2012 CT Business Expo!

A brief interruption from our series on printing to let you all know that we will be exhibiting at this year’s CT Business Expo! It’s being held at the CT Convention Center in downtown Hartford this year. If you’d like to register to attend, click this link to sign up.

Come visit Booth # 405 to learn more about what we do with custom promotional products. Or come by to check out samples of fun new office toys, grab a snack, and maybe even pick up a little something to take home.

We look forward to seeing you there!


How to Print Your POP, Part II

This is the second post in a series on printing. Read the first post here.

So you’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a POP display, you’ve had designers like ours at Ardent perfect the structure so it showcases your product beautifully, you’ve chosen graphics that reinforce your marketing message and make everyone in your target demographic want to purchase your product. Now you have to make the big choice: what printing process should you use to get the best results for your display?

For commercial printing, you have a number of options, including:  lithography (also called offset printing or litho printing), flexo printing, and digital printing. Below is a primer on flexo printing, so you know when to choose flexo and why.

Flexo Printing

Flexo printing is essentially printing via a giant rolling rubber stamp.  Or, more specifically, a fountain cylinder first rolls in a pan of ink. That cylinder moves against what’s call an anilox roll, which is another cylinder that’s used to evenly distribute the ink. The anilox roll evenly places ink on the plate cylinder, which holds the print plate with your image. Unlike lithographic print plates, which are made of aluminum, flexo print plates are made of a soft, flexible rubber or polymer. Once the anilox roll evenly puts ink on the plate cylinder that’s wrapped with your print plate, your substrate moves between the plate cylinder and an impression cylinder, directly transferring your image to the material. For visual clarification, refer to the diagram below:

Flexo printing is a less expensive process than lithography. However, it has some limitations. Flexo printing is a 1-color process–although you can print multiple colors, it has to be done by blocking out space on your substrate and printing one color at a time. Additionally, with flexo printing, you are usually printing at about 65 dpi (dots per inch– it’s a measurement that refers to how detailed and clear your image is). Litho printing can go up to 330 dpi.

Overall, flexo printing is best used for large washes of color on corrugated displays. Because you can print directly onto the corrugated, it also saves you the trouble of having to mount your images onto your displays. Pretty efficient, no?

Coming up, more information on digital printing and how to prepare your art files for the best printing results!


How to Print Your POP, Part I

So you’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a POP display, you’ve had designers like ours at Ardent perfect the structure so it showcases your product beautifully, you’ve chosen graphics that reinforce your marketing message and make everyone in your target demographic want to purchase your product. Now you have to make the big choice: what printing process should you use to get the best results for your display?

For commercial printing, you have many options, including  lithography (also called offset printing or litho printing), flexo  printing, and digital printing. Below is a primer on offset lithography, so you know when to choose litho and why.

Litho Printing

According to our creative director, aptly named Art, there’s one main rule to keep in mind with print choices: “If you have a photograph, you better use litho.”

Lithography is the process that will best achieve photorealistic results in printing, holding to the true color and shading in your images. Although a more complex and expensive process, it’s worth it if you need to maintain the integrity of gradients, shadows, and other graphic subtleties.

Lithography is typically a 4-color process that begins with creating a printing plate of your image. Modern printing plates are most often made of a flexible aluminum and then covered with a photosensitive liquid. A negative of your image is placed against the liquid and exposed to UV light, creating a replica of your original image. A different plate is made for each printing color– cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Now, the metal plates with your image are attached to cylinders on a printing press, each color coming one after the other. Let’s say first up is your yellow plate. The cylinder with your plate on it is attached to a mechanism where rollers add water to the blank parts of the plate. The image on your plate is made with chemicals that repel water, so the water just sticks to the negative space. Next, inking rollers apply hydrophobic yellow ink to the image. Hydrophobic literally means “afraid of water,” so this ink only sticks to the positive space on your image.

Once the ink is applied to it, your plate rolls against a blanket cylinder. This cylinder has a  rubber blanket on it that removes the water and evenly spreads out the ink. The paper or SBS you’re printing on slides in between the blanket cylinder and what’s called an impression cylinder. As it moves through the two cylinders, the image is transferred from the rubber blanket to your paper. What comes out is all of the yellow tones in your image. The paper will now continue to slide through the next blanket cylinder, let’s say this one is your cyan cylinder, and repeat the same process. Once it’s gone through all four colors, you will have a complete, full-color image! Of course, if you are very particular about your color, you can even add 5th and 6th colors. For example, if your company has a signature color–maybe a nice bright pumpkin–that dominates much of your graphics, and it’s important that it’s perfectly matched in every print, you can add another print plate and set of cylinders to the lithography process. You can also add varnishes to protect your images from scratches and add different effects, like a glossy sheen or flat matte look.

This is a difficult process to visualize. Below is an drawing of a set of cylinders–imagine your printed image going through four or more of these, sort of like an assembly line, picking up a new color each time.

