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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 ‘Design’ Category

Business Card Printing: Designing a Corporate Identity Package

Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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I know the words may sound overly business-like: “corporate identity package.” Another term for this is your “collection” of print business cards, letterhead, custom envelopes, and anything else related to your “brand.” This might even include a pocket folder or a coffee mug. All of the items need to look like they go together, but the design of the individual items can’t be so similar as to be predictable or boring.


Way back when, cowboys with herds of cows branded them to ensure their immediate recognition as “their cows.” A burned-in mark on the cows couldn’t be rubbed off, and a unique mark conveyed more than indisputable ownership. It reflected quality.

Today a brand does the same thing. It reflects quality. It also identifies the owner of the brand. Think about Starbucks. I don’t even drink coffee, and yet I recognize the specific green color, the twin-tailed mermaid (called Gorgona in modern Greek), and every instance of this mark on Starbucks store signage, Starbucks cups and mugs in the thrift store, gift cards my fiancee receives, and even on the Starbucks products and signage at the grocery store, where there’s a lot competing with this signage for my attention.

So how do you create a brand look that can be reflected in all of the printed material a company sends out?

Build (or Grow) Outward from the Logo

When I was an art director/production manager for a government-education non-profit foundation back in the 1990’s, we freshened up our logo. It was still an eagle, to represent the US government, but the style was very different from its predecessor: simpler, more stylized, and more contemporary.

The logo had been designed by an outside design firm, which specialized in corporate re-branding. When their logo design had been approved, it was up to us to implement it. We had to grow, organically (even more so than build out), a recognizable look. It had to be reflected in all print business cards and letterhead materials, but it also had to be reflected in all of the brochures, signs, and print books we produced during the year. Plus, all of these printed items had to retain their own individual look as well.

I was new to this aspect of publications design at this time, and we didn’t have as widespread access to imagery on the internet as we do now, so the in-house graphic designer and I worked together with printed samples that exemplified superior brand design, along with the designer’s own drawings and mock-ups, to implement the logo and create an overall branded look for the non-profit foundation. This was one of the most challenging jobs (at least to do well), and at the same time one of the most important jobs, I participated in during my time as an art director. And I started with the logo and the best in-house designer we had.

Elements of Brand Design

If I were approaching the same job today, the first thing I would do is Google “corporate identity packages.” I would encourage you to do the same, if you need to grow a logo into a complete identity package. When I do this now (using Google Images) and peruse the myriad photos that come up, I see the following general elements of design to consider for such a design task.

The Logo

As noted before, this is the central element of the brand package. This particular discussion presumes that you already have one. (Otherwise, approaching the design of a logo would probably constitute a book-length explanation in itself. This is probably why the bosses of the organization at which I was an art director farmed out this part of the job.)

The logo has to be recognizable and attractive at many different sizes, from very small to very large. Think about the twin-tailed mermaid of Starbucks fame. Throughout its history and its various iterations, it has been simple. Usually just green and white, or maybe green and black and white, with or without the name Starbucks Coffee, and with a logomark (the mermaid) crafted from only a few lines and no gradations. Because of this it is recognizable at a postage-stamp size or on the side of a building as a banner.

A more complex design might be more nuanced, but the few details of the actual logo (flowing mermaid hair, crown, twin tails) make the image more immediately recognizable and understandable. And as with anything else in marketing (particularly in a grocery store where thousands of visual impressions are competing for your attention), immediate recognition is essential. If you can’t get my attention in an instant, you’ve already lost me. Don’t waste my time.

The Typefaces

For a moment I’d like to shift back to the internet, Googling corporate identity again. It’s a lot more general than the Starbucks example, but when you see photo after photo of “laydowns” (like clothes laid down in a clothing catalog photo) of multiple corporate branding elements all together, the design concepts start to sink in. Many of these are probably fictitious. I don’t recognize any of them. It doesn’t matter. I see patterns.

This is what you can learn. In some way or another the logo is on everything. It is prominent, but it is often larger or smaller from item to item, although the treatment of colors is consistent. If the exact same logo colors are not used, it seems (from all the online samples of corporate identities) that solid black versions or logos reversed to white out of a solid color are optional presentations. When business cards, letterhead, custom envelopes, pocket folders, shopping bags, notepads, coffee mugs, caps, etc., are laid down together in these Google Images photos, the same logo, in different sizes, presented in either identity colors or black or white, all look like part of the same family. That, of course, is the goal.

