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Who We Are

Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

PIE's staff is here to help the print buyer find competitive pricing and the right printer to do their job, and also to help the printing companies increase their revenues by providing numerous leads they can quote on and potentially get new business.

This is a free service to the print buyer. All you do is find the appropriate bid request form, fill it out, and it is emailed out to the printing companies who do that type of printing work. The printers best qualified to do your job, will email you pricing and if you decide to print your job through one of these print vendors, you contact them directly.

We have kept the PIE system simple -- we get a monthly fee from the commercial printers who belong to our service. Once the bid request is submitted, all interactions are between the print buyers and the printers.

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Archive for the ‘Printing’ Category

5 Best Custom Printing Services to Drive Business Growth 

Friday, June 26th, 2020

Most businesses today are looking at the digital world to provide solutions to gain an edge over the competition. What they do not realize is that custom printing services provide a cost-effective way of promoting a business and in turn drive growth through increased sales. Five of the following services have proved effective for different successful businesses.

Stickers can Promote the Business Brand

Stickers can be a low-cost billboard for a business, but unlike billboards, they are able to move around. If a business is looking for affordable custom printing services that still make a huge impact on their brand, then stickers would be a great option. The stickers however need to be well designed. They can be put on car bumpers so that wherever the cars go, they publicize the business and create awareness.

Brochures can Serve as a Presentation Even in the Absence of a Representative of the Business

A well-designed brochure will contain all the necessary information that a sales representative would use to make a presentation. These brochures can be left in strategic public places where people are likely to have time to read like waiting rooms. The more people a business can have read the brochures, the more presentations the business will be making, eventually, they may see increased inquiries from people who have been reading the brochures, even without a marketing team, brochures can make a significant impact.

Business Cards are Effective Tools for Starting Marketing Conversations

Business cards are often given very little thought and yet they are great conversation starters. A business can use a business card to provide a summarized representation of who they are. if it is catchy, that could be the start of a conversation that can lead to a marketing relationship. What’s more, business cards can be distributed to hundreds, even thousands of people and when those people need the service or product that business provides, they will look for that business card and contact the business.

Branded Gifts Induce top of the Mind Awareness

Top of the mind awareness is how businesses gain leverage over the competition. It may not be enough to simply give gifts and think that it is enough to get people to remember a business. Brand the gifts that you give out to friends, clients, and prospective clients, imagine the impact a branded calendar has on whoever is given one. Every time they turn to the calendar to see the date, they also see the logo of the business as well as contact information. The chances that the individual will call the business when they need their service is much higher than if they do not brand their gifts.

Postcards Add a Personal Touch to Communication with Clients

Direct mail is still an effective marketing tool. Clients can feel more appreciated when they get a personalized postcard. Instead of auto-generated messages of major holidays and on the birthday of a client, send them a personalized postcard. This can cement a relationship and ensure customer loyalty.

In Conclusion

There are hundreds of ways custom printing can be used to grow a business. With the right designs and branding techniques, this can help a business grow significantly.

Plethora of Custom Printing Companies For Your Business

Friday, June 26th, 2020

There are different ways to start off getting custom prints from a printing company. An acceptable way of dealing these days is to ask for quotes from different printing companies in the world. However, instead of you spending too much time, it is best if a single company acts as the intermediary between you and the print company. In other words, let the intermediary ‘Google’ the most suitable printing companies for you at the best prices.

You will only get to interact with qualified print companies

Once you start searching on Google, you will realize that there are far too many printing companies out there, which would be many times over the number you may have imagined. It is the job of the intermediary to shortlist the custom printing companies that are most suitable as per your requirement.

Any image that you want can be printed on a surface of your choice, and this is known as a custom print. Whenever you place an order for such a print, it will always be prepared exclusively for you. An average of 3-5 business days is required to complete these prints, on an average.

Printing services should focus on trending products

A lot of work is being done in order to keep businesses relevant during the current COVID-19 crisis. It would be great if reputed printing companies start considering the print of other products as well, other than books, magazines and the like. At this time, many people would be really interested in buying custom T-shirts for different fund-raising events. If you are providing groceries, as an example, you may require signages, which in turn will require printing services. In the current crisis, if you ask for various COVID utilities to be printed, these might incur high charges.

Get brochures printed to promote your business

A brochure is an example of a custom print since it will not be used by any other company. You can make your brand really popular amongst your clients by giving them well-designed and printed brochures. No matter how much the digital medium grows, print brochures will always an impact on any customer. The use of colors in your brochure will impart a sense of professionalism to your company or institution. In fact, there are a number of brochure printing companies willing to take up such a job.

It is a great idea to have high resolution images in your brochure, as high quality and range of services will certainly impress clients about your company. At the same time, the logo on the brochure must be prominent but not too big. It would also be a good idea to put in pictures of your team, just to show the human side of your company.

To get a print done, all you need to do is a place a request with a reputed printing intermediary that acts as a middle man between the printing company and you. A variety of shortlisted printing companies will then send you their samples and price quotes, based on which you can select the most suitable one.

