All posts by Marc Allen

Prepress Desk – Creating the Wow with Varnishes and Coatings

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Everything that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s varnish or UV coating. Due to its physical nature, print marketing offers an opportunity to engage with an audience like no other media. And, with great opportunity comes great creativity.

Printed media has a long history, almost as long as the story itself. It is a well-trusted form of media because of its historic use in communication, physical attributes, and the ability to be retained and recalled. Print is known; it is comfortable and expected. Print does not interject itself in our busy schedules. It can be enjoyed at one’s leisure. Print can be touched, held, folded and interacted with. Print can be saved, read and reread. All of these features create an environment that is real and offers communication at one’s own pace. This creates trust; trust in the message and trust in the brand.

Even with its remarkable track record of being a trusted form of communication, print media sometimes needs a little more to cut through the crowd, something more than just ink on paper. One option for taking print to another level is to add finishing techniques like varnishes and UV coatings.

Though ink on paper can be beautiful in itself, a varnish or UV coating can add that wow factor. There is a difference between varnishes and UV coatings. A varnish is applied with the same press that prints the image; one of the printing units contains the varnish and applies it to the sheet just like ink. It can be applied during the same print run as the image, referred to as inline, or can be applied to an already printed and dry sheet, referred to as dry-trap. Applying varnish inline is more efficient because the printed image and the varnish are applied on the same press run. However, inline varnish tends to not have as strong of an effect because the varnish mixes in with the wet ink before it is cured. A dry-trap varnish incurs another press run, but the effect can be a lot stronger because the varnish is applied on top of an already cured printed image. This scenario is assuming the press is running conventional printing inks, which are cured slowly by air-drying. If a press runs UV inks which are cured instantly with a UV lamp inside the press AND there are UV lamps after each unit, it is possible to produce a dry trap varnish effect in one press run. However, UV curable varnishes don’t always have the same finish as conventional varnishes. Varnishes are generally used to create different sheens like gloss and dull. By combining different varnish finishes one can create high contrast effects.

UV coating is not the same thing as UV curable varnish. A UV coating is applied in a separate press through a direct printing process using a screen. This is a similar process to what is used to print T-shirts or high-volume signs. The coating is applied directly to the substrate through a screen that contains tiny holes forming the image or area to be coated. The coating is then cured with a UV lamp. Because the coating is applied through a direct screen-printing method it is possible to apply a lot more coating in one pass. UV coatings offer a variety of different options including high-gloss, matte, textured, glitter, raised or reticulated. It can be applied as a flood, which covers the entire sheet evenly, or as a spot, which is only applied to certain areas of the graphic. UV coatings can create more extreme contrasts in sheen and texture than varnishes. However, the edges of the coating are not as defined as with varnishes due to its screen-applied method. Therefore, intricate graphics and tight register applications are not recommended.

Creating an impact with gloss and dull sheens or different textures is easier than you may think. Often the printer can handle setting up the files for the additional varnish or coating layers for you. You can often just instruct the printer where you want the effect to be applied and prepress can create the shapes and assign the desired effect.

If you have a print project with a graphic that needs that extra wow factor, try adding a varnish or coating. It can make the difference between a beautifully printed piece and solid gold.

Campaign Strategies – The Payoff for Nonprofits

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It helps to use the right tool for the job, and there can often be multiple options on the table. The most effective and efficient tool to use may be clear-cut in some situations, but not so much in others.

Sometimes the number of options considered depends on the environment, the task and the desired results. For instance, if you wanted thinly sliced tomato for a sandwich, a sharp knife would certainly be your best choice. However, if the desired result were a mashed tomato for sauce, then a hammer would work, although it would be a bit messier. In this case, the tomato is the environment, breaking down the tomato is the task, and for it to be in slices or mashed are the desired results. The knife would also work to break down the tomato for sauce, and would likely be most peoples’ choice in both situations. Though, this demonstrates which tool is truly best for the task of breaking down the tomato is more clearly defined based the desired results.

Whether it’s in the kitchen, in life, or in business, we are all after the same goal…to be successful. Being successful may mean different things to different people and in different contexts, but achieving that goal often involves tools, resources and strategies.

These days there are many options to choose from when it comes to marketing channels–TV, radio, direct mail, billboards, web ads, email, social media, etc. And, there can be several options within each one of those categories. Social media marketing can involve Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google posts as well as web videos and website content. Which of these to use, again depends on our environment, task, and desired results.

Most businesses operate within a common environment. This environment usually involves the same tools, resources, and strategies. The tools are the various marketing channels. The resources refer to a business’ ability to deploy those tools and the size of the market itself. The strategy is the planned process of applying these resources to certain tools. All of this effort comes down to performing a task (marketing or fundraising) to achieve desired results (sales or donations) in a given environment (B2C, B2B, or nonprofit organization).

Most nonprofits have one thing in common…profit. They need to bring in money or resources enough to at least cover whatever it is they provide as an organization minus expenses–with the addition that all excess profit goes toward the cause. In the standard B2C or B2B model this is achieved by selling a product or service to the consumer or other business. In a nonprofit model this is achieved by selling the promise of the service or product that the organization provides for others. One of the aspects that make the transaction for nonprofit organizations different from for-profit businesses is that there is often no product exchanged for the donation. Since the primary function of fundraising is typically just for the organization to receive monies, the ability to accommodate this transaction becomes an important factor in choosing a marketing channel.

The marketing channel that accommodates this for many nonprofits is direct mail. Direct mail has several benefits that no other marketing channel can match. Direct mail is tangible. It has the ability to connect through a sense of touch. The physical element of paper, textures, and the basic experience of holding something and reading text by reflected light versus reading off a glowing screen all contribute to a feeling of honesty–a feeling of something real, of something that can be trusted. Direct mail has proven itself as the most trusted form of marketing time and time again. Quickly establishing trust with a potential donor is very important. The donor needs all the reassurance possible that the organization does what they say and that the donor’s money will be used wisely.

Direct mail also offers a lot of real estate. An organization can mail out a newsletter or booklet with in-depth stories and information about their cause for a fraction of the cost of TV. And, unlike TV, radio or the web, the audience can be qualified on an incredibly detailed level. This means the organization can get their message directly in the hands of someone that has shown interest in their cause and/or may meet the appropriate demographics.

