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A Good Use of Embossing Techniques

I bought a copy of Made to Stick today at a thrift store. I bought it for the information on how to make ideas memorable (i.e., for its marketing advice), but my fiancee said she would have bought it just for the cover, regardless of the content.

This is an example of powerful marketing.

One of the chapters in the book references "the unexpected" as a key element of marketing success, and the cover exemplifies the unexpected. A strip of duct tape (actually embossed) crosses the title of the book. The visual reference to "stickiness," a goal of marketers, website designers, etc., is amusing and catches your attention, but what really makes this work is the subtle use of embossing and spot UV coating.

As I said, the section of duct tape is embossed, and the weave of the tape can be felt as you run your finger across the book. Moreover, the folds of the tape, where it is uneven and bunched up, stick out even farther than the duct tape weave. On top of the tape, the printer has applied what looks like spot gloss UV coating, in contrast to the rest of the cover, which has been dulled down with what looks like a dull laminate. The contrast is dramatic. The printer has also treated the book title with this gloss coating.

All of this works for two reasons. First, it's unexpected. Unlike a lot of embossing work, you don't realize that the duct tape has been embossed until you run your fingers across the dust jacket of the book. It's a subtle effect, until you realize it's there. Then it's quite dramatic. In fact, it feels a lot like the surface of actual, bunched up duct tape.

Fine artists have used this technique for a long time. It's called "trompe l'oeil," and Wikipedia defines it as:

"...an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions."

Realistic paintings of postcards tacked to a wooden door would also fit into this category (such as A Bachelor's Drawer by John Haberle,1890–94). In both this case and the case of the Made to Stick book cover, the viewer first experiences the image as real (real postcards on a door or a real strip of duct tape on a book) and then realizes it's just an optical illusion, and the item is actually within the painting or photo. It's unexpected and powerful.

As the book says, "the unexpected" sticks. It's just good marketing, and it's memorable.

Paper Trimming Tolerance

I always forget the exact tolerance that is acceptable (i.e., within industry standard) in trimming a book, postcard, or whatever, on guillotine trimming equipment or a three-knife trimmer.

Since it's a mechanical process, I know that there will be some variance in this finishing process. I also know that the printer's tolerance assumes the trimming equipment will cut the press sheet "up to a certain amount" both above and a certain amount below your intended trim mark, whether this is the face margin of a print book or the edge of a flyer.

Since I was unsure, I asked a printer, who provided the following answers:

1. It depends on the finishing technique and equipment.

2. 1/16" is a good rule of thumb.

3. Keep in mind that this is "plus" or "minus" 1/16", so it's really a 1/8" potential variance.

4. If your trim is critical, make sure the printer knows this.

I'd add a few items to the printer's list of suggestions:

1. To be safe, keep live matter art away from the trim. In this case the rule of thumb is to keep all live art 3/16" from the trim.

2. If the trim must be precise, the press run is small, and/or you can absorb the extra cost, ask the printer about hand trimming (in a lot of cases, this may not be feasible, but it never hurts to ask).

3. Don't expect absolute perfection in the finishing component of a job. (Therefore, design accordingly).

And here are two more suggestions relating to folds:

1. If your job has multiple folds (such as a map fold, a wrap fold, or several right-angle folds), a bad fold may get worse with each successive fold. If you're concerned, discuss this with your printer.

2. If your print project has multiple folds (a multi-panel brochure, for instance), ask your printer whether (and to what extent) you will need to adjust the width of the panels. For instance, the panels closer to the inside of a wrap fold brochure must be narrower than the outermost panels for the brochure to fold without buckling.

Image Resolution and Viewing Distance

If you're designing a banner that will be seen from a distance, keep in mind that your goal is to create an image in which the halftone dots will not be visible. You want the viewer to perceive a continuous tone image.

That said, this doesn't mean that every image must be 300 dpi (which is usually the goal if you're designing a brochure and you want to know the resolution at which to scan the 150- to 175-line screen halftone images).

A poster, or a large banner draped from an interior or exterior wall, will be seen from a much larger distance, so your eye will fool you into seeing a continuous tome image at a much lower line screen (halftone frequency).

I just found a useful chart in A Guide to Graphic Print Production, by KAJ Johansson, Peter Lundberg, and Robert Ryberg. It shows the eye's resolution ability at various distances. (I have converted centimeters to inches.)

Specifically, at 7.87", you would need a 150 lpi screen for the halftone dots to be invisible to the naked eye (and you would scan your image at 300 dpi). However, if you're producing a banner or poster, and your viewer will be 57.48" (just under 5 feet) from the printed item, you will only need a 20 lpi halftone screen (or 40 dpi scan).

The one time to disregard this advice is when you're producing a trade-show banner. In such a case, the viewer is usually much closer to the image than when viewing a poster or banner under normal conditions (from a distance). So scan your trade-show banner images at high resolution (i.e., 300 dpi).

Keep in mind that the resolution can be higher than these numbers, just not lower. And if you scan your images at a higher resolution than you need to, you will just create huge image files that will slow down the large-format inkjet printer (or the platesetter, if you're designing an offset printed poster).


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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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