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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 ‘Standees’ Category

Large Format Printing: A Huge Case-Bound Book

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

I assembled and installed a large format print standee for the new Deadpool movie yesterday (called Once Upon a Deadpool). Interestingly, based on the title of the film, the standee is made to look exactly like a huge case-bound print book.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a book this large (just over 5 feet by 8 feet) since the 1960s (a huge book on the TV series Batman). What piqued my interest was its size, how closely it resembled a real case-bound print book, and the fact that both the spine and face trim (the pages) were crafted so as to curve. (Another way of saying this is that the faux book had a rounded spine, so the face trim of the pages also curved inward.)

The Curvature of the Standee’s (Faux Book’s) Spine

Let’s start with the curvature of the book’s spine and pages, since this says a lot about ways to get around the fact that paper and cardboard are usually flat or folded (but not curved).

The outer graphic panel of the book’s spine started as a flat rectangle with the title of the print book (Once Upon a Deadpool) running the length of the cardboard panel. Onto this flat surface, and using a series of die cut cardboard tabs, I attached a series of four folded boxes (approximately 1.5 feet by 2 feet, but only about 2 inches high). The edges of these boxes that were parallel to the short dimension of the standee book spine were curved outward.

Once I had firmly attached them to the spine with a series of tabs and slots, they gave a structure over which the paper of the spine could be stretched to create a curvature. Moreover, where the cardboard needed to bow or curve, there were numerous parallel scores. When the outer cardboard of the spine (with printed litho paper laminated to chipboard) was stretched across this interior structure and then locked down with more tabs, the result was a fully curved book spine that was 8 feet long.

From this I learned two things:

  1. If you fold paper, or cardboard, the paper fibers will be bent or broken. That is, if I had folded rather than gently bowed the paper over the curved spine support structure, this would not have yielded a smooth curve to the back of the huge faux book standee. The crease would have been a visible flaw. However, by gently bowing the cardboard over the structure, I could stretch the paper fibers in the cardboard without folding or breaking them.
  2. Exactly the same thing was true for the curvature of the interior book pages. Instead of bowing outward, these bowed inward (exactly as would be true in a case-bound book with a rounded back). To effect this curvature of the pages, two more curved cardboard structures were added inside the standee. These had slots into which I attached long tabs (hot-melt spot glued to the inside of the faux pages). (Imagine that I was building a cardboard box, with 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers with turned edges, a faux spine, and head, face, and foot trim—i.e., the top, front, and bottom of the pages.)

In all of these elements of the faux book that was the Deadpool standee, a series of tabs and slots held together the pieces of cardboard under significant tension. (This was to create the curvature.) If there had only been one tab, or fewer tabs, the tension (or pull against the paper fibers) would probably have torn off the paper tabs. However, since there was a tab every few inches, the pull of the curved cardboard was distributed over a wide area. In fact, once I had completed the installation, the standee was quite sturdy.

What I learned from this is that under tension, paper can be pulled into a new shape (in this case a curvature), and if the tension is widely distributed, the paper fibers can withstand the pull.

The Faux Book Covers

Another element of the faux book that matched a real case-bound print book was the structure of the 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers. These had depth. That is, there were parallel scores approximately half an inch apart along the edges of the covers, and once I had folded the cardboard inward along these scores and attached the folded cardboard to the unprinted interior of the graphic (with double-sided tape), I had created turned-edge book covers (that matched an actual case-bound print book). The parallel folds yielded square edges, giving the impression of depth to the outer edge of the book covers, all the way around the book.

These thick covers (with printed litho paper wrapped around to create a half inch depth) were then screwed to the structure that was the spine. (The front and back cover of the Deadpool book included an extra lip that had been drilled, so I could insert a series of at least ten screws through holes in the interior of the spine. This lip worked as a hinge, allowing the front and back cover to move in and out, toward and away from the book pages.)

So when the covers were attached to the spine, there was a hinge (with a shoulder), curved text pages, and a rounded spine—all elements of a highly crafted case binding.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As soon as I got back home (and uploaded the photos to the company for which my fiancee and I install movie standees), I searched online for images, videos, and text descriptions of case binding. I wanted to refresh my memory, since the experience of building this huge faux print book had sparked my interest. Among other things, I saw videos of book binders adjusting the book covers to push out the pages to create the rounded spine (and similarly curved text pages, on the opposite side) and then hammering them to flare out the edges of the sewn press signatures.

Needless to say, exposure to the standee had renewed my interest in the art of print book binding and the specific hand-done tasks that allow a heavy text block (group of press signatures) to “hang” from the chipboard case such that all the pages are parallel and can move freely. (This clearly involves knowledge and skill, hard work, and an understanding of physics. And this art/craft has been practiced for centuries.)

So in light of this, I would encourage you to do two things:

  1. Search online for videos showing all of the separate activities that go into binding a case-bound book. I think you will find this fascinating. You can probably also see this in person in colonial reenactment sites such as Colonial Williamsburg.
  2. Then look for diagrams online showing all elements of a case-bound book, including the “crash” or “super” that gives stability to the bind edge of all press signatures; the pattern of Smyth sewing at the folded edges of the press signatures (the thread that holds all text signatures in place); the endsheets (including the pastedowns and flyleafs); the turned edges (where the outer paper, fabric, or leather of the binding is brought inward to cover the edges of the binder’s boards); and all the other various and sundry components of a case-bound print book.

Having absorbed this knowledge, you will never again take for granted all the steps in bookbinding, and you may well come to love and admire the craftsmanship and artistry in a case bound print book.