Besides the physical effectiveness, real estate, and targetable aspects, direct mail offers a mechanism to send money to the organization. Nonprofit direct mail appeals usually include a reply card that a donor can fill out with their information and payment method. A courtesy reply envelope (postage paid by sender/donor) or a business reply envelope (postage paid by receiver/nonprofit org.) is also typically included in the outgoing mailing. This mechanism provides a level of convenience for the recipient. An online method of donating can also be included so the recipient has a secondary call-to-action in case they don’t have checks or stamps readily available. For this reason, a BRE (business reply envelope) is recommended. Though the postage is higher and at the expense of the nonprofit, the convenience for the donor and the additional contributions usually outweigh the cost.

According to a 2017 report from the Data & Marketing Association (, direct mail can have a median ROI of 29%, much higher than paid search ads.1 Nonprofits shouldn’t ignore the other marketing channels though. When direct mail is used in conjunction with email marketing or digital ads, response rates can increase up to 118%.2

Direct mail can be a highly effective marketing tool for any business and is particularly well suited for nonprofits due to its ability to establish trust and give the recipient multiple ways to respond. To get the most out of your marketing dollar, and hopefully receive the most dollars for your cause, consider a marketing campaign that includes direct mail as a companion to your digital efforts.,

Direct Mail Insights – Letters, Flats and Parcels Explained

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DirectMail 3_HeaderAll trees are plants, but not all plants are trees. There is a similar connection when it comes to explaining what the post office refers to as a letter, a flat or a parcel. One may logically think that a letter refers to a single sheet of paper, perhaps inserted into a standard business envelope for mailing. Although this could qualify as a letter to the post office, this is not the definition of a letter in postal terms.

To the post office, the terms letter, flat and parcel refer more to categories that are based on a range of physical attributes rather specific types of mailpieces. There are other categories and sub-categories such as customized market mail, periodicals, bound printed matter, etc., but for the purposes of this article I will just go through the basic three. The post office defines a machinable letter as any mailpiece that complies with the following attributes:

  • Height between 3.5 inches and 6.125 inches
  • Length between 5 inches and 11.5 inches
  • Aspect ratio (length divided by height) between 1.3 and 2.5
  • Thickness between 0.007 inch and 0.25 inch (at least 0.009 inch thick if more than 4.25 inches high or 6 inches long or both)
  • Weight no more than 3.5 ounces
  • Rectangular in shape, having four right-angle corners with no more than a 0.125 inch radius and parallel opposite sides

Note that these specifications are for machinable mailpieces. Any attribute that does not comply with these eligibility standards may hinder the mailpiece non-machinable and would result in a higher postage rate.

The post office defines a machinable flat as any mailpiece that complies with at least one of the following attributes:

      • Height more than 6.125 inches but no more than 12 inches
      • Length more than 11.5 inches but no more than 15 inches
      • Thickness more than 0.25 inch but no more than 0.75 inch
      • Weight more than 3.5 ounces but no more than 16 ounces

There is no aspect ratio specified for flats. However, they do need to be rectangular, which is defined as having four right-angle corners with no more than a 0.125 radius and parallel opposite sides. A square (four sides of equal length) is considered a machinable flat.

A parcel gets a bit more complex. There are several categories of parcels including machinable, irregular, non-machinable, lightweight, Parcel Select, bound printed matter and marketing parcels to name a few. I will focus on a basic machinable parcel for comparison purposes. The post office defines a machinable parcel as any mailpiece that complies (in addition to the attributes of a flat) with at least one of the following attributes:

      • Height more than 12 inches but no more than 17 inches
      • Length more than 15 inches but no more than 27 inches
      • Thickness more than 0.75 inch but no more than 17 inches
      • Weight more than 16 ounces but no more than 25 pounds

In addition to the basic physical attributes in each category, there are many other factors such as type of material, poly wrapping, flexibility and uniform thickness that can effect whether a mailpiece is deemed machinable or not. Letters, flats and parcels are processed through different types of equipment and therefore can have different physical requirements. Flexibility and uniform thickness are two of the more common aspects that can affect postage rates. A flat must comply with a flexibility and deflection tests to ensure the piece has the proper flexibility (not too rigid and not too flimsy) to move through postal equipment without issue. This is determined by positioning the mailpiece so that it hangs off of a ledge and measuring how much the piece droops or can be bent. A machinable flat must also be uniform in thickness, meaning any variation in thickness, excluding 1 inch from the edge, must not be more than 0.25 inch.

Generally, if any aspect of a mailpiece does not comply with the eligibility standards in a category then it would incur the postage prices for the next category up. For example, consider a basic postcard that is 6.5 inches by 10 inches. The dimension of 6.5 inches in height (as this is the shortest of the two dimensions) is outside the eligibility of a letter. Therefore, the mailpiece would be deemed a flat and incur postage prices for a flat. If the postcard were 10 inches by 16 inches it would be deemed a parcel since 16 inches is outside either maximum dimension for a flat.

It may seem confusing to think of a postcard as a letter, flat or parcel, but common and seemingly similar direct mail pieces can fall into a variety of pricing categories for a variety of reasons. When a mail house refers to your EDDM postcard as a flat that is likely because of the dimensions required for EDDM simplified addressing. When the mail house refers to your large envelope as a parcel that may be because of the multiple books inserted in it are causing a non-uniform thickness or flexibility issues.

There are many more regulations and specifications listed in postal service’s Domestic Mail Manual. The DMM specifies everything about all things mail and is not for the light reader. An online version of the DMM along with other resources such as quick service guides and pricing sheets can be found on the postal service’s Postal Explorer website: Another fairly new resource is their Postal Pro search engine: This website took the place of the RIBBS website and is where you can find various documents related to retail and commercial mail. The full listing of physical standards for commercial mail can be found here:

If you have any questions regarding designing a mailpiece for commercial mail or planning a direct mail campaign, feel free to call Phillips Printing mailing department at 888-ask-phil or contact us.

Printing Insights – 1001 Ways to Print

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Printing 3_HeaderYou can get from point A to point B in many different ways. You could walk, run or drive a car. You could ride a bike, take a train or fly in a plane. There is usually more than one way to do anything. This is just as true for printing as it is for traveling.

