Archive for the ‘outmoded printing methods’ Category

Printers & Publishers Prepare to be Amazed!

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Seeking Glimpses of the Future

I have my crystal ball out. It is sitting right in front of me on my desk. I’ve been searching its depths for some clue about the future of printing, publishing, and related industries. You know what I get? Nothing.

The only thing I know for sure is that things will change. This little prophesy doesn’t mean much, except to say that time is a river and we can either find a way to float with the current, or test our strength against it. (Pretty poetic wouldn’t you say?)

I’ve spent a lifetime, so far, learning all about offset printing. I now know quite a lot, but what is that worth? What is it worth really? When I think back, I can remember people who were expert typesetters and others who were great with scanning drums for four color separations. Their hard won knowledge became irrelevant almost instantly with the changes in technology.

I used to laughingly pontificate that someday Bill Ruesch Print Broker, would consist only of an equipment filled Winnebago. Customers would provide me with art files. I would drive over to the paper merchant’s warehouse, load-in the stock, and by the time I arrived at the customer’s dock the job would be completely printed, folded, and bound.

Book in a Box

That used to be my weird vision of the future. It made me and my customers chuckle at the absurdity. It isn’t so funny anymore now that the Espresso Book Machine exists. In one machine a whole book is created; from file to finished product in less than seven minutes.  Seven minutes–printed, bound, and ready to read. That is if you have hot pads. I understand that the books come out pretty warm and need to cool down a bit.

My vision of the future has come true. What do I see in the future now? I haven’t a clue. I think my predictor must be on the blink. I’d be willing to go out on a limb by stating, “It doesn’t matter what crazy, ridiculous, impossible notion we conceive, someone is probably already a step or two ahead of us, and are right this moment building something to make it happen.”

I’m prepared to be amazed. How about you?


Printing’s Like a 3 Ring Circus

Monday, October 5th, 2009
Printing is never boring

Printing is never boring

A typical offset printing plant is like a 3 ring circus. I say that not because Barnum and Bailey was just in town, but because there are three basic workstations a job goes through before it becomes a finished product, and if you’ve ever visited a print shop you’ve seen people hurrying here and there, heard lots of odd sounds, and smelled unusual smells. Printing is not really a circus, but anyone in the graphic arts can see the similarities.

Ring No.1: Prepress

No job enters onto the press room floor without going through prepress first. Your electronic files may be perfect and prepared exactly in the manner that the printer has requested, but will still need prepress. For example, does your job have multiple pages like a booklet, or a book? Then the prepress department will have to paginate your pages. Is that confusing? After all your file was in order, probably in reader spreads, why then should it need to be paginated?

If I was sitting across your desk from you I would demonstrate what I mean by taking an 8 1/2″X11″ standard size sheet of paper and folding it in half to 8 1/2″X5 1/2″ inches. Then I would fold it in half again so it becomes 4 1/4″X5 1/2″ inches. This folded sheet of paper would represent an 8 page press signature. You can verify this by writing consecutive numbers 1 though 8 on the bottom right corners including the back. Don’t unfold it to do this, just lift each corner. It is easiest if you have the last fold on the right and the other folds at the top, this leaves the bottoms open for numbering. Now open your mock press sheet. On one side you should find the numbers 1, 4, 5, and 8. On the other side will be the numbers 2, 3, 6, and 7. You will probably also see that the numbers you wrote on the bottom right hand corners are no longer in the same place. The direction the number is in is the direction of the page. For example, page 1 and page 4 face one another, and so do 5 and 8. This seemingly unorganized alignment of pages and numbers is precisely what is needed to print the job so that it will bind as a booklet.

At this point you may think that it would be helpful to pre-paginate the files yourself. Don’t even go there. There are other complexities that come into play like the size of the press sheet, the size of your page, and the size of the press it is printing on. Trust me it is best to leave pagination to the printer.

Center Ring: The Press Room

Ah, the press room. The printing press is what it is all about. This is the place where ink hits paper.

Other than the name and the fact that they have machinery, no two press rooms are alike. Printing presses come in all sizes from small enough to almost fit in the trunk of your car to towering three story tall monstrosities, and everything in between. It is not true that if you’ve seen one press, you’ve seen them all. But, and here’s the good news–it doesn’t matter much. A cursory knowledge is all you need to be a reasonably competent buyer of printing. You don’t have to specify that the project be run on a 40″ eight unit press with a perfector and in-line aqueous coater. What you have to know is basically the dimensions of the job, the numbers of inks, the paper, what coatings if any, and bindery processes, i.e. does it fold, staple, or bind some other fashion? Then you need to shop around until you discover the printers who are best at that niche. Or even easier, contact a print broker like myself to get you to the right place.

You need to understand that I have no objection to a sales rep from a printing company serving as your source of information as long as you keep in mind that they are obligated to their employer to direct the work there. A broker on the other hand is independent and free to place your job where it fits the best. That’s why I became a broker. I hated working square pegs into round holes just because my paycheck depended on it.

Ring No.3: The Bindery

Again, binderies are as varied as much as there are printers. Commonly they will all have cutters and delivery stations. Other than that they could have folders, saddle-stitchers, perfect binders, collators, etc.

The bindery is where the paginated printed sheet turns into a booklet. The first stop is the cutter. A press sheet will often have color bars, targets, and tic marks for bleeds. You don’t want any of these things to appear on your product, so they are trimmed in the cutter.

