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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 ‘Paper and finishing’ Category

Commercial Printing: Three Things You May Not Know About Paper

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Here are a few thoughts on the nature of paper to help you make prudent design and print buying decisions:

Custom Printing on Colored Paper Changes Ink Colors

When you print on white paper, the white substrate reflects the light back to the viewer without changing it. It does not add or subtract anything from the ambient light, except where the actual commercial printing inks provide color. In contrast, when you print on colored paper stock, the substrate changes the hues of the inks. A yellow or beige paper, for instance, will add a yellowish tint to the inks printed on it.

Therefore, you may not get what you expect when your job comes back from the custom printing supplier, and you definitely won’t see an on-screen image that will look exactly like the final printed product. If your brochure or booklet includes images of people, their skin tone may be less than attractive.

That said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t print on a colored stock. To get a more accurate view of how the final printed product will look, you may want to produce an inkjet proof on a sample of the paper substrate.

If you don’t like what you see, you have an option. Asking your commercial printing vendor to add a base of opaque white ink on the colored substrate under the photos will ensure that the paper reflects all wavelengths of light equally and therefore does not add a color cast to the process inks used in the images.

Paper Is Affected by Its Surroundings

Paper is organic. Therefore, it is affected by the surrounding temperature and humidity. Knowing this and accounting for the ambient conditions in the transport and storage of paper is important if you don’t want unexpected results during the custom printing process.

More specifically, the fibers that constitute a sheet of paper can change in thickness as much as 300 percent depending on the humidity. In addition, the same expansion of paper fibers in humid conditions can cause uneven growth or expansion of the paper in its length and width. Since paper expands more along the dimension perpendicular to the grain (known as cross grain), it can “grow” three times as much in this direction as in the direction parallel to the grain. This can wreak havoc with your printing plans.

In addition, exposure to light can change the color of paper and also affect its aging process.

To avoid problems, it’s important to transport and store paper in the proper temperature and humidity conditions and to make sure the paper is adequately wrapped to avoid exposure to light. Your paper manufacturer or printer can explain the specific requirements for your chosen paper stock. They will differ between paper stocks used for different purposes.

(For instance, the paper used for xerox printing is ideally stored at 30 percent humidity at a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade (68 degrees fahrenheit), whereas offset printing paper is ideally stored at 50 percent humidity at a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade. Due to the high heat used in laser printing, xerox or digital printing paper prefers a lower relative humidity.)

Finally, plan to have the paper delivered to your printer with adequate time for it to become acclimated to the pressroom temperature and humidity. (This may take 24 or more hours depending on the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures.)

Uncoated Paper Works Better Than Coated Stock for Glue Binding

When you perfect bind a print book, the bindery usually grinds off the spine of the collated press signatures to allow the glue to seep into the paper. This improves glue adhesion, so the pages don’t fall out of the book.

When you use an uncoated sheet for your print book, the paper is both rougher and more absorbent than a coated press sheet. Therefore, the glue has more surface area to grip and hold. This strengthens the binding. In contrast, a coated press sheet (gloss or dull) has a smooth surface and therefore does not provide as much surface area as an uncoated press sheet for the glue to grip.

Here are two ways to counteract this limitation and strengthen the glue bond if you do choose a coated stock for a perfect bound publication like a print book or magazine:

  1. Use a heavier rather than lighter weight printing paper.
  2. Use a cold adhesive glue rather than a hot-melt glue to bind the printed product.

Discuss these options with your book printer. He may have other ideas as well.

Commercial Printing: Primer on Folding and Scoring

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Often as designers and print buyers, we’re so focused on the page design or the texture of the press sheet that we forget the physical properties of the custom printing paper itself. Here are some thoughts on paper folding and scoring, two elements of your print job that will be essential, but invisible to the reader, if done correctly.

What Is Paper Grain?

Like wood, paper has grain. There’s a single direction in which the majority of paper fibers that make up a sheet of paper will align. It is parallel to the direction the paper traveled through the paper-making machine.

You can determine the direction of the fibers easily by tearing a press sheet. If you’re tearing with the grain, your tear will be much straighter than if you tear the paper against the grain.

You can also moisten one side of the sheet to determine the paper grain direction. In this case, the paper will curl parallel to the grain.

