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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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Custom Printing: Rack Card Redesign Case Study

June 19th, 2017

Posted in Rack Cards | Comments »

A friend and colleague of mine has a small business. She is a Reiki practitioner and hypnotherapist. A few days ago she asked my opinion regarding her promotional materials (a business card, a rack card, and a website). Since I still do a little graphic design on the side, I offered to help her.

The Promotional Materials

First of all, what is a rack card? It is like a brochure in format (tall and narrow, in my friend/client’s case 3.75” x 8.25”). Unlike a brochure, it only has two panels (front and back). It also is printed on a much heavier commercial printing stock than most brochures. Based on the custom printing specs for my client’s prior press run, this reprint will be produced on 80# cover stock.

The purpose of a rack card is to sit vertically on a metal rack along with other rack cards, promoting some event or service. You have probably seen racks like these in hotels. Perhaps the rack cards were promoting places to visit on your vacation or sports you could pursue on your holiday, such as water skiing.

Rack cards compete with other rack cards for the viewer’s attention. Moreover, if a particular hotel desk doesn’t have a metal rack, the cards might just lie on a table in a stack. So the cards must be dramatic to grab the prospective customer’s attention immediately.

The second element in my client’s promotional package is an additional rack card. She wants to promote the Reiki and hypnotherapy separately. A shrewd move, since people who want to stop smoking might understand and value hypnotherapy but question or not understand the art of Reiki. My client understands her clients’ (and potential clients’) needs.

The third element in my client’s promotional package is her business card.

The fourth element is her website.

Revisions: What My Client Has Now, and What Changes I Suggested

The Paper Choice

I told my client I liked the thickness of the paper stock. It makes the rack card heavy and substantial. When you hold it in your hand, it feels strong and important, not flimsy.

However, one side of the sheet seems to be minimally coated (perhaps a matte coating), and one side has a high-gloss coating (like a laminate or a flood UV coating). Since the background color is a soothing green, and since the imagery is a stack of rocks (called a “cairn” and used throughout history as a trail marker) in a pool of still water, I personally would specify a textured, uncoated press sheet. This is a natural, “crunchy granola” piece aimed at earthy people who might avoid the corporate look and embrace a more natural feel. So I encouraged my client to choose a thick, uncoated stock for all rack cards and for her business card as well. (I wanted all elements of her promotional package to not only go together in terms of their design but also their physical “feel.”)

The Design (Type, Color, Design Grid)

I told my client that she only had a few seconds to interest her prospective clients once they saw her rack cards and business cards. People are busy. They are multitasking, and these days they have only a limited attention span.

Her current rack card design included the name of her business, a relaxing image of stacked rocks in a pool of water, a little copy about Reiki (what it is, and how clients might benefit from a treatment), and contact information. All type was reversed out of a green background.

Unfortunately, there was only a minimal difference in size between all groupings of type on this side of her rack card. So the reader had to think about what to read first, second, etc. I told my client that anything that slows down the reader risks losing her/his attention entirely.

Therefore, in redesigning this side of her rack card, I kept the green background, but I shifted back and forth between reverse type (for headlines) and surprinted (or black) type for text. I changed the centered type to flush left (so the reader’s eye would always come back to the left margin). I also put the photo of the rocks at the top, just under the name of the business (so the reader would associate the business name with the sense of peace—even if she/he stopped reading here and got nothing else out of the rack card). I then surprinted one of the quotes (about inner peace) over the photo to reinforce the message.

I told my client that readers who skim text go through the page in an “F” formation. They read from left to right through the headlines as they move down the page (left/right/down, then left/right/down). To increase the likelihood of their grasping the most important information instantly, I made the headlines white on the green background. I also reversed the contact information. So if potential clients got nothing else from their two seconds with the rack card, they would see the following:

1. The name of my client’s business.
2. What is Reiki?
3. What are the benefits of Reiki?
4. How do you contact my client’s business if you want Reiki?

The other side of the rack card repeated the green background, a screened silhouette of the calming pile of rocks (cairn) in the pool of water, a large reversed quote about Reiki, and, most importantly, all of the contact information again. No matter what side of the card the reader started with, she/he would see the name of the business, the benefits (either in list form or as a pithy quote), and the contact information.

Finally, I noted that I had chosen my preferred typeface for her job. I asked my client to consider the typeface carefully (along with the green background color). I asked her to consider whether the type, color, imagery, and overall design grid supported her message and whether they would attract the potential buyer for her service as she envisioned her/him.

The Imagery (Photo Treatment)

I encouraged my client to buy rights to use an appropriate photo purchased through a stock image bank (to be found online) and in this way to avoid copyright infringement. I described the difference between “rights managed” and “royalty free” imagery (you can Google these online to get a detailed explanation). I also said that an image of the rocks in the “public domain” would sidestep both copyright infringement issues and potential costs (i.e., the image would be free to use and would avoid a lawsuit).

Since the image will show up on all rack cards and on the business card as well—plus the website—I asked my client to read the image reproduction rights license carefully to make sure the image could be used “promotionally” for “however many copies my client wanted to distribute” both “in print and online.”

I also wanted her to make sure the image was of sufficient resolution (300 dpi at 100 percent size, or at the size it will actually be used). I wanted to avoid any image pixellation.

Final Words—and the Website

I also asked my client to consider all elements of the promotional package together: the rack cards, business card, and website. I asked her to consider how she wanted to move the reader from the rack card, or business card, to the website to get more information and then to the telephone to set up an appointment for a Reiki session. (This encouragement of the reader toward what marketers term “conversion”–i.e., getting the prospect to step forward and commit to the product or service—would be enhanced by the specific wording of the text on the rack card.)

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Everything is an ad: a business card, a rack card, and a website. Keep this in mind when you choose paper, select typefaces, choose images, and craft the design structure. Keep it in mind particularly when you write the copy.
  2. Paper is power. It is a subconscious influence on your prospective buyer. Choose one that supports your message and your image.
  3. Pay for your images. In addition to supporting the photographers, it protects you against litigation.
  4. Make sure all design elements across all channels (printed pieces and electronic media) are coordinated. Don’t confuse the reader by making things look different. The more times your reader sees the same images, type, and design structure, the more immediately recognizable your branding will be.
  5. All of this drives increased sales.