Though there may be many methods to achieve the same result, there are usually reasons for choosing one method over the other. When traveling, for instance, you wouldn’t typically walk from Chicago to Los Angeles, and it would be just as illogical to take a plane across town. There is similar reasoning when it comes to deciding which method of printing is best suited for each project.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable type printing press in the early 15th century he likely had no idea how it would change the world. His combination of adjustable letter molds, moveable type, ink, and a wooden corkscrew press comprised a device that allowed the mass production of written communications. The distribution of printed texts of religion, education and politics created a revolution like few other inventions ever have. As literacy boomed, printing allowed ideas to be spread throughout society at a rapid pace. Gutenberg’s most famous printed work was his 42-line Bible of which dozens of copies still exist today.

There may indeed be 1001 ways to print if one were to really explore the possibilities. If we define print as mechanically transferring pigment from one substrate to another, there is a huge number of variations one could consider a printing process – from squeezing sheets of vellum under a wooden press to printing tens of thousands of sheets per hour on a web press. There are certainly more ways to print than anyone would care to know, so I won’t attempt to go through them all. Here a few of the most common methods of printing, types of printers, and their intended uses.

Letterpress Printing
A letterpress is a direct relief printing process and is what the early presses of the Renaissance period were. A letterpress involves individual blocks of wood or metal with a raised character on one end. These blocks are put into a frame, arranged to form the desired message or design, and ink is applied to the raised surface. The inked letters are then directly pressed onto a paper sheet or roll. Few letterpresses are still in operation today, though there are a few novelty shops that still use them to create authentic or artistic printed works.

Digital Printing
Digital printing refers to any printing process where the image on the substrate is directly produced through a digital signal. Digital printing is best suited for relatively small runs and variable imaging. Digital printing devices generally use either inkjet printing technology or laser printing technology. Most home desktop printers fall into one of these two categories.

Inkjet Printing
Inkjet printing is a form of digital printing that uses a print head mechanism that sprays very regulated droplets of ink directly onto a substrate. Inkjet printers usually produce full-color images. Inkjet printers are best suited for single or small print runs and variable imaging. Inkjet printing is utilized in the commercial printing industry for proofing due to its large color gamut and consistent reproduction capabilities. It is also used in wide format applications to produce large prints like billboards and full-color banners. Inkjet printers intended for high-quality imaging and proofing can print substrate sizes from 8.5 inches to 4 feet wide and use up to 11 different colors for process printing. Some grand format inkjet printers can be as large as 16 feet wide!

Laser Printing
Laser printing is a form of digital printing that uses a laser-powered imaging system to transfer an image of toner to a metal drum. The toner is then transferred from the drum to a transfer belt, which transfers it to the paper. The toner on the paper is then heated by a high-temperature roller, which fuses the toner image, instantly curing it. Laser printers are best suited for small to medium print runs and variable printing. Most commercial digital presses utilize laser-printing technology and are used for products such as brochures, postcards and personalized printing.

Impact Dot Matrix Printing
The first desktop computer setups often included a dot matrix printer. You may remember that unforgettable zapping sound and the fun of creating long happy birthday banners. Impact dot matrix printers involve a computer-controlled print head that strikes the paper through an ink-covered ribbon and creates letters or patterns with a matrix of dots. Impact dot matrix technology is still used today in such devices like receipt printers.

Thermal Printing
Thermal printing is similar to laser printing but uses a coated film that is drawn between a fusing head and the substrate. When the fusing head selectively heats the film the coating is fused to the substrate. Thermal printers are typically small and used primarily for label and/or vinyl printing.

Dye-sublimation Printing
Dye-sublimation is a process used to print on polyester and polyester resin-coated products such as fabric or tiles. Dye-sub inks are used to first print an image on a special transfer paper and then, through heat and pressure, the image is transferred to the substrate. Sublimation refers to the process of the solid toner transforming directly into a gas, bypassing a liquid state, and penetrating the polyester fibers.

Screen Printing
Screen printing is a direct to substrate process that involves a fine mesh screen that ink is pressed through onto the substrate. Certain areas of the screen are blocked out to prevent ink from passing through creating the desired design. Screen printing is often used in textile printing (t-shirts, fabric, etc.) and for larger print runs of small signs.


Printing 3_Figure 2Offset Lithography
Offset lithography (referred to as offset or litho for short) is a rotary offset printing process that involves an imaged metal plate that transfers an inked image to a rubber blanket, which then transfers the image to the substrate. Lithography works on the basic principle that oil and water do not mix. The image plate has a thermal or light-sensitive coating that is exposed through a laser process in a CtP (computer-to-plate) device to create the image. The plate retains ink where it has been imaged and water repels ink where the plate has not been imaged. Offset refers to the fact that the image plate does not make direct contact with the substrate. Lithography setup cost is less than that of flexography or gravure and is best suited for efficient high-quality printing of medium to long production runs. Most high-volume commercial presses use offset lithography.

Flexography (referred to as flexo for short) is a rotary relief printing process that involves a flexible image plate that applies ink directly to the substrate. The basic principle is very similar to letterpress printing. The relief aspect of the image plate allows for printing on a variety of surfaces such as cardboard and other similar uneven substrates. Flexographic setup costs are relatively high and it is best suited for long production runs or products requiring relief printing. Unlike lithography, which uses oil-based inks, flexography (and rotogravure) can utilize water-based inks, which allows for printing on a wider array of substrates.

Rotogravure Printing
Rotogravure (referred to as gravure for short) is a rotary direct printing process that involves an etched metal plate containing cells that hold the ink to be transferred directly to the substrate. The depth of the cells determines the amount of ink carried, creating more or less ink density. Unlike flexography or offset lithography, the gravure plate is in direct contact with the ink fountain. Most gravure presses print on rolls of paper known as webs. Rotogravure setup cost is very high but the etched metal plates last for a long time without deterioration which makes gravure printing best suited for very long production runs with undiminishing quality.