Fold With the Grain or Against the Grain?

Why does the direction of the paper grain matter?

If you’re designing a brochure and you fold with the grain, the press sheet will be less likely to crack, delaminate, or wrinkle. This is because you’re not folding the fibers; you’re folding the other elements of the paper mixture: the fines and the fillers.

That said, a fold “with the grain” is not as strong as a fold made “against the grain.” This may be a concern when you’re producing a pocket folder. In this case, to strengthen the spine of the pocket folder, you might want the printer to fold the spine against the grain rather than with the grain. In this case, you’re actually folding the paper fibers.

The paper fibers comprise the hinge between the front and back cover. This gives a strength to the fold on the spine that would not be present if the fibers ran parallel to the spine. In contrast, the parallel folds of the two pockets of the pocket folder are not structural and do not move back and forth as the spine fold does. Therefore, they can afford to be less durable than the fold of the spine.

Books Have Special Folding Requirements

If you’re producing a perfect-bound or case-bound print book, you do not have as much flexibility in choosing the paper grain direction. In this case, you will want the book printer to ensure that the paper grain of the text sheets runs parallel to the spine. If the paper grain were to run perpendicular to the direction of the print book’s spine, the pages would not lie flat, and the book might not open or close correctly.

Scoring to Allow for a Crisp, Flat Fold

When you fold thicker commercial printing paper against the grain, you need to score the press sheet before you fold it. Otherwise, the fold will be uneven, cracked, or buckled.

Scoring involves placing a metal rule (or some other device: even a string) against the press sheet as it goes through a rotary press or flatbed press (usually a letterpress rather than an offset press, although scoring can be done on an offset press as well; it just will damage the offset blanket). The weight of the printing press cylinders forces the rule into the paper, creasing it, and allowing for a later, more even folding process.

The bump that the scoring rule creates should be inside the final fold rather than outside of it. This allows for more even folding and less stress on the paper fibers.

Why You Should Score Before Folding

When a commercial printing vendor scores a sheet prior to folding it, any heavy-coverage ink, or varnish, will be less likely to crack when the sheet is folded. This may be useful for you to consider if you’re producing a pocket folder with a flood coating of ink, or even a brochure with photos, screens, or solid colors that cross a fold.

A good rule of thumb is that you should score any commercial printing sheet heavier than 80# text if you’re folding against the paper grain, and you should score any cover stock thicker than 50# regardless of whether you’re folding with, or against, the grain.

Book Printing: Paper Substitution and Other Ways to Lower Costs

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

A book printing client of mine told me today that she wanted to go with “Printer A,” but unless the printer could lower its price by $2,000, she would have to award the book to “Printer B.” As a commercial printing broker, I had negotiated prices with both printers. Although I trusted both vendors, I knew Printer A would meet the delivery deadline, period. I knew my client’s schedule would be tight, and she and I both agreed that Printer A would therefore be the ideal choice. But what to do about the price?

My client asked whether Printer A would negotiate to win the job. Although many printers I work with will in fact negotiate pricing, this printer would not (which I can respect). I don’t consider such a request to be “cheating” in any way. After all, there are other variables beyond price, such as quality, customer service, materials, delivery, and schedule. Still, I had been very impressed with Printer A’s quality and turn-around in prior years, so I wanted them to get the work, and so did my client.

The Option I Suggested to My Client

I offered my client an option, and she came up with a second one of her own. My option was to ask the printer for a paper substitution.

The job in question is a 300-page, 6” x 9” trade book printed on Finch Fine text stock. My client likes the brightness, whiteness, smooth formation, and thickness (or caliper, or bulk) of Finch, as well as its opacity (light-stopping power), which keeps images on one side of the sheet from being visible through the other side of the sheet.

Finch is not the only paper with these qualities, though. In addition, all of these qualities are measurable on various scales and can be compared from sheet to sheet and brand to brand. For example, the brightness of Finch is 98 on a scale of 100. Lynx, another sheet produced by another paper mill (Domtar), has a brightness of 96. To the unaided eye, the two printing stocks may be sufficiently close, if the cost difference works. (Of course, my client would need to see printed and unprinted samples before making such a decision.)