4 Things To Remember When Hiring A Printing Service Provider

Friday, June 19th, 2020

Are you in search of a printing services provider for printing your magazine? To ensure that you get a satisfactory quality of service, you will need to choose one of the best magazine printing companies. First and foremost, identify the service that you need. Figure out the exact type of service you require before hiring a company. All printing companies do not require the same companies.

Check the quality of material that the company is using. Ask them to provide you with some samples. Search for a company that offers a satisfactory quality of customer service. The firm you hire should address your concerns related to the project and ensure that it is completed according to your specifications. Keep the cost factor in mind. Ensure that the organization you hire offers a high value of service that justifies their service charge.

4 Advantages of Hiring A Professional Printing Service Provider

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Do you need professional assistance to publish a book? If you do, then you should look for a company that offers thebest online print solution. Online printing service providers offer high-quality printing. Therefore, you can rely on them to ensure that the end product you receive lives up top your expectations. These companies will provide you with options to enhance your project, based on aesthetics. Their layout artists will make your book look more appealing.

The quality of printing material will reflect the image and level of professionalism of your company. So, it is essential to have premium printed materials which you can take pride in. By hiring the services of a reliable company, you can get a large volume of books printed and save a lot of your valuable time.

5 Steps You Should Take to Find the Best Print Company

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

Summary: Here are five things that should be of concern to you when you are looking out for a print company.

From the time Gutenberg invented the first printing machine, there are so many changes that occurred to printing machines. Printing machines did evolve greatly, and they are helping us to get print material much faster with better quality and fewer errors. So many companies are offering print services today than ever before. But, this has created a lot of confusion than good.

If you check online, you will find so many printing services websites. Take some time to pick one that is best among all the options available. You need to check some things before using print services. Not many people know what exactly they need to consider.

Here are some tips or insights to find the best print services:

Visit Their Office: Now, this is one of the first things that you should plan on doing once you identify a printer. You do not have to visit all the printers in the city. Visit only them that have the best name in the market.

Avoid visiting the facilities of print companies that do not have an excellent name. If the facilities are well-kept, it only means they care about quality. Hence, you should take the time to check this aspect. The presentation of the facilities should be of concern to you.

Quality of the Work: You should take the time to check the quality of the work. Get some samples from each of the printing companies that you are planning to use. Go through their work to see if it is upto the mark. If yes, you should plan on taking things further. If not, you should continue to search for the best printing company. You should never skip this step if you have a determination to find the best print company.

The Customer Service: Yes, this is one more thing that should be of concern to you. You should take the time to find a company that provides excellent customer service to their customers. You do not want to work with a company that does not care about your priorities and feelings.

Now, this is the main reason why you should check for companies that try to understand your concerns and problems. A good company will prioritize customer service above everything.

Service They Provide: Yes, you must understand what kind of services a print company is offering. Take the time to check the printing services websites to get an idea of this thing.

A company that has vast experience will provide you with an array of services such as printing brochures, flyers, posters, magazines, and so forth. If the services they are giving is apt for your requirements, you should plan on using their assistance.

Check the Prices: Lastly, you need to take the time to check the prices for each of the services with various print companies. Take the time to understand the market pricing and to compare the costs with other vendors or print companies. Once you have a clear understanding of things, you should proceed forth to award the contract to a print company.

Custom Printing: Two Cool Samples (and Why They’re Cool)

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Every so often I receive a unique printed sample in the mail or pick one up in a mall. Sometimes it’s the folding technique that grabs my attention. Sometimes it’s a particular paper coating or even a unique custom printing technique or substrate material that piques my interest.

Over the last few weeks I have picked up two such samples. First, I’d like to describe them to you and then I want to explain why I think they are noteworthy. Why? If you design anything that is printed, then it helps to understand the strengths of print vs. online communication. Then you can ensure that your design work stands out from the crowd, because you will be playing to the strengths of this tactile medium.

The Chapbook

One of my clients is a husband-and-wife publishing team. They produce print books of fiction and poetry, and as such they have many other friends and colleagues who also publish books of this kind. Most of their readers are middle aged and above, so they have grown up with physical print books, and they appreciate their physical nature.

The particular print sample of which I speak is a “chapbook,” a small book of literature with a simple design, created to be shared with other poets and writers. This particular book is 4” x 6” in format, 80 pages in length, with almost nothing but text inside (black text only), with a 4-color cover coated with a matte film laminate, and perfect bound.

The cover has as its main visual motif a sculpture of a man with thumbs in his ears, wiggling his open fingers. He looks like a child, double-dog-daring someone to approach. (He also looks a bit like a moose, since the hands with outstretched fingers also look like moose’s horns.) According to the editor of this anthology about reading poetry in front of groups, the image may be of Syrophoenician origin. Apparently the statue recently sold at Sotheby’s. The open-fingered hand motif is reproduced in the text of the book, twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the print book (sort of like bookends).

The typeface for the text is a simple, light sans serif with ample leading, justified. Because of the ample leading, I don’t mind that the single column of text is justified. It is still easy to read. The title of the book and the titles of the essays in the text are set in some variant of American Typewriter or Courier, with the letterforms slightly filled in, just like type from a typewriter.

