Catalog Design Handbook

2. Choosing output methods

Print vs. digital

Although digital catalogs can be shared with minimal effort, attached to e-mail messages and saved in a computer folder, printed catalogs increase the likelihood that one issue of your project reaches multiple readers. One of print’s greatest strengths lies in its ability to provide lasting documents that readers share and pass on, effectively multiplying the audience for a single issue. Readers may dog ear pages to mark items of interest, insert bookmarks, or use self-adhesive notes to flag special items. They can review printed catalogs with friends or relatives, and even tear out pages to add them to an idea file.

Digital catalogs have their aptitudes as well, including the ability to incorporate interactive features. The printed page can’t accommodate onscreen links to online content, page-to-page jumps between related items, embedded audio and video, and other elements that require electronic files. Although catalog development may require the same amount of effort to create a digital result as to prepare for printed output, digital catalogs avoid the use of paper and may appeal to customers who are attracted to environmentally friendly marketing efforts.

Note on prodalist: by changing a few settings (mainly resolution, margin, double side printing) prodalist permits both pdf & pro-printer, and even an app version

Digital catalogs, customer output

When you distribute a catalog in digital form, your customer becomes the printer, using office technology to create printed output of a select few relevant pages. Even if you don’t supply printed catalogs yourself, it’s important to keep on-paper output in mind as you design, formulate, and produce your project. For example, most desktop output devices lay down toner or ink within a set of margins defined not just by a document itself but also by the limitations of the output hardware. Laser and inkjet printers use rollers and grippers to move pages through the output path inside these devices. These paper-feed mechanisms help define the limits within which desktop output devices can address overall dimensions of a piece of paper.

Although you can’t anticipate the effective page-printing dimensions that apply to every printer your customers will use, you can examine the printable area on your own devices and use their limitations to determine the safe area on your page designs. Safe areas represent the page limits within which critical information (text, important graphic elements, page numbers) must appear. Outside these limits, elements may fall prey to output devices’ mechanically imposed “margins.”

Print it yourself

Printing catalogs on a do-it-yourself basis becomes difficult and time consuming as the numbers of pages and copies climb. If an output device can’t automate the process of duplexing (printing on both sides of a sheet of paper), you’re limited to manual duplexing.

That process can require you to spend a fair amount of time feeding pages into your printer and assuring that you orient them in the correct direction to produce output that’s oriented in the correct direction on both sides.

Binding methods

Saddle stitching

If you plan to distribute a printed catalog that’s folded at the midline and stapled together (in a process that commercial printers call saddle stitching), you must work your way through an additional step to assure that the printed pages appear in the correct order. If you disassemble a saddle-stitched booklet, you discover that the pages print in a very different order than they appear as you read.

Organizing pages in the proper order for bound output involves a process called imposition, which many page-layout applications can simplify for you. However, an imposed saddle-stitched booklet must contain multiples of four pages, with two on each side of the sheet. If your project contains either an odd number of pages or a page count that’s not divisible by four, you must create proper signatures. That correction involves adding blank pages to your document, increasing the number of pages of information, or removing pages.

Saddle stitching can accommodate projects up to approximately 100 pages, depending on the page dimensions. Once you reach the 100-page mark, you must consider moving to another binding method because saddle stitching fares poorly on long projects. The finishing processes applied to saddle-stitched documents explain the limitations of the process.

When you open a saddle-stitched project to its center and press it fully flat, you see that the page width decreases from the front cover toward the center and increases again from the center to the back cover. This phenomenon occurs because saddle-stitched catalogs are folded closed and trimmed at their open vertical edge after they go through the binding process. Without trimming, the widths of the pages would appear to increase toward the center because of the accumulated thickness of the sheets of paper at the fold line of the document. Saddle-stitched booklets with large numbers of pages can lose a substantial portion of page width toward their centers, which can mean a loss of information as the pages are trimmed. As a result, perfect binding becomes the method of choice for long projects.

Perfect binding

Perfect binding produces a booklet with a page count that consists of a multiple of two pages, a wraparound cover, and a spine. The spine consists of a flat area produced by the two 90-degree folds that force the cover to wrap around the interior pages. As a result, page thicknesses do not accumulate at the spine, and page widths do not decrease throughout the catalog, avoiding the two biggest limitations of saddle stitching.

