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What You Should Know About Printing Ink

Ink seems pretty straight-forward, right? You just decide what color scheme fits the tone and audience for your publication, you decide on spot colors vs. process color, and you're done. Right?

Wrong. Ink is only one component of the printing process. It interacts with all the other components, such as the stock on which your publication will be printed. If you print the same PMS color, for instance, on a gloss stock and an uncoated stock, the colors will not match. If you're producing a corporate identity package with matte coated labels and uncoated business cards and letterhead, the logo colors probably will not match exactly from piece to piece. This is a potential problem you should address with your printer early in the process, long before you're surprised by the delivered, printed products.

As a rule of thumb, keep in mind that the same ink will look different on different stocks, based on paper surface coatings and the color and brightness of the paper stock. Also, some inks are transparent, and some are opaque. Knowing this, you can make appropriate design and production decisions.

To extend the hypothetical situation, let's say you are specifying a corporate identity package that will include stationery to be used in laser printers. The ink you choose here will be important, too. The heat of laser printers will cause regular ink to melt and run, ruining both your letterhead and your laser printer. In such cases, always specify laser inks: wax-free inks that will hold up to the higher heat of laser printers.

How about drying properties of inks? This, too, is easy to overlook. Let's say your corporate identity package includes a brochure with heavy ink coverage of a dark blue PMS color. Perhaps you have chosen a matte sheet, and your 8.5" x 11" piece will fold in thirds. And you need it yesterday. In this case you have effectively created a disaster. The dark blue ink will probably include a large proportion of Reflex Blue.

Some experts say this pigment never dries completely. If it does dry, it dries very slowly. By laying down a thick film of ink on a matte sheet and then folding it without allowing sufficient drying time (to meet a rush deadline), you are effectively wiping wet ink against wet ink. This will guarantee offsetting, marking, or other ugly results. Again, the remedy is to discuss your needs with your printer early and allow sufficient time for printing.

Paper companies and ink companies can provide useful information as well. Most provide sample booklets and informational booklets showing exactly how ink behaves on paper of various makes with various coatings. Most of these booklets also discuss the use of varnish both as a protection and as a design element. Paper merchants and ink merchants, as well as printers, can provide a wealth of knowledge about putting ink on paper. Learn from their experience--and their mistakes.

What You Should Know About Delivery Costs

You're choosing a printer for a book you're designing. You live on the East Coast. A printer to which you have been referred is based in the Midwest. Their prices are far below those of your local vendors. You're about ready to award them the job. Wait. Have you discussed packaging? freight charges? postage?

Most printers will include in their bid the cost of a local delivery of the finished publication as well as a local delivery and pick-up of proofs. A destination beyond the immediate vicinity may cost you more, and a split delivery (samples to one location and the balance of the job to another location) may also cost extra.

Printers can usually estimate quite accurately the separate costs for delivery, distribution, mailing, freight, and postage, including FedEx costs and the like, as long as you are specific in stating your requirements. This is especially important if your printer is out-of-state.

Therefore, include in your spec sheet comprehensive information on schedules, packaging, transport, and destinations. Discuss due dates early, and you will avoid rush charges. Talk with your printer about the estimated weight of the job (based on the publication paper and number of copies), and discuss your shipping options, such as common carrier and UPS. Also, ask whether you can benefit from the discounts your printer receives for volume shipping. In addition, be specific about how your company will receive the delivery. Do you have a loading dock, or will the printer or carrier need to make an inside delivery (the tenth floor, for instance)? If your building has no loading dock, is there a freight elevator?

The more specific you can be in all these areas, the more closely your printer's estimate will match the final bill.


[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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