The statue on the cover, unabashedly challenging the reader, is printed in full color over splashes of bright yellow, turquoise, and burnt sienna.

Why This Works / Why It’s Noteworthy

Here are some thoughts:

  1. The small format makes the book stand out in a world where most print books are closer to 6” x 9”.
  2. Although the book is small, the statue on the cover faces the reader and challenges him, much like David challenged Golliath. That said, there is an element of humor in the image (the “Na, na, na, na, nah” challenge set against the psychedelic colors and the distressed typewriter type). Humor sells because it puts the reader at ease.
  3. The matte film laminate is easy on the eyes in a world where many, if not the majority of, books have mirror-bright gloss cover coatings. So this one stands out, and it also feels good in the hands—not just because the book is so small but because of the soft-touch coating.
  4. The design is simple, and it reflects the contents. The book is an anthology of short essays about reading one’s poetry in front of groups. So it is fitting to have the typeface for the essay titles in what looks like typewriter type. Even though the grunge factor of the somewhat filled-in letterforms detracts from readability, all use of this typeface is for a few words here and a few words there. So you get the humor and irony, but you can still read the words.
  5. The book is a tactile experience, particularly because of the cover coating. You can’t simulate this on the Internet. You need a physical print book.

The Flexible Vase

As noted above, humor does sell. My fiancee and I received flowers recently in what would normally be called “flexible packaging.” You’ve seen this in the grocery store. When I grew up, tuna came in a can. Now it comes in a flexible pouch with edge-to-edge marketing text and imagery. And apple sauce used to come in a bottle, just like milk. Now apple sauce often comes in single-use servings in little pouches with quick-release nozzles for pouring out the contents. Again, you can print all over them, edge-to-edge.

So the printed sample in question, the plastic flexible vase for flowers, when opened and laid flat on a table, is in the shape of a very wide vase. It curves in and out at the top like the neck of a vase. It is wider than usual because when filled with water and flowers it becomes more of a cylinder. (At the moment, it is unfilled and flat on the table.)

Except for the top, there is heat welding all the way around, attaching the front of the vase to the back.

What makes this adorable is that on the front and back the printer has reproduced Vincent van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace at Night.” I just looked closely with a 12-power printer’s loupe, and I didn’t see the rosette pattern of offset lithography, but I did see halftone dots of various sizes. Since inkjet printing uses a spray of minuscule dots, I can only assume this was done on some variant of an electrophotographic digital press (maybe something like an HP Indigo). Perhaps the plastic substrate can take the heat. It seems rigid when flat, so this might have been the technology used. I would think that flexographic printing would contain halftone dots that, like offset printing, would produce a prominent rosette pattern, and I could not see any rosette patterns on this printed bag.

Why This Works / Why It’s Noteworthy

Here are some thoughts:

  1. People still expect flowers to come in a glass or solid plastic vase, even if juice and apple sauce now come in bags. So what makes this unique is that it challenges one’s expectations. The viewer doesn’t expect a flexible vase, so she/he looks again and does a double take. (It’s a little like the Pop Art soft sculptures of the early 1960s.)
  2. People especially don’t expect a famous painting printed on a vase. To me, paintings of the masters suggest “old school” values. So it’s humorous (or at least eye-catching) to see new “flexible-package-printing” technology used to print a famous painting exactly where you’d never expect to see it. This entire product calls attention to itself as the offspring of modern technology, perhaps touched by the old-school sensibilities of Vincent van Gogh.
  3. This could not have been done without current commercial printing technology. In a world that sometimes touts the death of print, that’s gratifying to know.
  4. With digital custom printing now capable of printing on physical objects (direct-to-shape or DTS), plus the ability to print on glass, it will not be long before a digital inkjet press will be able to copy a Vincent van Gogh painting onto a glass vase (perhaps with UV inks). Then again, since they can already print directly onto the surface of a football, maybe it’s already possible to print a van Gogh on a rigid glass vase.

Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

As with anything else, sooner or later you have to pay the bill for the commercial printing services you have purchased. Since printing involves both services and materials, there are certain established rules for payment as well as preferences among certain vendors. In your own print buying work, what is reasonable?

An Example

As a custom printing broker, I regularly negotiate payment terms for my clients with the printers I frequent. Most payment agreements are similar, but some are very different.

Net-30 is a common example—payment within 30 days. Some printers offer a discount for payment before the 30-day limit. (This would be for a credit account rather than a cash account, which is why payment can occur after the completed job has been shipped rather than before it leaves the printer’s plant.)

And here are a few other examples of negotiation terms (these terms, in contrast to those above, would be for non-credit accounts, which is why payment must be completed before the printer ships the job):

  1. 25 percent, 25 percent, 25 percent, and the final 25 percent after viewing samples but prior to shipping
  2. 1/3, 1/3, and a final 1/3 payment at specific points in the manufacturing process, prior to shipping
  3. 50 percent before the printer starts the job and the final 50 percent before the printer ships the job

Establishing Credit

One of the services printers have offered my clients is the ability to pay up to a certain amount of time after delivery of the printed products (i.e., the printers I work with bill the clients directly). I will start with this option because it is the most convenient for most printing clients.

