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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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Book Printing: Making a Final Decision on a Book Printer

September 19th, 2017

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

For about five years, I have been working with a husband and wife publishing team. They produce high-end literary books (usually 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound), both fiction and poetry. We are on the same page regarding quality. This publishing team wants to sell books to customers who appreciate the tactile nature of a print book, customers who like the feel of the book in their hands.

The Backstory on My Clients’ Books

To achieve this goal in a consistent way, my two clients include French Flaps on all their books. These are the extended flaps on the front and back covers of a trade book that fold inward toward the spine. They make paperback books resemble hard-cover books with dust jackets. The 3.5” extra width on the front and back of the book also lets the front-cover image extend into the interior of the book or provides extra space for author biographical material, photos, etc.

In addition to the ornate covers, which seem to be more common in Europe than in the United States, my clients have faux deckled edges on the text pages. While the irregular edges are not achieved in the traditional way (with a spray of water during the paper-making process), they still add another tactile element to the book production.

The term I have heard regarding this effect is “rough-front trimming.” Basically it means the pages are not all trimmed exactly the same on the front margin (the vertical dimension of the printed page parallel to the spine, or the front, facing out). The reader’s finger touches these irregularly trimmed pages as he or she turns every page.

Finally, my clients have been printing all their books on Sebago Antique 55# text, the thickness of which is 360 ppi (pages per inch). A 55# text paper would usually be much thinner than 360 pages per inch. In fact, this particular text stock feels like a 70# text sheet because, during the papermaking process, it was not compressed as much as many other paper stocks by the rollers in the papermaking machine. (Think of a dry sponge going between heavy rollers. On the other side of the rollers, a thick sponge will end up being much flatter than it was initially—but it will still be the same sponge and it will weigh the same as it did before the compression.)

In my clients’ case, this means that their text paper is thick, rough, and surprisingly inexpensive. For black-only text (which all of their books have been), this has been great. It allows for crisp type, but it feels thick and opulent. Based on the print book being published, my client chooses either a warm white paper stock (a slight yellow-white tinge) or a bright white sheet (with a blue-white shade). Each creates a slightly different look.

The Current Printer

For a consistent look, year after year, my clients have included these specifications in all books published by their firm. They want their print books to look and feel luxurious and to reflect a unified brand. To achieve this goal, my clients have been going back to the same book printer for many years, and this has caused them to pay more in some cases.

Furthermore, in this challenging economy, and in an age when many people read their books on electronic readers, some of my clients’ colleagues have encouraged them to choose online printers for their books. To date this has not been an option because my clients have specifically wanted the particular textured paper for their print book interior pages and the extended French Flaps for their covers. My clients have chosen a luxury appearance over economy based on their commitment to “the art of the book.” By going back to the same printer, my clients have also ensured consistency (over many titles and reprintings) of the overall look of their products.

The New Printer: How to Make the Decision to Switch

This year, due to the challenging economy, my clients need to tighten spending. This is quite understandable. They still want the special covers and text paper, but they need to pay less. Fortunately, during the last several months I have been working with a new book printer who can provide significantly lower pricing. So the big question is whether to switch vendors, and how to make that decision without risking the quality my client has come to expect.

This is a surprisingly hard decision to make. After all, my clients sell their print books, and repeat customers have come to expect a certain level of quality for the price they pay. Therefore, this has to be a prudent decision based on more than the lowest commercial printing price. With this in mind, this is how I proceeded:

  1. I bid the book out to four printers, all of whom specialized in short-run print books. I did my homework to ensure that these printers focused specifically on books.
  2. To my surprise, two of the four “no-bid” the job outright. One said he specialized in case-bound 4-color books (not black-ink-only texts). (That is, perfect-binding would probably not be done in-house, and this would be reflected in the price. Also, a multi-color press would be used, and time on this equipment would be billed out at a higher rate per hour than a black-ink-only press would be.) The other printer who “no-bid” the job said he would have to outsource the cover due to the French Flaps. I actually was grateful for the honesty of the two printers. On the surface they looked ideal for the project (and prior bids on other print book work were surprisingly low), but for this specific job, these two printers were not the right fit.
  3. The remaining printers were the vendor who had been producing the books for my client over the past several years and the new printer. The new printer had two plants, and one of these specialized in black-text-only books. In addition, this printer’s focus on books meant he had all the necessary binding equipment in-house.
  4. Unfortunately, the new printer would need about a week longer than the current printer to do the job. That said, when he heard he was in the running, he agreed to a shorter schedule.
  5. I had requested samples from the new printer a number of months earlier for another client, and I had been very pleased with their quality. However (and this is the bottom line, since at this point my clients were ready to switch to the new printer to save money), I had not yet seen a book produced by this printer that had French Flaps and a faux deckled edge on the text paper.
  6. So I called the new printer. I made it clear that my clients loved the prices and schedule, but that they would need “relevant” samples to reinforce their decision to change printers. They would need to know that the printer understood, and could replicate, the exact look to which they had become accustomed.

So for now we’re in a holding pattern. Once I have the samples, I will meet with my clients and ask whether they want to change book printers or stay with the current vendor. Having a relevant sample will make the decision a lot easier.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Perhaps the most important thing to learn is that a printer can be good at one thing and not as good at another. Stellar hard-bound book samples are a good sign of a printer’s worth, but if you need French Flaps on a perfect-bound book, it behooves you to see samples of exactly this product. The page count and even the interior ink color of the book are irrelevant, but the structure (paper and binding) are very important.

And requesting samples does more than just ensure the quality of this particular binding technique. My clients’ French Flaps extend over the face trim (in contrast to a lot of print books, in which the covers fall just slightly short of the face trim). What my clients want requires a second trim in most binderies. More than anything, your printer has to know what you want—exactly. Make sure he sends you a sample (and ideally you should send him a sample of what you want as well) to make sure you are on the same page. Nothing communicates your intent better than a physical sample.

At the end of the process, you still do need to take a leap of faith. In my case, I have references for the book printer as well as the bids, schedule, and samples. One of the references is from a close friend, whom I trust completely. In your own work, it’s prudent to take your time and cover all bases, particularly if it’s a big or complex job, or an especially important job.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Large Format Printing: Creating “One-Off” Standees

September 14th, 2017

Posted in Standees | Comments »

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

Background Information

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

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

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

Back to the Potential Client

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Sales Pitch

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

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

Posted in Standees | Comments »

Custom Printing: Anatomy of a Product Packaging Box

September 6th, 2017

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

When going through some piles of paper in the house, I came upon an unfolded tea box my fiancee had disassembled. Flat and all misshapen, with tabs jutting out in all directions, it looked like a curiosity to me. After all, I had seen it months before as a three-dimensional solid and as a product, in some ways more real as a box than as a collection of tea bags (since I buy the groceries but don’t drink tea very often).