UV Printing
UV printing involves using inks containing photoinitiators (light-sensitive molecules) that cause the ink to cure when exposed to ultra-violet light. Ink can be applied to a substrate and then cured instantly (changing from a liquid to a solid) with UV light so there is no absorption, dry time or issues during finishing processes. There are several print methods that utilize UV technology. UV screen printing is often used in commercial printing to apply gloss coatings or specialty effects. Flatbed inkjet printers, which can print directly to rigid substrates, utilize UV technology. UV light is also used to cure inks in various high-speed printing processes such as lithography and flexography. UV printing has become more and more popular in commercial printing due to its production efficiency benefits. UV inks are also 100% solvent-free so there is no emission of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or hazardous air pollutants.

Sheetfed Presses
A sheetfed press refers to any press where a pre-cut sheet is fed through the press. The sheet can be paper, plastic, cardboard, or other material. Though sheetfed typically refers to offset lithography, it can also include flexography or rotogravure printing processes. Sheetfed presses run at speeds as high as 18,000 sheets per hour and are best suited for medium to large print runs. They are often used to produce high volumes of postcards, packaging materials and brochures.

Web Presses
Unlike a sheetfed press, a web press uses continuous rolls of paper instead of individual sheets. The large machines seen in movies running newspapers and taking up an entire room are web presses. Finishing processes such as cutting, collating and folding are often done inline. Web presses can utilize lithography, flexography or rotogravure methods to transfer ink. Web presses run at speeds of thousands of feet per minute and are best suited for very large print runs. They are often used to produce high volumes of newspapers, magazines and catalogs.

There are several variations of the processes and printers listed above, but hopefully this gives a little insight into the basic methods that can be used to produce a printed image. More information on the printing process and other related aspects can be found at

Prepress Desk – The Usage of Black

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Prepress 2_Header-01As the most combustible rock band of all time so eloquently pondered, “How much more black could this be? And, the answer is none, none more black.” There comes a point when doing more is, well, pointless.

Not all design is created equal. A graphic that is designed for web may not necessarily be suited for print. Graphics for web are usually intended for an RGB color space as produced on a monitor, where color is created using emissive light. Graphics for print are usually intended for a CMYK color space as produced by 4-color process, where color is seen with reflective light. Although the end result of the graphic may be visually similar, the way that the colors are built can be vastly different, particularly with dark colors.

When designing for web one may take into consideration the resolution, video support, transparency, scaling adaptation, and device differences. Color builds or limitations are not really a factor because the RGB color space is very large. Although the human eye can see more colors, L*a*b* and RGB gamuts are the largest that can be produced by most media devices. Though there are limitations in what an emissive light device can produce due to its resolution and components, there are virtually no limitations in what an emissive light device (monitor, TV, etc.) can “attempt” to produce. Therefore, there is no real concern of whether a color is too vibrant or too saturated. The monitor will produce that color to best of its ability. There is some consideration for consistency, however. When it comes to branding, given the fact that the same color can be reproduced many different ways depending on the media, designers should take into account color conversions when choosing brand colors. To help manage the consistency of a brand across multiple channels, designers should consider colors that convert from Pantone® solid colors to CMYK and RGB well; and be diligent in using the proper HEX, spot colors, or CMYK builds when designing for different applications.

When designing for print, one must still consider the resolution and media application, but also how the colors are going to be reproduced. Printing involves physical components–ink or toner being applied to a media surface like paper or plastic. In lithographic printing this is typically ink on paper. Each of these components has its limitations and tolerances when it comes to their contribution to the end result–that being the finished printed product, and in particular, the color. Ink has limitations in its pigments and density (how much ink that is applied to the paper). Most full-color printed media is printed using CMYK process. A CMYK process ink set consists of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. These four colors are combined in different percentages to create all the colors we see on printed products. For instance, yellow and magenta make red, cyan and yellow make green, etc. Some printing devices use other colors in addition to CMYK such as orange, green, and violet to produce an extended gamut, but at the core of full-color reproduction, and what most printing devices and large presses use, is just the primary four process colors.

Prepress 2_Figure 5The four process colors are combined in percentage and measured in whole by total ink limit. With each color in the 4-color process at 100% the total ink limit is 400%. This is the maximum ink limit that can be produced in CMYK process. However, actually printing 400% ink coverage is usually a problem. That is more ink than most paper can absorb. Most offset presses typically have a max ink limit of around 300%. If the amount of ink on the sheet is much more than that it starts to cause issues like setoff. Setoff is where the uncured ink transfers to the back of the sheet on top of it as it sets in a stack. In a UV press, where the ink is cured with a UV lamp, too much ink can cause it not to cure completely. Most print shops will run an ink limit of around 260% to avoid any problems with setoff or curing. Even a 260% ink build can cause problems depending on the total ink coverage on the sheet and other factors such as water/dampening settings, ink manufacturer, and paper type.

Generally, a 280% ink build or more is black, though there can be some dark green, burgundy or brown colors that are more than 280% ink. These dark colors are typically adjusted to a lower total ink percentage in prepress through the use of GCR (gray component replacement). GCR is part of a color profile that takes the shadows created with cyan, magenta, and yellow and replaces them with black. Where a dark brown color may be originally built as C70 M100 Y90 K40 (300% total ink), GCR would convert it to something like C20 M75 Y60 K80 (235% total ink). This allows virtually the same color to be reproduced with less ink.

Prepress 2_Figure 1When it comes to black there is usually a point where adding more ink does not necessarily make it darker. Adding varying percentages of CMY to 100% black ink can create different hues of rich black, but at around 260% total ink, any additional ink just creates saturation without adding any depth to the color. We recommend a mix of C35 M25 Y25 K100 for a rich black build. This produces a dark black at 185% total ink with a neutral hue in the gradients and tints.

Prepress 2_Figure 2Most of the time it is preferred to run only 100% black ink in graphics and text unless there are large areas of coverage where a rich black build would help with richness and consistency. This is especially true with small text. All small text that is black, close to black, or gray, should be created with only black ink. This is recommended primarily to ensure sharpness in small text. If small text or graphics are created with a rich black build there is the risk of visible registration issues. This occurs when all four process colors are not exactly in register with each other. This can cause the text to look thick or blurry. Colors being out of register on at least some areas of the sheet can stem from several minute things in the print production process, such as paper stretch, and is not always avoidable.