Although it is much easier once negotiated, this option requires a credit check. Some of my clients (particularly individual freelancers and small publishers, or even self-publishers) have chosen to forgo the credit check and just pay by Visa or electronic transfer of funds. (If they pay by Visa, they usually need to pay the 3 percent service fee levied on vendors by credit card companies.)

In contrast to the small publishers and self-publishers, most of my clients in large organizations operate on credit terms, and in some cases if they pay quickly they get a discount. Paying early, particularly for multiple jobs over a length of time, will also give these clients more clout with the printers. That is, the printers have more of an incentive to keep prices low to ensure repeat work, and to quickly correct any problems if a job goes south. After all, nothing beats a customer who keeps coming back with more work and keeps paying on time or early.

If you’re an art director at a large for-profit or non-profit organization, and you plan to do a lot of work with a particular vendor, you might want to look into this.

Alternatives to Credit

One of my clients always arranges for an electronic transfer of funds from his bank to the printer before the printer starts his job. In fact, a prior printer of his required 110 percent payment prior to the onset of the job. Is this reasonable?

To answer this question, consider first that a commercial printing supplier has to do a lot of work before sending the finished product to the client. This is a labor- and materials-intensive field. A lot of people need to get paid for everything from prepress work to binding to carton packing. Plus there’s the cost of shipping. But beyond all of this, a printer has to buy paper (and other supplies that will go into the manufacturing of the client’s project). If, for instance, the project is a long-run print book, the printer’s cost for paper might be sizable, and he might have to pay for this up front.

To get back to my client, the book printer required prepayment of 110 percent of the estimate to cover any overage. That is, a printer is usually allowed to bill for up to 10 percent more copies than you order (this is often negotiable). Printers produce more copies than needed to allow for spoilage in subsequent operations. That is, if they printed text blocks for exactly 1,000 books (of a 1,000-copy print run), and then 50 books were damaged in the bindery operations (spoilage), the total number of copies they could deliver could be fewer than requested. In most cases, if you read the small print of a commercial printing contract, you will see that there is a range (called overage and underage) that the printer can deliver and bill for. Industry standard is 10 percent over or under the requested press run.

So in my client’s case, he was paying 110 percent in advance to cover any possible overage as well as to prepay for the paper and for all printing and binding operations.

Now the printer in question could not arbitrarily overcharge, of course. At the end of the process, sometimes my client had a credit in his account. He could then have the printer send him the funds or keep them on account for the next print run.

Cash Customers Pay Before the Ship Date

In most cases, with most of my clients, who at the moment are micro-businesses and therefore are paying cash (rather than going through a credit check to “secure terms”), the printers (many of which I frequent for various jobs) all require a certain amount of money before any work starts and then the balance of payment, including freight, before any boxes of print books (or whatever printed product) leave the printing plant. This is the norm. My clients understand this and abide by it.

But Some Printers Don’t Work This Way

I work with another printer that just bills my clients. This is unusual. But it’s the printer’s choice. This vendor just takes my word that the client will pay. That said, this is a mom-and-pop operation, a very small commercial printing establishment. Presumably, they are willing to take the risk of nonpayment from time to time to bring in the business.

As you see, everything is negotiable.

Paying Earnest Money

Over the past several years I have been frequenting two book printers, one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast of the United States. Recently, both have gotten very busy. Their schedules have tightened up and their lead times have lengthened. During the same period I have brought in three titles from a small publisher. Based on price and the quality of prior jobs produced by these two printers, I have asked my clients to accept the longer than usual schedules. I have also asked that they sign contracts early in the process and even put up “earnest money” in the form of deposits on the three print books.

Is this reasonable? They think so. I think so. Some would say absolutely not; just go elsewhere. My approach, and the sales rep’s approach at this particular vendor, is that earnest money makes a job “real.” These three jobs can be put in the printer’s schedule early, and the printer will have an incentive to do a good job on time.

Keep in mind that this is not the first job for this printer. I have done a lot of work with this particular vendor, so I was able to pose this as an option and get both the printer and my client to agree. What makes this so important in this particular case is that my client’s (the small publisher’s) print book distributor will reject the book outright if the printer delivers copies even a day late. The schedule is firm and non-negotiable. In this case I think it’s reasonable to “sweeten the pot,” to give the printer the incentive to provide the best possible work within the schedule, when so many other customers have strained this printer’s capacity in the near term.

Others may disagree.

The Takeaway

Paying for a print job is probably one of the least glamorous or creative aspects of the job, along with perhaps arranging shipping terms. However, nothing gets done unless both the printer and the client are happy. So, in your own work, it behooves you to think like a business person and to consider your goals and the printer’s incentives to meet those goals.