Posted in Rack Cards | Comments »

Custom Printing: Design vs. Production of a Rack Card

June 14th, 2017

Posted in Rack Cards | Comments »

In addition to brokering commercial printing and writing about printing, I also do a little graphic design on the side. I used to be an art director, and I like keeping my hand in computer aided publishing because it keeps me aware of what full-time designers go through in designing their projects and preparing them for print.

The Design Project

At the moment, I’m designing a rack card for a Reiki practitioner (a bartering job, actually). Over the course of the past few weeks we have been going back and forth with various proofs, changing fonts, photos, and overall design treatments.

A few days ago my client approved the art. “Can we send it to press today?” she said. They’re having a sale. (She had chosen an online web-to-print service to keep costs down by ganging up her rack card with numerous other rack cards, presumably on a large offset press.)

“Whoa,” I said. “We have to slow down.” “Design is not production. We have things to do.”

Now this is just how I work. And I’ll assume that many other graphic designers will also do what are essentially upscale mock-ups on the computer to communicate with the client. Once the designer and client have agreed on the “look” of the piece, there are numerous technical issues that designers address, check, and fix before the job can go to press. These take time and careful attention.

In my client’s case, here are the issues we will need to address:

The Paper

My client’s Reiki practice is a form of healing work. It appeals to earthy and artistic people, so I suggested either an uncoated printing stock or a matte coated stock. It would have a softer, “crunchy granola” feel, unlike a gloss coated rack card that would have more of a corporate feel. My client agreed. She said the online commercial printing vendor she had chosen offered a matte coated press sheet.

The Press Run

I asked for the press run for two reasons. The more immediate was that I needed to know how many copies she wanted the printer to produce. But more than that, I wanted to get a sense of what technology the printer would use. My assumption was that for an ultra-short press run (say 100+ rack cards), the job would be digital. For 500+ rack cards, I assumed the technology would be offset lithography.

The Custom Printing Technology

If the length of the press run would require offset lithography, I knew an uncoated paper would be more likely than a coated paper to absorb the ink. In addition, for a press run probably ganged up with numerous other jobs, I did not expect the web-to-print vendor to adjust the ink flow for my client alone (as would be the case if only her job were on press). Therefore, I encouraged my client to choose the matte coated press sheet instead of the uncoated sheet, because the ink would sit up on the surface of the paper better and would be less likely to seep into the paper fibers. This would keep the images crisp and bright, and avoid a muddy appearance.

I also told her that, in my experience, if the job will be short and therefore digital, the toner particles will also be more likely than the offset ink to sit up on the surface of the paper. However, to be safe, I still thought a matte coated stock would be best.

The Images

My client chose to take the photos herself. She had a good camera and a good eye, so I decided to teach her the technical issues she needed to address in order to provide print-ready images.

For instance, she had been giving me 72 dpi images for the mock-up, which I had then changed to 300 dpi and enlarged (a bad habit called interpolation, which creates image information out of nothing—fine for a mock-up but not for press-ready images). Therefore, my client is now reshooting the two photos (with minor changes) at much higher resolution. As per my request, she will provide RGB JPEGs, which I will adjust and then save for the printer as CMYK TIFF images.

The Silhouettes

Two of the photos are silhouettes. They are also screened back or ghosted (not 100 percent in intensity). Therefore, I did some research, and then practiced with the pen tools, paths, clipping paths, edge refinement, feathering, and other Photoshop tools to make sure the transition from the contours of my client’s silhouetted wooden bridge photo to the background green color will be subtle and smooth. I also chose to produce the green background in Photoshop rather than InDesign. (I could have done either.)

The Color Space

I will need to make sure the job is specified for CMYK and not RGB, and that all images are also 8-bit or 16-bit CMYK TIFFs. I will change them from RGB JPEGs to TIFFs at the very end of the process, once I am satisfied with the color, since I’ll see any potential color shifts right on my monitor.

The Printer’s PDF Requirements

I asked my client to send me the specs from the commercial printing vendor for creating press-ready PDF files. This includes information such as the trim size, bleed size, font-embedding, and a host of other specifics I have discussed in previous PIE Blog articles. This document will tell me exactly how this particular printer prefers to receive his art files (based on the needs of his prepress system).

For instance, when I started the job, I measured the prior version of my client’s rack card with a ruler. The online listing of rack card sizes is much more precise, so I will need to change the document size slightly in my art file and add the appropriate bleeds of the background colors and images that will extend off the page. (All of this has to be exact, whereas for the design mock-up I just had to make the screen version look good.)

Preflighting the Job Prior to Submission

Even before I distill the PDF files, I’ll check the InDesign color separations on-screen (you can look this up online). I find this useful, to make sure nothing will show up on a different printing plate than I intend or expect. I’ll also make sure I have removed any extra unused colors from the colors palette in InDesign.

I’ll look for any typefaces that have been altered (made “bold” or “italic” in InDesign rather than by using the proper bold or italic font). I’ll probably also print a laser copy of the job to look for errors, and I’ll run any preflight diagnostics available in InDesign (the little red or green light that shows up at the bottom left of the screen to let you know whether the file has problems or is ok to print).

Finally, I’ll review the printer’s PDF sheet once again to be doubly sure. I’ll distill the PDF file as requested, and then I’ll “compress” the file before sending it to the online printer’s website (compression makes files safer in transit over the Internet and avoids PDF file corruption).

Just to be safe, I’ll probably look at the images one final time to confirm their resolution and color space, and particularly to check the edges between the silhouettes and their backgrounds. After all, I will only see an online proof (unlike most brick-and-mortar printers, the online printers usually keep prices down by sending only virtual proofs to their clients).

When I explained this to my client, she understood completely that there was more work to do, and she set off to reshoot the photos at a higher resolution.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

The best thing you can learn is that design is not the same as art production (preparing final, press-ready art files for the commercial printing supplier). For me, trying to do both at the beginning of a design job is like editing my work while I am writing. It completely shuts down my creative process.

In contrast, the production step of the process is more logical and precise. It’s all about measurements, color spaces, and all of the other technical specifications that will ensure an accurate printed representation of your beautifully designed art file. It’s equally important.