Large Format Printing: The Standee’s Missing Piece

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Coming up with a solution to a problem on the spot is a blessing. Sometimes the insight comes; sometimes it doesn’t. But I was grateful last night as my fiancee and I assembled a new standee for Ghostbusters that I had a realization on the spot. It solved a problem and offered some awareness into the particulars of large format printing, die cutting, corrugated paperboard, and the printing process of flexography.

The Problem

The problem was simple enough. I was assembling the sides of the bottom base for the Ghostbusters standee, and I noticed that I had two “right” sides and no “left” side. The side pieces were relatively small, perhaps two feet square, with side-specific drill holes, slots for tabs, and scores for folding. I found both and realized they were exactly the same. I was stumped.

Fortunately, my next thought was that I could fold one of the pieces backwards (against the press score). In this way I would essentially have two mirror-image pieces. I could use one for the left side of the standee base and one for the right.

However, this would mean that one side of the base would be the unprinted, light-brown color of the corrugated board. (The black ink on the other side would then be inside the standee base.) Ouch. The rest of the standee would be either gloss black ink or matte black ink. The flaw would be visible from the opposite side the movie theater.

The Solution

I was grateful for the next insight that popped up like a lightbulb over my head: We would paint the unprinted cardboard panel.

As was our good fortune, my fiancee and I had just presented an art therapy class earlier in the day involving painting. Our acrylic paints were still in the car. So I went out to collect them, along with a hairdryer to dry the paint. Problem solved.

Moreover, the front of the standee base had been covered with 4-color, printed litho paper. The black background and printed text had been produced on an offset commercial printing press and then laminated to the fluted cardboard. In contrast, the cardboard used for the sides and back of the structure had the original uncoated brown sulfite paper surface. This had been printed via flexography, so the ink was a dull, matte black—except on the problematic side panel.

Fortunately, the acrylic paint we had used in our art therapy class was water based and had a dull finish. It soaked into the cardboard slightly, and it provided the exact matte black finish the flexographic commercial printing press had imparted to all of the other standee base panels that had not been covered with printed lithographic paper.

The Lesson

Even a scenario as simple as this can provide a wealth of information on creative thinking under pressure, the difference between offset lithography and flexography, the composition of commercial printing inks and their appearance on coated vs. uncoated stock, and pick-and-pack fulfillment services. Here are some thoughts:

Pick-and-Pack Fulfillment

If you are a fulfillment manager, don’t assume that every order your department processes and mails out is assembled correctly every time. Institute quality checks. In the case of the standee, this was not the first time we had opened a standee box (which is actually a “kit,” just as any other selection of items sent out by a fulfillment department of any company) and found pieces missing. In the past, image panels from the front of the standees had been omitted, requiring us to stop the installation, call for back up, and wait several days for a new piece to arrive. So if you’re sending out kits of anything, check them regularly to ensure their accuracy.

Offset Lithography vs. Flexography

Printers use flexo printing to decorate corrugated board directly. The heavy pressure of offset lithographic press rollers would crush the fluting of corrugated board as the paper stock ran through the press. In contrast, the rubber plates of a flexographic press will not damage corrugated board, so this process is ideal for boxes, standee bases, and any other fluted (and/or crushable) product that does not require precise 4-color commercial printing. If a manufacturer wants to print full color ink on a corrugated carton, he will first print the image and text on an enamel press sheet, and then laminate (glue) this to the corrugated board.

Identifying Flexographic Printing

Printers choose offset lithography for full-color printing and flexographic printing for simple solids and type printed directly on cardboard. Beyond this fact, another easy way to identify flexo is the matte surface of the ink (when printed on uncoated stock).

Flexo ink also rubs off corrugated board rather easily (when we’re assembling standees, my hands get all inked up from handling flexo-printed pieces used for the backs of the standees).

The Cost of Flexo vs. Offset

Since the backs of the standees (anything the casual viewer would not see) take up a lot of space, printing solid black litho paper on an offset press and then laminating it to this much cardboard would be prohibitively expensive compared to flexography.

Die Cutting and Scoring

The two side panels for the base of the standee each had a “front” and a “back.” They should have been mirror images of one another, and the creases (scores) for the folds on the two pieces should also have been mirror images. Instead (on both counts) they were the identical shape.

This really goes back to the issue of accuracy in fulfillment (kitting), but in addition it shows you how to identify a score. The crease (which is made on the folding equipment, or directly on press for some kinds of work) allows a thick piece of paper to be folded evenly without cracking, buckling, etc.

Even though this would not have solved the problem of which side of the cardboard had been inked, turning one of the two identical pieces over, and folding the cardboard backwards along the opposite side of the score, did create the proper mirror-image piece for the other side of the standee base.

Quick Thinking

Quick thinking is an asset. First I panicked. Then I did nothing. Then I thought about printing, die cutting, flexography, and acrylic paint used in our art therapy class. Then the solution came to me in a flash of inspiration. May all of you be as fortunate in a crisis.

Large Format Printing: Creating “One-Off” Standees

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

My fiancee and I assembled a huge standee this week for the new Murder on the Orient Express movie. Essentially, it’s an exposed view of the interior of a passenger train car containing numerous movie characters. While we were engaged in the six-hour installation, a moviegoer came up to ask about this standee in particular and standees in general. She had an ice cream parlor, and she needed one copy of a standee for her shop.

Background Information

To provide a bit of background information, standees are the cardboard flat cards or the large and dramatic full environments in movie theaters that promote upcoming films. They are usually composed of printed litho paper laminated to corrugated board. Their manufacturers use everything from offset custom printing to flexography to decorate the boards, which are then die cut into appropriate shapes and packed in cartons for USPS delivery to a huge number of theaters. Installers then come out to the theaters to assemble the standees using complex sets of instructions (much like an IKEA project but made of printed paper rather than wood).