Some book printers buy Finch Fine in bulk and use it as their house sheet, while others may choose an alternate sheet to keep on the pressroom floor. Given the discounts many printers can negotiate with paper mills for large paper purchases, choosing a particular text stock can add up to either a savings or a premium, depending on your book printer’s buying habits.

In fact, a few years ago I had solicited a bid for the same print book and had received pricing from a print supplier who made a paper substitution without telling me. It was only because I saw a different caliper for the paper than I had expected within the specifications of the estimate that I questioned the bid. The sales rep confessed: there had been a paper substitution. When I asked for Finch Fine stock instead, the book printer’s revised price went up several thousand dollars. For this particular printer, Finch Fine was definitely not the house sheet.

So we’ll see what kind of revised pricing comes back from Printer A for this year’s book. My only concern is that the press run may be too short to realize an adequate savings (i.e., press run multiplied by page count multiplied by the savings per hundred weight cost of the paper, if there is in fact a savings). But we’ll see. We only need to lower the price $2,000.00.

My Client’s Thoughts on Lowering Costs

I had mentioned that my client came up with a plan for an additional savings. Her fulfillment house had moved and now had a loading dock in their new location. What this means is that the delivery truck could back up and offload one or more skids rather than numerous separate cartons of print books. Clearly it’s much easier to move one heavy, wrapped skid of books with a lift than to move cartons one, or a few, at a time. Perhaps this would add to the savings my client would reap. Every dollar would help meet the budget.

Asking for the Book Printer’s Suggestions

When I asked the book printer if we would save money by changing the paper stock and perhaps delivering wrapped skids rather than cartons, I also asked him to make any other suggestions he could think of based on the specifications for the print book. (It always helps to approach the printer as a partner. After all, he may have ideas you haven’t considered yet.)

Why You Should Care

After receiving a number of bids on a print job, it’s common to have a preferred vendor. Usually it’s because you’ve had a number of years of positive experiences with that vendor. If their price is a little high, and they can’t lower it for any number of reasons, don’t take this as a show of bad faith. Just look for other options.

Specifying paper by its qualities rather than its brand can open up avenues for savings. Discussing options for delivery (or, as in this case, packaging) can open up other areas for savings.

This kind of negotiating says something a good printer will want to hear: that you appreciate the quality, service, and schedule he provides enough to want to find a way to work with him.

PS: The Final Answer

Today, as I was completing this article, I heard back from the printer. He could lower the overall price by the requested amount to meet my client’s budget. He had shopped around for paper deals, and he would buy the same Finch Fine paper stock in rolls rather than sheets. Cartoned paper costs more than rolls. The printer had recently installed “sheeting” equipment, so he could prepare the paper for the sheetfed press, taking it from the web roll and chopping into the required dimensions. What a wonderful answer. If you’re in the same spot, ask your printer if he can buy rolls and “sheet” the paper.

Commercial Printing: Tree-Free Synthetic Paper

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

A number of years ago I saw a printed advertisement suspended from the bottom of a fish tank. I thought it was pretty impressive, since I would have expected printed paper left underwater to have become unreadable at best or at worst to have assumed the consistency of wet paste. I made a mental note.

Later on, I learned about synthetic papers such as Yupo. There are others as well.

Beyond its curiosity effect, I thought that presenting a little information on this paper might be useful to you, since there are a number of projects that might benefit from a custom printing paper that doesn’t come apart when wet and that’s almost impossible to tear.

What Is Synthetic Paper?

Basically, synthetic paper is a tree-free commercial printing sheet that is based on petroleum rather than wood pulp. You could say it’s a plastic film. Then again, it looks just like an opaque white printing sheet, and you can not only print on it but also successfully score, fold, emboss, or perform most other post-press operations on it.

Benefits of Synthetic Paper

  1. There are environmental benefits. First off, it’s tree-free. This appeals to environmentalists. And it’s 100 percent recyclable as well.
  2. It’s waterproof (and even submersible).
  3. It’s extremely durable and scuff resistant.
  4. As noted above, it can be printed and finished just like wood pulp or cotton fiber paper.

When Would You Use Synthetic Paper?

