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"Tips for a Smooth Annual Report Season"
[Column #60, 12/99]

As I sit here in October writing my article for December, one would imagine thoughts of the new year would automatically conjure up ideas about the Millennium and its effect on my life and my business. Amazingly, my thoughts immediately drift into anxious feelings about annual report season¾the time of year when graphic designers sit around dreaming up devilish challenges for us to handle. We are churning out budget quotes for all their crazy ideas and I wonder why we all seem to look forward to this busy time.

Frequently, annual report projects have inherent problems. For one thing, with a favorable economy these past couple of years, designers have been more liberal about using fancy and costly finishing techniques, such as foil stamping, embossing, and die cutting. Many creatives lack the skill to plan for them properly or their ideas are so complex they require extra consultation and guidance during the design phase.

This article will provide tips for planning annual report projects and working with your designer and your finisher to ensure a successful end result.

First and foremost, contact the finisher up front and find out whether a particular design will actually work as quoted (and without additional charges once it arrives at their doorstep). The finisher should offer alternative solutions if the original design has flaws. For example, many designers do not understand foil stamping and embossing well enough to ensure the best quality piece. They also tend to choose dark, heavy-textured paper stocks with small type that is difficult to read.

By including the finisher in the design process, preventive measures, such as creating a fairly inexpensive small die ahead of time for testing purposes, can make a big difference in the final product.

Binding annual reports is often our biggest challenge because they tend to be very thin. In addition, they are usually composed of different paper stocks. The first half of these books, containing glossy pictures, is generally coated and the second half, where the financial data are located, is usually uncoated. As a result, such books are better suited for perfect binding than saddle stitching. Also, 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.)

Heavily coated stocks against the grain (a common trait for annual reports) are extremely difficult to bind, and pages tend to fall out which presents a serious problem. Many people in the industry believe deeper roughening of the spine is the only way to overcome this situation. A better solution is to use PUR (polyurethane) glue because it is very flexible and provides a major improvement in 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.

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, 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. Designers often choose to combine a solid black or blue ink with a varnished cover¾a problematic combination. We spend hours fighting with these jobs and can usually get them off the binder without scratches, but it takes only about two handlings before these books look as if they have been through a war zone. If you must have solid black or blue ink on a varnished cover, use UV coating or film laminating on the covers to protect them. We also recommend convenient shrink-wrapping to avoid marking and scratching during shipping.

Panic-stricken schedules, inherent to annual report season, are getting even tighter 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 for this innovation. In years past, most of the big reports were committed to printers by the first of the year. Now printers don’t find out who gets the job until the very last minute.

To 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 urgent. Also, shop smart and select a binder with in-house solutions. Having the cover-coating, stamping, die cutting, binding, and mailing under one roof can save precious time.

In addition, give your binder a chance to succeed by prescheduling the deadline. You may not know when the job is coming in (even up until the day it actually does), but usually, because of annual board meetings planned way in advance, the delivery dates cannot be changed. Selecting a binder with updated technology such as several glue options and equipment with automatic makeready can also make the difference when it comes to scheduling issues.

Remember too, the value in developing long-term relationships. During annual report season, we get many calls from printers that we haven’t done business with in years begging us for last-minute hot schedules. The best time to find a friend is not when you need a friend.

"Tips for a Smooth Annual Report Season"
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