Posted in Rack Cards | Comments »

Book Printing: A Sample of Outstanding Design and Production

June 5th, 2017

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

At a thrift store this week, my fiancee found a print book that is one of the best examples I have seen of effective book design and custom printing. It is exceptional on so many levels. A close examination of the book shows exactly what happens when book design is well executed, when the design reflects the content of the print book, and when the production qualities of the book support both the design and the content of the book.

A Description of the Book

The title of the book is Real Simple: 869 New Uses for Old Things, edited by Rachel Hardage and Sharon Tanenbaum. It is an 8.25” x 9”, almost-square-format, case-bound book. Instead of adding a dust jacket to a cloth binding, the designer has laminated the 4-color printed press sheet directly to the binder’s boards and then coated the book cover with a dull film laminate (or dull UV coating).

The color of the cover is bright and intensely saturated. The design grid on the cover comprises sixteen color squares (four rows of four squares), with each square containing a 4-color silhouette of a different household item. Three of the colors in the grid of squares are primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) or close relatives on the color wheel (for instance, the yellow changes to orange within the series of squares, and red cycles through magenta to pink). The back cover just extends this motif of squares to wrap the image completely around the book with a full bleed.

Type on the front cover is reversed out of the background colors, with the actual lines of text aligned with the borders between colors in a tight, geometric treatment.

Without even opening the print book, I think this approach stands out and makes the book unique for a few reasons:

  1. We are accustomed to books that are “portrait” format (taller than they are wide). Therefore, oblong books (also known as “landscape” format) and square books draw attention to themselves. They make us look again. I would even argue that square books are a bit more unusual than oblong books, outside the category of children’s books.
  2. The combination of the bright colors and the square format are reminiscent of a child’s book, but the content (lint roller, light bulb, rubber band, and so forth) make it clear that this print book is in fact for adults. However, the overall effect is still playful and perhaps even magical, specifically because of the saturated colors and the visual reference to books for children.
  3. The decision to laminate the printed press sheet to the cover boards rather than to add a dust jacket reinforces the casual and creative approach to the subject matter.
  4. The dull finish of the cover coating (whether laminate or UV coating) is just different enough from the usual gloss cover coating on the majority of books that it draws attention to itself. This is not just a visual acknowledgement of the subdued (not glossy) appearance. It is also—and perhaps more importantly–tactile. It feels softer than a gloss coated cover. To me that makes the book a bit more approachable in both a conscious and subconscious way.

Inside the Book

The print book designer has carried the intensity of the color into the interior of the book, starting with solid-colored endsheets and flyleaves. Divider pages and photos within the text of the book are all full pages of full color that repeat the saturated hues of the front and back covers. All photos and all color solids bleed off the page, giving a sense that the content of the pages is larger than the 8.25” x 9” format can contain.

Again, this reinforces the playful nature of the print book, as does the treatment of the photos. That is, all images are shot close up, which makes otherwise mundane household items seem new and captivating. Moreover, the images were illuminated with intense photo lights during the photo shoot, so they have a wide range of tones, from intense highlights to deep shadows. This gives them both depth and visual interest.

The overall approach to the book is, as the title states, “new uses for old things.” This is fully consistent with the visual treatment of the images, which could be summed up as seeing mundane household items in a new light. So the visual treatment echoes and reinforces the theme of the book.

Paper Choices

Paper is a subjective and particularly powerful component of design. This is easy to forget. In fact, that’s part of what makes it so powerful. The reader often doesn’t think about the paper. In this case the designer has chosen a bright, blue-white press sheet with a dull finish. This makes the text easier to read. Interestingly enough, the photos are all glossy (and crisp). Through a careful inspection, what I see is that the photos have been gloss varnished (to make them more dramatic). This creates an interesting contrast when the photos are seen next to the dull white text pages.

The Design Grid

Introductory pages of the book have one column of text extending from side to side. The designer has included small line drawings in places that would normally be paragraph breaks. That is, the text runs on without additional spacing between paragraphs, but the reader can identify the paragraph break from the position of the line drawing. In addition, the text shifts back and forth between a dark, bold sans serif face and a much lighter serif face. Since the intro pages have relatively little copy, this treatment is intriguing and playful rather than confusing. In addition, there is ample white space around the single column of text.

In contrast, the pages that actually tell you all kinds of new uses for mundane household items are set in smaller type in a five-column grid, with the column closest to the gutter left blank. The bottoms of the columns vary in depth, creating a nice visual zig-zag rhythm. This also allows for ample white space, so the reader is not faced with an overwhelming sea of type. In addition, a darker sans serif typeface is used for the headlines (only a few words each). For instance, you can look up “Avocado,” and the text will tell you “use to” and then offer suggestions for creative uses of an avocado.

What I like about this treatment is threefold:

  1. The typefaces are the same ones used in the intro pages, so the book has a rhythm and predictability based on common design elements.
  2. Shifting back and forth between the text (for the “how to” or “do it yourself” content) and the full page photos gives both predictability and variety to the look of the text. It’s creative but extremely readable.
  3. The contrast in typeface (and particularly the weight, or lightness/darkness, of the heads and text) make the content of the book easily understandable. If it were in another language, even one I couldn’t understand, I’d still be able to decipher the levels of importance (as well as relatedness) of one block of copy to another.

Divider Pages

Finally, the divider pages use two-page, full-bleed color solids to distinguish the break between subjects within the book. Minimal text is either reversed out of the color or surprinted over the color, and a large capital letter (the successive letters of the alphabet, since this book is formatted as a dictionary of sorts) is reversed out of the solid color. The letter bleeds off the page and is so large that it draws attention to its shape (the strokes of the letterform) as a piece of art in and of itself.

Overall Impressions and What You Can Learn from This Book

All of these design techniques create an easily navigable print book with bright colors, intriguing images, and an overall playfulness. This is fully consistent with the concept of playing with household items to discover new uses for them. If you are a designer, there is nothing that will lift your work above your competition than using these, or similar, artistic principles to marry the content and tone of your book with its overall appearance.

Keep in mind that design goes beyond the typefaces and design grid and includes paper choices, cover coatings, and bindery choices. If all of these support one another and also reinforce the purpose of the book, that’s true success in design.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Finding Flaws in a Lenticular Book

May 30th, 2017

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

My fiancee recently bought two copies online of the same lenticular book as gifts from two separate vendors. When she had both in hand, she was surprised to see differences between the two. Naturally enough, when she had bought the books, since they were two copies of the same title, she expected them to be the same. So she brought this to my attention and asked me what had happened.