Here are a few scenarios that would be perfect for synthetic custom printing paper:

  1. Let’s say you need to create a map that hikers will use in the rainforests of Peru. The maps will need to be crisply printed and durable, they will need to be folded in map-fold sequence, and they will need to withstand heavy use in torrential rain. For this, synthetic paper would be ideal.
  2. Or let’s say you need to create labels for wine bottles that will go from the refrigerator to the dinner table in a restaurant. Water condensation due to extreme temperature changes might make a waterproof paper an attractive choice for custom label printing.
  3. Or maybe you want to produce a childproof menu or placemat, something that can be wiped off repeatedly without any degradation in quality. Synthetic paper would be ideal.

The Good News and the Bad News

The Good News

  1. The good news is that this durable, waterproof, tear-resistant, custom printing substrate can be printed via offset lithography, flexography, and inkjet technology.
  2. Since synthetic commercial printing paper is extremely resistant to chemicals and oils, it can be used for chemical labels and such, as well as food labels.
  3. Most synthetic paper includes no toxic materials (no BHA, no lead, and no mercury or chromium). Therefore, it does not release toxic substances when incinerated.

The Bad News

  1. The bad news is that you can’t use synthetic paper in a laser printer due to the high heat. This goes for photocopiers as well, due to the extreme heat required for fusing toner to paper. (Keep in mind, though, that you can use synthetic paper in inkjet equipment, which does not depend on heat for its operation.)
  2. This isn’t really bad news; it’s just a heads-up. Synthetic paper requires specialized ink formulations, attention to the details of using a new substrate when cutting and folding the paper, and consideration of drying time, use of anti-setoff powder, etc. In other words, using synthetic papers demands a learning curve for optimal results by any commercial printing vendor.

Book Printing: Thinner Paper, But Still “In-Spec”

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Oops. The printer called me today and said the paper he had ordered for my client’s hard-cover print book had arrived, but it was slightly thinner than had been requested.

I was concerned at first, but the book printer explained that the caliper of the paper was thinner by only .000235-inch per sheet. From prior experience and study, I knew that this happened from time to time. Products manufactured by paper mills vary slightly from roll to roll. This is normal.

After all, uncoated book paper (which was to be used for the hardback book’s text stock) is an organic substance. It is made on a Fourdrinier machine, which starts with essentially a liquid syrup and ends with a flat (but porous and slightly uneven) paper surface, even after the custom printing stock has been fed through numerous sets of metal rollers.

The gist of this is that I couldn’t just say, “Send it back.” The paper was still “within spec” and perfectly acceptable by commercial printing industry standards.

Would the Client See the Difference?

One would think that a .000235-inch difference from the normal paper thickness of 60# Finch Opaque Text stock would be unnoticeable. And in many ways this is true.

I asked the book printer whether my client would notice a difference in the following characteristics of the custom printing sheet:

  1. Thickness, or bulk of an individual sheet
  2. The overall thickness of the book (it was to be 552 pages in length)
  3. The opacity of the paper

I wanted to make sure my client would not feel a difference when turning pages. I also wanted to ensure that she would not find the bound print book to be thinner overall than expected (since the book is produced yearly, and subscribers might not accept any semblance of cheaper materials).

I also wanted to make sure the book pages would have opacity (or light stopping power) equal to last year’s edition. It would not be acceptable for screens, heavy type, and photos on the front of a page to be visible through the back of a page.

The book printer confirmed that my client would experience no difference.

What Needed to Be Changed?

But there was a caveat. Over the course of the 552 pages, the book would be about 1/8” thinner than expected, and this would throw off the centered artwork on the spine of the dust jacket. The solid ink coverage of a PMS color that would cover the spine and end exactly at the folds (at the front and back of the dust jacket) was no longer accurately positioned in the art file. My client’s graphic designer would need to adjust the dust jacket artwork to compensate.

What About the Foil Stamping Dies?

There was a happy accident. I was immediately concerned about the metal stamping dies that the book printer had already sent out to be created. The front cover, back cover, and spine of the cloth-bound book included the book title and other text in gold foil on the green fabric. As with the dust cover, this type had to land precisely in the center of the spine as well as the front and back covers. I feared that the metal dies would need to be remade.