This got me to thinking about the nature of boxes and product packaging in general.

First of all, the very best news: Print packaging is a huge growth industry in the realm of commercial printing. Therefore, the more you and I know about it, the more marketable we will be. In addition, it is a growth industry for digital custom printing as well as for offset printing, due to the print market’s penchant for short runs and quick turn-arounds.

The Anatomy of the Box

Take apart a carton. It doesn’t have to be a tea carton, as long as it starts as a rectangular solid with top and bottom flaps. The first thing you see (once it is completely flat) is that it is printed (usually) only on one side. It also has a number of die cut flaps of various lengths going in various directions. If you look even more closely, you’ll see that the flaps are either very long (these comprise the top and bottom of the box) or shorter than the others but of equal length to one another (these are the flaps that fold over, on the top and bottom opening of the box, but underneath the much longer flaps just noted).

If you flip the flat box over, you’ll see all of the custom printing work (some of it positioned at right angles for the top and bottom of the box), plus flaps printed only with printer’s color bars (you’ll never see these once the box is closed). Other flaps have no printing (these are either interior flaps or the side glue flap). The side glue flap has a strip without printing. This is where the hot-melt glue goes to attach the side of the box once it has been wrapped around into a 3D rectangular solid.

As confusing as this sounds, you can easily wrap the flat box around, insert the flaps, tape or glue the side flap, and you’ll have the complete package again. This is called box conversion. A flat sheet is “converted” into a 3D container, a product in and of itself.

Needless to say, type, art, and fold placement are all very important in the production of the box. If the scores for the folds are in the wrong place, if the die cut edges of the flaps are mis-positioned, or if the text and solid bars of color printed on the box are not in the right place (including the bleeds), the converted box won’t look right. Instead of promoting the sale of the product, it will detract from it.

And that is really what it’s all about. The sale. The box is a container, granted. It’s much easier to protect a handful of tea bags in another bag within a box than all scattered in a pile of teabags. But if there were no packaging, the brand producer would have missed an opportunity to promote the qualities of the tea and the lifestyle it reflects. That’s really what the marketing copy and visuals are about: positioning the tea as a vital part of an active lifestyle, or a crunchy-granola alternative to coffee for the bluejean intellectual. The box with its printed adornment does all of this. Otherwise, it would be acceptable for all such boxes to just be labeled “tea” or “food.”

Printing Options

Packaging is often printed via flexography, which is a relief printing process in which raised portions of rubber commercial printing plates imprint the image on the chipboard (or other, usually lower-quality, grade of paper board) as it runs through the press.

Offset printing can also be used to decorate the box. So can digital printing, but we’ll get back to that. Since the paperboard is flat (and uncrushable, unlike fluted corrugated board), this kind of packaging can be produced in many different ways. I’d also assume that gravure is another option, perhaps for very long runs.

Short Runs

But what about short commercial printing press runs? Marketers like to do short runs these days. Some may be personalized. Others may just be versioned (let’s say for a particular holiday or event) to make the packaging stand out on the shelves. (Product packaging must vie with competitors’ product packaging to catch your attention and sell you the product with its text and graphics.)

Printing these boxes is not necessarily the hardest part of the job. Converting the job (die cutting and assembling the box) also involves a lot of work. Usually metal dies inset into wood flats need to be created to make the boxes (in all but some digital finishing operations). This costs a lot and takes a lot of subcontractors’ time, so it’s really only cost effective for long press runs. (When you spread the cost of die cutting and assembly over a very long press run, the unit cost for finishing drops precipitously.)

But if you’re trying to make a single prototype or a short run of boxes, what can you do? Well now you have options. There are digital machines made by Highcon and Scodix that can (in the case of Highcon) digitally crease, or score, the box flats and then cut them with a laser instead of a metal die cutting rule. And prior to these finishing operations, there is (in the case of Scodix) a way to digitally foil stamp or digitally emboss the paper board used for the box.

For a prototype, this is a dream come true. Think about it. You don’t need to make a metal stamping die for the foil or the embossing. And you don’t need a metal die to cut the box flats from the paper substrate. You can even make one box as a prototype, and if the marketing team has corrections even after that point, you can economically and quickly (days, not weeks) prepare a revised prototype. If that design is approved, you can roll out a short run quickly (again must faster than the traditional way).

Granted, the time comes when the press run is too long for digital (or, rather, there is a cut-off point where it becomes cheaper again to amortize the cost of embossing, foil stamping, and die cutting over a long run using more durable metal dies). Only your printer’s estimating department can figure out the exact cut-off point. Also, it depends on who has the Highcon and Scodix equipment and who has to subcontract the work out. This is new technology. Most printers (I’ll venture to say) do not have this equipment, but it’s worth it to inquire and do research, and perhaps even start a working relationship with a long-distance vendor who does have the equipment.

This is the future of packaging, and packaging (along with labels and large-format printing) will be a major player in the future of commercial printing.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Read everything you can lay your hands on about new trends in custom printing. It will help your professional life immeasurably.
  2. Package printing is hot. It may be your future.
  3. Package printing is a 3D process. You are producing a physical object as well as laying ink on paper. It helps to understand the physics as well as the design aspect of the process.
  4. Digital printing and digital finishing will both figure prominently in this area of commercial printing. Digital finishing was a little slow at first, but now it’s catching up in exciting ways.
  5. A trip to a high-end department store to carefully study the boxes in the “beauty” departments, such as the cosmetics counters, will be an educational and productive use of your time. Vendors like Chanel have lots of money and pour it into this kind of product packaging. Close observation will give you design ideas, but it will also teach you about foils, embossing, box construction, etc.

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Color Shift Problems in the Book Proofs

August 28th, 2017

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off

Sometimes things go horribly wrong. I think there’s nothing worse than “hearing” the exasperation of a loyal client in her email, knowing that a multi-year working relationship is on the line.

I recently heard back from a client for whom I had been printing a small color swatch book for years. The swatch books pertained to make-up and clothing color choices appropriate for a woman based on her complexion.

The small color books, bound with a screw and post assembly, are essentially PMS books for the fashion industry. I have written many articles about this project, which my client reprints every few months. All 22 original print books had been produced without incident until just recently. They had been direct reprints of between one and ten copies of each of the 22 original master books. The books had been printed, laminated, round cornered, and drilled for the screw and post binding. The book printer produced the color books on an HP Indigo. The color was dead on. Reprints of the print books went like clockwork. Until they didn’t.

The Change in the Job Specs

The change in the job specifications that precipitated the problem was a small one. My client would print 100 copies of the 22 master books (various numbers of copies of each to equal 100 total color books) to fulfill orders for her clients. However, this time, in order to have more colors to bind into some of the print books, my client had created a single sheet containing an additional 30 colors. Some colors matched pages already included in the 22 master copies; many did not.

