"Planning Efficiently for Annual Report Season"
[Column #36, 12/97]
This is the time of the year that graphic designers sit around dreaming up devilish challenges for us to handle in the upcoming annual report season. We're working on budget quotes now for all their crazy ideas and I wonder why on earth we all seem to look forward to this busy time!
Nevertheless, we are on the verge of annual report season and, because these projects have inherent problems, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide readers with tips on working with your designer to make the collaboration more successful-and more bearable.
Because the economy has been healthier the past couple of years, designers have been more liberal about using fancy finishing techniques such as foil stamping, embossing, and die cutting. Unfortunately, many of them either lack the skill to plan for them properly or their ideas are so complex they require extra consultation and guidance during the design phase. First and foremost, it is beneficial to contact the finisher up-front and find out whether a particular design will actually work as quoted without additional charges once it arrives at their doorstep. The finisher should be able to offer alternative solutions if the original design has flaws. For example, many designers do not understand beveling on foil stamping and embossing well enough to ensure the best quality eye-catching piece. They also tend to choose dark, heavy-textured paper stocks with small type that is difficult to read-and we don't discover the problem until the job is here. It is fairly inexpensive to test small runs by doing a small die ahead of time and it can make a big difference in the final product. We'd much rather take the time to be proactive than have a problem once the job is already in process-or worse yet, have a finished piece that is second-rate. (Our website, located at , contains articles dedicated to special finishing techniques that may be helpful in planning these types of jobs.)
Another problem with binding annual reports is they are often very thin. In addition, they are usually made up of coated and uncoated stock. The first half of these books (with all the glossy pictures) is usually coated and the second half (where the financials are located) is usually uncoated and, thus, better suited for perfect binding as opposed to saddle stitching. The combination of two kinds of stock and the thinness of the books creates terrible problems with crosspage spreads and photographs because the books are hard to open up and lay flat. (We have done some annual reports using Otabind® layflat binding to cure this problem.)
One of my sales reps told me a story last year about a printer that perfect bound an annual report in-house for a large company and ground it so roughly on the spine the image and crossovers in the gutter were completely lost. Heavily coated stocks against the grain (a common trait of annual reports) are extremely difficult to bind and present serious problems with pages falling out. Unfortunately, the designer was misled into believing this was the only way to overcome this situation. One solution is to use PUR (polyurethane) glue because it is very flexible and provides a major improvement on the visibility and the quality of the bind. PUR glue helps prevents pages from falling out and provides layflat qualities, particularly in thin books. Nearly all the annual reports we do for sheetfed printers are short-grained, which is incorrect for bookbinding. PUR glue is perfect for these circumstances. Page pull tests, which test the number of pounds of pressure a page will withstand before it releases from the book, are up to 40 to 60 percent higher with PUR glue. Additionally, flex tests, which measure the number of times a page can be turned in a book before it releases, are substantially higher. These two tests are performed on machines and are standards in the bookbinding industry.
Notch binding is another alternative for binding heavily coated stocks against the grain. The binder actually removes paper by perforating slits in the spine of the signature while it is on the folder and then omitting the grinding process on the perfect binder. The slits alternate so that paper is actually holding the pages of the signature together and, with proper glue penetration, they cannot fall out. Although notch binding is helpful for heavily coated stocks, the downside is that excessive glue is necessary to penetrate the center part of the signature. This results in a tightbacked bind (the "mousetrap effect") that does not allow the book to open up and lay flat. It also causes nailheads on the spine and can ruin crosspage spreads because glue seeps up into the page.
Covers are another big issue. I cannot understand why any designer would choose to combine a solid black or blue ink with a varnished cover. It is nearly impossible not to scratch. Although we can spend hours fighting with these jobs and can usually get them off the binder without scratches, the first person who handles the books will scratch them! Why would anyone want to showcase a scratched-up annual report in their reception area? It takes about two handlings before one of these books looks as if it has been through a warzone. If you must have solid black or blue ink on a varnished cover, we often recommend UV coating or film laminating the covers to try to save them. We also recommend convenient shrink-wrapping to avoid marking and scratching during shipping.
Panic-stricken schedules are inherent to annual report season. Interestingly, schedules seem to be getting even tougher because designers are now in control of the front-end of the job. Electronic prepress enables them to keep the job longer than they ever have in the past. Both the printer and the binder pay the price. A friend of mine who is a production manager at a large printer that specializes in annual reports told me that in years past most of the big reports were committed to printers by the first of the year. Now printers don't even know who gets the job until the very last minute. To help alleviate some of the pressure, choose a trade binder that has more than one perfect binder. This can be critical when the inevitable scheduling problems occur and your job gets bumped by someone else whose situation is even more critical. Also, shop smart and select a binder that has in-house solutions. If the cover-coating, stamping, die cutting, binding, and mailing are done under one roof, precious time can be saved.
In addition, give your binder a chance to succeed by prescheduling the deadline with them. You may not know when the job is coming in (even up until the day it actually does!), but usually the delivery dates cannot be changed. Let your binder know that deadline! It is disastrous for everyone involved if the reports don't make it to the board meeting. Selecting a binder with updated technology such as a variety of glue options and equipment with automatic make-ready can also make the difference when it comes to scheduling issues. Remember too, the value in developing long-term relationships. I can't tell you how many times we get calls from printers we haven't done business with in years during annual report season begging us for last-minute hot schedules. The best time to find a friend is not when you need a friend.
Finally, find a bindery that will offer you a money-back guarantee on your schedule. Take it from me, the job will get done on time!
P.S. Many designers have been asking us about a new binding method that has been available in Europe the past couple of years called Eurobind. Eurobind is a type of perfect binding whereby the front cover is not attached to the spine of the book. This allows it to open all the way and the pages of the book are much easier to turn. The use of PUR glue in this process gives the product similar layflat qualities achieved in Otabind® technology. It also gives flexibility and binding strength to the book. We've recently done some tests on this product. If you're interested in seeing a sample, just give us a call. It can be a great way to add a nontraditional touch and attract attention to an annual report.