variable data capabilities. That is, if you will merge names and addresses into the original file and make every copy of the letter a different printed product, your printer needs to know this at the estimating stage of the job.

Another issue that arose concerned a future printing of the letterhead. My client planned to also print a run of blank letterhead in the near future, with only the logo and address, and she wanted to make sure this would work on her laser printer.

What You Can Learn

The reason this is relevant is that laser printer drums get extremely hot when fusing the toner to the paper. Unless you (as a designer) tell your printer you will need laser compatible inks, you may run the risk of the ink’s heating and smearing in the laser printer. This may not be an issue in your case, but it bears confirming with your printer when you’re designing and printing your own letterhead (or letterhead for your organization).

Finally, my client questioned the paper used for the prior run of letterhead, 70# Lynx smooth white text. She asked about using 60# text to save money.

This was my answer, and I would encourage you to keep it in mind if you design letterhead or business cards. Paper thickness gives a job a feel of importance, weight, gravitas. A 70# text paper feels more opulent than a 60# stock. I could understand using 60# as well. (This would be comparable to 24# copier paper.) But I’d never go as low as 50# stock for letterhead. It’s just too flimsy.

My Client’s Conference Program Print Book and Two-Page Brochure

My client’s conference program booklet was just a shorter version of the annual report (in terms of format), so the specs and the issues we discussed were similar. It had a press run of 850 copies, so I will ask the printers to price it as an offset lithographic job. However, my client’s accompanying brochure will only have a press run of 250 copies.

Here were the thoughts I shared with my client:

  1. Due to the short run, the most cost-effective way to print the brochure would be on digital laser equipment using toner rather than ink.
  2. Colors produced via laser or inkjet digital printing are “built” with screens of the four process inks. PMS colors are not used as they are in offset lithography. Therefore, matching colors exactly in a digital print job and an offset print job is often not possible. Fortunately, in my client’s case the specific PMS color is PMS Process Blue, or cyan, which is almost identical to the hue used in 4-color work.

What You Can Learn

In your own work, remember that color builds don’t always match PMS colors. This is doubly true when you’re trying to match commercial printing ink colors (used for offset printing) and colors made from powdered laser toners (used for digital printing work).

The Take Away

I’ve been in the field for 44 years now, and I still pore over the custom printing specs (either a client’s or my own) many, many times. Each time I seem to catch something new (an omission or something to clarify). In your own work, think of the specification sheet as your contract with your commercial printing supplier. Review it multiple times to catch and correct errors.

Always choose colors on paper (use PMS books, some of which even have type samples in the PMS colors) rather than on the computer monitor. Also, print out physical proofs to ensure the legibility of the text. You may be looking at a magnified view on the monitor, and the back-lighting of the monitor may also affect your judgment.

Don’t expect 4-color process builds of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to match PMS colors exactly. And don’t expect ink on paper to match toner on paper exactly.

If at all possible, design all elements of your corporate identity together, comparing one item to another from both a design perspective and a custom printing perspective. It will be of immeasurable help in ensuring a sense of visual unity among all printed components.

Custom Printing: Whole Foods Equals Great Branding

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

After a medical procedure today and nap during which I slept like the dead, I stumbled downstairs and grabbed the mail on my desk. I could barely see anything. My eyesight wasn’t right yet. But I knew by its colors and its feel that I held in my hand the new Whole Foods Market catalog/brochure—even if the address panel of the folded marketing piece didn’t contain the Whole Foods logo.

Now that’s good branding. So here’s a breakdown of what Whole Foods is doing right (in my opinion).

Branding: The Logo and Signature Colors

First of all, this 8.5” x 11”, 12-page, saddle-stitched print catalog comes to my fiancee’s and my house regularly. (Literally, at the same time each month.) This is important because it sets up an expectation in the reader. I think that the intangibles of a brand (in this case, reliability) are just as much a part of the brand as the shape and color of the logo.

When you open the wafer seals (to keep the folded piece small enough in format to mail economically: 5.5” x 8.5”), the first thing you see is the Whole Foods logo in the top left, bleeding off the top of the page. This is relevant because the eye starts at the top of the page and goes down. Why? Because that’s how we’ve been taught to read.

That said, there’s a large silhouette of an apple tart in the bottom right, also bleeding off the page. (That’s important because bleeds make the printed piece look bigger than it is. This is because your subconscious thinks there’s more of the apple tart—in this case—that exists beyond the edge of the page.)

The green logo at the top of the page and the apple tart capture the reader’s attention and link the Whole Foods brand with the visceral experience of culinary delights. This in itself could be their mission statement.

Branding also involves the paper choice: in this case a less-than-bright-white, uncoated press sheet. The more subdued look and the tactile feel, along with the presumption that fewer chemicals were used to bleach the paper, highlight the Whole Foods brand as being sensitive to the environment. This value draws in the clientele, who presumably feel the same way.