The goal was to print these at the tail end of the job, once the other books were complete, and then run them through the same finishing operations: lamination, round cornering, drilling, and such, but then to deliver them loosely packed in a carton (not bound on screw and post assemblies). This would cost an additional $200+ instead of the (almost) $3,000 price tag for producing the 15 copies of the single page as a stand-alone job. Why the difference? Because all of the makeready costs that would comprise the almost $3,000 would also cover all of the finishing work for the reprinted 100 copies of the older print books.

But there were problems with the color accuracy—for the first time in the history of the numerous direct reprints. Five of the colors in the 30 extra (master) color chips (the 30 loose chips of which 15 copies would be printed) were already included in the original 22 print books, and the proofs of these colors did not match the colors in the original books.

Fortunately, all the other colors (new ones and colors that had to match the original colors in the 22 master books) were ok.

What Caused the Problems?

Keep in mind that the clock was ticking. My client had clients who wanted books. Their shipments had to be back-ordered. My client also had a new financial backer who understandably also wanted accurate colors.

Fortunately, the sales rep at the printer had a complete set of printed and laminated copies of the original books plus a set of unlaminated proofs of the additional 30 loose color chips. So a list of the five problematic colors gave her a good starting point to resolve the color matching problem.

The sales rep had her plant manager check the HP Indigo color calibration. To be safe, he ran a second set of proofs on a higher-end HP Indigo digital press. He sent second proofs to my client’s financial backer (at my client’s request, assuming the problems had been resolved), but my client’s financial backer said the revised proofs were identical to the first set, with the same five problematic colors still off target (specifically too light). Ouch.

Where Do We Go Next?

Fortunately, since my client sees that the printer is taking this very seriously and trying to make things right, she has given us more time to correct matters. Here are some of the things we have learned and/or have considered relevant to resolving the problem:

  1. The first digital press had been upgraded from a prior model. Apparently, this particular HP Indigo had been altered to improve it, but the color calibration was not yet accurate. This affected primarily the blues, reds, and purples in my client’s color book. That is, the color problems were localized. They did not affect all hues.
  2. When the plant manager moved the job from the first HP Indigo to the larger, higher-end HP Indigo, the problem didn’t go away. Assuming the revised proof was correct (which to his eyes it was), the printer sent the second set of proofs to my client’s financial backer. My client herself didn’t see them. So I asked my client to have her financial backer cut each color swatch in half and send her a complete set of proofs (so both my client and her financial backer, who live in different cities, would each have her own complete set to facilitate communication). Why? Because two people will always see color differently (in this case three, or even more, since the printer also had a set of the same proofs).
  3. I also asked both the book printer and the client (and her financial backer) to look at the colors in different lighting conditions. Why? Because color will look different in sunlight, incandescent light (the traditional light bulbs with filaments), and fluorescent light. Presumably color will also look different under LED light.
  4. I asked everyone to cover each eye (one at a time, back and forth) and check the color. (For some people, including me, colors appear slightly different when they are seen by one eye and then the other.)
  5. I asked the book printer whether any of these colors might be especially problematic when reproduced with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black toners. This is because my client’s financial backer had selected PMS colors, and the HP Indigo simulates PMS colors using process color builds. Granted, extra colors can be used on the HP Indigo (up to seven), and these will expand the overall color gamut, making it possible to match more PMS colors. But not all of them.
  6. The book printer noted that the lamination would darken the colors (some more than others) and make them more intense. This might be perceived as a color shift by either my client or her financial backer. (Keep in mind that color has three properties: 1) hue, or the named color, like “blue”; 2) lightness/darkness, or value; and 3) intensity or purity. Laminating the color chips would affect two of these three variables.) That said, the reason this was a problem is that the proofs were not laminated, but the color pages in the original 22 master print books had been laminated. So if my client or her backer were matching the proofs of the 30 loose color chips (unlaminated proofs) to the master books (laminated pages), the colors would not look alike. In some cases the difference would be minimal, but in other cases—apparently—the color shift would be more dramatic.
  7. The printer also noted that if the five problematic colors were adjusted (by the prepress department) to make them accurate, this would affect all other colors on the 30-color digital press sheet (my client could wind up with five correct colors and 25 colors that were “off,” the opposite of the current situation).
  8. My client told me that she still had the proofs (unlaminated) from the first printing of all 22 master books. I asked her to send these immediately to the printer. He would be able to more easily adjust the colors of the 30 new, loose color chips to match the colors in the original books because he would be matching unlaminated color pages to unlaminated color pages.

This is where we are now. We’ll see what happens.

What You Can Learn from This Fiasco

  1. I always say that when you buy commercial printing, you are not buying a commodity. You’re buying a process. At a time like this, it helps to have a long-term working relationship with the printer. Only a long-term partner will take the time to resolve a problem like this. Keep this in mind as you choose printers for your own work.
  2. Color on laminated, digitally printed pages does not look the same as color on unlaminated pages.
  3. If you make a color change in part of a job, this may adversely affect the color in another part of the job. This is true for offset printing as well as digital printing.
  4. People see color differently, depending on their gender (women see color better than men) and on many other variables, and color can look different depending on the lighting conditions and the surrounding colors. (Red paint in a closed paint can is actually black, since color is a function of light and the physical action of the cones and rods in your eyes. That’s why red cars look gray under street lights at night.)
  5. The time comes when “good enough” is good enough. Only you can make this call. In my case, only the client who devised the color chip product for selecting make-up and clothing can say whether the colors in the proofs are close enough to the original colors she chose for her fashion system.
  6. When in doubt, start with the obvious, and start at the beginning. For instance, I asked my client to check the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black color builds in the InDesign art files to make sure the color builds in the original books and the 30 extra loose colors were identical. I may also ask the printer to make sure the printing paper for the proofs is the same as it was for the original 22 books (whiteness and brightness). I already asked whether there’s any chance that the PDF files or InDesign files for the same job could be “off” (damaged, inconsistent, etc.).

As you can see, this is not an exact science. A lot of people at the book printer have been working hard to make this right so my client will be happy. And she has been patient. We’ll see what happens.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: New Photo Book Printing Equipment

August 21st, 2017

Posted in Photo Books | Comments Off

I wrote a blog posting recently about advances in photo book production that allow for lay-flat binding of books up to 18” x 18” in format. This essentially means that you can produce photo books with every page spread a full-bleed 18” x 36” double-page image and with no image area lost into the gutter on any page spread.