Prepress 2_Figure 4Text unknowingly or unintentionally being assigned to rich black or registration color is probably the most common issue we see in prepress. Most prepress workflow systems can automatically recognize registration color and change it to 100% black. They can also usually give a warning if any small text is colored with rich black, but these systems are not foolproof. Transparencies, outlines, or other factors can cause problematic ink builds to slip through automated preflight systems. It is highly recommended that the black channel be checked using separations/output preview in Adobe programs prior to sending file to the printer. This check can be performed by turning off the black channel in separations/output preview and analyzing all pages of the document. If any small text or unusually dark gray graphics are visible then that indicates small text is assigned to a 4-color build or graphics are assigned to a higher total ink build than recommended. Separations/output preview can be found in InDesign under Window>Output>Separations Preview, in Acrobat under Tools>Print Production>Output Preview, and in Illustrator under Window>Separations Preview. The figure below shows the previous example with the black channel turned off.Prepress 2_Figure 3

If you have any questions regarding properly setting up your files for print, feel free to contact Phillips Printing prepress department by email or call 888-ask-phil.

Campaign Strategies – Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

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Campaign 2_HeaderWhen striving towards any goal, there is usually a single most important thing that leads to success. With real estate, it is location; with finance, it’s spending less than you make; with bungee jumping, it is a good knot; and with marketing, it is repetition. No doubt there are several factors that are important to ensure success within the various marketing channels, but with all marketing efforts, from radio to TV to direct mail, the frequency in which a consumer is presented with a branded message is key.

If Target were to run one 30-second TV commercial during the holiday season and think, “yep, I think we’re good for December,” their sales would certainly disappoint. If St. Jude only sent one piece of mail or ran one TV commercial, they wouldn’t have the funds to do what they do. And I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupon, but I don’t go there without one. The principle of frequent presentation is crucial for any company’s marketing, whether it is for brand recognition, sales promotions, or financial support. It takes multiple touches, often across multiple channels, to gain the awareness needed and to ultimately move someone to take action.

Focusing particularly on direct mail, there are certain benefits of this channel that others do not have. For instance, direct mail is tangible and can be retained and recalled. This is difficult with TV or radio so repetition becomes even more important with those channels. Nevertheless, it is still a critical part of a successful direct mail campaign. There are four primary factors that influence the success of a direct mail marketing campaign–the message, the design, the recipient, and repetition.

A meaningful message–this is one of the most important factors. A successful effort must include a meaningful message or relevant offer for the consumer. The consumer will take no action if they do not connect with the message or if the offer is not good enough. Taking action takes time, energy and money. It must be worth it for the consumer to take that action, no matter how little it may be. It is helpful to try and step outside your knowledge of your business and think of what the message will mean to the consumer-what does it do for them.

Great design–although an important factor, design often gets a little too much focus. The design of a piece is typically only at play in the initial awareness. The design is what may get the piece noticed, but after that, it is up to the message being relevant to that recipient that will move them to take action. However, design also plays a role in effectively presenting the message. Proper formatting and organized layout can help the recipient take in the message efficiently.

The right recipient–a meaningful message presented with great design means nothing if it lands in the wrong person’s hands. Targeting the right recipients by utilizing demographics such as age, location, income, etc., is crucial for the success of direct mail. In some regards, a perfect recipient is already looking for your service and that can outweigh any shortcomings in the other factors.

Repetition–with all things above in line, a single direct mail piece can be incredibly effective, but in comparison to a multi-piece campaign or when you consider your entire marketing infrastructure, it becomes clear that success is rarely the result of a single effort. When developing a multi-piece direct mail campaign, the first two factors, which have to do with the pieces themselves, must work in conjunction within a single mailer as well as across the entire campaign. Since the multiple that increases the chance of success is repetition, the consistency of the message and design not only helps the effectiveness of each individual presentation but also increases recall by allowing all pieces to work as a whole. On average, it takes twelve touches to move a recipient from a prospect to a client. This includes all forms of marketing from emails to phone calls to direct mail. Each channel has its strengths and all work together to establish brand recognition and trust.

Didn’t you just say that?

The practice of repetitive marketing has been used in branding for hundreds of years. “Good to the last drop” has been the Maxwell House slogan for 103 years, “Breakfast of Champions” has been around 89 years, and “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” 51 years. Statistically, if one considers that the average human brain only remembers 20% of what it sees or hears, then it would take at least three separate presentations to retain only 60% of a message; and that assumes the brain takes in all new information each time. There are other factors besides the four mentioned above that can help increase the effectiveness of a direct mail piece such as interactive elements, tactile and sensory elements, and unique design or physical attributes. Anything that engages the person and causes them to hold on to the piece longer can increase retention. This can be as simple as the orientation of graphics so the person must rotate the piece, or more complex features like aromatics (scented glue) or augmented reality (AR).

There are many important factors to take into account when creating an effective marketing campaign. By evaluating how well each of the four factors above are utilized in your existing marketing efforts, you may discover some opportunities for improvement. There is no right answer for how many times one should mail or a magic formula for design, copywriting, demographics, or timing. Each marketing effort should be tailored to best fit a business’s brand and its customers. But, at some level, all successful marketing efforts have a certain balance of message, design, and repetition to a targeted audience.

Printing Insights – Hybrid vs. Stochastic Screening

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Printer Looking At Test Cmyk Registers On Printout Using MagnifiAs the old saying goes, there is more than one way to screen a cat…the image of a cat that is–a little printing humor there. All lame puns and disturbing metaphors aside, I am referring to the different types of screening in lithographic printing. Within any manufacturing process there can often be multiple production method options with pros and cons in each. In addition to a general explanation of the process, I will discuss the benefits and challenges of two of the standard screening methods used in offset lithographic printing.

What is a screen?

In printing, a screen can refer to a tint of a single color and/or a resolution of sorts. A lighter tint of black would produce gray, and how smooth that gray is could be considered the resolution, or line screen (lines per inch)–which I’ll discuss later. The type of screening refers to the tint, particularly, how the tint is produced. Imagine a screen door material that has holes in it to allow air to pass through. Now imagine putting that material on top of a piece of paper and pressing ink through the screen. The size of the holes and the number of holes would determine how much ink gets to the paper. Less holes or smaller holes would allow less ink, yielding a lighter tint, whereas more holes or larger holes would allow more ink, yielding a darker tint. This is basically how screen-printing works. Screen-printing involves using an emulsion process to block out areas of a fine mesh to control the ink applied to a substrate. The ink is applied directly through the mesh to the substrate. Each color has its own screen and is applied one at a time. It is primarily used for simplistic designs in textile printing and high-volume signage.