Fortunately I was wrong. Since the artwork for the spine did not extend to the folds (as the dust cover artwork did), the metal dies could be positioned to compensate. The front cover, back cover, and spine art (which consisted only of words and line art) could be moved separately from one another to account for the difference in the overall book thickness. In contrast, the art for the dust jacket was all of one piece and could not be separated. And the art for the spine extended to the edge of the spine (to the folds) and therefore would be unforgiving (without adjustment, the solid color would have wrapped onto the front or back cover).

So I learned something, the designer adjusted the artwork for the dust jacket, and everyone was happy that the cover foil stamping dies would be just fine and didn’t need to be remade.

Commercial Printing: The Art of Paper Specification

Monday, February 4th, 2013

If the following specification from a printing estimate strikes fear into your heart, we need to talk:

“Stock: Body: Printer will furnish a 60# Finch Opaque, 426 ppi., pricing as of 4\11\11.”

It’s really just a printer’s short-hand way of expressing in a minimal number of words a vast amount of paper information. Think of it as poetry, or a mathematical formula.

Let’s Break It Down

Stock is the paper used for your custom printing job, whether the job is a brochure or a print book. However, the word “body” is another way of saying text, so this particular wording from an actual commercial printing bid I recently received pertains to a print book. Another line item within the estimate might refer to “stock: cover” or “stock: dust jacket.”

The words “printer will furnish” are important because they refer to the source of the raw materials for the custom printing job. It is not a given that the printer will furnish the paper. You can, in fact, supply your own paper, if you can get a better deal and ensure that the paper is delivered on time, is in good shape and runnable, and is the correct choice for the job. Personally I’d leave this to the printer whenever possible.

Paper Brand, Weight, and Opacity

The words “60# Finch Opaque” indicate a few things, including the manufacturer of the paper, its weight, and its light-stopping ability.

First of all, the weight. This is the weight of 500 sheets cut to the basic size, which for text paper is 25” x 38” and for cover stock is 20” x 26”. Again, it’s important to look for words like “body” or “text” here, because if you’re expecting a thin text paper and your job delivers on cover stock, you’ll be disappointed. Or, if you’re expecting a cover-weight sheet and the job delivers on a text-weight paper, you’ll be disappointed. (Therefore, particularly when the numbers match, such as 80# text and 80# cover, or 100# text and 100# cover, make sure the estimate reflects your expectations.)

Finch Opaque is just one product made by Finch Paper, LLC. Finch makes roll stock, cut sheets, opaque stock, digital and offset paper, to name a few. Finch also makes different colors of paper, including various shades of white plus vanilla.

It’s always smart to get samples. Online descriptions are helpful, but nothing improves your choice of paper like a sample book, a good light, and your eyes. Better yet, look at the samples under different lighting conditions: sunlight, incandescent light, and fluorescent light. Look at printed and unprinted sheets. If you want to be really prudent, have a few people look at the sheets and give you their opinions. Keep in mind that people see color differently, and men and women in particular see color differently.

“Opaque” paper stock is a good choice if you’re printed product will include heavy ink coverage or lots of photos. Opaque paper has higher light-stopping power than offset stock. (That is, it’s harder to see the ink on one side of the press sheet when you’re looking at the other side of the press sheet.) Therefore, Finch Offset and Finch Opaque are not the same. But your commercial printing vendor’s estimate might omit these specific words, so to be safe, ask about opaque vs. offset. (For coated sheets, you would just ask your printer if a particular press sheet has adequate opacity for the job you’re producing. You usually wouldn’t see the word “opaque” in a description of a coated press sheet.)

Paper Thickness, or Caliper

The notation 426 ppi refers to the number of pages in an inch. If you specified a paper with a ppi of 350, the press sheets would be thicker than a paper with a ppi of 426 (i.e., fewer sheets needed to create a stack of paper one inch tall). When you’re choosing a particular paper with a particular ppi (referred to as a paper with a particular “caliper”), think about the thickness of the final product. A 426-page book would be one inch thick. A print book produced on a thinner paper might appear cheap and shoddy to customers who had bought last year’s copy printed on a thicker stock.