This reflects the powerful emotional attachment of individuals (and hence corporations and advertisers) to physically printed photos. In the era of the Internet and smartphones that give almost everyone on the planet a camera to carry wherever they go, we have an overabundance of images. However, people still want to physically print the few images they love.

My friend and colleague who sent me the information on this particular binding equipment (the fastBook Professional by Imaging Solutions AG) just sent me another article. This one references a deal between HP, the maker of the HP Indigo digital press, and Shutterfly, a major photo publishing service.

HP and Shutterfly

Before we get into the press release, here’s some background on HP and Shutterfly.

To the best of my experience, nothing beats the color fidelity, color gamut, or overall quality of the HP Indigo, a digital electrophotographic (i.e., laser) printer that uses liquid toner. In my print buying work, I always look for commercial printing establishments with this equipment because I know that if my client’s job does not fit the press run length of an offset print job, she or he will still get offset quality custom printing from an HP Indigo. (That said, I’m sure there are other digital presses of stellar quality out there now.)

Now, for Shutterfly. Wikipedia says the following about this company:

“Shutterfly is an American Internet-based image publishing service based in Redwood City, California. Shutterfly’s flagship product is its photo book line.

“Shutterfly’s revenue derives from ‘turning digital snapshots into tangible things.’

“Shutterfly enables users to create personalized photo gifts (including photos and text) such as Samsung Galaxy and iPhone cases, photo books, wall art, and home décor.”

The Deal Between HP and Shutterfly

“HP Wins Five-Year Shutterfly Deal—Accelerates Digital Print Momentum” (published on 08/17/17 as a press release by HP and Shutterfly) references the second phase of Shutterfly’s adding HP Indigo 12000 digital printers to its equipment for the photo products it produces and sells. The article notes that HP is the preferred provider for this multi-phase rollout of digital custom printing equipment and that this initiative retires the digital presses that Shutterfly had been using for their photo books.

From a product-oriented perspective, the press release notes that Shutterfly will use the equipment to “produce a range of high-quality, personalized products and gifts including photo books, calendars, custom stationery, cards, and keepsakes.”

The article then shifts to the output quality and flexibility of the equipment, saying, “The 29-inch format HP Indigo 12000 Digital Press enables production of these products through offset matching digital color with true photo quality, high productivity, and wide versatility on an unmatched range of media including synthetic, metalized, and canvas applications.”

What’s the Emotional Hook Behind the Products and Quality?

Enrique Lores, President, Imaging & Printing Business, HP Inc, notes that “People click on what they like, but print what they love.”

The press release encourages companies to use the technology to engage with their customers and to help people explore their creativity, connect with other people, personalize their photo products, and “share life’s joy” (Dwayne Black, Senior Vice President, Chief Operations Officer, Shutterfly, Inc.).

At the same time, there’s a good business case for this partnership, since Shutterfly and HP have between them a huge base of image production knowledge, digital printing acumen, and awareness of customer photo imaging needs. Moreover, the HP Indigo equipment lends itself to printing substrate flexibility, personalization, quick job turn-around, and cost cutting. (This is in addition to superior image quality, reflected in HP Indigo’s work with such discriminating global corporations as Coca-Cola and Mondelez International/Oreo.)

Finally, the HP Indigo 12000s are B2 machines, which means that their maximum press sheet size rivals that of many offset commercial printing presses: (19.7” x 27.8”), allowing for larger press signatures and/or larger overall job trim sizes.

How Can This Benefit You?

In concert with the earlier PIE Blog post about ISAG’s fastBook Professional, this joint HP and Shutterfly article makes it clear that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers see increasing customer interest in printed photo products, whether photo books, calendars, cards, or other mementos. The manufacturers have made the commitment because the customers have shown sustained interest.

Therefore, it behooves you to understand the technology involved (digital electrophotography, also known as xerography or laser printing) as well as the differences between a desktop laser printer and a liquid-ink HP Indigo or similar high-end digital press. Get printed samples. Find vendors with this equipment, and decide which kinds of digital equipment you prefer. Closely check the color gamut, the resolution, and the color fidelity. Select your preferred vendors, if you are a graphic designer or a print buyer.

Also, learn how to design for digital commercial printing. Ask your print provider about any limits his digital equipment has, in terms of color builds, treatment of photos, and evenness of large ink solids.

If you’re a printer or a print sales rep, explore whether your client base has an interest in photo products. The article I described relates to flat prints on calendars or photo books produced via liquid-toner laser printing. But images can also be printed via inkjet technology (or even die sublimation technology), and you don’t have to limit yourself to print books.

You can print your photos on practically anything, including wood (think about the flatbed inkjet presses that accept thick, rigid substrates); fabric for drapes, wall coverings, bed sheets, and covers (think about die-sublimation printing on fabric); or even vinyl appliques that can be heat transferred from a paper sheet to a t-shirt. For that matter, while you’re researching fabric printing and garment printing, stop by an oceanside clothing store, and you’ll see any number of bathing suits and other sunwear printed with inkjet or dye-sublimation technology.

The “take-away” is that people want to print their photos. Not all of them. Just the ones they love. And there is no shortage of technologies (printing equipment and ink formulations) and substrates (everything from a book to a pen to a mug to a t-shirt). If you’re a commercial printing professional, this can be a stellar opportunity for you.

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Custom Printing: New Photo Book Binding Equipment

August 14th, 2017

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A close friend and colleague in the commercial printing business recently brought to my attention an article about new binding equipment for photo books. So I did some research online and discovered another area of growth within the custom printing arena: ultra-high-quality short-run books of photographs.

The Context

I think the popularity of such products is an outgrowth of our always-on business and social environment in which everyone has a camera in their phone. I know this is counterintuitive, but we now are awash in so many photos and videos that none of them are special. Think about it. Of the hundreds or thousands of images on your smartphone, how many have you printed? How many exist in physical space?

At the same time, as a culture we have few rites of passage anymore. Decades ago we had rituals (even if only social rituals) marking childhood, adolescence, marriage, childbirth and child-rearing, and retirement. The list goes on. We marked these rituals with printed photos, which we collected into photo albums, and it was a social experience to share the memories with friends and family by paging through these photo albums together.

Now we have fewer opportunities to celebrate our place within a larger social matrix and along a series of milestones in our lives. We may even have the photos, but we tend not to have printed, physical copies. In addition, our busy lives leave precious little time to even review the photos in our smartphones.

The Opportunity

I think this void provides an opportunity. Clearly the makers of photo books agree.

As I was researching the binding and photo printing equipment referenced in the article my friend and colleague sent me, the first thing that struck me was the kinds of photo products that had become both accessible and popular. They fell into three categories. The first supports my theory noted above (the need to record and share memories and/or social rituals). Let’s call these “familial,” or “social,” photo products: the celebration of the fact that we’re not alone.