First of all, I refreshed my memory online regarding the lenticular custom printing process. Many if not most of you have seen the images that change as you tilt them from side to side. These plastic screens are sometimes used in postcards, for instance, to give a sense of movement to an image or to shift from one image to another. I have also seen lenticular movie posters that give the illusion of depth in the photo by using this technology.

The short description of what seems to be a very complicated process is that a number of images (or one image seen from a number of different angles) are combined (interlaced) with a computer, then printed, and then attached under a screen composed of lenses (lenticules) that present a different image as you tilt these plastic screens. Alignment is crucial for this to work successfully.

How the Two Books Differ

What I see most prominently when I look at both books under a good light is that one set of lenticular images is more intensely colored than the other and the contours of the animals in the images (each page spread presents a different image of a wild animal running) are crisper and more defined. I don’t think the average viewer would see the problem unless both books were viewed together under a strong light. Personally I think it is rather intriguing.

In my research I found that ghosting and poor imagery are the result of imprecise alignment of the images that have been transformed from individual photos to interlaced “slices” before being placed under the cover sheet of plastic lenses. This can occur during the printing process, which, for this particular technology, would be either screen printing or offset lithography.

Other Color Flaws in Other Kinds of Commercial Printing

As I compared the two books I was reminded of package printing I had seen in grocery stores, in which the images in two cereal boxes, for instance, might be slightly different in color even if the design clearly should have been the same (both content and coloration). How does this happen?

First of all, it doesn’t happen anywhere near as often as it used to even during my own career in commercial printing. You could say that the two packages with slightly different ink coloration had been from two separate press runs, and this might be correct. However, it would not really answer the question as to what had happened.

On an offset printed package, for instance, one particular ink color might have been run in excess. Another possibility is that the four process color plates for a full-color image might have been out of alignment (out of register). An error in “registration” of the custom printing plates could cause an obvious color shift, particularly in a neutral color or a memory color (like the green of grass or the blue of the sky).

However, this doesn’t happen a lot anymore for two reasons:

  1. A large number of offset presses are equipped with closed loop color monitoring. Optics and electronics on the press closely monitor the registration of all printing plates and the particular colors being printed and then feed this data back to the press console, adjusting the press and ink to maintain good plate register and consistent inkflow at a predetermined level. When the automatic press observations record an error, the press is adjusted to bring everything back into equilibrium, correcting the color problems and problems with image register.
  2. The preset ink levels can be captured as digital data, which can then be fed back into the computer for the second press run. This actually allows the press to “come up to color” or achieve the optimal color balance rather quickly, meaning that usable printed sheets start to come off the press with minimal adjustments and minimal paper waste. Because of this, it is unusual to have errors in color between two different press runs yielding two differently inked product packages in your grocery store.

Back when I was an art director, the way to avoid these problems was to attend a press inspection for every press run of every signature in every critical product. These often went around the clock (every four hours, for instance) for a number of days. The aforementioned automation and the quality of inspection that electric eyes and computers can provide have made this unnecessary in most cases.

Another Possibility

One thing that I have found over the years is that not all commercial printing processes are equally precise. For instance, offset lithography can be surprisingly accurate. Given the size of the presses and the speed at which they run, I still find it amazing that they can produce tight register and incredible detail.

In contrast, the output I have seen from flexographic presses often does not quite match that of offset lithography. Flexography uses rubber relief plates (elements that print are raised on the rubber plates). I have often seen less precise register and in some cases lighter ink films around the perimeter of letterforms in large type. Like other aspects of commercial printing, it is my understanding that technology has been making great strides, and the problems are becoming far more rare in flexography as well. But my point is that some commercial printing technologies are more precise than others, and this can be reflected in the final product. And for packaging, the final product is often produced through flexography.

What You Can Do

Ultimately all of this comes down to one question. If commercial printing processes are imperfect, how can you be sure your job will be beautiful?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Proof early and often. Make sure that you see “contract quality” proofs that your printer assures you will reflect the final printed product.
  2. In all cases, ask for your printer’s advice as to the most color faithful proofing option. Usually that will be some form of digital proof. Your printer may be able to show you a continuous tone proof or a proof reflecting the actual halftone dot structure. The latter is more rare but also more accurate (for instance, it will show potential moire patterns). This kind of proof is also more expensive.
  3. If you are unsure, consider paying more for a press proof (a proof of the final product produced on a small press). This will be expensive. However, for a job with crucial color requirements, it may be worth the cost.
  4. Consider attending a press inspection. While this is usually unnecessary, for “critical color” (as opposed to “pleasing color”) it may be worth your time.
  5. Expect excellence, not perfection. You will always find flaws in printing. More than anything, it is a question of fixing the major flaws and letting the others go.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: A Movie Standee Production Case Study

May 24th, 2017

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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.

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Custom Printing: Large Banner Stand Case Study Follow Up

May 16th, 2017

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I noted in a prior blog article that I had been working on a large banner stand project for a print brokering client. To review, it is a 10’ x 8’ large format print on a frame made up of thin metal poles at right angles to one another, with feet on either side that are perpendicular to the frame. Fortunately, this was exactly what my client had wanted, and I found photos online showing this specific product.

After drafting specifications for the job and sending these to three brick-and-mortar printers for estimates, I also found the product online for a very reasonable price. I told my client about the online vendor. I also told her that I could not vouch for the quality of their product since I had not worked with them before. Therefore, I sent my client an email with the vendor’s contact information, specifications, and price, and assumed she would want the online product.

Surprisingly, I was wrong. My client contacted me and said she wanted me to select one of my preferred vendors. She did not want to buy the banner stand online. I was so pleased that my client shared my belief in the mutual benefit of long-standing client-vendor relationships.

