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Large Format Printing: The Standee's Missing Piece

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 color of the printed 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.


[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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