Here are some further thoughts:

  1. Negotiate only after you have developed a good working relationship. Prior to this, I would just ask about payment terms and options. Everything is negotiable, but it’s easier to successfully negotiate with a long-term business partner than a vendor who has never seen you before—or may never see you again.
  2. This is a good time to ask about allowable overage and underage amounts. Don’t let this slide and be surprised by the extra costs on your final bill.
  3. Consider your goals. If the job deadline has wiggle room (unlike my client’s print books that will be useless if the delivery date slips and the distributor gets the product late), you may want to choose another printer rather than pay a deposit a month or so ahead of the job.
  4. Remember the hidden payments. A 3 percent fee to use your Visa can really add up if the job is an expensive one. An electronic transfer of funds (which is often, if not usually, free) might be a better choice.
  5. Get in the habit of reading the small print in the contract. If your printer doesn’t provide a contract, you may want to ask for one. I personally do a lot of business just based on emails. More often than not I just receive contracts for large book printing jobs for my clients. But I do keep all of the email threads, in which everything is clearly spelled out, from the project specs to the freight costs, from the overage specifications to the schedules. Be safe. Do the same in your own work.

Custom Printing: The Print Job Is Not Over Yet

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Three of my clients have print jobs in some stage of production at commercial printing shops. One client just uploaded stationery materials to one printer. Another client has a perfect-bound print book of essays on press. And a third client has a color swatch book at a third printer.

If you are a print broker or designer, you may be in a similar position. It is all too easy to move on to other work and take your eye off the ball. These jobs may be done in terms of your designing and producing press-ready art, but there are still a lot of things you need to attend to in order to ensure success.

The Book of Essays

One client has produced a print book of essays for a local university. Actually, I myself designed the book for her and also brokered the custom printing. My client has a firm deadline for delivery of final books. She has a public reading of her students’ essays in early December. (As I write this, it is early November, and the proof will be in my hands tomorrow.) The printer committed to a five- to seven-day turn-around for the proof, and a seven- to ten-day turn-around for the final print books.

This schedule seems wonderfully short for a perfect-bound book, but it bears close attention. It is also a good object lesson for PIE Blog readers. The scheduled five to seven days for a proof began when I uploaded press-ready files to the printer’s FTP site. If my files had included any errors (incorrect creation of PDFs as per printer’s requirements; problems with fonts, bleeds, or resolution; or even presentation of pages as spreads rather than individual pages), the printer would have flagged the book files and requested changes. The five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have actually begun until all PDF files for the book were correct.

Moreover, the five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have included weekends, and would not have included a two-day shipment time for sending proofs from the printer to my house. The same will be true for the seven- to ten-day turn-around on printed books, starting from the date of proof approval. Although this schedule will begin upon my (and my client’s) acceptance of the proof (plus its return over a one- or two-day period by USPS or FedEx), I must also factor in a shipping period after the ten-day period for books to leave the vendor and arrive at my client’s office.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Build in plenty of time when estimating the overall production schedule by the printer. This may be particularly true for book printers (such as the one producing my client’s book). Fortunately, this printer will schedule a press date as soon as he has received the approved proof. From this press date, he can estimate the bindery date, shipping date, and potential delivery date. In your own work, request not only a general time frame for production by the printer, but also a specific press date and ship date as soon as you have approved the proof. If you have a fixed deadline for delivery and receipt of the books, brochures, or any other printed product, this schedule will keep both you and your printer on track.

Then, as the date approaches, follow up with your printer to make sure everything is on schedule. This is particularly important if your project includes a lot of steps (laminating, round-cornering, packaging in a specific way). If there are problems (for instance, if the printer is waiting for materials to be used in your job), it’s better to know early. So ask your CSR (customer service rep) before the shipping date. In the majority of cases you will get a more complete and accurate answer from your CSR than from your sales rep, since the CSR works with production schedules every day and therefore will usually have the most up to date information.

The Color Swatch Book

I just asked the CSR for an update on the schedule for another client’s book, a color swatch book used in selecting make-up and clothing colors based on one’s complexion and hair color.

This is a complex project often (depending on the printer) involving multiple vendors. This is because after the printing process, it requires laminating the pages, round-cornering the pages, drilling the books, and inserting a metal screw-and-post binding assembly into each print book. It also involves collation (there are 28 master books with between three and six copies to be printed from each master copy).

So a few days prior to the scheduled ship date I called the customer service rep and asked the status of the job. She told me the screw-and-post binding assemblies had not yet arrived. They should be there the following day, she said. I will have to keep in touch, since my client has been waiting a long time for this project. Her last printer had not done a good job, so my client’s clients have been waiting patiently. My client’s brand is on the line.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As with the prior job, it’s essential to keep up with your printer. He may have subcontracted out the binding of your book (many printers do not have in-house binding; even fewer have in-house case binding). Or he may have “jobbed out” your die cutting. Maybe you also need screw-and-post binding assemblies for your job. If your printer must rely on an outside vendor, this may affect your schedule. It is better to learn about this early. Be proactive. Contact your CSR as your estimated ship date approaches. Don’t wait for her/him to contact you.