(Image borrowed from http://www.ctitech.com/images/lithography.gif)

You may have noticed above that I wrote the “paper or SBS you’re printing on.” That’s because unlike flexo or digital printing, lithography can really only be used for paper, styrene,  or thin paperboard (usually up to 24-point). In order to get your litho-printed image onto your corrugated display, it has to be mounted. Mounting is basically adhering a litho image onto another substrate, and it can be done manually or automated. At Ardent, we use automated mounting because of the high volume of most of our roll-outs. We also have potdevins for mounting paper to plastic.
Coming soon, look forward to posts detailing everything you wanted to know about flexo and digital printing, but were afraid to ask! We’ll also show you how to prepare art files to get the best printing results, every time.

More on Type and Letterpress

As I talked about in a previous post, I recently visited with a former newspaper compositor named Herman Mueller to learn more about traditional typesetting. What was amazing about the visit was not only the work that went into printing text, but all of the small machinery necessary to do detail work on prints. Check out the slideshow below to learn a little bit more about the hand-powered equipment he used prior to the invention of modern printing techniques:

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A huge thank you to Mr. Mueller for allowing me to visit his shop and giving me such great insight into traditional print processes.


Ardent Displays Takes Home More Industry Awards!

This week, I was lucky enough to attend the Addy Award Gala for the Ad Club of Western Massachusetts with another Ardent colleague and Ad Club member, Wendy. It was a lovely event that included a jazz quartet, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, an overarching Mad Men theme, and most importantly…

… three new ADDY Awards for Ardent Displays!

This year’s award winners were the Bottle 2 Pen Floor Display, the Philips Mobile Phone and Accessories Sales Kit, and a USB Pallet done for Staples. All the winning displays are pictured below (click on any picture for a slideshow):


Interactive Displays

While at this year’s GlobalShop in Las Vegas, I attended a number of conferences about shopper marketing, and visited a lot of booths that focused on store design and branding. One trend in particular really stuck out: interactive-point-of-purchase displays.

21st century shoppers are tech-savvy and well-informed about products–most of them do research about big purchases online before entering a brick-and-mortar store, and many shoppers do the same kind of research about everyday household purchases. So with the wealth of information and deals available online, how can physical retailers compete?

The answer is in the total shopping experience. Retailers need to create a positive aura, a sense of fun and play, a reason to visit a store beyond the products. That’s where interactive displays come into the picture. For example, check out this counter-top display we just completed for iTwin:

It’s simple, informative, and most importantly, fun. Now while you’re waiting in the check-out line, you can press a button to watch a short movie and learn about how this high-tech gadget actually works. Beats reading the back of a chewing gum package, no?

What are the best interactive displays you’ve seen recently?


The History of Type Design

At Ardent, we’re not just passionate about point-of-purchase displays. We have enthusiasts on our staff about every conceivable design field. Two of our designers, for example, are photography buffs. Our president loves rebuilding his ’61 Fiat. And my design niche is fonts and typography.

Mr. Mueller type-set my name, Crista. Notice how all of the letters had to be both backwards and upside-down to print correctly.

In order to learn more about where the standards of typography come from, I recently met with Mr. Herman Mueller. Mr. Mueller was born in Germany, where he apprenticed as a typesetter in the mid 1950s and worked as a compositor at a local newspaper. In other words, Mr. Mueller was responsible for setting the text of every newspaper page, every single day. Even he admits that it’s hard to fathom putting a paper together like that each day. The process went a little something like this:

  1. Each compositor had a case like the one below, where each drawer was filled with the numbers and letters of a particular font at a particular point size, e.g. 12-pt Garamond. Without looking–memorizing the drawer layout was a part of the apprenticeship– a compositor would pick out the letters and order, upside-down and backwards, and place them in a composite stick. 
  2. The composite sticks (like the one in the first picture), were used to create newspaper headlines. Once all of the type was spaced correctly in the stick, a compositor would carefully take the text and place it onto a form and organize it so that everything was packed tightly enough to stay put. 
  3. The longer newspaper stories were set using a Linotype machine. Linotype machines were similar to modern keyboards, but they produced “slugs” out of molten metal. These slugs, like the ones below, were individual lines of type that had to be organized around the hand-set headlines on a press form. 
  4. Once the page form was complete, it would be sent through an automated letterpress that would ink the surface of the form and press it onto a roll of paper that would then be cut into distinct pages.

It’s incredible to think that only a few generations ago, every single periodical was put together by craftsmen like Mr. Mueller. He also showed me an old catalog of typesetting equipment:

This section is where you would purchase sets of fonts for your collection. Mr. Mueller admitted he preferred sans-serif fonts like Helvetica; because all the lines were straight up and down, it was much easier to space text in that font than, say, Monotype Corsiva.

Of course, there is more to publishing periodicals than letters and punctuation. Look out for a new post coming soon about some of the other machines and processes involved in traditional printing!