The final few words of the paper specification, “Pricing as of 4\11\11,” tell you something about the nature of custom printing. Specifically, it is a manufacturing process. Materials consumed in the production of a job will be factored into the estimate at the price at which they were purchased. That is, if you get an estimate from a printer in March, and paper prices go up in June, the book you print in July may cost more. This is a legitimate practice. In many cases, depending on the stock you want—and your willingness to have your commercial printing supplier substitute paper—your printer may already have an adequate supply on the pressroom floor. To be sure, you might want to ask for a “house sheet.” If a printer uses a large volume of a particular printing stock, he can often get better pricing than he can get for a specialty sheet.

The Best Way to Save Money on Printing Paper

To be safe, the more often you can specify paper by qualities rather than by name brand (i.e., “a #1 bright white opaque text sheet” rather than “Finch Opaque,” the more often your printer will be able to shop around for a good price. For example, Finch, Cougar, Husky, and Lynx might be equally good paper choices. As an alternative, you can request a particular press sheet and then tell your printer that you would be open to suggestions (or substitutions).

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.

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on a Printed Calendar

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

I have recently been designing a calendar for a client of mine. She is a professional photographer. She takes photos of beautiful flowers. In preparing the files and reviewing digital proofs today, I addressed a number of issues I thought you might find useful in your own design and custom printing work.

Backing Up the Press Sheet

The calendar will have a limited distribution, so the job will be printed on an Indigo digital press. The commercial printing vendor sent my client a final PDF for approval prior to proceeding, and my client came back to me with an interesting question. All of the calendar pages were upright, and all of the floral images were upside down. Why?

I knew this was a press imposition issue, but I didn’t immediately realize the obvious. When you look at a calendar that has been spiral bound, with a calendar page on the bottom and a photograph on the top, the photograph must be upside down on the press sheet. Otherwise it will be upside down on the final printed calendar.

Try it yourself. Check out a commercial, spiral bound calendar with the binding running horizontally between the upper photograph and the calendar grid. All photographic images will have been printed upside down on the back of the calendar pages.

Another Example: A Fold-Over Card

Here’s another example of how the obvious can trip you up. Imagine a horizontal fold-over card with an image on the front and text (perhaps a credit for the photo) on the back. When you lay out this card in InDesign, you will create a flat, two-page spread (one page above the other) for the inside of the card and another two-page spread for the outside of the card. (For instance, for a 5” x 7” card you would create a template 7” wide and 10” tall. This would then fold over horizontally to create the finished 5” x 7” card.)

The inside of the card might have a quotation on the bottom panel, and the top panel might be blank. There’s nothing complicated in that.

However, the outside of the card will have the photograph upright, taking up the bottom half of the 7” x 10” two-page panel (one page over the other to create the back and front of the card). The key to not making a bad mistake here is to flip over the photo credit (and whatever else goes on the back of the card) in InDesign and position it on the top half of this 7” x 10” panel.


Once the commercial printing supplier has printed, trimmed, and folded the card, all type will appear in the proper orientation—just like my client’s calendar pages. But unless you do this counter-intuitive step of flipping the type over, the finished, folded card will have upside down type on the back of the card.

What Does This Really Mean to You?

It means you have to be alert and think of the final, printed item as an object, not just a design. If you take a little time to make a physical mock up of a job like a calendar or fold-over card, you can see how the final, printed piece will operate in physical space. On the computer, something may make perfect sense but be entirely wrong.

One More Useful Step

My client found four typos in the proof (not photo coloration problems at this point, just typographic errors). Granted, this was the best time to find them, prior to the custom printing work. However, since only four text pages and no photo pages were involved, I elected to only distill PDF pages of the four affected pages to resend to the commercial printing vendor. I started to distill the entire document as a new, press-ready PDF, but I stopped short and changed my mind.

Here’s why.

  1. My client had already approved all other pages of a hard-copy proof provided by the custom printing supplier. The printer had already imposed the job for the press. Starting over with a complete file would have only added time and trouble to the process (and the potential for error).
  2. Since my client had approved (in writing) all other pages, matching these pages on press was now the printer’s responsibility. At this point, my client was only responsible for the four new type-only pages. Again, there was less room for error.

(After all, a new file may have inadvertently included new errors in one or more of the photo pages or other calendar pages. Accidents happen. We knew for sure that the printer’s copies of all other pages were absolutely correct, so it was prudent to only submit the four new pages.)