The process in lithographic printing is similar, except the “screen” that determines the tint is imaged onto a metal plate which transfers the ink to a rubber blanket which then transfers it to paper. This process is also called offset printing. Most printers use CMYK process to produce full-color images. With CMYK process all colors are reproduced through the combination of four base colors–cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Each of these colors is printed in various tints and combinations to produce all the colors we see in images and graphics. How the tint is produced for each color is referred to as the screening method.

Screen types

There are two types of screening methods used in lithographic printing. The first, and most common, is amplitude-modulated screening (AM screening). This method uses a fixed dot pattern. As the tint gets darker the size of each dot is increased, as the tint gets lighter the size of each dot is decreased, but the number of dots in a given area stays the same.

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AM screening is commonly used among printers due to its controllable nature. Most printing plates and blankets available on the market today can easily support a standard AM screen and there is less sensitivity in how well the ink is carried and transferred to the paper. Although, the quality and balance of consumables and proper calibration will always greatly affect the level of quality and consistency that can be achieved.

Printing 2_Figure 5

Because AM screening uses a fixed dot pattern, each of the four CMYK process colors must be at different angles so that the dots do not line up on top of each other. The four colors are typically at (Y) 0˚, (C) 15˚, (K) 45˚, and (M) 75˚. However, this combination of the same pattern at different angles creates a rosette pattern and is one of the well-known drawbacks of AM screening (figure 5). If you look at any full-color printed piece with a magnifying glass or loop you will likely be able to see this pattern of interlocking circles.

The second type is frequency-modulated screening (FM screening). FM screening is also referred to as stochastic screening. This method uses a very small fixed dot size. As the tint gets darker the number of dots is increased, as the tint gets lighter the number of dots is decreased, but the size of the dots stays the same.

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FM screening has many advantages when reproducing fine images. Because FM screening utilizes a small random dot pattern, the level of detail and smoothness that can be achieved is far greater than with AM screening. FM screening does particularly well in reproducing high-resolution images of fabric, leather, skin tones or any image where there are very fine details in the textures. Another drawback with AM screening is the potential to produce a moiré effect. Though, a moiré is most often seen when reproducing a scan of a printed piece resulting in a multiplication of the rosette pattern, it can also occur when reproducing an image with a fine geometric pattern like fabric. This is because the rosette pattern of the screen can interact with the pattern of the fabric. This is not an issue with FM screening because there is no consistent pattern to the dots. FM screening also tends to use less ink because there is more dot gain (as there are generally more dots) – meaning less ink is required to produce the same visual tint.

Printing 2_Figure 6

Line Screen

AM screening also involves a line screen. A line screen is the number of halftones per inch, expressed as lines per inch (LPI). This determines how fine the dot pattern is, or how close together the dots are. The closer together the dots are the higher the resolution that can be achieved. However, with higher resolution and finer dots come more challenges in maintaining a consistent result or a smooth image. Most sheetfed lithographic printers will run a 133 to 175 line screen. This is high enough to produce a very smooth image and still be somewhat forgiving. There is also a type of screening that utilizes both methods called hybrid screening. Hybrid screening is primarily AM screening, but at tint values below 5% and above 95% it uses FM screening. This allows for smoother transitions and imaging in highlights and shadows.

FM screening does not use a line screen because the size of the dot is fixed and the pattern is considered random. The equivalent aspect for FM screening would be the size of the dot, which is measured in microns. Most printers running stochastic will use a 20 to 30 micron dot size. Not all printing plates can handle maintaining a clean dot that size. Even if the platesetter (CtP) can image the dot, the plate surface must be able to maintain the dot during printing. If the dot erodes during printing the image will start to disappear or become lighter. This erosion of the plate image is called blinding. The fountain solution, which is the water/chemical solution that keeps the plate clean where there should not be ink (the water versus oil principle), can also play a part in whether blinding occurs.

You may be wondering why, if FM screening looks so much better and uses less ink, more printers don’t use it. In addition to some of the potential challenges mentioned above, there is usually an additional license purchase and it does take a lot of effort in creating and maintaining proper calibration as well as discovering the right balance of consumables to yield a consistently good result. However, with diligent color management, equipment maintenance, and the right consumables, stochastic screening can be a huge benefit to the printer and produce a much higher quality product for the client.

Phillips utilizes both hybrid and stochastic screening methods and is G7 color-space certified in both. If you would like to see examples of printed pieces using these different methods or have any questions, feel free to contact us or call us at 888-ask-phil.

Direct Mail Insights – Checking Your List, Twice

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Closeup of a childs hand placing a Letter to Santa Claus in a ma

It’s that time of year again when the shopping carts are filled with joy, Amazon’s servers are spinning widely, and direct mail year-end appeals are in full force. Marketers are making their best effort to compete for their share of holiday spending and charitable giving. The children are anxiously making their wish lists and Santa’s elves are busy fulfilling last-minute requests. And when Santa checks his list for who gets the X-box on Mallory Lane, you can bet he’ll run the list against CASS and NCOA databases to confirm accurate delivery addresses and recipient names…twice.