Speaking as a commercial printing broker, I personally think you can learn a lot about custom printing and finishing just by paying close attention as you assemble standees. You can even learn about scoring and folding, as well as hot-melt gluing.

In spite of my personal focus on movie theater standees, there are other standees as well, many of which appear in retail stores such as drug stores and grocery stores. A “point of purchase” display really is no different from a movie standee, which in some ways really is just an incredibly ornate box. After all, you fold the flaps and corrugated walls together to turn a flat piece of cardboard (with an attached, printed graphic) into a three-dimensional promotional product.

Back to the Potential Client

So this particular moviegoer wanted a standee for her ice cream parlor. Being a commercial printing broker as well as a standee installer, I walked her through the theater lobby and explained the various kinds of standees and their relative costs.

I noted that a “flat card” was essentially a big poster on an easel backing. At approximately 6-feet by 9-feet (with an approximately 2” depth for the flat card itself), this product could capture the viewer’s complete field of vision when he or she is in close proximity to it. I told the moviegoer that a flat card is the cheapest kind of standee to purchase but that it provides a lot of bang for the buck, given its large size.

I went on to say that such a standee would be cheaper than the others in part because the structural design was generic. Even though the graphic front of every flat card is different, most physical constructions are exactly the same (or one of a few variants). The bottom line was that my potential client could let someone else pay for the metal dies used to cut the tabs and flaps and other intricacies of such a promotional standee. This would lower the overall price (much as printing a generic pocket folder saves you money).

I then walked my potential client further down the movie lobby hallway and showed her two more standees. I showed her a larger flat card that had “lugs” attached to the front of the flat graphic. Lugs are any die cut attachments that give a sense of depth to the overall image. (The first option, the flat card, was entirely flat, other than the folded easel back.)

I told my potential client that a custom die could be made to extend an image off the rectangular frame of either the smaller or larger flat card, that this would be more interesting and involving for the viewer because the three dimensional images would appear to extend off the flat picture plane and be “real.” But I noted that this came at a price. Custom dies would need to be made, and this would drive up the overall cost. It would no longer be a generic large format print product.

Finally, I walked my potential client back to the original standee my fiancee and I were installing, and I showed her the intricacy of the simulated rail car. I showed her how all of the figures had been die cut and assembled. The physicality of half a railway car made for an immersive experience for passersby, but it cost lots of money to print, die cut, and box up. Even the installation (our fee) was expensive.

Back to the Sales Pitch

When we were finished with our walk through the standees (much like a used car salesman’s walk with a customer through a car lot), I asked her how many standees she would need. She said one, just for her ice cream parlor.

So I noted that offset custom printing would be out of the question (exorbitant for one copy) but that digital printing would be an option. Nevertheless, I did tell her that one copy of any promotional design would be rather pricey.

My fiancee, who is an artist and art therapist, reminded me that even a single digitally produced standee would be astronomically expensive. She asked why I hadn’t suggested that my client have a graphic artist mock-up one copy—kind of like a single paper sculpture.

Actually I had been thinking along the same lines, I said. I had envisioned my supplier (a standee designer and printer all the way across the United States) just using an already produced backing (cardboard flat card) and one of the already-produced, generic, folded backing easels and just digitally printing the 6-foot by 9-foot graphic front panel image and gluing it to the board, and then breaking it down, creating assembly instructions, and cartoning and shipping the product.

I thought further and realized this was exactly the nature of a “one-off” prototype, the very stage that each standee probably went through before a marketing director gave the go-ahead to print, score, die cut, hot-melt glue, and box up for delivery the thousands of copies destined for movie theaters across the country.

So we’ll see what happens with my prospective client.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Movie standees, point of purchase displays, and even folding cartons are physical, three-dimensional products. They exist in space, and this quality can make them much more powerful sales tools than flat promotional booklets or even posters.
  2. If you’re designing one of these, keep in mind that the more ornate and original your design, the more the job will cost to die cut. Sometimes a flat card will do just fine.
  3. Failing that, if you want more punch, add dimensionality to a flat card with “lugs.” The base structure will be generic (and therefore cheaper to produce), but the flat-panel graphic will be original and powerful, and the die cut lugs will add further depth to the design.
  4. Consider how many you will need. Then determine whether you will need a digital product (a large format inkjet image printed and laminated to corrugated board) or an offset lithographic product (for long runs).
  5. Don’t forget the cost of packing the component pieces (cartoning) and the cost of shipping, plus the cost for installation.
  6. Remember that advertising is an investment, not an expense. If your design and production values capture your audience and make them convert (i.e., spend money on your product or service), then your promotional cost will have been money well spent.

Custom Printing: A Movie Standee Production Case Study

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

After seven years of installing standees at movie theaters, I received contact information for a potential print brokering client who needed standees both printed and installed. This was an intriguing opportunity, since I have experience in buying and selling commercial printing, as well as an understanding of the marketing goals and graphic techniques involved in producing large format print signage.

So I did some preliminary work prior to approaching my potential client. I checked out his website to see what kind of films he had produced, and I contacted one of the designers of the movie standees my fiancee and I had been installing.

Regarding the standee design studio I approached, I chose this particular vendor for a few reasons.