Working organically, a logo is composed of a mark (drawing) of some kind, the name of the company, and sometimes a tag line. These words are rendered in a typeface relevant to the tone, feelings, values, and images one might associate with the company. This specific typeface (or these typefaces) should be repeated elsewhere, brought into the design of the paper coffee cup, calendar, custom label, or anything else the company prints. For instance, there might be additional copy on the pocket folder and surely on a brochure. This typeface, or these typefaces, if they are consistent with the typeface(s) in the logo, will create a cohesive look. Unity: a principle of design. Variety is another principle of design. You can create interest by varying the size and placement of the words set in this typeface.

Color Usage

Many of the samples I see in Google Images incorporate only one, two, or three corporate colors into the overall design. Some of these “paint the press sheet.” That is, they are used in heavy coverage, and they bleed off the edges of the printed item. This provides an “ample” look, a feeling of abundance.

In many cases, from corporate item to corporate item, the colors are used in different (but complementary) ways. For instance, the color of a brown logo printed on one item (in a small-sized space) may be repeated on another item as the background color bleeding off all edges (i.e., what was the accent color on the first item is now used more abundantly on this other item). This creates a “rhythm,” which is another element of art (both the fine arts and graphic design) along with unity and variety.

The Takeaway

The best way to start thinking along these lines (where unity, variety, rhythm, color usage, typography, and such become second nature) is to view collection after collection of corporate identity materials online (which is easier than collecting them all in physical form).

Then, once you have an intuitive grasp of the concepts, once you kind of know on a pre-verbal level what you want to do next, start making thumbnail sketches. Make them simple. That’s why it’s not good to skip this step and move directly to designing on the computer. You’re not committing more than a few seconds to each drawing. The idea is to sketch out as many ideas as you can, free form. Then you can go back, edit them, choose a few you like, and start making more developed mock-ups using your computer. I always try for at least three different approaches (not just alternate iterations of the same concept).

Then you can start applying the logo and surrounding bits of text to the business card, letterhead, custom envelopes, etc. Lay everything out on a table. In fact it doesn’t hurt to print laser proofs and then cut them to size, and tape the laser proofs to a pocket folder or mug (or whatever other physical item you’re working with). See how everything looks together as a family of promotional items.

Then be ruthless in your editing. Decide what works well individually and what works well together. Make changes. Print out new laser proofs and cut and paste them to make your revised collection. If you have a color printer (inkjet is fine), all the better.

Then show people you trust and respect. Consider their suggestions. Make changes. Rinse and repeat. It’s a lengthy process (perhaps even a journey), but each revision will get better and better, and the group of items will look more and more cohesive.

Commercial Printing: A Striking Book-Design Case Study

Sunday, December 18th, 2022

Photo purchased from …

Everything I learned about graphic design, I learned on my own by observing. My degree is in English Literature. That said, I’ve been observing, analyzing, and practicing graphic design for 48 years now, ever since I laid out my first high school yearbook.

Last week my fiancee found a print book at a thrift store that immediately caught my interest due to its design or, more specifically, due to the organization of its content and its visual flow from page spread to page spread.

Two Principles of Organization

To illustrate these two concepts, let’s start with the organization of content. Forty years ago, as a print book designer, I would receive a manuscript in which all text was the same size and typeface (written on a mainframe computer). At that stage, a reader would have had no idea of which paragraphs were of greater or lesser importance, which pertained to the front matter of the print book, or which were text, captions, callouts, or sidebars.

It was an undifferentiated mass of text, like some modern novels I have read. My first goal was to break up the text into related chunks, to place these separate text groupings onto appropriate pages, and then to use such tools of graphic design as typeface and point size to either connect these text blocks to one another or to set them apart—based on their content and their levels of importance.

The second concept is more sensory (less cognitive). It is the visual flow of the print book. In this vein, the reader’s eye appreciates contrast. Contrast helps the reader identify related (vs. unrelated) chunks of copy as well as related ideas presented with visuals. It also gives the reader a break from undifferentiated words on a page (as do type size and typeface choices, as noted above).

