"Tightening the Gap Between Designers and Finishers"
[Column #33, 9/97]
Dinosaurs like me are always whining about the digital revolution-sometimes out of fear and sometimes for valid reasons. This one is valid.
Over the years, the printing and binding industry has seen an influx of graphic designers who have spent their educational years so entrenched in computers they have lost touch with traditional finishing techniques. While computers have drastically improved printed images, and multimedia applications seem to multiply every day, there are still many finishing touches that can appeal to the readers senses and "wow" even the most technologically advanced minds. Yet, the same designers who are eager to make a lasting impression on their readers (especially because printed pieces must compete with multimedia applications) have very little knowledge about how to apply these applications properly.
Foil stamping, embossing, and die cutting are among the most common finishing techniques used today to enhance printed pieces-and all of them can make the difference between a good piece and a great piece that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. But, all of them also require proper planning to ensure that the job can actually be produced and that it can be done within the specified budget.
We recently did a foil stamping and debossing job for someone who chose to use a very expensive paper that was actually made of smashed tree bark. What the designer did not realize is that the most important requirement for foil stamping is a flat even surface to stamp on. Obviously, tree bark is neither flat nor even! This paper ranged from .005 in thickness all the way up to .016. It was almost impossible to stamp, and the debossing was barely visible. Even though the job was extremely costly, the finished product was second rate. A designer familiar with the basics of foil stamping would have planned more feasible finishing touches or used a more suitable paper. Unfortunately, we are so distant from the designers, we rarely get to communicate with them. If they had the opportunity to come to the bindery, see these techniques in motion, and talk to the bindery workers, all of us could avoid wasted time, money, and headaches.
And believe me, the headaches are never-ending. Not long ago, we did a presentation folder for one of our customers. When the pocket folded up and glued, it actually glued to the inside where the spine is-not to the outside where the face is-to hold paper in. It was a poor design because the papers would fall out the sides. It also had laminate on it, giving the paper more memory and making it almost impossible to fold the pocket and glue it. We couldn't run the job so we turned to our competitor. When that company could not run it, we ended up having to do the job by hand. There were 30,000 pieces and the $600 our customer had budgeted for folding ended up costing thousands of dollars.
Occasionally, we can make suggestions after-the-fact and solve potential problems. One promotional piece that we handled was done on a brittle duplex stock. The customer wanted to have a capacity on these folders but, because of the weight of the paper, it burst open when we tried to score it. We simply recommended that they consider eliminating the capacity scores to cure this problem. After review, the customer realized that the job would be fine with a single score, agreed to the change, and we produced the job automatically. Because the original quotation included handwork, we were able to cut the actual cost by more than half. Once again, understanding the process and planning accordingly could have saved time because the job would not have been stopped once it reached the bindery. This example also shows the value in consulting with the finisher during the planning process.
Another problem occurs because printers and their customers don't understand different embossing and debossing depths and shoulders. It's not uncommon for us to do a job where a customer requests embossing and realizes once they've received the job back that they actually wanted angles on it so that it isn't straight up and across. They don't understand the process well enough to properly place an order. The end-customer sees a job that was done somewhere else, tells the printer to match it, and the printer doesn't give us enough information with the specs for the job. In the end, the printer's customer gets upset because the job doesn't look like the sample submitted for duplication. I wonder how many people really do understand shoulders and angles and different embossing and debossing depths.
So, how do we tighten this gap between the designer and the finisher? I don't know. I do know that both the educational institutions these designers are attending and the printers they are working with lack expertise in this area. Many of our customers have admitted that they often do not recommend some of the more complex finishing techniques because they simply do not understand the process well enough. (Not only does that cheat their customer from considering these options, the printer loses out on value-added sales.) Therefore, by necessity, the binding and finishing industry must take some responsibility to contribute to their education.
To that end, last fall we invited a group of graphic design students from the Maryland Institute College of Art to participate in a holiday greeting card contest sponsored by Bindagraphics. The project lasted throughout the semester and included a one-day lecture on binding and finishing, a tour of the plant to view all the techniques in motion, and cash prizes for the winners. Each student was required to produce a holiday greeting card using only finishing techniques--absolutely no printing was permitted. The project (which was a part of their class curriculum) was designed to simulate a real-life job. Students worked with us as if we were their customer--submitting roughs for comments, making necessary changes, and meeting deadlines. As expected, we received numerous entries that displayed extraordinary creativity but presented serious design problems that would have been impossible to resolve or promised to be astronomical in cost. When put to the test, most of the students were able to redesign their work (sometimes several times) and make it feasible to produce. There is no question in my mind that the participants in this project learned the importance of planning their finishing carefully--and in the beginning.
In addition, we offer postpress seminars (Binda University) throughout most of the year. This class covers nearly all of the binding and finishing techniques used today. Most of our customers find it very helpful to attend. I encourage any designer that wishes to know more about a particular finishing process to contact a binder and/or finisher and request a tour. Most would be happy to explain the process and provide them with a hands-on look at things in motion.
Such programs can only help a select few. Every designer and every printer should have to spend a day at the bindery. How on earth can you plan properly if you don't really even know what you're planning?