So when you get to this final proofing opportunity, my personal opinion is that it’s best to only provide individual press-ready pages in PDF format. Just a thought.

Book Printing: Sometimes Moving Text 1/8” Can Save $1,300 or More

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

In prior blogs I have always been a great proponent of making your custom printing vendor an ally and partner. Develop trust and a two-way relationship. It will benefit you both.

This week in my print brokering work I received a suggestion from a commercial printing supplier to whom I had bid out a 11,000-copy perfect-bound book. With a 6” x 9” format and 312 pages, the job involved a lot of custom printing paper, and therein lies the key to the savings.

The Commercial Printing Proposal

The book printer told me that if my client moved the position of type in the book 1/8” to adjust the face and gutter margins, my client could save approximately $1,300.00. He was proactive because he wanted the job. I’m fine with that, since he provided a way my client could save a considerable amount of money. I wanted to give him the work since he had delivered stellar print jobs on a number of prior occasions.

Specifically, the textbook had a face margin of 1/4” and a gutter margin of slightly more than 1/2”. The book printer told me that my client should move the column of text toward the gutter 1/8” on each of the facing pages, leaving a 3/8” gutter margin and a 3/8” face (outside) margin. He could do this automatically. My client would not need to adjust the art files she had produced.

This small change would allow the book printer to use a smaller press sheet for the job. Instead of buying a 28” x 40” press sheet on which to lay out and print the signatures of the book, he could use a 25” x 38” sheet. For 10,000 copies this would save approximately $1,300.00, and for 11,000 copies it would save approximately $1,500.00.

The Details of the Savings

The custom printing supplier explained to me that the goal would be to position the pages of the book signature on the press sheet to allow for an 1/8” grind off for the spine. By grinding the spine edge of the stacked signatures in a perfect-bound book, the printer can give a little more surface area into which the binding glue can seep, holding the print book together better as the reader opens and closes the book repeatedly over the years.

In short, moving the column of type in the print book slightly toward the gutter allows the printer to lay out the pages of a signature on a press sheet more efficiently, leaving enough room for this “grind-off” while placing the same number of book pages on a smaller sized press sheet. This is efficient planning.

What We Can Learn from This

  1. The greater the level of trust you can develop with your book printer, the more he will perceive you as a partner (and vice versa). Therefore, when he knows you have a particular budget to meet, he can research various ways to save you money. Whether this means suggesting a different paper stock (the same printer suggested Soporset as an alternative to Finch for my client’s textbook, although my client did not like the roughness of its surface and decided to stay with the Finch stock), or adjusting the imposition of the print job to use the paper more efficiently, if you have developed a relationship of trust with your printer, he will make suggestions to help you.
  2. The higher the page count and the longer the press run of your print book, the more paper you will use. This is obvious. What is not as obvious is that a small adjustment that can save a small amount per page can provide a sizable savings over the course of a long press run. The potential savings of $1,300.00 to $1,500.00 that the book printer offered my client was due to the large amount of paper consumed during print production. A shorter book with a smaller press run would not have saved anywhere near as much money with this simple design change.
  3. A small change can make a big difference. My client would not need to change the trim size of the 6” x 9” book at all, just the placement of art on the page (i.e., the print book margins). The moral is that you should always ask the printer if your particular design yields the most efficient use of the press sheet. Remember that each printer will have different equipment (potentially different sized presses that accept different sized press sheets), so the answer may differ from vendor to vendor.


My Client’s Final Decision

People have different motives and different goals. I was surprised to learn that my client wanted the book to match the prior year’s version more than she wanted to save $1,300.00 to $1,500.00.

Actually, I can understand and respect her decision. Even 1/8” might be problematic if the text were to fall too close to the gutter. In this case, my client was concerned that some of the 11,000 readers might be uncomfortable with the smaller gutter margin. For her, quality and consistency with prior years’ versions trumped a price savings. (If you’re selling custom printing, it is important to understand the client’s goals. If you’re designing a print book and buying printing, it’s important to understand your boss’ and your reader’s goals.)