The Stationery Package

This job involves flat cards, envelopes, and #10 envelopes. I solicited pricing from three vendors on behalf of my client. The list included the prior commercial printing vendor (this is a repeat job from several years ago). However, I made it clear to my client that this printer had been overwhelmed with work recently and therefore had not been as responsive as I expected a printer to be. I considered this to be temporary, but I did need to disclose this to my client.

Based on pricing, but even more so based on prior, positive experiences with this particular printer, my client’s client specifically asked to send the job to the printer I had been worried about. Fortunately, both I and my client had been completely clear about the risks (not in terms of lower quality but in terms of a longer-than-usual turn-around time). My client’s client had been apprised of our concerns.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes you will put a long-standing relationship with a printer above a current “bump in the road.” Perhaps the printer is overbooked, but you still want that particular printer to do your job. This is a risk. In my client’s case, all parties have been clear about the risk. Moreover, the job is a simple one involving no work subcontracted to outside vendors. Unlike the color swatch book described in the prior case study, it does not involve acquiring supplies not normally on hand (like the screw-and-post binding assemblies). Therefore, it is less of a risk than some jobs might be.

In your own print buying work, consider all the steps in such a job and be proactive. For instance, if the job takes longer than agreed upon to complete, will this be a problem? Do you have a hard deadline for your delivery? If not, and if the job is simple, you may still want to send your job to the printer. If not, you may want to pay a little more for another known vendor, or you may want to keep looking for a new vendor.

Custom Printing: A Trip to the Modern Printing Plant

Monday, October 1st, 2018

I’ve been attending press inspections at commercial printing plants for almost thirty years. Each time, I learn something new, so even now I get excited when I get a chance to go on a plant tour.

I had lunch this week with a friend of mine who is the CEO of a large, local custom printing company with a number of offices in the local DC Metropolitan area. Before we ate, we went through the new plant he and his company had just acquired (he had bought another commercial printing supplier’s business). I found it to be a most intriguing and educational experience.

What I Saw: An All-Digital Workflow

First of all, I saw relatively few people and a lot of equipment. When I started in the commercial printing field as a graphic designer and photographer, there were many more people in prepress. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, men and women at light tables manually stripped together large negatives shot from pasted up “mechanicals.” The mechanicals held the type and patches (called windows) for the photos, and negatives for these page elements were combined into the large flats (usually a press form of eight pages for printing one side of a press sheet). Passing bright light through these negatives “burned” printing plates that could then be hung on the cylinders of offset presses.

Today, in this particular printing plant (as well as others across the country), I saw almost no one in this department because all of the manual activities were now performed on computers, and the files were directly output to platesetters. Lasers burned the images of each eight-page side of a press form right onto the plate material with no intermediate film-based step. In fact, my friend’s platesetters didn’t require chemistry to develop the plates; the printing plates could just be washed with water on press, and they would be ready to print.

Where the Most Activity Was

I saw a lot of activity in large format inkjet printing and in laser-based digital printing. Again, relatively few people operated the handful of huge flatbed and roll-fed inkjet presses. One of these was a Mimaki. It printed the large vinyl banners, building wraps, car wraps, and magnets, while another flatbed router cut out the decals, window clings, and any other irregularly shaped, digitally printed jobs. (I knew from experience that other Mimaki equipment could actually inkjet print decals and then cut irregular outlines around the printed material using the same machine.)

The router I saw could also cut thick metal letters for signage with a different cutting tool (a plotting knife was all that was needed for the vinyl, paper, plastic, and other, less rigid substrates). I noted to my friend, the CEO, that I had seen videos of lasers cutting through large format print signage, and we agreed that this seemed to be the wave of the future.

What I took away from my visit to the grand-format inkjet press room was that marketing materials were a large market segment for commercial printing sales within this company. I also saw that items such as magnets could be inexpensively printed on huge sheets of magnetic substrate that could then be easily cut down as needed. These seemed to be very popular, as were the hemmed and grommeted banners made of scrim vinyl. Clearly they could be inexpensively produced by only a few inkjet printing press operators, and these simple products could pack an effective and memorable marketing message.

Digital Flat Sheet Presses

The CEO and I then walked through a room with both a Kodak NexPress and an HP Indigo. (I’ve often written in these PIE Blog articles that I consider the HP Indigo to be a superior digital press, and clearly my friend the CEO would not have otherwise purchased it.) But it was interesting to learn that he could laminate press sheets printed on the NexPress but not press sheets produced on the HP Indigo. It was my understanding that the fuser oil used in the HP Indigo did not readily accept film lamination. I thought this was particularly interesting since I knew of (and worked with) another printer who was in fact successfully laminating Indigo press sheets. Perhaps there are differences in the laminating film used by the two vendors, or maybe there are other factors of which I am unaware. Nevertheless, this piqued my interest.

Other digital presses in this commercial printing plant were more focused on black-only text. These were also laser-based. Interestingly enough, my friend the CEO spoke of the upcoming transition from digital laser printing (also known as xerography or electrophotography) to digital inkjet printing. He noted that both web-fed (roll-fed) presses and cut sheet presses might replace the Indigo and other laser-based custom printing equipment for printed book work as well as large format graphics.