  1. After seeing this company’s corporate logo on labels on the backs of standees for seven movie studios over a seven-year period, I was highly impressed. This company was established and its promotional design work was well regarded by a substantial number of movie studios.
  2. I also relied upon my own eyes and marketing knowledge. I had checked out the design studio’s website, and I thought the graphic design work was both aesthetically superior and persuasive from a marketing standpoint.
  3. It just so happens that my potential printing client’s office is a twenty-minute drive from this design studio. Although I am on the East Coast, both my client and the design studio are almost next to one another on the West Coast. Therefore, I will be able to get my client’s immediate approval (or disapproval) of the firm for his own specific standee-creation needs based on his having met the principals of the firm and having seen their work, not only online on their website but also in person.
  4. I also chose this design studio because of its primary focus on marketing and movie standees. I know a lot of the printers on the East Coast that could do the same job (if I provided them with the specifications), but I wanted a firm for which standee design is a daily venture, a firm that will know how to design the most effective marketing products while containing costs.
  5. I knew the standee design firm would understand the steps following print production and finishing. They would be able to package the standees and ship them to movie theaters. More importantly, they would know how to get movie theaters to accept delivery of the standees, and they would understand the process of merchandising (installing the standees in the theaters). What they couldn’t do they could subcontract. Or at least they could provide advice regarding all aspects of the process. In fact, they happen to work with the company for which my fiancee and I install standees in movie theaters, and they also work with a number of competing installers.

My Assumptions Regarding the Client

I have only had minimal contact with the prospective client to date. However, I have seen his website, and I understand that in comparison to the design studio’s other clients, he may require only a short press run. Granted, this is an assumption. However, I know that the movie standees my fiancee and I install are shipped to hundreds of (or more) movie theaters across the country because we often receive the delivery manifests.

This need not be a problem. After all, standees can be offset printed or digitally printed based on their quantity, and I had learned from the design studio that they worked with a number of large format print providers. Presumably, this design firm had access to digital and offset printing equipment plus laminating equipment (for attaching the press sheets to the fluted cardboard standee substrate and for coating the press sheets) plus die cutting equipment (for cutting out the standees).

My Contact with the Client

Based on my research and assumptions, I had a discussion with my client over the phone. I suggested that he consider a flatcard design for the standee. This is a particular style of movie standee that includes a large (up to 6-foot by 9-foot) flat image with a cardboard easel back that keeps it upright. The edges are die cut and turned inward (and then screwed together) to give about a 2” depth to the overall flat, poster-like, large format print presentation.

What I thought might appeal to my client is that such a large image provides a lot of bang for the buck. It’s almost as large as a banner, so the viewer gets an image that takes up her/his entire field of vision. But from a manufacturing standpoint, it’s relatively inexpensive to make a flatcard. It involves limited die cutting. And when it’s folded (in quarters) in the box, it provides a relatively light package. It’s not only easy to install a flatcard quickly, but it costs less than many other standee designs to ship. And shipping can add up.

Finally, I encouraged my client to consider this format because it is standard. Many standees have unique designs with movie characters die cut and then attached to a large, overall structure. The scoring, folding, pattern gluing, and die cutting are all unique. So the movie studio has to pay for all of the dies required for the die cutting. In contrast (and I have confirmed this with the design studio), using pre-made dies from prior flatcards will save money. My client will not have to pay for all of the preparation from scratch.

However, if my client wants something more ornate, the images on the perimeter of the flat card design can be made to extend out of the rectangular format (as though they are coming off the large format print poster). This will require extra die cutting but not as much as if the overall base format were not a flatcard.

Or my client can choose to add depth. By die cutting slits in the front of the flat card graphic panel, my client can add “lugs.” These are attachments (movie characters, for instance), that seem to come out of the background, adding an element of depth to the overall image. Again, this would cost more, but it would start with the standard base of the flatcard.

So my client has options, and the design studio has approved all of the ones just described. The design studio is also fully capable of participating in (or coordinating) any or all of the steps in the process.

What happens next? My client will send the marketing art to me, and we can discuss whether this initial plan will work, or whether it will need to be adjusted.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. If you don’t know how to do something, consult a pro. I knew a little about standees from installing them but not enough to coordinate the whole job. So I found a studio that excels in this one area.
  2. Find ways to build on the work of others. This is true for pocket folders or any other die cutting job. A standard design will cost less overall than a totally unique one. If you can use a pre-made set of dies, you can still make your printed product look completely different from the competition.
  3. When you’re designing a 3D promotional product, consider the physical requirements of the design (for instance, make sure the design isn’t top heavy, so it won’t fall over), the overall graphic appearance, the marketing strategy, and the costs related to print production and finishing. But don’t forget all the steps that follow production, such as packaging, shipping, and installation.

Large Format Printing: Two More Unique Standees

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

I installed a rather unique standee (large format print) today with my fiancee. It’s for the new Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation film, and it spins. While doing the installation in the movie theater, I also saw a unique standee for The Good Dinosaur, a flat background wall out of which the silhouette of a dinosaur had been cut. Here are some thoughts on both, and on why I think they are more than just eye catching.

Mission: Impossible

The Mission: Impossible standee is a series of three boxes on a pole. Each box has four printed sides, and a blank top and a bottom. On the four sides of each box is either an action photo from the movie or text relating to the film. Between each box I placed a lazy-Susan spinning device.

What makes the standee unique is that it moves. It’s called a “spinner.” Each of the three boxes can move independently of the others, setting up a different series of large format print images one over the other.

Unlike most of the other standees my fiancee and I have installed, this one is not static. It changes. I’ve seen this only five or six times in the last five years. What makes the movement engaging to those who interact with the standee and move the boxes is twofold:

  1. All physical items have three dimensions: length, width, and height. But this standee has an additional dimension: time. Movement is related to change over time. This is what made the sculptures of Alexander Calder called “mobiles” unique. Because elements of the sculptures moved in arcs and circles, the mobiles were always slightly different, unlike other sculptures and paintings.
  2. Most standees are meant to be seen and appreciated from a distance. In contrast to these are the photo booths: cardboard environments in which you sit with the movie characters while someone takes your picture. In this way you interact with the photo booths. The same is true with this “spinner” standee. You can move it, so you are actually interacting with the standee. You’re participating in the marketing-art experience.

