How the hell do I get this printed?

Commercial printing, digital printing, desktop printing, online vendors…. Arrg! How many times have you found yourself in this quandary: You have to print something, you have a deadline looming and marketing people are either unavailable, or non-existent? Here are a few rules of thumb to follow to get the best quality printed product on time and at a reasonable cost.

Commercial (or offset or lithography) printing: Colors are made up of four basic printing colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK or process colors). These colors are separated into dot patterns that when combined on paper create a full color image. A metal plate is made for each color with the dot pattern imaged on to it by a laser, the imaged area accepts ink and the non-imaged area resists ink.  First the plates are wrapped around cylinders in a printing press, inked and rolled onto another cylinder of softer material called the blanket. Next, the image is “offset” onto the blanket and rolled onto the paper.

Commercial printers can add some special touches such as varnishes, custom inks, die cuts, and just about any size and configuration you can imagine.

• Price: Very high price-per-piece for quantities under 1000 pieces. The more pieces you need, the cheaper it gets; you can pay just a few cents per piece when printing 10,000 or more.

• Quality: The best. You won’t get better quality printing than with a commercial printer. They have production managers who will work directly with you to make sure you get what you need, when you need it.

• Timing: Generally, give it a week. Depending on the amount of work on the floor they can be flexible with schedules to a point, but you won’t get an offset printed job back the next day.

• Best jobs to give them: Large corporate brochures, slick sales materials, books, packaging, quantities over 1000 pieces.

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CMYK separations from left to right: The cyan separation, the magenta separation, the yellow separation, the black separation, the combined halftone pattern, and how the human eye would observe the combined halftone pattern from a sufficient distance.

Digital Printing: Many commercial printers will have a digital option available. The reputable printers will offer you this option, if your quantity is small enough to take advantage of the cost savings of digital printing.

Digital presses are either laser or inkjet. Laser printing involves lasering your image onto a light-sensitive surface making the image area able to attract or repel toner. The image is then transferred to paper and fused in place by a heating element. Inkjet shoots tiny droplets of ink onto paper to create an image. This process provides near-photographic quality images but is limited to certain types of paper. Your printing rep will recommend different solutions based on the type of image you’re printing.

Digital printing is great if: you are printing fewer than 1000 pieces, you’re not picky about paper, you have a job that prints on letter-sized or tabloid-size paper, you have a job that needs to be done quick, you need a job completed quickly because this type of job can be printed within hours. Short run digital also allows you to personalize each printed piece; Names and messages can be pulled from a database and laser printed onto each page. Studies have shown that response rates rise dramatically when direct mailings take advantage of mass customization.

• Price: Very reasonable for up to roughly 1000 pieces. If you print more the per-piece price is better going the commercial route.

• Quality: The technology advanced so much with digital printing that it is very close to offset quality. Limitations are on paper stock and size of the piece.

• Timing: Digital printing companies usually give you a three day turnaround, but if the job is time sensitive, they can get it done same day.

• Best jobs to give them: Short run projects that you need right away.

Desktop Printing: The technology behind your desktop printer is the same as you’ll find in the larger machines but you’ll run into problems with managing the job at the office. Co-workers wanting to use the printer, paper jams, alignment and registration issues, problems printing on two sides and collating and binding contribute to printing a large number of pieces off your desktop printer a nightmare. You are much better off sending it out – believe me I’ve been there and it’s not pretty.

• Price: Appears free until you add up all that expensive ink and paper you’re using up.

• Quality: Usually poor because copy paper will bleed, warp and not carry color well.

• Timing: The timing is right until you hit that first paper jam.

• Best jobs: For printing fewer than 50 sheets with minimal large color graphics and  basic staple, or 3-hole punch binding.

What about online print vendors? Be careful. There are great bargains to be had, but you really don’t know how reliable an online vendor is until you’ve used one. I would suggest using a few different online vendors for low priority jobs until you find one or two that have worked well for you. Online print vendors have good prices because they print in volume. They will gain a lot of jobs on one huge print run, limiting you to very few paper options and usually very long delivery times. Good luck finding anyone to talk to, if there’s a problem or you need to expedite shipping. There is usually no customer service person on your account and no flexibility to help meet your deadlines.

Price: Cheap! You’ll get inexpensive printing as compared to any of your brick-and-mortar printers, offset or digital.

Quality: It’s a crap shoot, if you find a few good resources guard them with your life. Whomever you use, you will be limited to paper stock and a long lead time.

Timing: Could be as long as three weeks depending on when in the vendor’s print cycle you submit your project.

Which do you prefer? Tell us your story below!

Couch Potato Predictions

As we all turn a new page and start making plans for the coming year, those of us in marketing may want to reconsider this year’s online video strategy.

2008 was a landmark year for online video. Not only were 75% of the U.S. internet audience watching videos online, but the average online video viewer watched nearly four hours of online video per month. Hulu, one of the most popular sites for watching hit TV shows and movies online, launched in March. Now it’s hard for me to even imagine keeping up with my favorite TV shows without it. Tivo? Who needs it anymore? I can watch the latest “The Office” episode right on my laptop, anytime, and with limited commercial interruptions.

I had the opportunity to attend a MITX panel discussion a few weeks ago, entitled “Planning Your Online Video Strategy for 2009”. What inspired me most was the out-of-the-box solutions the panelists suggested. Online videos are much more than just an advertising venue concerned with logo placement and banner ads. Creating an online video is really about publishing, creative story-telling and engaging the viewer. Some of the most memorable videos of 2008 were either user-generated or created under relatively low budgets. Who can forget the chubby guy lip-synching to the “Numa Numa” song (a clip which later got used in a Weezer music video)? Or the “Where the Hell is Matt?” video of a man dancing across the world? And those are just two of hundreds of viral hits.

Dynamic videos, which have been under the radar until recently, will come full blast in 2009. You may have received a link during the presidential elections where the video plays out as if you were one of the candidates. Your name appears throughout the video on billboards, in the various news headlines seamlessly, and even tattoed on the lower back of an old lady.

By customizing videos in this manner, viewers will be more engaged in the story, and given the right technology, may even be able to drive how the story unfolds. To clarify, recall those decision-based storybooks where you flip to different pages depending on what you want the hero/heroine to do? Now picture that same user-driven approach within an interactive video, and you’ll catch a glimpse of what’s to come. No two viewers will experience the video the same. PermissionTV currently has a platform for creating these non-linear videos.

The MITX panel discussion also revolved around strategies for promoting your company’s videos on a blog, through social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) and even through other videos. You really don’t need an uber-professional crew of cameramen and actors to get a video done – use the resources that you have in-house and try to get as many online videos out there as you can. [check out this successful low-budget video by HubSpot: “You Oughta Know Inbound Marketing“]

The more creative or funny you can be with the story, the better. I’d also steer clear of creating very obvious self-promotion videos. Online video viewers are very savvy and can smell an ad campaign from a mile away. Interestingly, major corporations like Gatorade, JCPenny and EA Sports, who all launched successful viral videos last year, did so with very minimal branding incorporated. Check out EA Sports’ video response to a glitch caught in their Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 game “Tiger Woods Walks on Water” as well as JCPenny’s “Beware of the Doghouse” video. Both are extremely well done, with little self-promotion – and more importantly – they’re fun to watch while getting the message across.

It’s just a matter of time before every household has an internet-enabled TV set, and once that time comes, you want to be on-board with your own series of cool online videos. So pull out your digital cameras, figure out your strategy – and Action!