My response was to ask if the quality was there yet, in his opinion. The CEO noted that no, it wasn’t. However, most people could not tell the difference. Others thought “good enough” was good enough, as long as the marketing message came through. For high-end work, such as fashion, food, and automotive advertising, the CEO did say that higher quality (better color fidelity and higher resolution) was needed and that certain digital equipment could provide this.

Marketing Work

At this point I also found it interesting that marketing work was in such high demand. Apparently people still responded to direct mail pieces discovered in their mailbox. With hundreds of emails showing up every day in computer in-boxes, it seems that the handful of paper direct mail pieces in the physical mailbox have a more immediate appeal. They are tactile; real, as opposed to virtual (existing only on the computer screen).

This particular printer also had hybrid presses. He had mounted inkjet heads on offset presses, so it was possible to print variable data (inline, right on the offset presses) directly onto offset printed marketing materials. He also had inline inserting equipment that could collect a number of personalized, digital or hybrid-printed pieces, and insert them into a mailing envelope.

And to speed up the mailing process, the CEO had on-site US Postal Service personnel doing all of the presorting and labeling, as well as bagging, tagging, and paperwork, so the direct mail pieces could ship right from his commercial printing plant.

What I found especially interesting, though, was a room with two roll-fed, laser-based presses. A roll of printing paper went through the first, which printed one side of the paper. Then this roll fed into a second press (the exact same model). The ribbon of custom printing paper turned this way and that (using turning bars, or rollers that could reposition the moving paper at right angles).

When the paper entered the second digital laser press, the opposite side of the roll could be printed. Then the paper was wound up into another roll, a receiving roll that could then be folded, trimmed, and inserted into envelopes. To me this was especially interesting, since I had been used to either cut sheets coming off a sheetfed press or completed and folded press signatures coming off a web press, but not a roll of commercial printing paper at the delivery end of the press.

But apparently this was an efficient way to process all of this direct mail: feeding it from a roll of paper, printing it, winding it into another roll, and then finishing it (all of the sheeting, folding, and trimming steps) from a roll instead of from press sheets.

And all of this was happening on a digital level, so the printed marketing materials I was seeing could be personalized as they traveled through the two presses as a single ribbon of paper.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Everything is automated. Some of the equipment needs far fewer operators than before. Other equipment can be operated remotely (with no on-site operators), except for loading and unloading the machines.
  2. Some of the digital presses are being built onto sturdy metal frames. That is, the build quality of offset presses is being introduced into the digital presses.
  3. Marketing is the main focus, at least in this plant. Managing databases of customers and potential customers drives the process. With this in mind, the digital marketing data and the creative art files are fed into offset or digital presses and then sent directly into the USPS mail stream.
  4. Large format printing is also hugely popular. Marketers want to grab your attention by wrapping buildings and vehicles with their imagery and tag lines. This way they get you to see their marketing message first.
  5. Digital inkjet is the coming wave, and it may eclipse digital laser printing.
  6. Acceptable quality for a particular job may not be the highest possible quality. “Good enough” may be good enough. That said, for certain markets (such as fashion, food, and automotive) only perfect color matches and the highest image resolution will do.
  7. Everything is changing at a blinding pace. Printers need to buy the latest equipment to stay competitive, but this equipment often becomes obsolete quickly. What this means is that large printers will get larger, and many smaller printers that can’t keep up will disappear.

Custom Printing: Bleeds and Multi-Signature Printing

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Two of my print brokering clients came to me with similar questions/problems this week. Both are producing print books, but the issues in question would be equally relevant whether they were producing catalogs, magazines, or any other multi-signature custom printing jobs.

First of All, What Is a Press Signature?

A press signature is a collection of pages that the printer imposes (positions in a computer file so all pages will be imaged onto a large custom printing plate and then printed onto a large press sheet). For offset printing, the press sheet sizes might be close to 25” x 38” or even 28” x 40” or larger depending on the printing press. All of these pages are then printed at the same time (often with four book or magazine pages lined up above four other book or magazine pages on one side of the press sheet, and with the same configuration on the opposite side of the press sheet). (Many presses will only allow for printing one side of the sheet. Then, after the ink is dry, the opposite side can be printed.)

When the pressman has printed both sides of the sheet, he can fold the sheet multiple times at right angles to come up with a booklet of folded and attached pages that can be perfect bound or saddle stitched into (potentially) a much larger print book, magazine, or catalog. These folded signatures are either nested into one another (and then stapled) for saddle stitching or stacked (and then glued into the spine of the cover) for perfect binding.

Since this is a very visual process, I would encourage you to research press imposition and press signatures online, and look at the photos on Google Image. You can do the same thing by folding an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper in half, then in half again (at a right angle), then in half again (at a right angle). This will show you how a flat press sheet can be folded (by the folding equipment in your printer’s post-press, or finishing, department), and it will also show you why you need to prepare bleeds according to your printer’s requirements.

What Are Bleeds?