What You Can Learn

Movement and interactivity are powerful draws in any kind of artwork, be it fine art or commercial art. As a marketer, or designer, your task is to capture the interest and imagination of the viewer. Movement and interactivity will increase your chances of doing this. If you’re designing a large format print display, you can incorporate one or both of these characteristics into your work. In some cases, even if you’re designing a print book or another custom printing piece, you can do the same thing.

The Good Dinosaur

I was struck by the creativity in this standee because the central image, the dinosaur, doesn’t exist. It is actually composed of negative space cut out of the background box.

To explain, in fine arts the concept of “negative space” refers to all shapes and areas that are not the main subject matter of a painting or drawing (usually the background). Relating this to the standee, an image of a dinosaur on a field of green (the background) is the subject matter, and hence the entire background is secondary, and it is referred to as negative space (in contrast to the dinosaur, which is positive space).

In a more complex piece of art, the triangular shape of background image formed by a woman’s arm with her hand on her hip (for instance), might be considered a smaller area of negative space—also a part of the background.

What makes a piece of art compelling is the interaction between the negative and positive space. They fit into each other like pieces of a puzzle. In the case of the standee, one usually expects the subject matter, in this case the dinosaur, to be positive space. The standee designer thwarted the viewer’s expectation, and made the dinosaur not only negative space but “nonexistent” space.

More specifically, the three boxes that comprise the green background were created in such a manner that they end along the contour of the dinosaur. This required some serious thought in the composition of the standee as well as skill in die cutting the cardboard pieces of the standee.

But beyond the required technical expertise, the overall standee is unique because the designer challenged the viewer’s expectation of how the dinosaur would be presented. That which is unexpected can intrigue and delight the viewer. And this is an asset in both fine art and commercial art.

What You Can Learn

Find ways to lead the viewer down unexpected paths. Include unique treatments in your artwork, whether something as ephemeral as a ghost image created with a tinted varnish or a raised and textured UV coating to simulate the leather of a football or the hairs on a spider.

If something is unexpected, it will catch your viewer’s attention from among all the other potential stimuli he or she could be absorbing. To sell a product or service, good marketing does exactly this.

Use these building blocks in your next design piece.

Thinking in Large Format Print : Striking Designs

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Having traveled in both the world of fine arts (my fiancee and I do art therapy with the autistic) and the graphic arts (as a designer, art director, and consultant, to name a few), I have come to firmly believe that a few principles of good design pertain to both.

In this light, I was struck today while installing one large format print standee at a movie theater by the design of another standee. It was unique. I had never seen anything like it, although it was simple. There was no artifice about it. It was simply good art.

The Standee

The standee was a three-dimensional collection of five cartoon characters from the movie Inside Out surrounded by the contour of a head. The contour of the head acted as a white frame around the activity inside. The frame was stylized and very sparse in its detail, in contrast to the strong primary colors and activity of the characters inside the frame.

Even the logotype for the title of the film was brassy and set on a slight angle. In contrast, the dominant white contour, which included almost no printing (just the date of the film) was massive (about a foot wide and a foot deep, extending all the way around the standee).

Why It Worked

I thought long and hard about why this standee appealed to me, as I assembled the three graphic boxes of the Fantastic Four large format print standee. I knew the answer rested on a few simple principles of art and design.

Here are some thoughts:

The Unique Format

The simple white outline of the head was sparse in design compared to the interior. This created contrast and tension, which capture viewer interest in a piece of fine art or graphic art. The stark white of the contour of the head also echoed the white of the movie title and tied the two together. (Repetition is another useful tool in both fine art and graphic art.)

I even saw similarities between this standee and the unprinted areas of a blind embossed design. In this case as well, a section of unprinted graphic can stand in dynamic contrast to its surroundings even without an image. This reflects the physicality of print. On the standee (as in an embossed design), the foot-wide and foot-deep contour both contains and balances the interior four-color image of the five chaotic characters. It acts almost like a wall, a definitive boundary, in its large size and simplicity.

The Contrast of Color Against White

Usually four-color imagery would be more dominant than a white area within a graphic design or fine arts painting. But the size and design of the white contour of the head invert this expectation, evoking interest and making the standee unique.

The Simplicity of the Form

From across the room, the first thing you see is see the outer contour of the head. At first sight, the overall design is simple, contained, almost rigid. The contrast between the noise and activity within the head and the solemnity of the head itself creates tension, which is a key element of a compelling design.

The Form Echoes the Meaning of the Movie

Form follows function. This is another element of good graphic design and fine art. A picture (painting, poster, or large format print standee) should be more than attractive. It should say something, and all graphic elements of the design should support this message.

I did some research into Inside Out. In Wikipedia the plot description notes:

“Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Riley and everyone else are guided by their emotions, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The personified emotions live in … the control center inside Riley’s mind …. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues ….”

So, essentially, the rigid outer wall of the head contains the tumultuous emotions of the main character. And the structure of the design reflects this completely. That’s good art.