The Bids for the Large Format Print and Banner Stand

Shortly thereafter, I started receiving bids from my vendors. This is what I found:

  1. The online vendor was clearly the lowest bid, a little under $250 plus shipping (for $25). The lowest brick-and-mortar price was about $400 plus shipping (for $50), or about 64 percent more than the online bid. Then again, my client didn’t want an online printer.
  2. The midrange printer had priced the job not on scrim vinyl but on polyester fabric. The principal of the firm was worried that the weight of the vinyl, in such a large format print, would cause the center of the frame to hang down. He priced his fabric banner product at about $700 plus shipping.
  3. The high bid was for about $850 plus shipping. Interestingly enough, this printer offered to hand me directly over to the vendor (i.e., she was brokering the job, which indicated she did not have the large format press capabilities for this particular kind of banner).

New Assumptions for the Banner

Based on this information I made some assumptions:

  1. I had visited the mid-range printer before and had seen his grand-format inkjet printing equipment. So I surmised that this vendor would print the job in-house and then pair the banner with a banner stand bought from another vendor. Moreover, since this particular vendor was worried about the weight of a large vinyl banner, and since his price was higher than that of the first vendor, I wondered whether the cost of the fabric was higher, too, accounting for the price difference compared to the vinyl.
  2. With the assumption that polyester fabric costs more than vinyl scrim, I approached the low-bid brick-and-mortar printer and asked for a second bid based on this material. This printer also confirmed my belief that the polyester fabric reflected less light than the vinyl.
  3. When the additional pricing came back, it was almost identical to the mid-range printer’s price (about $700 plus shipping).
  4. I shared all specs and prices with my client, along with my thoughts and reactions. I encouraged her to buy from the printer that had initially bid on the vinyl banner. I did this specifically because I knew he printed his own banners and because he said he had never had a problem with the weight of the scrim vinyl.
  5. It’s not that I didn’t trust the mid-range vendor. I just liked having a large format print supplier comfortable with both vinyl and polyester fabric. Then I could let my client choose the substrate she preferred.
  6. In general I felt comfortable with whatever choice my client would make, because I already had working relationships with all vendors except the online vendor. I had confidence in their work.
  7. I wasn’t as concerned about the mid-range vendor’s fear that the vinyl would be too heavy because of the other vendor’s direct experience in producing scrim vinyl banners.

We’ll see what happens, but my client now has credit with the printer. She also has all information from the printer regarding PDF creation requirements plus FTP art file transmission procedures. Now all she has to do is choose between two banner materials and complete and upload the art.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. It seems that in the process of buying commercial printing services, if you’re alert and logical, the best option will “reveal” itself. I trusted all three vendors, but one planned to broker the entire job. (In other words, this printer didn’t have the appropriate large format print equipment.) No problem there. Not everyone does. I still had two vendors.
  2. Seeing comparable pricing from your selection of commercial printing vendors is a good sign. When I saw that the vendor with the scrim vinyl provided a revised price almost identical to that of the mid-range vendor when the job was priced on polyester fabric, it increased my faith in both printers.
  3. If a vendor is uncomfortable with a process, don’t make him do it. I trusted the first vendor because he had personal experience with the vinyl substrate. But I don’t think any less of the mid-range vendor for other kinds of work.
  4. Note that materials can be a large portion of the total cost of the job. The fabric was almost twice as expensive as the vinyl. If you’re making a choice like this, be clear as to why you’re choosing one material over another. For example, in my client’s case, the minimized light reflectivity, lighter weight, softness, and overall perceived higher value of the polyester fabric banner might be worth the higher price.
  5. When compiling a budget, don’t forget the cost to ship the banner and banner stand.
  6. More than anything, take time to regularly communicate with current vendors and forge relationships with new printers based on mutual benefit and trust. Nothing will help you buy commercial printing more intelligently and successfully.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: Case Study for a Large Banner Stand

May 10th, 2017

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A client came to me today with a request for a large banner stand. I mean large: 10 feet by 8 feet horizontal. Since my fiancee and I assemble and install movie theater standees and hang movie banners and posters, I can fully appreciate the size and heft of a 10 foot by 8 foot banner.

I have produced and brokered the commercial printing for a number of small banners. I understand the physical requirements of a roll-up banner stand, or a free-standing banner with hems and grommets for tying to a wall or other structure. I’ve even hung a 13 foot by 17 foot banner off the side of a building with ropes.

Backstory for My Client

I wanted to make sure the product I sold my client worked both aesthetically and functionally. In her email, my client noted that the banner would be used behind a podium at an event. It needed to be free-standing. It would not be hung on a wall. Conversely, it did not need to be an elaborate, wall-like structure with a dramatic graphic image, like the ones used at a trade show. I wanted my client to be happy with what she got. However, I didn’t want to give her more than she needed.

It happens that my fiancee and I had installed a similar banner at a movie theater using a structure made of thin metal piping. It looked like a giant clothes rack: a rectangle with feet extending toward the front and back, perpendicular to the metal frame to keep it standing and steady.

So I went online and started Googling images of 10 foot by 8 foot banner stands. I found a few photos, with and without banners, and emailed them to my client. She was happy. This was exactly what she wanted.

Buying the Large Format Printing

Not all printers do large format printing. It requires special equipment and special expertise. This particular kind of banner is an inkjet printed product created on either a roll-fed or flatbed inkjet press. After the commercial printing process, the flat sheet of vinyl has to be hemmed for edge protection. Often the printer will punch holes around the perimeter of the banner and then strengthen these holes with metal grommets, so the banner can be suspended from the wall with ropes.

In the case of this banner, though, presumably the top and bottom would need to be folded over and sewn to create a “tunnel” through which the top and bottom metal pipes of the banner stand would go in order to keep the banner flat and vertical, in spite of its weight. (These are called “pole pockets.”) If you can imagine drapes with a curtain rod going through the top under a flap of fabric, you’ll have a good idea of what I’m describing.

A thorough search online came up with an alternative, which involved tying the banner to the stand in numerous places around the perimeter of the image.

I also found very elaborate structures that resembled temporary walls with the inkjet printed fabric stretched over them. I noticed in the ads that these often cost over $1,000, while the simpler banner stands cost about a quarter of this, or a little more.

With this information in hand, plus my client’s description from her email, I sent a request for bid to two vendors.

(Why did I choose brick-and-mortar printers when these banners are also sold online? Because I have worked with these vendors before. They provide support and good ideas, and they back up the quality of their work. Not that online vendors don’t. I just don’t have long-term relationships with any at the moment. If my client balks at the pricing I get, I’ll do more research on the Web and give her some online “web-to-print” alternatives.)