Analyzing the Book

The print book my fiancee found at the thrift store is called The 9-Inch “Diet” by Alex Bogusky and Chuck Porter. Intriguingly, it is 9” x 9” in format (which is congruent with its title), and it is perfect bound. The content addresses how commercially sold food has been super-sized to the detriment of our health.

As with the books I produced prior to becoming an art director, The 9-Inch “Diet” was initially an undifferentiated manuscript produced in a word processor on a computer. A print book designer made sense out of all the material, and because of this I, as a reader, can now more easily grasp the points Bogusky and Porter make.

Let’s tease out the specific things the book designer did.

Contrast of Size

The running text of the book is set in an easy to read serif typeface in two columns at what looks like about 11 pt. with extra leading (space between lines of type). For ease of readability, the body copy is set ragged right (which is easier to read than justified copy).

Introductory material in the front of the book spans the two columns and is set in a larger point size.

Headlines are set in what looks like a 36 pt. slab serif typeface in all capital letters. Since they are separated from the text with adequate space, the uppercase headlines are still readable (even though an all capitals headline treatment does slow down reading).

The headlines either span two columns (above the text) or fill the column next to a column of body copy.

And there are callouts. If they appear on a page with text, they are slightly smaller than headlines (and are written in a conversational tone), and if they appear alone on a page spread, they are much larger and yet are still set in the same slab serif typeface in all capital letters.

I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this granular information isn’t mind numbing. However, my point is that consistency sets up patterns (and therefore expectations) for the reader to consciously or unconsciously absorb. For the treatment of body text, headlines, and callouts, there is a pattern—and a rhythm—that allows the reader to group information and grasp salient points. Contrast is the tool that makes this happen.

But contrast in this book goes further. There are dramatically different single pages, and double-page spreads, that add variety to the book (and allow the reader to pause in reading the text). Large, all-caps, slab serif typeface blocks of copy (in a conversational tone) are laid out on black, full-bleed backgrounds and white backgrounds.

The large size (the single white or black page or page spread) adds a periodic pause (and a pithy statement) breaking up the flow of the body copy (the running text of the book). This makes these pages stand out, reinforces their importance, and gives the reader a break in reading the text.

Full bleed, double-truck (spanning a full two-page spread) images as well as images that don’t bleed further punctuate the book. In contrast to the complex pages of body text (which often have ample white space around them, reflecting another contrast, one of content vs. no content), these pages are simple, giving the reader only one thing to focus on at the moment.

Visual Flow

Flow is more general (it affects the whole print book rather than just one page), but like contrast of type size and contrast of value (huge white type against a black background and huge black type against a white background), page flow breaks up the book and carries the reader through the text with an implied (and expected) rhythm.

For example, the The 9-Inch “Diet” book designer used “implied lines” to direct the reader. For instance, in one photo a man’s finger points at a single pea on a plate. His arm (in a suit), his hand, and a finger create a diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right of the page, drawing the reader’s eye to the pea (also highlighting the contrast in size of the arm and the pea), while on the opposite page there are two ragged-right columns of type and above these a large amount of white space (this spread opens a chapter, justifying the large white space at the top).

And I just saw this. There’s a tiny head shot to the right of the two columns on the right hand page (i.e., in a scholar’s margin). It is visually analogous to the pea on the plate on the opposite page (the same visual weight). It is also almost exactly aligned horizontally with the man’s finger and the pea.

What this means is that the reader’s eye sees a headline reversed out of the photo of the man’s hand, then the pointing finger, then the pea, then the tiny head shot on the opposite page. So the book designer has led the reader’s eye through the double-page spread. This is exactly what a designer should do, and it happens in a number of other places throughout the print book as well.

More Visuals: Drawings and Silhouettes

Line drawings and photo silhouettes round out the collection of visuals. In some cases the line drawings are informational (i.e., explanatory). In other cases they seem to be used for contrast with photographic images for visual variety.

What makes the numerous photo silhouettes interesting to me is two-fold. In many cases there will be a photo of a food: let’s say a plate of fries in London (5.5 oz) next to a McDonald’s “Super-Size” box of fries (7 oz.). Because of the nature of the silhouette (a total focus on the subject with no distracting background), the presentation highlights the dramatic increase (over time) in food portions in the United States.