There are three factors that make a direct mail piece effective with one aspect being more important than the others. Some may think that a bold or interesting design is most important, and although it is one of the three, it is actually the least important. A full-color image or professional impactful graphic will tend to be more effective in grabbing a reader’s attention than a simple text-only design. A picture of a happy diverse male doing a handstand atop a shiny new lawn mower on a beautiful green lawn will be much more effective than a simple postcard that reads “new lawn mowers are now available at your local store.” The second factor is the message; if the message is not relevant or an offer is not meaningful to the reader then it will not move them to take action. If a 20-year-old female receives information about hearing aids it is unlikely she will be interested, or, if that same recipient receives an offer to save $5 when switching her cell phone service to a different carrier with a 5-year contract this is also an unlikely conversion. But, the number one factor in the success of a direct mail piece is the data; it is irrelevant how good the design is or how great the offer is if it doesn’t get into the right person’s hands. The example above with a 20-year-old receiving marketing about hearing aides is really a data issue. That recipient should’ve never been on the list to begin with unless there’s some indication that she would be an influencer for an elder or some other qualifier. There are several ways in which the quality of your data can be compromised and ultimately yield your marketing efforts ineffective. Here are a few of the most common:

Unregulated data entry

If you have people in your organization entering data into a database that you use for marketing it is vitally important that you have training and data entry restrictions in place to help control what is being entered. Whether it is being entered as a part of a sales transaction or being managed and qualified by a sales support team, the same oversight is necessary to maintain quality data. Do not assume everyone knows what a proper street address consists of or has proper grammar. I’ve seen such records on a mailing list that read “John (deceased) Smith,” “201 main street, sweet 100, behind Costco” or, my favorite “Jane (rude on the phone) Johnson.” If you want to ensure that you never deal with Jane again, send that one out–although, you may hear from her at least one more time. These types of entries making it onto a mail piece are a nightmare from a marketing and sales perspective. There are a few things that mail processing software will catch, fix or weed out on an address, but it usually does not have the capability to flag any oddities in a name or business field. It is critical that employees performing the task of data entry know the proper ways to enter names, businesses, and addresses. It is important that all employees know that the customer could see what they enter in the database. Implementing automated controls in the data entry interface such as required fields in addresses and names, or regular expressions like forcing phone numbers to contain ten digits with dashes, will help maintain proper and consistent entries. New entries must also be reviewed regularly. Not reviewing data regularly can make the task more tedious as the database becomes larger; catching typos and oddities on a list of 2,000 is much easier than on 20,000.

Lack of qualification

There are a number of qualifiers to consider when purchasing a list, probably more than you ever thought were available. List providers have a huge array of qualifiers and demographics you can use to filter your results by such as age, income, net worth, home value, home age, number of people or children in home, race, gender, credit score, marital status, etc. And there are several ways to filter locations including postal routes, neighborhoods, cities, counties, zip codes, radial distance, and drive time. Performing an analysis of your existing customers can help determine the most relevant qualifiers for a purchased list. Thinking outside the box of how to target a potential customer can be challenging. There are sometimes qualifiers that seem irrelevant or unrelated that can actually lead to a valid prospect for your product or service. For instance, a female that recently had a last name change may have recently gotten married. Newly married females often have children within two years. Females planning on getting pregnant may be in the market for supplemental health insurance products. So you could build a marketing campaign for health insurance based on targeting females with new last names. Of course, she could have also recently gotten divorced, in which case could still be in the market for new insurance.

In the example of marketing hearing aides to a 20-year-old, this could have been avoided by simply qualifying the list by age. Applying basic qualifications to filter who you are marketing to can make a huge difference in the response rate. It can also help save money on postage by not mailing to recipients with little likelihood of responding.

Lack of processing or maintenance

When you send your mailing list to a mail service provider they will likely run it through CASS, NCOA, and deduplication processes to make sure the data is properly formatted and up-to-date with current postal records. CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) is a database managed by the U.S. Postal Service of valid delivery addresses. The CASS database is updated monthly for most mailers. A mailing list is compared to this database and each address is corrected and/or validated as a deliverable address according to USPS records. NCOA (National Change of Address) is a database managed by USPS of new moves as submitted by residents. It is up to a resident to submit a change of address to the post office to be in this database. The NCOA database is updated weekly. Mailing list records including first and last names are compared to this database for matches after CASS validation. If a match is found the old address is replaced with the new address. If CASS or NCOA processing is not performed there is an increased chance of UAA (Undeliverable As Addressed) mail making it into the mail stream and/or mail pieces addressed to the wrong recipient. A mail service provider will sometimes provide you with the results of CASS and NCOA processing. These results will contain records that could not be validated through CASS and new addresses returned through NCOA. It is recommended that you update your database with the new information to help prevent these records from continuing to drop out on future mailings.

Maintaining a clean, consistent, and valid database requires some ongoing attention. The more automated functions you can implement in your database management system the less effort it will take to maintain and the less likelihood there will be an unfortunate addressing incident.

Prepress Desk – The Mystery of Spot Colors

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Prepress 2_Header

If the word Pantone® conjures up thoughts of complex color theory, expensive swatch books, or a mysterious color system of which you’ve heard of, perhaps even used, but wouldn’t want to give a lecture on, don’t worry…you’re not alone. The truth is, understanding colors in the Pantone Matching System® (PMS) is relatively simple when you learn how they are created and how they are used.

Pantone began in the 1950’s as a printing company in New York. In the mid-60’s they began standardizing ink colors and creating reference books which ultimately became the Pantone Matching System; a system that designers and manufacturers can use as a reference to reproduce specific colors. The system has become an industry standard and primarily consists of printed swatch books for process and solid colors with a given ink formulization and L*a*b* target. L*a*b* is the widest visual color gamut and is used as the target due to common ink pigment and production variances. Though the Pantone library contains CMYK formulation references (process colors), most people reference the solid colors library (spot colors). Within these libraries, Pantone produces ink references on coated papers (C) and uncoated papers (U). The same ink will have a different L*a*b* value when it is printed on coated paper versus uncoated paper. They also produced a reference on matte paper for a short time, but has since been discontinued (guard your matte book well if you have one). X-Rite Inc. purchased Pantone in 2007.

In printing, colors are typically reproduced using one of two methods. First, and primarily, colors are reproduced using CMYK process (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). These four colors are combined to create all colors we see in graphics and images. For instance, cyan and yellow will make green, magenta and yellow will make red, etc. A similar process is used in your television or computer, which reproduces colors using RGB process (red, green, blue). However, RGB color reproduction relies on an emissive process where when more color is added the result gets closer to white. When more color is added in CMYK color reproduction, which relies on a reflective process, the result gets closer to black. An emissive process generates light whereas a reflective process requires an environmental light source. The second method for reproducing colors in print is with Pantone spot colors. The Pantone system currently uses a set of 14 base colors plus transparent white to reproduce all of the spot colors in the PMS library. These base colors include Reflex Blue, Process Blue, Blue 072, Violet, Purple, Rhodamine Red, Rubine Red, Red 032, Warm Red, Orange 021, Yellow, Yellow 012, Green, and Black. By using more base colors with a wider range of pigments the Pantone system can yield colors that are not achievable with CMYK process. A few colors in particular, like some oranges, blues, and greens, can be well outside the CMYK color gamut.