The Considerations

So I already have my client’s approval of the banner and the banner stand options. This is a good start. From both online research and my personal experience installing movie theater graphics, I know for sure that this particular banner stand will hold the weight of a 10 foot by 8 foot banner while being relatively cheap to produce. I also have two hanging options: tying the banner to the stand or hemming the top and bottom to accept the horizontal piping of the banner stand structure. What’s left?

Actually, two considerations: what banner material to choose and what inkjet inks to use. In addition, it will be useful to request PDF file preparation information for my client.

First, the inks: Since my client will be using the banner for a single (presumably night-time) event, I won’t need to worry about lightfastness (how the banner will tolerate sunlight without fading). I also won’t have to worry about weather-tolerance, since the banner will be used inside a building.

Although I know there are a number of different inks available for large format printing, ranging from solvent inks (good for non-porous materials in weather) to latex inks to UV cured inks (also good for non-porous materials), I plan to defer to the large format printing vendor. Basically, anything he can provide with a wide color gamut will work. In fact, since my client sent me the mock-up of the banner, I see that it is only one color (or perhaps a CMYK build to produce one color). It isn’t complicated (not a wide-format fashion shot that has to be absolutely color faithful). So I can be reasonably certain that whatever inks the printer chooses will be successful.

Regarding the substrates, I know that any number of papers, films, vinyls, and even canvas can be run through the large format inkjet presses. For my client’s project, I will assume there will be intense, direct lighting (since the banner will be the backdrop for a speech my client will be giving). It will therefore not benefit her to use a gloss vinyl substrate. Rather a dull vinyl will avoid glare from the lights. From my initial impression, a matte vinyl with edges that won’t curl should be fine. The vinyl will also be durable, which will be good if my client decides to use the banner for more than one event.

It would also be good to get a carrying case for the banner and banner stand (for protection and ease of transport). But on a budget, a ripstop nylon bag should be fine instead of a large and heavy plastic traveling case.

Next Steps

So with all of this information in hand, I plan to see what my two large format print vendors have to suggest. If the pricing is too high for my client’s taste, I’ll look for an online supplier.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

More than anything, I would encourage you to do research. If you know what you want, go online and look for images. This is particularly helpful when your project involves physical requirements. For instance, a banner stand can’t be too light, or it will fall over. If your banner will be outside in the wind, this will be a big problem. You will need a way to anchor the banner to the ground. Send the images you find online to a number of printers, and ask for their advice.

Consider how long the banner and banner stand will be in use. If it’s a banner that will be used outside, consider the durability of the substrate and the weather-fastness and lightfastness of the substrate and inks. If your images are color critical and vibrant (such as images of food, fashion, or automotive subjects), consider the number of colors in the ink set. For example, it might be good to use cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK), and then add an orange, green, and violet, or some other colors, to get the color range and intensity you need.

The best approach is to find vendors you trust (or get referrals). Then tell them what the final product will look like, how long it must last, and what kinds of stress (like weather) it must endure. Then defer to their expertise.

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Book Printing: Handing Off PDF Files to the Printer

April 25th, 2017

Posted in Book Printing, Prepress | Comments Off

A print brokering client of mine is getting closer to handing off files to the book printer. She has been producing a 550-page cookbook in InDesign, including many hundreds of photos prepared in Photoshop. What makes this a challenge is that she is relatively new to Photoshop.

At the same time, the book printer I’m most comfortable handing her work off to (who is also the low bid) would prefer PDF files rather than native InDesign files. To complicate matters, PDF creation still requires premium quality native InDesign files as a base from which to produce press-ready PDFs, and there are many, many options for creating PDFs. Moreover, these options differ from printer to printer depending on many things, such as their prepress workflow software.

The gist of what I just said above is that it’s easy to hand off a problem file if you don’t do things right.

What Is a PDF File?

PDF stands for portable document format. This format allows you to distill an InDesign file (and all the fonts and images you have used to create the file) into a format easily printable on any computer. If you’re producing low-resolution output on a desktop printer, it’s relatively seamless. But if you’re printing high-resolution images in cyan/magenta/yellow/black on an offset press, you need a more comprehensive approach.

That said, if you can create a successfully preflighted InDesign file that correctly addresses issues of color space, resolution, image usage, font usage, and such, and then distill this into a successfully preflighted PDF, your book printer’s likelihood of producing both a proof and a final print job that meet your expectations is very high. Or, at the very least, you will see the problems early when you review the proof. And you can be confident that a successfully output proof will ensure a successfully printed job.

In addition, since you can embed the fonts in a PDF, you do not need to hand off your fonts to your printer. Also, your printer is less likely to encounter font substitution problems that would adjust (or totally move around) the text on your pages.

However, to be safe, it’s always good to send your printer a hard-copy proof to which he can “reconcile” the PDF and final job (i.e., something physical to match).

Keep in mind that a PDF will not improve anything in your initial InDesign file. If the photos are not of sufficient resolution, the PDF will not sharpen them. It won’t brighten photos or fix anything else. It will only allow for a smoother transition of your art files from your computer to your book printer’s computer.

Now the bad news is also the good news. You can only do limited editing to a PDF file. This means that when you hand off PDF files to your printer, if you find problems on the proof, you will have to correct the files in InDesign, distill them again into revised PDFs, and then hand these off to your printer for revised proofs. The good news is that there is very little that can change in the files you hand off to your printer (compared to native files), so you have almost complete assurance that your proofs will look exactly like your submitted files. (This is not the case when you hand off native files.)

Back to My Client

To get back to my client, all of this is relatively new to her. And there are a lot of options (multiple screens’ worth in InDesign) that need to be addressed in preparing PDFs correctly.

In addition, “correctly” means different things to different printers, since printers often have different prepress workflow software packages (such as Rampage or Prinergy).

In my client’s case, the printer has agreed to accept both PDFs and native files. If there are problems in the PDFs my client supplies, the printer will potentially be able to address them using her native InDesign files (i.e., the original, and editable, art files).

Fortunately, my client can distill PDFs directly from InDesign. Or she could use Acrobat Professional to distill the InDesign files into PDFs (but not the less-complete, but free, Acrobat Reader).