These include the wedding photo books, the photo books documenting family events such as family reunions, and the Bar and Bat Mitzvah photo books. In essence, these are all about the place of an individual within a larger group.

The second category I would term “aspirational.” This is less about gratitude for what we have and also less focused on personal interactions. As a category it highlights what we want, and it would include the high-end “look books” produced by advertising agencies. These photo books comprise the luxury goods and services market for trips to paradise (exotic locations around the world) and purchases of fast cars, small jets, and such. Advertisers rule this venue of photo books.

A third market niche for this technology would be the leisure market. This would include photo books that focus on such pastimes as cooking and the fine arts.

But the bottom line is that producing ultra-high-quality printed—and bound—books of photos is fast becoming a growth industry within the commercial printing arena.

The Equipment

The article my friend and colleague sent me, “ISAG launches the fastBook Professional for Luxury photobooks,” released on 08/07/17, describes binding (specifically binding, not printing) equipment that provides economical but especially high quality binding services within this market segment.

ISAG stands for Imaging Solutions AG, which is a Swiss company that makes both imaging and binding equipment for photo books. One of their main markets for this equipment is photo labs (the contemporary equivalent of the 1960s drug store photo printing service—but of much higher quality).

First of all, the fastBook Professional binds big books. Your photo books can be anywhere from 8” x 8” to 18” x 18”. To put this in perspective, on the large end you could produce a book with full-bleed, double-page spreads throughout that are 36” wide by 18” tall. That’s big. Think of how a virgin beach would look in that format—or a Lamborghini.

In addition, print books produced on the fastBook Professional lay flat. The pages float slightly away from the spine, so the open book lies completely flat on a table, and each double-page spread is also completely flat. (That is, no part of a page spread is lost in the gutter of the print book.)

Furthermore, you can bind multiple kinds of paper into such a book, and you can glue paper to paper. More precisely, you can have book pages that include thicker stock (like cardboard) laminated between two sheets of printing paper. Since the feel of a print book is what makes it qualitatively different from images on a computer screen, the thick (composite) pages you can bind into the photo books lend an air of luxury to the overall experience of paging through such a “look book.”

If you have been alive for a number of decades, you probably remember back when photos were printed and “developed” rather than ink jet printed. Silver halide was the chemical on which photo printing depended, and photo printing was a chemical process, not a physical inkjet process. Now, with the fastBook Professional, you can print and bind both silver halide and digitally printed papers into your photo books (reaping the special benefits of each).

Benefits for the Photo Printers

From a business perspective this equipment makes good sense as well.

According to “ISAG launches the fastBook Professional for Luxury photobooks,” “The entire book block is produced in a single operation – with creasing, folding, pressing and gluing. Very little hotmelt glue is required which reduces the material costs and permits the next processing steps to happen right away. So the photobooks can be shipped the same day. ”

Translated into the language of business, this means that you can buy this equipment and then produce a lot of work quickly for less money. The operation is quick and automated, and the reduction in hotmelt glue makes for not only lower materials costs but also quicker throughput. You can bind more books in less time. You can take in more work, make more people happy, and make more money. Not only the customers (individuals and advertisers) but also the printers will benefit.

More precisely, here’s a statistic from the press release referencing one of the largest Turkish wedding book manufacturers, Chihan Exclusive Albums:

“Chihan Exclusive Albums produces an average of 100 wedding albums a day in various formats. In the peak wedding season, they can ship up to 200 books a day.”

According to the managing director of Chihan Exclusive Albums: “The fastBook Professional 1000 is the machine that for the first time surpasses the high quality of careful handwork. It is fully automatic and extremely fast.”

On this equipment, book binders can produce a photo book in one tenth of the time required for a hand-bound book.

What This Means to You

If you are a designer, this can be an opportunity for you to find new clients: both corporations/advertising agencies and individuals who want to memorialize their personal family rituals. If you are a commercial printing supplier, you can address the same growing market, using the increasingly efficient equipment available to produce ultra-high-quality photo books.

And if you are specifically a yearbook printer, you may just be in the right place at the right time in history.

For those of you who want to see what Imaging Solutions AG offers for printing the pages you will want to bind with the fastBook Professional 1000 (and/or the other binding equipment ISAG offers), here’s the link to their photo printing equipment:

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Large Format Printing: What’s Behind the Standees?

August 8th, 2017

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My fiancee and I spent about ten hours this week installing standees. It’s that time of year again, and movie theaters are receiving stacks of cartons containing the large format printed pieces that we will assemble into the (sometimes) massive cardboard structures used to promote upcoming movies.

When you look at the front of a standee, you can get lost in the promise of fantasy, adventure, and just plain good times. But what’s behind the standees?

I know this sounds like a trick question, or even a philosophical or psychological one based on marketing theory. But I mean it quite literally. Behind the ink or toner on paper (the graphic panels that face forward), there is a huge amount of artistry that goes unseen. That is, the finishing operations required to present a three-dimensional marketing structure both require a lot of thought before the actual design process and fabrication, and also depend a lot on several post-press operations.

Choice of Substrate

Last night when my fiancee and I were assembling the new Baywatch standee, I noticed that several of the structural elements looked alike but were made from different kinds of cardboard. Since I’m familiar with the graphic studio that designed this piece (and since I have a lot of respect for them), I assumed there was logic behind the decision.

One of the structural “girders” (for want of a better term) spanned the space between two base units I had just assembled. It was composed of chipboard (thinner than corrugated board and without the fluting). This was a horizontal piece. In contrast, two vertical girders, which were also 4” x 4” square crosswise and about six feet long, were made out of fluted cardboard, also printed black (presumably with flexographic ink).

I thought about why the design studio had made different substrate choices as I proceeded with assembly, but as I built up the portion of the standee above the horizontal chipboard base girder, I realized that the weight distribution requirements were different. The horizontal chipboard piece held less weight. Basically, it just connected the left and right base of the Baywatch lifeguard tower. In contrast, the thicker, vertical corrugated-board “poles” held up the entire lifeguard building. The moral is, chipboard is flimsy when compared to corrugated board. It’s perfect for some things, but not for “load-bearing” structures.

The Take-Away

Throughout the design and fabrication process, the standee designers are thinking in terms of structure. What has to be strong? What can be less strong, but perhaps lighter? And what commercial printing technology is required to decorate each: flexography, custom screen printing, offset printing, or digital printing? On a smaller scale, even the point of purchase and point of sale large format print products you see in the grocery stores depend on the same kinds of functional decisions as well as the marketing and commercial design decisions that influence the creation of the graphic panels the viewer sees.

Pattern Gluing, Die Cutting, and Scoring

I’m going to address these together because each depends closely on the others.