If Pantone spot colors have such a wider color gamut, you may wonder why we don’t use them all of the time. The reason has to do with practical production. A printing press is typically set up with CMYK process colors all of the time. Most jobs will be reproduced with CMYK in order to simply achieve most colors and CMYK is necessary to reproduce full color images anyway. Adding a spot color to the job involves making or purchasing the spot color ink, producing an additional printing plate, and setting up and washing up of another printing unit. All of this involves time and money. Additionally, if that Pantone color can be achieved with CMYK, meaning it is inside the CMYK color gamut, then it usually makes no sense to spend the time and money to run a spot color.

There are times, however, when it makes sense to run a spot color. If there is heavy usage of a brand color throughout a piece like a book or large brochure it may make sense to run that as a spot color for consistency purposes. Since CMYK colors are produced using four independent printing units they rely on the consistency of each unit to maintain the same color build throughout the production run. A spot color is a premixed ink in a single printing unit, relying only on that one unit for consistency. Spot colors also tend to look more smooth or solid than process colors because they are single premixed inks, whereas process colors are made from dot patterns of each of the CMYK colors. Instances where a piece uses a color outside the CMYK color gamut it can sometimes be necessary to run as a spot color in order to not compromise the design. In all cases, the number of spot colors used in addition to CMYK is typically limited to one or two. Designing a piece with process images and six spot colors is not practical to produce given the cost and limitation of the number of printing units on most lithographic presses.

Graphic Designer At Work. Color Samples.When designing pieces for print it is okay to use spot colors even if the piece will ultimately be produced with CMYK; just make sure that spot colors are converted to process in the file so that your preview of the colors accurately represents what will be produced. In InDesign® spot colors can be set to process individually by double-clicking the color in the swatch pallet and setting the color type to process, or globally in the ink manager by checking “all spots to process.” Also be sure to use the appropriate solid spot color library, C or U, depending on whether the piece will be printed on coated or uncoated paper. This will help set expectations of what can be achieved in production. Pantone also produces “bridge” books that show spot colors and their equivalent process color side by side in both coated and uncoated formats–a must-have for any print designer.

If you have any questions regarding spot colors or designing for print, please feel free to contact us or call Phillips prepress at 888-ask-phil.

Campaign Strategies – Maintain Your True Colors

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Imagine you are at the grocery store picking up a case of a classic brand of soda pop when you notice the color of some of the cases are a little lighter or a little darker, or some are slightly orange and some are slightly magenta. They are not the bright red color you’ve come to expect from the popular brand. In fact, this brand’s red color has been so consistent for so long, it is likely you would notice even a slight variation. And if that aspect were not consistent, you may start to question whether the product inside is what you’ve come to expect too.

Well-known brands put in a lot of effort to maintain consistency in product and presentation (marketing). Both of these elements determine the success of a brand. If the product is inconsistent or has no demand, no amount of marketing will save it. Likewise, if the marketing is inconsistent, or non-existent, there will be no demand for the product. If Coca-cola® were to completely halt all marketing and present their product in various generic packaging they would eventually loose all market share. It may take a while, but it would happen. People would eventually loose awareness of the product, which drives demand, and other brands would start to squeeze the product off of store shelves, which would affect availability.

A brand’s strength relies on delivering what it promises. What a company delivers in their product and service must be in line with what their marketing promises. If the marketing message states “same great taste,” the product must deliver that same taste every time. That consistency builds trust. And that consistency is just as important on the marketing side as it is with the product itself. Presenting the product with related messages, consistent colors and fonts, and similar imagery supports a consumer’s presumption that what is on the outside represents what is on the inside. It’s true that companies change their packaging from time to time to keep up with current design trends, but typically when this happens it’s presented with a message like “new look, same great taste.” They know how strong a consumer’s perception is between package and product and how important it is to reassure a consumer that nothing has changed with the product.

A brand’s look consists of a few common elements–the logo, colors, fonts, and imagery. The details of these elements and their acceptable usage are typically specified in a brand guidelines document. A company’s brand guidelines are used by marketers and designers to help maintain consistency of a brand across multiple marketing channels and campaigns. Though it is important for each of these elements to maintain consistency for the reasons mentioned above, companies often struggle with one in particular–maintaining the same brand color given different reproduction methods.

Though a company can supply a press-ready file for print production or image for web, the method in which the color is reproduced can have inherent limitations and visual differences.

Colour swatches book. Rainbow Pantone sample colors catalogue.For instance, the same ink will look different on gloss paper versus uncoated paper, and that same color will look different on a fabric bag versus a computer monitor. This difference is due to several reasons. In printing, colors can be reproduced using CMYK process or Pantone® spot colors and are also effected by the substrate, whereas on a computer monitor colors are reproduced using an illuminative RGB process. Each of these methods have a different achievable color gamut (the number of different colors that can be reproduced), with RGB being the widest, Pantone® colors second, and CMYK process the smallest for full color reproduction.

Because of these limitations, it is important that a brand not only specify a Pantone® spot color (a standard industry reference) but also one that converts well to CMYK as that has the smallest color gamut. This gives vendors that are reproducing your brand color a common target that is more likely to be achievable regardless of the method they are using.

In a direct mail campaign, or across multiple campaigns, consistent design elements and print production help increase message retention and brand memorability. It is recommended that any single direct mail campaign consist of at least three pieces and should utilize consistent repetition of a logo, tagline, colors, and design style.

Specifying a spot color that converts well across multiple applications can help you maintain brand strength by visually presenting your product and marketing materials consistently. It is also critical that vendors chosen to reproduce your brand, from design to production, follow a strict process of operations for color reproduction that meet industry standards. Idealliance® issues certifications in the printing industry for grayscale and colorspace reproduction capabilities (G7). Commercial printers who are G7 certified can produce the same color given the same input and substrate because they are calibrated to a common target.


Phillips Printing is a G7 colorspace certified commercial printer and can help you maintain color consistency with your printed materials. Contact us if you have any questions regarding direct mail marketing or print production.