How You Can Apply This to Other Graphic Design Work

Here are some rules of thumb to consider:

  1. Make sure the design you create (everything from the overall form to the color usage to the typefaces to the imagery) supports the message. Whether you’re designing a brochure, a large format print poster, or a print book cover, you’re saying something. You’re making a statement. Make sure all elements of the design support this statement.
  2. Try something different. Color usually dominates white surroundings. Consider inverting this expectation to make your design unique.
  3. Consider sculptural ways to make your design stand out. The contour of the head acted as a frame or cookie cutter, with all of the action taking place inside the frame. You can do something similar with blind embossing or perhaps die cutting, or some other physical design process. Make your design a tactile experience. Consider making it three dimensional.
  4. Realize that a rigid structure containing a chaotic image creates tension and intense energy within a design (either fine art or graphic design). Consider ways to use contrast to create such energy.

These are a handful of simple design elements and tools for both fine art and graphic design. Used well, they can make your work stand out and shine.

Large Format Printing: Standee Gluing Options

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

I was on my hands and knees today assembling a standee (large format printed promotional display) for a new movie. It was a simple standee, just a flat card with an easel, but as I was carefully folding the corrugated board that had been spot glued to the back of the flat card to accept the easel backing, I thought about the importance of glue.

On this simple standee, the two banks of tabs that had been spot glued to the back of the board had also been scored to allow for easy folding. The tabs would be inserted into a separate cardboard easel attachment to make the standee stand erect.

As simple as this is, keep in mind that the glue holds the cardboard tightly and allows for folding, but occasionally, in dry weather, or if the spot gluing has not been applied correctly, the joined pieces come apart. In a pinch, several strips of hidden clear tape will make things right. However, even in the best of cases the tape will not hold as well or as long, or as cleanly for that matter, as the spot glue.

Not to belabor the point, but this very same spot glue holds together not only standee easel backs but any two pieces of cardboard that could not be produced with a single piece of cardboard or a single piece of printed litho paper laminated to chipboard. This is the case for attachments to the back of a printed “lug,” for example. Tabs on the backs of these diecut, printed additions are usually inserted into a large format print graphic comprising the front of a standee to give the image a sense of depth and dimension.

In other cases the tabs that fit into slots to hold the standee together are spot glued to other pieces of cardboard. If a particular portion of the standee is bent or curved during installation (to create a large channel letter, like the letter “O” or “R,” for instance), the ability of the glue to adhere to the cardboard and endure stress and movement is of paramount importance. Nothing is quite as frustrating as having a standee glue joint come apart during installation.

How Is the Glue Applied?

This question came to mind so I did a little research, only to find two methods. Spot glue can be applied through a nozzle attached to a hose through which the glue is drawn from a reservoir or container. It can also be rolled on in some way. However, one of the more important differences between glues is whether they are hot melt or cold applied glues.

Hot melt glues are perhaps the most familiar to those who do crafts as a hobby. Small glue guns that accept solid glue sticks are easily acquired for work with wood, fabric, or paper art. A hand-held spot glue gun can affix a bead of adhesive to almost anything, and the other piece of cardboard or wood will immediately be held fast as the glue quickly solidifies. Spot gluing with hot-melt glue in the creation of standees or corrugated cartons is analogous to this process. (In fact, hot melt glue is also often used in book binding. Again, it solidifies quickly as it cools, forming a tight bond between the spine and signatures of a print book.)

Another option, applied with a spray nozzle or roller, is cold glue. Unlike the cold glue found in craft stores for fabric work, bead work, or other crafts, cold glue for custom printing adheres quickly to corrugated board. This is used particularly in the making of corrugated board cartons, and presumably it can also be used in the making of movie standees, since they are composed of corrugated board and other materials. In fact, it is so strong that the application of a cold glue in the making of pre-glued corrugated cartons can proceed as quickly as 600 meters per minute (according to Bobst carton-making marketing collateral). So it’s not your basic white school glue.

Specialty Uses for Glue in Movie Standees

One of the more unique uses of spot gluing in many of the standees I’ve assembled is to reinforce fragile diecut pieces with a backing of chop sticks. For instance, if a movie character has an outstretched arm with a magic wand in its hand, and if a jolt of electricity is emanating from the wand, then this display might have a very thin piece of fragile material that must last for at least several weeks or months without sagging. In this case, if you look at the back of the diecut movie display character, you’ll see a series of chop sticks hot melt glued to the back of the fragile portions of the display. From the front of the standee, you see none of this. But the display will not collapse upon its own weight.

I’ve always pictured the inventors of this trick as frustrated standee installers at the end of a long night, who after eating take-out Chinese food with chopsticks had a eureka moment and glued them to the standee to support a fragile diecut character image.

Large Format Printing: Diecutting Intricacies of Standees

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

My fiancee and I installed a standee for Rio 2 tonight in a local theater. As I inserted all 57 screws, I came to appreciate the intricacy of its diecutting, scoring, and pattern gluing. Actually, it was more than intricate. It was precise. Everything that had been scored could be folded correctly, and everything drilled with holes for screws went together perfectly, too, in the almost three-hour assembly.

Description of the Standee

First of all, picture a multitude of cartoon birds and other creatures of various sorts draped over a 12-foot wide structure consisting of a cardboard wall resting on a wide pedestal. The title of the movie, Rio 2, is a three-dimensional construct attached to the center of the wall and surrounded by the birds, monkeys, a dog, a panther, etc.

Beyond the humor and aesthetic appeal of the standee in its brilliant coloration, the surprising thing is that it all goes together correctly. Everything fits where it should.

A Close Look at the Diecutting

If you check the instructions for the standee (imagine an IKEA assembly booklet for an exclusively paper and cardboard printed product), the first page shows drawings of all component parts of the large format print structure. All diecut tabs and slots are visible in the drawing, as are all screw holes and scores for folding. (The instruction book always rewards a close reading prior to installation.)