Perfect binding comes with its own usability drawback, however. Unlike saddle-stitched projects, perfect-bound catalogs will not lay flat on a tabletop unless you bend their pages backward at the spine until the glue that holds them in place cracks at least slightly. Once you crack its spine, a catalog’s pages no longer close gracefully. If the project is bound incorrectly or cheaply, cracking the spine can cause pages to loosen at their bound edge and eventually fall out.

Other choices

Beyond or instead of these two binding methods, printers (commercial and in-house) can use other binding methods to finish projects. These methods include plastic or wire coils that fit through small holes drilled into the stacked pages, or three-hole drilling to place the pages into a ringed binder.

Some of these binding methods are ideal for projects that require frequent updates to limited numbers of pages. The equipment that applies plastic binding coils to finished documents can flex open a coil to enable the removal of individual pages and the reinsertion of updates. Three-ring bound documents accommodate updates that you can distribute directly to customers. Wire-bound documents can’t be unbound temporarily and rebound after the insertion of updated pages, however. The wire is bent in place by the binding process and can’t be reshaped afterward. Attempts to reopen and reclose wire binding can cause gaps that allow pages to slip out, or misshapen wire that no longer allows pages to turn freely.

Updatable binding methods can enable you to keep your output from becoming stale when the data in your catalog change to reflect new specifications or pricing. Updates can limit the amount of paper your catalog uses. The drawbacks to updatable binding methods lie in their appearance. Because plastic-coil binding machines have become common office equipment, and anyone can create a document for insertion into a three-ring binder, these systems can make a catalog look as if you produced it on a copier in your office. That appearance may make your business look smaller and less capable of handling large orders, for example, or simply cheapen your catalog.

Types of commercially printed output

Commercial printing relies on three basic types of output.

Digital printing

Digital printing consists of a very high-end implementation of laser or inkjet output. It can print areas of solid color as well as the continuously changing tonal values in a color photograph. This method can yield results that look like they came out of a conventional commercial printing press.

Of all the output methods, digital printing has the most in common with the desktop inkjet or laser printer in your office, at the same time that it can produce results that rival those of four-color process-color printing on a traditional printing press. To reproduce small quantities of full-color material, digital printing offers the sole cost-effective alternative.

However, if you plan to print several thousands of copies, digital printing can be less of a bargain, as its price per printed copy stays the same regardless of the size of your press run.

Spot-color printing

Spot-color printing uses specialized inks, each premixed to yield a specific color. The formulas and the colors they produce come from color reference guides created by commercial entities that establish the standards and the ink mixtures required to print them.

Spot color printing can’t do a good job of rendering color photographs because it lacks the ability to reproduce the millions of shades that can occur in a color picture. It can tint a black-and-white photo, however, which can yield interesting stylized results. To add more colors, you must use more inks, which raises the cost of printing.

Process-color printing

Process-color printing uses four primary inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), which apply individually to build up various shades and colors. Like digital printing, it can reproduce solid color blocks as well as color photos. The inks don’t always do a good job of reproducing certain bright colors, especially orange and cobalt blue.

Process color can cost more than spot color, but if you want to incorporate full-color photographs of your products in your catalog, you’ll need the ability to reproduce them.

Printed vs. digital distribution

If you plan to distribute your catalog solely in digital form (that is, as a PDF file), you don’t need to worry about the types of colors you select, or about translating the RGB photos you capture with your digital camera into CMYK images for output on a commercial press. You can choose any color you like from any color system you want to use. It’s important to remember, however, that the color results you see on your computer monitor may look very different from how those same colors appear on another person’s monitor or on paper.

For output on a commercial printing press, you’ll need to decide how you’ll print and therefore what kinds of colors you can use. For a spot-color project, you’re likeliest to use black-and-white photos, black text, and a second color as an accent on strategic type and backgrounds. For a process-color project, you can use full-color, black-and-white, or tinted photos, and color accents.

Tip: Choose spot color to reproduce specific bright shades and process color to accommodate color photography. Add a fifth spot color to a process-color project to combine the advantages of both systems.

Tip: Remember that all other things being equal, more inks equal higher printing costs. If you need a wide range of spot colors to present your visual message, you’ll cut your printing costs substantially if you can move to process color or digital-press output.

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