To make things easier, I plan to create for my client (with the book printer’s help) a cheat sheet showing which options to check or uncheck on the screens InDesign presents when you create PDFs. She can then put together a short test document (four or five pages addressing text issues, color issues, and image resolution issues). If the files pass preflight, she can then go ahead and distill the 550-page print book.

Variables/Issues to Consider

Here’s a short list of issues my client will need to consider (and that you may need to address when distilling files from your own InDesign projects). The best way to ensure success is to request the printer’s “guidelines” document for creating PDFs for offset print output. This document will make your life much easier (it will tell you what options to select for your printer’s specific workflow software), and it will make your printer’s life much easier (because your files will work smoothly).

  1. Document size.
  2. Bleeds (usually .125” or more).
  3. Margins. (It’s usually best not to put anything—type or images—closer than .25” from the trim.)
  4. Color space. (Make sure the job is CMYK or black only, not RGB. Convert spot colors to process colors, or ask your printer how to specify spot colors.)
  5. Crop marks.
  6. Transparency (with or without flattening). If this doesn’t make sense, ask your printer.
  7. Fonts. Embed them in the PDF. If they can’t be embedded (due to font licensing issues), ask your printer for a work-around.
  8. Image resolution. Use photos that are at least 300 dpi at the final size.
  9. Number of pages. Send either the whole book as one PDF or as several PDFs with a range of pages for each. Label accordingly. (Discuss with your printer.)
  10. Unused colors. If you have defined colors and then decided not to use them, delete them from your color palette. Never use “Registration” or “Auto” as a color. These will not output correctly (in some cases all type and imagery may show up on all printing plates).
  11. Preflight both the native file (before distilling the PDF) and the newly created PDF to catch all errors before submitting the PDF to the book printer.
  12. Only use “rich blacks” (a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) for solids and area screens, but never for type. (It would be too difficult to closely register four printing plates for small type while holding detail in the type serifs.)

Discuss these issues with your printer. This is only one set of specs I found online. Other printers will have different needs.

Extra Screens to Address

In InDesign, for instance, there are five computer screens of information to address when creating PDF files. In most cases these will involve only a few checkmarks (on-screen) based on your printer’s needs. They are called: “General,” “Compression,” “Marks & Bleeds,” “Output,” and “Advanced.” It is also wise to check “The Appearance of Black” in the Preferences window.

Final Thoughts

You can do this successfully (and so can my print brokering client). All is takes is study, practice, and communication with your book printer (or commercial printer, for that matter). After you do it once, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask your printer, so you can set up your files in the best way for his particular computer prepress system.

Posted in Book Printing, Prepress | Comments Off

Book Printing: A Few Thoughts on Image Preparation

April 22nd, 2017

Posted in Book Printing, Photos, Prepress | 2 Comments »

In spite of the promotional literature implying the ease with which one can seamlessly use Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, there really is a lot to learn. And when you’re using these programs together to prepare large book printing jobs for either offset printing or digital printing, the learning curve is even steeper.

That said, I have three book printing jobs I’m brokering at the moment. They are all close to 8.5” x 11” in format, and their press runs range from 500 copies to 11,000 copies (perfect bound and case bound).

In this particular case, the physical properties of the print books are less important than the preparation of the art files, or, more specifically, the preparation of the images to be placed in the InDesign files.

My “DIY” (Do-It-Yourself) Client

One of my clients has written and designed her book and then has prepared all pages in InDesign. She may also have taken the photographs. But she is somewhat new to Photoshop. To her the images are more important than the words. This is a cookbook, and she wants the images to take the lead.

From a commercial printing standpoint, because of this orientation toward the images, I have suggested that my client select a gloss coated printing stock. But for the custom printing paper to showcase the nuances of the images, the photographs must be correctly prepared prior to being placed in the InDesign file.

One of the things I learned, purely by accident during a discussion with my client, was that she had kept the photos in RGB JPEG format as they had been initially shot. Since she knew she wanted the text of the book (both words and images) to be printed in black ink only, she had merely desaturated the photos in Photoshop (i.e., removed their color but kept them in RGB format).

This had made perfect sense to her (and was a logical approach), but it was not what the offset printer would need in order to produce her book. So I gave my client the following suggestions. I think these would benefit a number of new designers (and designers who had come of age with traditional paste-up and are only now making the shift to computerized design and prepress):

My Suggestions to My Client

  1. I told my client she needed to convert all photos from RGB JPEGs to Grayscale TIFFs. Some printers can work with JPEGs, but it’s safest to use TIFFs because all printers will accept these.
  2. If my client had continued to use RGB, the printer would have needed to convert the files himself to CMYK (from Red/Green/Blue, which is used for video monitors, to Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black, which is used for ink or toner applied to paper). These color spaces are not the same. A color image mode change from one color space to another can cause color shifts.
  3. In my client’s case, if she had kept her files in the CMYK mode, the offset printer would have prepared printing plates for all four colors. In essence, even if the computer monitor had given the impression that her images were black and white, they would have been created with all four process colors. Printing the interior text pages of the book in full color would have cost multiple thousands of dollars more than printing a black-only text block. Since this would not have been acceptable, all of her work would have needed to be redone after the first proof, and then a second proof would have been required, further adding to the cost. So understanding how to use Photoshop to change the color mode from RGB to Grayscale was important for my client (as was doing this in a way that optimized the tonal range of the photos: i.e., the detail in highlights, midtones, and shadows).
  4. I suggested that my client look online for a tutorial on preparing black and white images for commercial printing. I have seen many such tutorials. They are succinct and extremely useful. They discuss everything from image resolution to changing color modes, to optimizing highlights and shadows for offset printing.
  5. I encouraged my client to make decisions regarding highlights and shadows based on “numbers” in the Photoshop dialog boxes (the “Info” palette, for instance), rather than by looking at the computer monitor. I noted that backlit images on a computer screen will look brighter than the same image files printed with ink or toner on paper. Learning to interpret the “numbers” (the numerical values for the colors and tonal range) would minimize error.
  6. I suggested that my client prepare a few pages of text and photos and then have the printer run a digital proof of just those pages as an initial test. If they looked too dark or too light, that feedback would help her in preparing the remainder of the book. I suggested that she approach the proofing process as an investment, not an expense.
  7. I spoke with the printer about providing his prepress department’s checklist for producing optimal, press-ready PDFs, so that once my client had received the initial few test pages and applied what she had learned to the remainder of the book, she would know how to convert her InDesign file into the best possible PDF file. He agreed. (Many printers already have such a PDF creation checklist. The reason this is useful is that different printers have different preferences for the numerous options available in creating a print-ready PDF file.)
  8. I encouraged my client to request the following proofs: the 3- to 5-page initial test file (plus any revisions needed); a high-resolution digital proof of all photos ganged up onto approximately 100 pages; the overall digital proof of the book (a “contract” quality, digital cover proof such as a Spectrum or Epson, plus laser proofs of all text pages); and folded and gathered book signatures handed off following printing but before binding the book. Overall, this would let my client see every stage of the process. Since this print book is her pride and joy, her “baby,” these multiple proofing stages will help ensure success.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

