Archive for February, 2009

Printing: A Quaint Curiosity in a Dusty Museum?

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Almost all paper is made from either wood pulp, cotton, or a combination of the two. It’s not the base that is the significant factor in the wide variety of paper on the market. The processing at the paper mills makes all of the difference. Developing a new product line is a monumental task. Decisions have to be made at the very beginning. For example, before sheet one is produced, marketing must be considered. Who will buy this paper? Will this new line increase total sales or erode sales from another paper in our product line? How much will it cost to make it, including possible new tooling? How do we position this paper in the marketplace? What will we emphasize most, price, uniqueness, printability, or quality?

Why should the paper making issues  make any difference to you as a consumer? If you were to see the figures the printer has to consider in estimating  a printing bid, you would note that the cost of paper is routinely 30-60% of the cost. The bigger the job the greater the percentage of paper cost. Why is it so much? In addition to all the R&D, the short answer is that it takes a big expensive facility to manufacture paper in the volumes needed to supply the needs. Just how expensive? The cost of building a new mill today is well over a billion dollars. To give you an idea of how much real estate is needed for a typical mill here is a photo of  the Blue Heron Paper Mill in Oregon, USA.

Blue Heron Paper Mill

Blue Heron Paper Mill

Paper mills have been subjected to the same pressures we all experience in this business climate. Their manufacturing costs have increased dramatically, in part because of  raw materials. Environmental laws have made harvesting of trees more expensive, and mills have been forced to comply with demanding clean air and water regulations. Regulations which have forced retrofitting the plants with new equipment to meet EPA standards. Some mills, unable to afford the retrofits have shut down. Mills in United States face world wide competition that keeps the sell prices low even in the face of these higher costs. So the paper mills are squeezed.

Again, why should this matter? It matters to all of us because we have enjoyed a golden age of amazing paper options. If new mills are unable to be built, and older mills close up shop, the availability will decrease. In steps that old law of supply and demand, with decreased supply, a steady demand will force the costs up. The final buyer of printing will see their printing bills increasing, and more companies will  consider options other than printing. When companies slow orders of printed materials, printers will suffer. With a drop off of paper orders, more mills will close. It’s the proverbial vicious cycle. I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite ready to see printing become a quaint curiosity is some dusty museum. There is still something  to be said about the feel and permanence of a printed piece that just can’t be duplicated with electronic blips on a computer monitor.

Steer Into the Slide, Again

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I published a blog called Steer Into the Slide on the 18th of this month. Then I sent this discussion statement to all the printing and related businesses I belong to on LinkedIn ( “Printers can’t get out of this recession by running from it. Just like an automobile on a slippery surface we have to steer INTO the slide and convince other businesses to do the same.” I’ve had many terrific responses come in and I thought I’d share some of them.


Rick Werner has sent you a message.

Date: 2/26/2009

HI Bill,We all have ink in our veins, check out our next generation ECO friendly Decal. and this is only the beginning…Stay tuned.

On 02/26/09 3:13 PM, Bill Ruesch wrote:
Hello Rick,
Thank you for your clear insight. Of course we will lose some of our comrades, probably quite a few. The industry will change and in many ways will no longer be recognizable as the printing business of the past. In many ways I hate to see it happen because all of my adult life has been spent in and around the printing business. But on the other hand, I no longer miss rubbing out plates with that stinky developing fluid, either. I like the current fad term, “It’s all good.” Ultimately it is all good, I think.

On 02/23/09 10:43 AM, Rick Werner wrote:
Maybe we need to re-visit Scratch and Sniff printing? Because it is the only media that we have not figured out how to digitize to the masses. But seriously how many printers have adapted to the output of all media, video, web, print, VDP, etc? In some small towns there is a need for a printer, but when you live in a major metro area with over 2600 printers who all can provide printing that a print buyer considers good, then what do you do? The fact that we are here discussing this topic on a social networking site speaks volumes about where everything is going. Marketing companies are talking about viral video, Social Networking, PURL’s, Pod Casting, RSS, Digital VDM, not print other than packaging and speciality printing. Simply put, our output capabilities are greater than the need.
SO, some will go hungry, some will evolve, and some will just be. Because this is not you daddy’s printing industry any more.


Hi Cory,

This is exactly my point. If we cannibalize ourselves and one another there won’t be much to build on when things ease up.

On 02/23/09 8:17 AM, Cory Hubbell wrote:
Right now in Dallas, Texas Im seeing a high number of underbids/no profit bids in the VDP industry. Companies are so starved for work that they are bidding jobs at a 1 to 2 cent per piece profit. This is horrible for the industry but at the same time, its what people are having to do to keep their shops running. Its hard to get people to play nice when everyone is trying to get a piece of the very small pie.
It is a very frustrating situation.


Hi Dave,

I’ve been trying to climb into my way-back machine (excuse me Rocky & Bullwinkle) and see when the slide really began. As best as I can tell, the industry started slipping just before 9/11. I remember a dip and then a little recovery, but it seems to me it has been gradually downhill since then. What do you think?