In many cases, when you look at the back of a standee, you’ll see one piece of cardboard that has been glued to another using hot-melt glue. For instance, in the back of a large graphic panel, or even a die cut figure, you might need a spacing “arm” (if you will), to hold the center of the piece rigid and straight. If you have a die cut figure, such as that of Dwayne Johnson in the Baywatch movie, such attachments may be needed to keep the lifesize image from flopping over or tearing off the standee.

In the case of the Dwayne Johnson “lug,” as these attachments are called in the industry, extra cardboard (flexo-printed black) has been hot-melt glued to the back of the die cut Dwayne Johnson image. If you fold in the tabs on this attachment and insert them into the background—and, if you use double sided tape on the bottom of his feet to attach the figure to the printed floor panel—Dwayne Johnson will be stable and secure.

So automated pattern gluing is integral to this process, even though the viewer will never see the glue or any of the strengthening cardboard attachments. And, by the way, the extra cardboard structures glued behind Dwayne Johnson’s character’s legs are made of corrugated board, not chipboard, for durability.

Regarding die cutting, you will see all number of cut-outs if you look closely at the structure of the standee. All tabs and all slots into which the tabs fit are die cut. In addition, the silhouettes of all the characters that are free-standing on cardboard poles had to be cut out of flat printed press sheets laminated to corrugated board. Everywhere you look, something has to be cut out, and all of the “scrap” (anything that’s not the image) has to be punched out and removed.

Granted, this kind of die cutting makes the silhouetted figures less sturdy. If you look closely, in fact, you’ll see that in transit through the Postal System, many of the die cut character figures have been banged up, since in most cases they are not securely attached together in the shipping carton. So it helps for a standee installer to have experience in the fine arts and commercial arts to be able to touch up the banged-up pieces with tape and marker pens.

Regarding scoring, all of the pieces of cardboard that will be folded must first be scored, and this is another automated post-press function. Scoring is, for want of a better term, a “pre-fold” crease made with a metal scoring rule on the cardboard using a letterpress. The scoring rule mashes the fluted corrugated board slightly, so that when my fiancee and I fold over the corners of the standee (or the spot-glued arms attached to the back of a figure to hold it straight), all of these pieces align correctly when folded. This is not for our ease of assembly. Rather it is to ensure that the folds are made exactly where the designers had intended, while avoiding mis-folding or tearing or any other problems.

The Nuts and Bolts

Any large format print product attached with enough screws in enough stress points will gradually become very strong. Some of these standees can have 80 or more screws, used for attaching pieces together while improving stability and strength. And all of the screw holes are considered die cuts, which means that overall, a massive and intricate matrix of die cuts has to be planned for (and metal die cutting rules created) to make all of this happen. If everything is not precisely and accurately aligned (with zero tolerance for even a hair’s breadth of misalignment), things won’t go together correctly. So to the educated viewer, each and every complex standee is a masterful success that has been clearly crafted by both knowledgeable graphic designers and the computer aided design hardware and software that are their tools of trade.

The Take-Away

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

  1. If you choose to be a standee designer, you will need to understand marketing, psychology, and graphic design. But you will also need to understand the laws of physics, differences in materials (such as chipboard vs. corrugated board), and all commercial printing processes (when to screen print, for instance—on clear plexiglass substrates; or when to flexo print—on incidental or unseen background pieces).
  2. All of this must be unbelievably expensive to do—per unit, ie., for each standee. So the press runs for these standees must be very long for the unit costs to be reasonable (think how many theaters receive the standees across the United States).
  3. However, for the larger standees, not every theater gets one (because they are expensive to produce, ship, and install). So for all of the post-press operations that will drive the unit cost of each standee way up, the overall press run is not unlimited, so the final cost per standee must still be very high.
  4. This shows how much the movie industry depends on, and how committed it is to, marketing.

Final Thoughts

If you can handle the deadlines, this may be a very lucrative field for commercial designers to consider. It’s fun, and it challenges both your creative and mathematical/engineering skills.

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Custom Printing: Using Commercial Printing Technology in the Fine Arts

August 1st, 2017

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When I’m not brokering commercial printing or writing about printing, I’m usually preparing for the art therapy classes my fiancee and I offer to autistic students. My fiancee is an art therapist, and I have a background in fine arts as well as graphic design and custom printing.

I am often surprised and pleased at how the principles of design and the techniques and materials of the visual arts pertain to both commercial design/printing and the fine arts (painting, drawing, collage, etc.).

Inkjet Printing for Fine Art Prints

That said, today my fiancee and I were looking at dog and cat drawings online to get inspiration for an upcoming art project. She showed me two prints of dogs that we had bought from a painter several years ago, and asked if one of them was a giclee.

I looked closely with my 12-power printer’s loupe. I saw the telltale spots of an inkjet printer. In contrast to halftone dots, the spots of an inkjet printer (in my experience) are all the same size. There are just more of them in dense areas of color. (That is, in contrast to the variable-sized halftone dots in traditional—“amplitude modulated”—halftones, these were “frequency modulated” dots: more or fewer of them based on the required ink density.)

Beyond the technical description, the giclee (which now refers to fine arts printing from all inkjet equipment but which once referred only to the Iris, a high quality continuous-tone inkjet proofing device used in the 1980s) democratized art ownership. Granted, my fiancee and I have a print by the artist (it is signed) that we know many, many others also have purchased. However, we at least get to see it daily and own it for substantially less than the cost of the original painting from which it was reproduced.

This wouldn’t be relevant if the print was of low quality. So the whole idea of a giclee is to maintain the extended color gamut, high resolution, and lack of color banding that high-end inkjet printers using between four and seven (usually) ink colors can achieve. When you print this quality on archival paper, you have affordable, lower-market-value, but highly attractive, prints. For the most part, anyone can own one, hence my use of the term “democratization.” Moreover, it’s a great example of the marriage of commercial printing and the fine arts.


Another technique I’ve been playing with to eventually bring to our autistic students is the monotype. In contrast to a monoprint, which is made using an already created printing plate, a monotype is basically made from paint or ink applied to a flat surface (like a metal or plastic sheet) that is then transferred to printing paper.

This is how it works (and if you do the research online, you’ll find that it is a very old technique used by the likes of William Blake, Edgar Degas, and Castiligone). First, you paint an image on a glass sheet, copper plate, or other material (called the “matrix”). Then you lay a piece of watercolor paper or other paper over the flat plate, and either run the two through a printing press or rub on the back of the paper with a spoon or other flat instrument (like a brayer) to provide sufficient pressure to transfer the image from the plate to the paper.