Page Layout

The brochure designer (who is masterful, and from whom I can learn a lot about design) continues the design through the remaining eleven pages within the following structure.

Photos are large and contain groups of delectable food products. In some pages, the photo takes up one and a half pages (bleeds across the gutter), leaving the balance of the two-page spread for a column of type. Alternatively, a photo of multiple products on a light background contains chunks of copy describing the products. (Actually, even the large photos that extend across the page spread have ghosted boxes for product descriptions. There is an air of sophistication in the way you can see the plates of food through the text boxes overlapping them.)

The designer also contrasts large and small images. (Contrast in size of visual elements creates interest—a rule of design. It also makes the large photos look larger and the small photos look smaller.)

Product prices are larger than the text type and therefore easily identifiable. (The reader’s being able to scan the booklet quickly makes product sales more likely.) Red ink highlights the word “SALE” when it appears throughout the booklet (enhancing reader expectation through repetition of similar visual elements).

Also, periodically, the signature green of the Whole Foods logo appears (for example, in a circular burst that says “New”). The circle of the “New” burst reminds the viewer of the circular green Whole Foods logo, and the repetition of the color and shape adds consistency (unity) to the catalog/brochure. (Unity is another principle of design, crafted through repetition of colors, images, typefaces, and such.)

In many cases the food (apples, for instance) appear to have been tossed around at random on the light background. (This is even true in some cases for the bottles of product on a white, randomly-patterned tile wall.) All of this lends an air of casual movement and excitement to the printed piece. (Just as you might toss a salad full of sun-dried tomatoes.)

One page is replete with “Prime” (as in Amazon Prime) member deals, and this icon as well is noted with a blue circle from which the type has been reversed. This hearkens back to the other circular logos, even though it is blue. On this page there’s a three-item by three-item grid of nine products. The structure of this symmetrical arrangement adds contrast to the bottles of sauces in active motion on the opposite page of the design spread.

The Piece de Resistance

I actually remember where I was standing thirty years ago when I was first asked to design a print catalog of government books for a non-profit organization, while including “lifestyle blurbs” periodically that pertained to government but not to the print books. I was behind the times in my confusion.

Within the Whole Foods booklet, there are periodic recipes. This is considered “evergreen” “lifestyle” content. People who read this brochure or print catalog presumably want to affiliate themselves with the brand, in part by expanding the food-shopping experience into a cooking experience. (Granted, even without the branding goal, the recipes are still useful information—which is why they hook the reader. After all, if you like the products and the environment, it makes sense that you’ll want ideas for using the food. I personally read Trader Joe’s marketing materials for the same reasons.)

The Last Page

As a recovering designer, I remember back when I was designing print catalogs like these and was faced with what to put on the back of the booklet (prime selling space).

First of all, you need to follow the postal regulations. I’m sure they’re online now, but we used to get books from the Post Office. These print books covered where to print the address information, where to place the indicia, and most importantly where to print noting at all, since it would disturb the optical character reader (and render the printed piece non-machinable). In your own work, follow these Post Office requirements religiously. If you don’t, at best the Post Office will charge you more per piece to mail the non-machinable brochures. But at worst the Post Office will reject your mailing outright, and you’ll need to reprint the job.

Fortunately, you can ask for a direct market specialist to bless your mock-up (size, placement, tab sealing, everything) before you print. It behooves you to develop a good working relationship with such a USPS professional.

Back to the design of the Whole Foods catalog/brochure. The unfolded back panel has a stack of sliced apple bits on the left, which brings the eye up to some “sale information” at the top and down to more “sale information” at the bottom of the page. When the page is folded for mailing, this stack of apple bits is visible on either side of the page (remember, this is what you see when you get the mail—the mailer and the back panel, not the front of the catalog—so it has to be recognizable and appetizing, so to speak).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

I can really keep this to one basic concept: Find examples of what you like and then deconstruct them. That’s how you learn. That’s how I learned.

Think about the paper, colors, and typefaces. Think about the overall design grid. Think about the photos. Think about what’s included (like Whole Foods’ recipes) and what’s not.

Use generous white space. It makes the design seem airy, opulent—and it’s easier to read.

Make sure the reader’s eye flows through the printed piece in exactly the way you want it to. (Use color and the contrasting size of the visual elements to achieve this.)

A well-designed brochure, print catalog, or booklet is a better teacher than a “how-to” print book or even a professor droning on in front of the design-principles class. Find designs you like. Look closely. Learn. Then bring into your own design work what you’ve learned from others’ work. If you do this, even a groggy reader collecting the mail will recognize the branding of the piece and associate it with the company you’re promoting.

And that instant of recognition alone is worth lots of money to the company your custom printing product promotes.


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