You can apply most of the suggestions I gave my client to your own work.

  1. Find out how your printer needs you to prepare images. Check online for short tutorials that teach you how to prepare Photoshop images for offset printing. They will give you a limited number of steps to follow to ensure your success with offset printed images.
  2. Consider requesting any or all of the proofs I have suggested. It may cost a little more, but it will help you identify problems before the book has been printed. At minimum, consider a high-res proof of the cover and “for position” proofs of the text. If you have images or tint screens, consider requesting high-res proofs of these pages. The jargon to use is “contract proofs.” These serve as a contract between you and the printer: once you have approved the way they look, he has to match these proofs exactly.
  3. Ask for your printer’s PDF-creation guidance sheet. Don’t assume one printer’s PDF-creation guide is the same as another’s.

Posted in Book Printing, Photos, Prepress | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Smyth Sewing Books for Strength

April 14th, 2017

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For our rest and relaxation, my fiancee and I spend long hours in thrift stores. She likes the clothes; I like the books. One benefit for my work as a commercial printing broker is that I see how print books age. I see the yellowed paper in the books from the ‘70s and ‘80s and the pristine paper and binding work in books close to 100 years old (i.e., due to their superior materials).

I also see how various bindings hold up: which books are still in good condition twenty years after their publishing date and which books are losing pages.

Three Current Print Brokering Jobs

Three of my current print brokering clients are producing books at the moment. One is entirely case bound (all copies). One is a short-run job: 500 copies of a 488-page paperback book. The final product is a split binding of a 550-page book (2,000 to 10,000 copies paper bound and 1,000 copies case bound). For the most part, all are close to 8.5” x 11” in format. What they all have in common is that their page counts are high. They are all long books.

How does this affect the binding?

Two ways to approach the binding of either a perfect-bound (paperback) or case-bound (hard-cover) book are notch binding (or a similar option that is called burst perfect binding) and Smyth Sewing. With notch and burst binding, you first gather and stack the press signatures (lets say thirty-two 16-page press signatures for a 512-page print book, or sixteen 32-page signatures for the same page count).

Then, if you’re perfect-binding the book you grind off the bind edge, add hot-melt glue to the ground-off spine, and wrap a paper cover around the text block. For a burst-bound job you puncture the signature folds, and for a notch-bound job, you cut notches in the bind edge, apply the glue, and add the paper cover.

In these cases (which are best used for paper-bound books but can also be used for hard-bound books), grinding, piercing, or notching the bind edge before applying the glue just gives the glue more surface area of the paper to grab onto. More surface area allows for better glue adhesion and less likelihood that the pages will fall out.

Unfortunately, all of these print books are very long, as noted before, so the text blocks are heavy, and neither burst binding nor notch binding is as durable as one of the more traditional methods for case binding books: that is, Smyth Sewing.

Enter Smyth Sewing

If you open a case-bound children’s book, you will see a little thread running down the gutter of the book, in and out. You will also see the thread running down the center of a large-format art book at a museum, or a library book, or any other book that costs a lot and is intended to last for decades. Smyth Sewing is a durable way to make sure the pages don’t fall out.

The way Smyth Sewing works is that the stitches run the length of the fold (the folded side of the press signature), and then additional stitches sew together the separate signatures that comprise the entire book. Then the text block bind edge is covered with glue, attached to a liner (called a “crash”) and either set into the case side (i.e., suspended from binder’s boards wrapped with binding cloth and paper) for case binding or wrapped with a paper cover (for perfect binding).

What makes this stronger than notch binding or burst binding is that in addition to the glue seeping into the ground-off or notched bind edge of the gathered press signatures, you have the added holding power of the binding thread.

When the books have been opened and closed hundreds or multiple hundreds of times and they wind up in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent, the print books may be banged up a bit, but the pages are still attached firmly into the binding.

Things to Remember

Here are some things to keep in mind when you consider whether to pay extra for Smyth Sewing:

    1. Two of the three books I’m brokering have close to 500 pages of text. That’s a big, heavy text block. I’m encouraging my clients to choose Smyth Sewing because these books are prime candidates for lost pages. When designing your print books, consider how many pages they will be, how long they must last, and whether they will receive a lot of heavy use. For instance, art books, cookbooks, children’s books, and yearbooks would be prime candidates for Smyth Sewing.


    1. Remember that Smyth Sewing can be done with both paperbound and hard-cover books. This is especially useful for split bindings. You can save money by preparing all text blocks the same (for the most part) and then adding paper covers or hard covers as needed.


    1. Not all commercial printing suppliers, or even all book printers, have Smyth Sewing capabilities. In fact, many printers need to subcontract out all perfect binding and case binding. If you find a dedicated book printer, he will often have in-house perfect binding. If he has in-house case binding that’s even better. If he has in-house Smyth Sewing, that’s best of all. If you think you might need these services, ask if your vendor has the equipment in-house. (One vendor I’m seriously considering for the three jobs mentioned above has all of these capabilities. Therefore, Smyth Sewing the entire job will only cost about $300 extra. I can’t imagine the additional cost–and extra time–for Smyth Sewing if I chose a printer who had to subcontract the work.)


  1. Remember to ask your book printer for samples of printed, bound books (including Smyth Sewn books). You can see how well your printer does this kind of work, and you can show him exactly what you need.

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