You may ask how this pertains to commercial printing. Interestingly enough, it is a planographic process just like offset lithography. Unlike relief printing, in which the image area rises above the surface of the printing plate (like letterpress), or intaglio printing, in which the image area is sunken below the surface of the plate (like engraving), both the offset printing done by the huge machines at commercial printing establishments and the monotype printing I did in my fiancee’s kitchen share one thing in common. Both the printing and non-printing area of the plate are on the same flat level. The only major difference is that in offset lithography, the ink is attracted to the image area and repelled by the non-image area. And this is because:

  1. Ink (which is oil-based) and water repel each other, and
  2. Ink is made to be attracted to the image area, while the non-image area attracts water.

So again, fine arts and the commercial arts overlap.

Why, you may ask, would someone make a monotype, which is essentially a single print from a temporarily inked plate (which, by the way, can be made with ink, watercolors, or presumably any other kind of paint) when they can just paint a painting? It is because of the fluid, dreamy lines created as the paper, ink, and plate are pressed together, as well as the lack of control that often leads to random and unexpected artistic successes. The results are a bit like wet on wet watercolor painting. You don’t always know what you’ll get, and sometimes there are happy accidents.

Creating an Additive Manufacturing Relief Plate

Another art project I’ve been considering for our autistic students involves first drawing on a substrate in pencil and then going over the lines with liquid white school glue. (I guess this would be a real relief printing plate, but it is also reminiscent of the digital process of 3D printing.) The liquid white school glue is essentially a raised layer (like the layers built up on an additive manufacturing “inkjet” press).

When you rub commercial printing ink or paint over the surface of the plate you have just made, the raised layer of dried liquid school glue will accept the ink because it is a raised surface (i.e., it is a relief plate). You can then lay a sheet of paper over the custom printing plate, and by rubbing the back of the sheet with a spoon, you can transfer the image from the plate to the paper.

In this case the ink that had adhered to the raised lines of hardened glue would print, so you would get what would essentially be a line drawing. You could then fill in the spaces between the lines with other colors.

Interestingly enough, this is very similar to the process I’ve read about that is used to create digital scoring dies. Based on computerized data, a printer can build up, layer upon layer, a rule in just the right place to score (or crease) the printing stock for folding. Prior to the invention of this additive manufacturing process, it was necessary to create a metal die, which would be used on a letterpress to add the necessary score that would allow thick paper to be folded evenly, without unsightly breaking or mashing of the paper fibers.

Again, this is an overlap between the fine arts and commercial printing technology.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. If you look closely, you will see a lot of similarities between the commercial arts and the fine arts. Study the work of Ben Shahn (a painter as well as an illustrator of posters), Piet Mondrian (when you learn page layout for graphic design, you study Mondrian’s contributions), and even the posters of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Or look at the Pop Art of Andy Warhol. I think you will find it rewarding and intriguing to discover the similarities between these two apparently different art forms.
  2. Pay close attention, and you will see many of the new commercial printing technologies being used in the creation of fine art products. Either they are used directly (for example, Photoshop is used to create works of art on the computer, or to alter them), or they are used to produce multiple copies of a single work of art (a giclee print of a painting, for instance), allowing much wider distribution of an artist’s work.
  3. If you look closely, you will see the same principles of design used in both fine art paintings and commercial printing, including symmetric and asymmetric balance, rhythm, texture, and the application of color theory.

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Custom Printing: Choose the Right Font for Readability

July 24th, 2017

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I was at the house of a small literary publisher recently. We were discussing paper choices and binding options for an upcoming book. Apropos to nothing, both the husband and the wife (the publishers) asked my opinion of the typeface for the text and the titles of the new book. They knew I had been an art director and that I still did a little graphic design on the side.

I looked at the type on the copyright page (since it was smaller than the book text), I also looked at the text and subheads in the body of the print book. My clients had printed out the pages on white stock, yet the final printed book would be manufactured on a cream press sheet.

The type is too small, I said. And too light. In addition, the subheads are in a Modern font (sharp contrast between the thin and thick strokes in the letterforms), and the subheads are too small. Plus the type will be printed on a cream offset sheet (which will reduce contrast between the words and the paper). Uncoated offset paper also absorbs ink, so there will be a less-than-crisp edge to the type letterforms. All of this will impede legibility.

They both agreed. They had been concerned, but they had not been able to articulate precisely why they had been concerned. Now they knew.

What I Suggested

One of the publishers (the wife of the husband and wife team) said she would choose a few fonts for the print book designer to consider. She asked for my opinion. Here are the thoughts I shared with her and her husband:

  1. Choose another sans serif typeface for the body copy. Choose one that is standard, without artistic flourishes in the letterforms. Readability is more important than style for text-heavy printed products.
  2. Make sure the sans serif body typeface is darker than the current choice (compare a new page of type to an old page).
  3. Add a point of leading between the lines of copy and increase the point size of the body copy slightly until it is readable.
  4. Consider the audience. If readers will be middle aged or older, their eyes will not shift focus as quickly as they used to, so these readers will appreciate the slightly darker type and the slightly larger point size, plus the extra leading.
  5. For the headlines and subheads, choose an Old Style typeface instead of a Modern typeface. I told my clients to Google each of these general categories. They would see the differences and probably also see a list of fonts within each category. I suggested New Century Schoolbook and Garamond. I told my clients that legibility trumped aesthetics. The Old Style fonts would have less of a dramatic contrast between thick and thin strokes in the letterforms, and this would improve legibility on an uncoated, rough, cream printing paper.
  6. I also suggested that my clients bump up the point size on the copyright page.

Now For Something Completely Different: A Poster

But what if my clients had also needed a poster or other large format print for their trade show booth at a print book seller’s convention? I probably would have told them something completely different.

Posters, large format print signage, and even some brochures have a particular trait that sets them apart from print books or even short booklets. They have very little type. In their case, while the goal is still legibility first, the reader’s eye can tolerate more ornate letterforms and even more contrast between lighter and darker chunks of copy precisely because they will be reading the printed piece for much less time than a print book.

For instance, my clients could choose a Modern font for the headlines of a poster, and since there would be fewer words, the contrast between thick and thin strokes in the letterforms would be an artistic element of the overall design, not an impediment to legibility. Granted, setting the headlines in all capital letters might detract from legibility when using a Modern typeface, but even then, if the headlines are very short, even this might work.