On 02/23/09 8:17 AM, Dave Strong wrote:
Great discussion topic. It seems like the graphic arts industry gets hit about 6 months into a recession and comes out about 6 months after a recession. What to do? Retain existing customers with improved quality, delivery, price and service. Aggressively seek new work, but don’t expect much. Reduce costs almost beyond reason and ask your suppliers to help. Position yourself against the competition for the up turn – it will eventually come.


Hi Scott,

Now that’s what I’m talking about. You are right. The successful companies will adapt and get stronger. You are probably one who will adapt. Good luck to you.

On 02/23/09 2:47 PM, Scott Wattenbarger (760-931-4749) wrote:
There are three types of companies in this mood that is our economy. First those that quit or become so conservative they chop themselves to pieces. Second, those that make little or no change and wait for things to return. Lastly, there is the group that ask themselves “how can I make money in this economy?”. The last will eat the other two.

The best way to do this is to capture the top talent in the market that is willing to, or has already jumped ship from the quitters and waiters. “Top Grade” while there is an inventory of talent. Replace your bottom 20% with proven top performers with some new book.


Hi Craig,

Thank you for your response. Obviously following the same well-trodden paths will no longer take us where we need to go. I hate to see what is going to happen to those who don’t embrace the new realities. I’m trying to take it in myself. Here I am rapidly approaching 60 and I have to go back to school (figuratively) to learn printing in the new century.

Anything you can tell me that will help me do a better job for my customers, and help some of our soon to be fallen brothers in the Graphic Arts Industry would be welcome.

On 02/25/09 7:16 AM, Craig Caserto wrote:
Hi Bill and all –

I agree that burying your head in the sand doesn’t do anyone any good. Inaction is not what this country is all about. I firmly believe that the rising tide of optimism followed by action lifts all boats. OK, enough metaphors. To piggyback on your comment of steering into the slide, I will say that printers need to implement new technologies that will help to add new revenue streams in addition to their traditional ink and paper offerings. I see printers becoming marketing services partners with their clients, and W2P is one of those important technologies that printers can utilize to their advantage. Clients overspend on marketing design and re-purposing with their ad agencies or design firms, but with W2P and VDP at the printer level clients can save a ton of money and speed time-to-market dramatically. Problem is printers are reluctant to make the change due to various factors, mainly fear of training on new technology and the perceived cost of its implementation. W2P and VDP developers like my company, GLUON, really do make it easy because we realize these issues. This isn’t meant to be an advertisement for GLUON, but seriously, anyone reading this should feel free to contact me and at least start a discussion about how we can work together to use this technology to drive new revenue. Together, we can not just steer into the slide, but recover and journey farther down the road than we could ever imagine. Best to all – Craig S. Caserto

Choose Paper Wisely, or Else

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
More to the Story

In my blog of February 17,  I reviewed various paper coatings. Did you think that was the end of  the story? Oh no, my friend. Coating is only the beginning we haven’t even touched paper finishes, nor have we discussed color, brightness, and construction.

Pretty  + Pretty = Disaster

What does it matter? I’ll tell you why it matters because selecting the right paper can make or break a job. For example a few years ago a new paper was introduced with a fascinating pattern called, I believe, snowflake. It was a dazzling white and the designers fell in love with it. I couldn’t blame them, it was as pretty as a new sports car. Used correctly this paper would have made any project look terrific, but we all found out the hard way that pretty paper doesn’t guarantee a pretty result.

Albino Alligator Shoes

bad-paper-choice2-phytomerThe graphic designer’s customer was a company importing a line of spa and skin care products. The models they used in their advertising were young with flawless skin, and extraordinary features–the perfect examples of feminine beauty. The cover photo for the brochure was  one of these incredible models relaxing in a tub of deep-aqua colored water. The blue was made by the product they were selling, and it had the added advantage of masking, shall we say, the more sensitive spots? The problem? Hooboy! The paper finish had definite highs and lows. Ink tended to puddle in the lows. The effect was that the model’s skin looked like a pair of albino alligator shoes. Needless to say, it wasn’t the look  they were going for (see picture above).good-paper-choice-phytomer

Beautiful expensive paper, incredible photography, and state of the art printing equipment couldn’t save it, couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Alligator skin was 180 degrees off the mark, and because it was a brand new paper it was a crap shoot. We didn’t know what would happen on press. We found out. The bottom line, all of the expensive paper was dumped and the job was printed on a nice but less costly coated sheet. You can see the difference in the photos of the printed pieces.

What’s New

The world of paper choices is endless. Every year, it seems, the mills work overtime to come up with the next  new wonder. They even tweak their old standbys by adding new colors, obsoleting others, or modifying the surfaces to fit special needs.

International Paper

I looked up the web site of International Paper, because they supply most of the printers in this area, and to make sure I got everything covered. You too can look them up on their website:

International’s descriptions proved adequate for people in the biz, but sometimes a little vague for the uninitiated. For example, their definition for laid paper is paper with a laid finish. That works for me because I know what a laid finish is, but does it help the rest of you? I didn’t think so.

In a future blog I’ll list the various finishes and add my own descriptions to make them more understandable.  In the meantime you can check in with International if you have questions, call your local paper merchant, or get in touch with me

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