The same visual device is used to contrast a plate of baked chicken and vegetables with a much more amply laden plate of fried chicken, potatoes, pasta, and veggies. The first photo has the word “Realistic” reversed out of it. The second has the words “You wish” reversed out of it.

So the visual device of silhouetting an image is congruent with the focus on size (and size differences) that the designer wants to illustrate. It is not a gratuitous effect.

However, as an aside, the silhouetting effect does amplify the white space on the page, which, as noted above, gives the reader a visual break in an otherwise full-to-capacity visual field.

The Takeaway

What can you learn from this discussion? Here are some thoughts:

  1. All visual techniques and tricks should be pertinent. You as a designer should pick the appropriate tool both to reinforce the points stated in the text and also to show the reader what to read first, second, and third.
  2. Contrast is a valuable tool for organizing visual and textual material. Consider type size, typeface, background screens, photos. Use generous white space to set apart (and group together) related items.
  3. Find books and other publications you like, deconstruct them, and be able to articulate how the tools of graphic design were used to reinforce the meaning/content of the book/brochure/etc.

Book Printing: An Approach to Book Page-Spread Design

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

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My first job straight out of college, back in 1980, was editor-in-chief of a small community newspaper. I made almost no money, but that was ok because it was great fun and a tremendous learning experience. I even sold ads, laid out the paper, and delivered 50,000 copies of the tabloid every two weeks. (more…)

Custom Printing: Tips on Designing with Photographs

Monday, January 10th, 2022

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In the 1980s, about a year after I had graduated from college and then had edited a small community tabloid for almost no pay, I got what my father called “a real job.” I was hired to copyedit, design, and shoot photos for print books published by a DC-area government education organization. I had been a writer and editor, and I had taken photos for two yearbooks in high school, but I knew nothing about publication design. I only knew how to lay out a tabloid newspaper. (more…)

Custom Printing: When Press-Ready Art Files Misbehave

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

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I received a harried email from a colleague earlier this week. Her print book supplier was having problems with her art files. More specifically, a rather complex graphic background used for the print book cover and then repeated on the divider pages was not showing up when the file was opened on various computers in the commercial printing shop. (more…)

Custom Printing: Effective Design for Both Web Layout and Commercial Printing Work

Monday, July 5th, 2021

A single publication design that “works”–aesthetically and functionally—both on the computer monitor and on paper (in a commercial printing product) is rare and wonderful. Sort of like a unicorn.

With this in mind, I received an online prospectus from my fiancee’s financial planner this week and was struck by the graphic artist’s awareness of design theory, content organization, and how the reader’s eye works. I wanted to share this with you as an object lesson. Much of what you need to know as a designer, you can learn by studying this Blackstone financial prospectus. (more…)

Cheap Printing Services as Long Term Solutions

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

Printing plays an important role in making elements of a business visible in front of consumers. These consumers do not always have to be end users, but could be representatives of other businesses. Different types of printed materials commonly required are brochures, flyers, books, posters, T-Shirts, key chains, and others. These days, suitable print coordinators who can get in touch with various print companies all over the world are available for such tasks. (more…)

Custom Printing: Engage the Reader’s Eye with Page Design

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

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Whether you’re designing a print book (everything from the cover to the table of contents and the interior text pages), or you’re designing a poster, a brochure, or even a web page, your first goal is to make the design inviting and readable. If you can’t capture the reader’s attention, you can’t engage the reader. You can’t tell a story, teach the reader something, or persuade the reader to buy your product or service. If you don’t do this, all of the information on the page is meaningless. (more…)

Custom Printing: Achieving Visual Contrast in Print

Monday, December 14th, 2020

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If you’ve ever seen the high-contrast drawing of one vase or two faces (called the “Rubin Vase,” if you Google it online), you understand that contrast makes “things” stand out: like the proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” quote suggests. One’s perception of the Rubin vase switches back and forth between two black facial silhouettes and one white vase (called a “bi-stable image”) only because of the contrast between the stark white and black achromatic “colors.” (more…)

Custom Printing: Designing for Digital Printing

Monday, November 30th, 2020

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Designing for digital printing is a subject that needs regular attention these days. Digital and offset printing are not the same. While each has its benefits, they both have potential drawbacks that you can minimize based on your approach to the design of your custom printing project. (more…)


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