The key words are “might work.” It is an artistic decision based on experience and close observation. The two kinds of design work (books and short-form promotional items) are different enough that you really need a skilled designer with a good eye and experience to make the best visual choices.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If it looks and feels wrong, try something else. My clients are not designers. However, they do read, and they had trouble with the lightness of the type. It bothered them. That’s a good enough reason to change it. When in doubt, show someone else, or a number of other people, and ask for their opinions.
  2. Consider your audience. You may be 22, but your audience may be older. (When I was 22, it didn’t even occur to me that one’s eyesight could be so different, simply because I had not yet been middle aged. It’s easy to think that everyone can see to read equally well.)
  3. Consider the size of the type and the “threshold of readability,” which will also depend on the lightness of the type and whether it is an artsy font or a “workhorse” made primarily for reading and only secondarily for its appearance.
  4. Keep in mind that you can improve legibility (even of a problematic typeface) by increasing the point size, increasing the leading, or decreasing the length of a line of type. There are no rules that can’t be broken; rather there are ways to work around the challenges. And if you set type in all capital letters, make sure your lines are short. (Your reader depends on recognition of the overall shape of each word to facilitate reading. Each word has a distinctive outline, and a reader can skim a line of text and recognize a word’s shape with only a glance. But the shape of every word set in all capital letters is the same: a rectangle. And this means your reader will need to scan all letters in the word to grasp its meaning.)
  5. Remember that these rules differ based on the kind of work you’re doing. A poster or other large format print is different from a print book. However, in most cases it’s different because there is less type, and your eye can tolerate more diversity and flourishes in the letterforms when there’s less type to read. Think of a billboard. Then think of a novel. For these, you need two totally different approaches when selecting type.

Posted in Design | Comments Off

Book Printing: Giving the Printer More and More Book Titles to Estimate

July 16th, 2017

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

As a commercial printing broker, I am in the position of potentially crafting a deal that would make a client happy while bringing more work to a good printer. What’s interesting is that there are a lot of assumptions that may be negotiable, if the client, the printer, and I go slowly and work together.

The Client

My client produces books at a local beach resort. For the most part they advertise local establishments, but they also promote events and include other editorial content. The print books are 4-color throughout due to the high percentage of advertising. They are case-bound, for the most part, usually oblong in format, and their print runs range from 1,000 copies to 10,000 copies.

Over the past two months my client has been on hiatus before starting the new publishing year. Usually she prints in China, but she has intimated that for the right price she would consider bringing the work to a local US vendor. I have written about her in the PIE Blog before. Our work has been on hold for two months.

The Printer

At the same time, I have been working with a US printer to craft a potential year-long schedule for my client’s print books and to reduce costs where possible to make the deal attractive to my client. This particular printer is ideal for the job because he specializes in book printing. Therefore, his plant includes all of the equipment most other companies do not have. This includes binding equipment for case-bound books, Smyth sewing equipment, and so forth. Because of this, he can produce my client’s work at a lower price and more quickly than his competitors. After all, he doesn’t need to subcontract the binding work.

That said, he still can only come closer than most US printers to the pricing offered by Chinese print vendors. He can’t duplicate the low pricing in the Far East. However, my client has expressed interest in repatriating the work, avoiding the schedule slow-down around Chinese New Year in February, extending advertising deadlines (since overall production and delivery will take less time here than if the books are produced in the Far East), and avoiding potential dock strikes and the need to reroute ships to other ports. The list goes on. She pays a price for the discount offered by the Chinese vendor, even if he does do stellar work.

The Pot Gets Bigger

Since my last blog article on this subject, my client has taken on more work (more book titles) and is in the process of merging with another print book publisher. What this means is that over the course of the year, my client will have more jobs to print either in China or here in the United States.

My client is concerned that the book printer I have paired her with (due to his pricing, equipment, core competencies, etc.) will not be interested enough to come down in price, since her work in some cases will not go to press exactly when planned (i.e., the jobs cannot always be ganged). We had initially discussed pricing based on ganged work. This particular printer had actually come down in price as more books were added to the pot, but we had still based a lot of the discussion on the assumption that groups of books would go to press simultaneously. Apparently, some of the authors have not been able to meet their deadlines precisely, so this may be an issue. My client was worried that this would be a deal breaker.

This is what I said. Book printers want work. If we are up front about the potential for late job submission, or even the potential omission of a certain number of print books from the planned schedule, perhaps the printer will still offer superior pricing, since we keep adding books to the list. Printers want work, I said, and this amount of work provides leverage as long as we’re candid about the potential pitfalls.

Next Steps

Needless to say, my client was pleased with the answer. We also decided to slow down the process. Not a problem, I said. It’s better to do it right rather than quickly and risk making mistakes.

So what I suggested was that she make a calendar of book titles going from the present through 2018. She has work up through next year already planned (which our printer of choice will love to hear, since it will involve more print book titles than we had discussed at our last meeting). In fact, when I called the book printer after discussing the work with my client, he was pleased and ready to take the information upline to decision makers in sales management and estimating.

I asked my client to include in her calendar the titles of the books, their formats (their sizes and whether they will be upright or oblong), press runs, page counts, delivery dates, and color usage. I said she should set forth general assumptions at this point (educated guesses), assuming that things will change as we get closer to the actual jobs. My goal is to get a schedule into the book printer’s hands, a rough blueprint of upcoming work.

I also asked my client to start thinking about her target pricing, not unit costs but the overall cost per book printing job, excluding ganged shipping (since, if the jobs come in at different times, she will not be ganging delivery from either a Chinese printer or a US printer). I asked her to base these target prices on what she currently pays for work in China. I also asked her to consider the prices she would accept (i.e., if the US prices are higher than those from China, what will it be worth to her to avoid the importing headaches, potential dock strikes, long schedule, etc., plus whatever advertising revenue she can expect to gain by keeping advertising deadlines open longer).

Once I have this chart, even if it is a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate, I will go back to the book printer and see what I can get for my client. If the printer wants a lot of work, he may very well be willing to reduce his profit per title in order to acquire many more book titles. Conversely, his pricing may just be within my client’s comfort zone if he can come close to her targets. I fully expect to have some back and forth discussions to bring both my client’s and the printer’s goals and expectations in line with one another. At least this is my hope. It would benefit both my client and the book printer.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to think about:

  1. If you have multiple titles, or even a year-long schedule of dissimilar work (books, brochures, posters, office materials), consider sharing this with your printers. Many will be able to give you a better deal based on bringing in more work. If the jobs can come in together and be gang printed, so much the better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for better prices. If you really like a printer and have a good working relationship, you can always ask about ways to reduce costs (such as paper substitution).
  3. In many cases, if you work out a one-year contract, or a multi-year contract, with a printer, you can get better pricing. After all, your printer wants consistent work. If you will be a loyal customer and bring in predictable work over a certain time period, this will be valuable to your printer.
  4. If you’re trying to negotiate a multi-job, multi-year contract, be very candid about which jobs may miss their schedule by a week or more and which may disappear altogether. After all, you’re working with your printer as a partner at this point, and that requires mutual trust and transparency. Both sides have to win for it to be a long-term relationship.
  5. Keep in mind that everything is negotiable, but be as explicit as possible. Show the printer samples of everything. Avoid any surprises.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

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