This is just the first page. It precedes up to about twelve pages of detailed instructions, depending on the complexity of the standee.

If you look at the drawings of the “lugs,” the diecut graphic elements (all the animals and birds), you will see the incredibly intricate diecutting around the silhouette of each animal. Tabs on the lugs fit into slots all around and all over the background. That’s how they stay attached to the box.

In many cases, cardboard easel backs have been attached to the diecut birds and other animals extending above the background box with hot-melt spot glue. These lugs must be screwed onto the top of the background box using nuts and bolts. In some cases, extra chipboard has been spot glued onto thin or fragile portions of the lugs to strengthen them.

What struck me tonight about the diecutting and drilling was that the easels had to be folded in a certain way before the screws could be inserted, and the seven or eight creatures poised on the top of the box all had easels that folded and fit exactly, with the screw holes precisely where I needed them to be. Wow. That’s accuracy, and forethought on the part of the designer.

Thinking Like a Designer

I could envision the designer producing the art for this (approximately) 8-foot x 12-foot x 2-foot large format print standee on a powerful computer workstation, but unlike a brochure or print book, the designer had to think in three dimensions and precisely position all folding lines, drill holes, tabs, and slots in such a way that when the job went to press, it would be completely flat, but once printed it could be assembled into a three-dimensional structure of amazing complexity.

This is hard mental work. And if it’s wrong, that’s a huge waste of money.

Thinking Like a Printer

I could envision the sides of the background box structure being laid out on a flat press sheet for custom printing via flexography (rubber relief plates printing ink directly onto fluted corrugated board).

I could envision the birds, monkeys, etc., all being laid out on large commercial printing sheets for offset lithographic printing, and then being laminated to corrugated board.

I could see the metal dies for the contours of the bird feathers, and dog and panther silhouettes, as well as the tabs, slots, and drill holes, being positioned so as to cut precisely through the 4-color press sheets laminated to the corrugated board.

And I could realize just how easy it would be to get something, anything, wrong.

Why You Should Care

Many, or even most, of you will probably not have an opportunity to design and produce a large format print movie standee. However, you might just need to produce a three-dimensional product, perhaps a POP stand that holds products or food, or maybe a small standee for a drugstore chain or department store (if you look closely, there are standees everywhere, not just in movie theaters).

If so, you will need to think in three dimensions. You will need to think in terms of creating a structure that will be rigid and functionally sound (if it needs to hold a product). You will need to consider the tools at your disposal beyond ink on paper (such as folding, gluing, diecutting, scoring, and drilling). And you will need to consider the requirements and limitations of the custom printing and finishing techniques at your disposal.

To open your mind to these options, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to look closely at a movie standee.

Commercial Printing: Keeping Diecutting Costs Down

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

My fiancee and I just installed a standee for 300: Rise of an Empire. It was large, complex, and surprisingly reminiscent of another large format print standee we had recently installed for The Hobbit. Not that the graphics were in any way similar. Rather, it was the structure of the standee that gave me a deja vu.

I looked up the photos for the two standees in our iPhoto database. Both consisted of side-by-side graphic panels of movie characters. In the case of both 300: Rise of an Empire and The Hobbit, there was a central panel, then two panels (one on either side) set back about a foot, then two more panels (one on either side) set back another foot.

Working from the center outward to the left and right, both standees were symmetrical. In each case, the left and right panel for each tier was set back an equal distance, creating a staircase effect, with the center panel closest to the viewer and the rest of the panels recessed further and further back.

Why Is This Relevant?

Right away I saw that the structure of the 300: Rise of an Empire standee was exactly the same as that of The Hobbit standee. I surmised that the film studio had designed the standees in such a way as to use one set of diecutting dies for both in order to save money.

I have mentioned before that making a cutting die for custom pocket folders or any other diecutting job is expensive. In fact, I just gave a print brokering client of mine an estimate for 1,000 8.5” x 11” print booklet covers (front and back cover sets). The job requires two separate dies that will cost more than half the total printing price (about $550.00 of the approximately $900.00 total).

Saving money by reusing dies is smart. My guess is that even though The Hobbit has seven panels and 300: Rise of an Empire has only five, the five panels that the two standees have in common may well have been cut using the same dies. I’m not absolutely sure. All I know is that it would have been a great way to save money.

But what about the sixth and seventh panel of The Hobbit, which were not included in 300: Rise of an Empire (which was only a five-panel standee)? (Keep in mind that I’m only speaking of the background elements—top, bottom, left, right, and back panels that go together to create boxes supporting the flat graphic panel for each level.) Well, at least it would have been cheaper to create dies for two additional panels (plus the five panels both standees have in common) than to create all twelve from scratch with all different dies.

Applying This Diecutting Concept to Your Work

If this seems unduly complex, let’s simplify it and apply it to custom pocket folders. On the simplest level, if you choose a standard format, you will use a pre-made die that the printer keeps on hand for such jobs, and you will save $300.00 to $500.00 on your project. This is a significant savings.

Granted, you will need to choose a standard size, standard pocket shape, standard placement for business cards, etc. But this need not be a problem if you create sufficiently distinctive artwork to set your custom pocket folders apart from everyone else’s.

Nevertheless, in some cases, depending on your intended use, this won’t be practical. Maybe you will need a “build” in one pocket so the folder can hold a larger number of inserts than usual. In this case, you would need to pay for the printer to create a custom die. At least this would be yours to use again for subsequent jobs.

To expand upon this concept a bit, let’s say you were to diecut the cards you plan to insert in the pockets of the folder. In this case it would save you money to approach the design as a unit and perhaps create a diecut pattern that could be repeated for the various step-down cards. You might ask the printer to reposition the same metal cutting die as needed to diecut the cards. If you use the same general outline, you can make one die and just move it as needed. Again, this would save money.