Commercial Printing: Domtar’s Dream Paper Promotion

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

I just received the new paper promotion booklet from Domtar called Dream. It showcases some dramatic printing techniques on Cougar paper. I thought you might find the book interesting.

Overview of Dream

First of all, I’d encourage you to contact Domtar and request this promotional book yourself. You will be included in Domtar’s marketing database and start receiving free print books like Dream on a regular basis. Nothing beats seeing what a paper company can do with good commercial printing paper and creative design. The paper mills put a lot of money into these promotions, and they are great educational tools.

If you get this print book, first page through it for the overall effect, and then jump to the “production notes” section at the back of the book. Almost every paper promotion book includes a section like this, with a thumbnail photo of each page spread and a description of exactly how the paper company achieved the custom printing effects.

Paper Use in the Promotional Book

Reading the production notes, you can see that Domtar printed the cover of Dream on 130# double-thick Cougar cover stock, smooth finish. Double-thick cover is also known as duplex cover stock. It can either be composed of two different stocks laminated (glued) together, or it can have one side printed one color and the other side printed another color. Paper mills can even produce commercial printing paper with different finishes on the two laminated paper stocks (smooth and antique, for instance). Duplex stocks tend to be thicker than usual, from 100# to 160# (the one used for the cover of Dream is 130#).

The inside of the book is printed on 100# Cougar cover, smooth finish. Since the surface texture of both the cover and the text pages are the same, the book has a consistent “feel.” The smooth, uncoated sheet makes the photos on the cover and inside the book appear silky (not as crisp and harsh as photos printed on a gloss press sheet). But the brilliant white of the uncoated Cougar stock gives the ink colors a vibrant look.

Normally, 100# cover stock would be exceptionally thick, but if you compare the double-thick 130# cover paper to the inside text pages, the text pages seem quite a bit thinner in contrast (one of the benefits of duplex cover stock).

If you look closely, you will see that the printer scored all folds. This is a necessary step when working with such thick commercial printing stock.

Samples of Foils and Paper Coatings

The production notes refer to “dot-for-dot” dull varnish. Such a coating would normally seep into the paper fibers of an uncoated sheet like Cougar. Varnishing uncoated stock is a little like putting paint on a sponge. That said, it actually does seal the heavy ink coating (for protection and to avoid scuffing and offsetting). The designer chose “dot-for-dot” varnish rather than flood varnish. This means that only the printed halftone dots of the image were varnished. In contrast, flood gloss or flood dull varnish lays down an even overall coating on both the ink and the unprinted paper.

Other pages in Dream include examples of silver metallic foil and clear foil stamping. The clear foil stamping looks like a gloss UV coating. On the page under the front cover flap, which includes a portion of a face, there is a dramatic contrast between the iris (covered by clear foil) and the rest of the eye and face (produced with only ink on the dull, uncoated Cougar press sheet).

Clear foil is ideal for adding a uniform gloss sheen to a portion of an uncoated stock, since it sits on top of the paper rather than seeping into the paper fibers. The silver metallic foil on the child astronaut page of the Dream book works well, too. Unlike silver ink, the silver metallic foil keeps its full intensity on uncoated stock, and its smoothness contrasts well with the rough tooth of the surrounding uncoated black paper.

Process Inks and Touch Plates

The production notes show where four-color process inks were used and where additional touch plates were added. In one case, the background of a photo in which a man is playing a trumpet has been augmented with fluorescent pink ink added with a touch plate. This extends the color range of the image significantly. Without the touch plate (an additional printing plate on an additional press unit) the 4-color process inks alone could not have achieved such richness of color.

On another page, an image of a skyline at dusk was printed with dense black and fluorescent yellow touch plates. The former accentuates the black (sometimes black ink can look washed out on uncoated commercial printing stock), and the fluorescent yellow ink gives all the lights in the buildings an ethereal glow.

What We Can Learn from Domtar’s Dream Promotion

There’s no better way to learn design and commercial printing techniques than to study the work of the masters. Paper companies put all their skills and financial resources behind these promotions. Their goal is to sell paper, but you can learn a lot from them as well.

In addition, always review the production notes section of a promotional piece. It’s dry reading (a little like reading a cookbook). But you can learn the intricacies of custom printing from a close study of these descriptions.


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