Frankly Speaking: 9 Ideas for Making Print Pop
In the 1980s, many mass market paperback books were published with multiple cover "versions" using different colors. These were not different versions of the entire book cover; they were the same books with the same imagery on the cover, but with different dominant colors. Red, gold and blue were common, and the decision was not capricious; the objective was to attract potential buyers based on their color preferences. At the same time, embossing and even foil stamping also were used to enhance the "curb appeal" (to borrow a real-estate term) of the printed book.
These were the days when books had to catch your attention at the bookstore. They had to beckon you silently. They had to be visually interesting—even striking. Ink alone was not enough.
There is more to printing than just ink on paper. While all printing companies claim to be "quality" printing companies, it's hard to tell exactly what level of "quality" they're printing. If you review most of the winners of printing competitions, you will find that the winning pieces usually involved a finishing element.
Finishing adds cost, but it also adds value. As print fights for its place in a digital world, we must find ways to make print more interesting and attractive. Print has a tactile advantage over books on screens: Print moves you without moving.
Some finishing techniques include:
Spot and flood UV (ultraviolet) and other coatings are now commonplace. Coatings provide a feeling of richness. Most offset presses have a coating unit inline. An optional fifth print station on the Xerox 800/1000 for clear dry ink expands the creative capabilities and impact of prints with the addition of clear effects (spot and addressable). Digital printers/presses from Kodak have coating built-in, and others have near-line coating. MGI has a stand-alone digital coating system. Matte or gloss coatings instantly add value to a printed sheet. Lamination is also a form of coating. The application of UV coatings to both enhance and protect a press sheet has become very popular in recent years. The dazzling sheen of a coated printed piece justifies the relative low cost of this operation. UV gloss coating is the most used additional feature of today's book covers.
Some offset press manufacturers have long had integrated foil stamping capabilities on their sheetfed press lines. Foil stamping is a special finishing operation at additional cost, but one that adds significant value. The vibrancy of foil colors attracts immediate attention. Walter Zacharius, visionary founder and chairman emeritus of Kensington Publishing (who died March 2, 2011, at age 87), had an impact on American book publishing that touched on every aspect of the business: He was the first to use glossy foil stamp and other special effects on book jackets.
Different from foil stamping, printing gold, silver and other metallic colors have long been a challenge. New digital printers, especially inkjets, are handling these effects with ease. I recall a copy of "Fahrenheit 451" with a cover that was faux aluminum. It certainly demanded attention.
Laser die cutting has provided many creative opportunities for using interesting openings on the cover. In the old days, squares and circles were common, but now you can have any shape. The die-cut hole reveals copy or an image on the first page of the book block.
This function still requires special dies that smash into the paper, but new digital techniques are now available. Old letterpress presses are used to provide the pressure to create the raised effects. Embossing is the process used to raise an impression on the surface of a substrate. There are a number of different effects that can be achieved through embossing. Single-level, multilevel, domed, sculptured and beveled are some of the most commonly used embossing techniques. Several different metals are used to make embossing dies, such as magnesium, copper and brass, though brass dies are the first choice of the embosser.
There are no dies in digital embossing. Scodix has an inkjet device that deposits layers of special inkjet ink to create texture. The Kodak NexPress has its Dimensional Clear capability. The result adds "feeling" to a printed image. Images of water drops, for instance, pop off the page.
Concord Litho in Concord, N.H., adds scents to any substrate. Its holiday wrapping paper exudes the odor of pine needles when scratched. You could have a printed picture of an orange with the texture and odor of the orange.
These strange-looking patterns of square spots are actually unique bar codes. When scanned by smartphones, they link to a website. You see them on signs and as part of printed ads. I expect to see them on book covers where they link to a video clip about the book. Why scan the book when you can "scan" the book?
Other special effects
The Dyna Etch process combines foil stamping with transparent offset printing. A specially engraved brass die is used to foil stamp the graphics while imparting a variety of finely textured patterns into the metallized foil. The foil areas, along with non-foil elements, are overprinted on conventional offset printing equipment. The results offer a unique blend of intense color and an illusion of movement, and can even mimic the look of a hologram when used effectively.
The Rochester Institute of Technology Cary Library had an exhibition of 1920s and 1930s case-bound books. All had intricate designs in goldleaf on the covers. These were the days before book jackets became popular and covered mundane covers. Today, most on-demand books are perfect-bound with imagery and color around the entire book and often bleeding off the edges.
Of course, you can't tell an e-book by its cover because, well, you know. But print can still be enhanced to attract potential buyers through appeals to the eye and the touch. BB
Frank Romano is RIT Professor Emeritus with over 50 years in book technology and publishing.