General Rules of the Diecutting Trade

Printing companies that produce a lot of custom pocket folders will probably have a variety of standard dies from which you can choose. You’re essentially using someone else’s die in this case, or, more specifically, you’re using one die from the printer’s common pool of dies.

If someone else has a custom die made for their project, however, you cannot use it for your job. Conversely, although the steel cutting die that was custom made for your project will remain at your printer’s place of business, he cannot use it for anything but your work.

Conclusion: Plan Ahead for Diecuts

So the smartest thing you can do is plan ahead, group die cutting tasks together to minimize the number of dies needed, and use standard dies where possible. If you can use the same die the following year for the updated version of your annual project, even better. Forethought will save you a lot of money.

Large Format Printing: Subtle Differences in Standees

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

My fiancee and I installed two more standees over the past few days. These were for the new movie X-Men. I was surprised to see more versioning, and I have given thought over the past few days to the goals the movie studio might have had when creating two versions of the large format print standee.

Description of the Standees

Both versions involve dynamic graphics of two faces with transparent “X”’s over them. You can see the tightly cropped faces through the transparent “X,” and if you look closely, you will see that the image within the “X” is actually a totally different face, so you’re really looking at a mosaic of four movie characters (two per face) rather than two. The effect is subtle but very cool.

Both versions of the large format print standees include the same tightly cropped faces. What differs between the two versions is the treatment of the movie title. In one case, the type is on a central panel between the two faces, run vertically up the narrow panel. In the other case the type is horizontal and printed at the bottom across both faces. In this case, there is no central panel.

Personally, I think the design differences reflect an “A/B Test” (described in a recent PIE Blog article) to determine which is the more effective design treatment.

The other potential reasons for the movie studio’s producing two versions of the large format print standee would be the following:

  1. The standee without the central panel is narrower than the other version by about two feet. This might allow smaller theaters to display the smaller version of this particular standee.
  2. One panel’s worth of a corrugated box plus a covering graphic panel and some screws were omitted from the standee without the central panel. This would have saved money on printing, diecutting, and shipping, when you multiply the item cost by the multitude of theaters across the USA showing X-Men.

Again, this is all speculation, other than the fact that there are two almost–but not quite–identical versions of the same standee. Unlike these X-Men standees, in the past, standees for the same movie had differed substantially. For instance, the studio promoted Walking with Dinosaurs with a flat card (flat, large format print image supported by a cardboard easel) and an alternate version with a thermoformed plastic eye that bulged out of the structure and actually moved from side to side as an animatronic device and motor system operated. In contrast to this standee “set,” the two X-Men standees were almost identical to one another.

The Real Reason for the Change (I Think)

For me this was an object lesson in legible type. In one version of the standee, the two X-Men portraits were separated by a central panel on which the title and subtitle of the movie (X-Men, Days of Future Past) had been turned counterclockwise 90 degrees to run up the vertical space. Mind you, they are not vertical (one letter above the other). They are completely rotated. You have to tilt your head 90 degrees to read them.

From a design point of view, it’s a dramatic treatment. Very powerful. However, from the point of view of legibility, it’s not quite as readable as a horizontal text treatment of the title would be. Here’s why.

All type of the title and subtitle are set in all caps (X-MEN and DAYS OF FUTURE PAST). Unlike words composed of lowercase letters, which form recognizable shapes (as words) with their ascenders and descenders, words composed exclusively of capital letters have a rectangular shape (no ascenders or descenders to extend out of the rectangle).

(Draw a box around the shape of an all-caps word, and you’ll see it’s a rectangle. In fact, if you draw a box around any word composed of all uppercase letters, you’ll see the same rectangle—just of a different width.)

As we read a passage of text, or a movie title, we don’t read and identify each letter. We look for the recognizable shapes of the words. This is why it’s harder to read a passage of type in a print book that’s set in all caps. However, when you turn the text on its side on a standee, the words become even harder to read.

This Isn’t Always Bad

Have you ever seen the cover of a journal or print newsletter with the magazine’s title slightly obscured by the cover art? Perhaps a model is in front of one of the letters. If you read the magazine regularly, you recognize the typeface, color, and wording of the title, even without seeing every letter. You don’t have to see everything to know what you’re looking at.

Movie promotions depend on how recognizable the movie images are. In fact, I have surmised over the last four years’ of standee installation that movies that are very popular actually need less promotion than new movie franchises. Hunger Games, for instance, had a huge following. When the prior installment of the film came out, my fiancee and I only hung a small banner in most theaters. Moviegoers didn’t need to see a 14-foot, large format print standee to convince them to buy a ticket. All they needed to know was when the movie would be shown.

To bring this back to the X-Men standees, the less legible type on the larger version with the vertical type panel would not be a problem for those who already recognize the X-Men movie franchise. Those waiting for this particular film to come out would grasp the images and text instantly.

However, those who are just being introduced to the X-Men ethos might need to read every word, and the legibility of the horizontal type across the bottom of the alternate standee version might just make the difference between their buying—or not buying—a ticket.

How This Relates to You

Here are a few take-aways you can apply to all commercial printing design jobs:

  1. Consider your audience. Are they familiar with what you’re designing? If not, make sure everything is not only dramatic in its design but consummately legible as well.
  2. Remember that all-caps text is harder to read than upper and lowercase type. Also, remember that horizontal type is easier to read than vertical type.
  3. Legibility comes first. If your audience can’t read your design product, it doesn’t matter how cool it looks.

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