Images or text on your two-page “reader spread” (any facing pages you see when the print book is open in front of you) can extend off the page on the top, sides, or bottom. Or they can bleed across the gutter (the vertical line between the two facing pages in the page spread). If they extend off the top, bottom, or sides of the paper, these “bleeds” must also be extended (usually 1/8”) off the page in the InDesign art file, so they can print beyond the trim lines and be trimmed off after printing without any white edges showing.

This is because trimming equipment is not always precise. If you have a photo that just comes to the edge of the press sheet and is trimmed inaccurately, there will be a visible white line at the edge of the paper. “Bleeding” an image or solid color off the edge of the paper and then trimming the sheet on your printer’s trimming equipment avoids this error.

All of this would be easy to grasp if not for the fact that a “printer spread” (two pages side by side on a press sheet) is not the same as a “reader spread” (two pages side by side in a printed book). If you look at press impositions online, you will see that book pages next to one another on a press sheet are in fact not usually consecutive or even near one another. To turn a flat press sheet with non-consecutively positioned pages into a folded and trimmed 8-page or 16-page press signature, your printer’s imposition software (usually) places individual PDFs of each page in a specific location such that once the 16-page printed press signature has been folded and trimmed, only then will all pages be consecutive.

Because of this, setting up bleeds in an art file for a multi-page (or multi-signature) printed product can be a challenge.

This was the problem my clients were having. Both were producing print books with bleeds.

Bleed Issues with My Client’s Books

One of my clients is a “fashionista.” I have written about her color swatch print books before. They are small books that help women choose colors for fabric and make-up based on their complexions. The color books themselves are like the PMS color swatch books used for graphic design and custom printing. In my client’s books, each page has a color on the front and text on the back. All pages are drilled and then attached with a screw-and-post assembly.

My client was comfortable preparing bleeds for this print book in InDesign because all pages were separate and could therefore bleed on all four sides. There was no “gutter” between pages. But now she is producing a 116-page perfect-bound book with bleeds and crossovers (the technical term for bleeds that start on the left-hand page and extend onto the right-hand page). So she’s not sure how to proceed.

The other client just received an online proof of her client’s 8.5” x 11” perfect-bound book, which has bleeds around the top, bottom, left, and right trim margins as well as crossovers. The first online virtual proof she saw had problems with parts of bleed elements appearing on other pages or otherwise appearing to not bleed correctly.

So both clients were frustrated.

How We Addressed the Issues

The first client’s problem was easier to manage than the second’s. I simply told her that for any pages bleeding on the outside trim margins, she should extend the photo boxes in InDesign 1/8” off the page. For anything that didn’t cross over the gutter margin between facing pages she should stay in the “live matter” image area (i.e., within the visible columns on the InDesign page). And for anything that needed to cross over between pages, she should start the photo on the left-hand page within the image area, and end on the right-hand page within the image area. For an image that would bleed into the gutter and then stop, she should just end the photo box at the gutter margin. (Why? So a sliver of the image would not show up on the facing page or—based on the description of press signatures I presented earlier—on a page elsewhere in the book. This could be a disaster.)

The second client’s problem was harder to diagnose. Keep in mind that both clients (depending on what the particular printer needed) would most probably export a press-ready PDF from the InDesign file in which they had created their respective books. And even though they were creating the books with “facing pages” to better see how their double-page spreads would look upon completion, their printer most likely would have asked them to export the book as a PDF with single pages (not two-page spreads). These single pages would then be imposed into the press signatures of their respective books (for instance, each of the 16 pages in one press form would be individually imposed as single PDFs onto a computerized version of the press form, which would yield four printing plates to produce the 4-color press sheets).

When my second client saw her virtual proof with parts of photos extending onto other pages and what appeared to be missing sections of other bleeds, she panicked and called me. After my encouraging her to call the prepress technician at the printer directly, we discovered that the PDF proof had no trim marks. Therefore, extraneous images (and parts of images) that would have been trimmed away on the post-press trimming machine all showed up on the proof. That is, all of what appeared to be errors would have been removed, and the final print job would have been perfect. However, without the printer’s trim marks on the proof, there was no way to know this.

What We Can Learn from My Clients’ Jobs

    1. Most importantly, ask your book printer how he wants the InDesign files prepared and whether he wants to receive the final job as “native” InDesign files or as a press-ready PDF file. If it’s the latter, ask for his specifications. Not all printers have the same imposition software or the same workflow, so not all printers want their files set up in the same way.

 

    1. Particularly ask about how to address bleeds that extend only to the gutter. You don’t want part of the image on a two-page reader spread early in the signature to show up on a page later in the signature. (A good printer would catch an error like this, but you want to to make things as easy as possible for your printer.)

 

    1. Keep all text, images, or color solids either within the live matter image area or bleed them 1/8” off the page (top, bottom, right, and/or left).

 

    1. When distilling a PDF file of your InDesign artwork, make sure you set the export function to include the bleeds, or they will disappear at the trim marks and not extend off the page.

 

  1. When you have questions about any of these items, which are complex and often addressed differently by different book-, catalog-, or magazine-printers, ask for the head of the printer’s prepress department and voice your concerns. Your printer will appreciate this proactive stance, which will avoid later problems.
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