The trimmed press sheet goes to the folder where it folds exactly the way you did in Ring No.1 except not usually by hand. The folded product looks very similar to the one you made, but one side will be a little longer.

The next step if you want a stapled booklet is to take it to the saddle-stitcher. The press signatures are stacked precisely to allow the machine to grab the longer edge. The sheet opens as it is pulled and drops onto the chain (it isn’t really a chain, but that is what it is called). If there are additional pages in your booklet there will be multiple stations filled with signatures. Each one stacking on top of the other. Once gathered they go through the stitcher. The stitcher doesn’t look like any stapler you’ve ever seen because first of all there aren’t any staples. You’ll see spools of wire like fishing line that feed into the equipment. You’ll hear a chunk sound as the wire becomes what you know as staples. The final stage is the trimmer, usually called the three knife trimmer. Until this stage your booklet still has the folds at the top, and the bindery overhang or lip on the face. Those things have got to go, so into the trimmer they roll, the blades come down and cut off the top, face, and bottom just to make it even.


The finished product is boxed, shrink wrapped, or skid packed and sent out for delivery. Is printing a career for just anyone? No. No more than just anyone joins the circus. Printing is a demanding, insane, deadline driven business. The three rings: prepress, press room, and bindery are the stages where the action takes place, but the real action, just like in a circus, happens with the people. It requires the attention of a juggler, the precision of a tight rope walker, and the humor of a clown to make it through the working day. Tomorrow it all starts over, but the show must go on!

Perspective Alters Perception

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

In my career I’ve had the good fortune of playing more than one side of the fence. I’ve operated a press. I’ve purchased printing as a customer when working at an advertising agency, and I’ve sold printing for heat-set web, and sheet-fed shops. Each change at the time came with its own drama, I was fired, laid-off, or resigned. The emotions were intense, but given enough time the emotions disappear. All is forgiven.

Here is an odd phenomena to contemplate, when you look forward at the beginning of your career you see the zig-zag steps you’ve taken as being out of control. When you look back, however, the career bumps and changes  form a straight line. You are today the result of those learning experiences. Perspective alters perception. It’s a little like the nature of time. When you are young, time wears on forever. As you get older time speeds up.

Where am I going with all this philosophizing? Good question. I wasn’t sure myself until I got into to it. The printing communication arena is changing faster than we are ready for it to change. Technology is coming that will blow our minds. There are two ways we can deal with it. We can grip tight and cling to outmoded business models, or we can throw caution to the wind, and go for it. You know, the only thing to fear is…(fill in the blanks)________     _________. We do not need to fear technology, we just need to figure how to turn it to our advantage.

I found this online article that explains my point. Even though it was written in 2006, and the examples cited are old hat, the thinking behind the marketing innovations is what is important.

Performance: Technological advances must be part of strategic planning Published October 12, 2006

Business owners often ask about technology’s strategic role in a business. Most companies would say that technology is not core to their business, but would say technology is “strategic” to their business. In Jim Collins’ seminal book, “Good to Great,” he addresses the role of technology in great companies by saying great companies adopt technology differently. “In great companies, technology is an accelerator, not a creator, of momentum.”

Technology is an enabler for business, so much so that it can be at the core of disruptive business models that emerge when technology is innovatively applied. Here are some examples.

Technologies can impact business models

Consider the movie rental business. Remember your independent video rental stores in the 80s?  They’re gone because Blockbuster took over with well-lit, well-stocked video stores blanketing every community. They are now being challenged by Netflix, which uses an online business model executed with technology and complex logistics. Netflix, for a flat monthly fee, allows you to have three rentals outstanding with no late fees, a much larger inventory than a local store and next day turnaround via mail.

Sensing a threat, which was both disruptive and technology-centered, Blockbuster responded with Blockbuster Online, which combines the NetFlix model, and four free local rentals per month at retail stores – something that is important if you are looking for the latest movie or want a spur-of-the-moment rental. Blockbuster’s strategy of tying the program back to local store visits can’t be matched by Netflix, assuming Blockbuster can execute the online program.

Think about digital photography’s impact on Kodak’s film business, the neighborhood film processor and Walgreens. Digital photograph technology has been causing massive disruption for more than a decade. With digital photography, you no longer create bad prints, you don’t buy film and it’s easy to share pictures with friends and family by posting them online. You can print at home or purchase prints online.

Kodak participates in this new model by creating and distributing EasyShare, an online picture portal that’s almost as inexpensive as printing at home. There’s no charge for using the software – they make money printing pictures on their paper.

And what about Walgreens (a “Good to Great” company, by the way)? How do they compete in digital photography? Walgreens created a software system similar to Kodak’s. And like Blockbuster, Walgreens leverages the value and same-day convenience of the local store. You don’t wait for the mail, you can pick up your high-quality prints (on Kodak paper) in one hour.

Phil Mydlach is the owner of Mydlach Management Advisors (mydlachmanage, a corporate planning and performance improvement practice in Waukesha. He can be reached at (262) 662-4646 or

© Copyright 2009 BizTimes Media LLC

When you look at it with the right perspective you understand that the job of technology is to change things. Some ways of doing things will disappear and just as surely as I’m sitting at this keyboard some industry will go to Washington with its hand out begging to be saved. When they should have, and I’m talking now about GM (General Motors), led the technolgical wave. They had the electric car years ago and instead of running with the technology they crushed it.  To see the video go to It’s an eye opener.

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