Printing Industry Trends For Marketers And Designers

Author:Roger Gimbel, Gimbel & Associates

Design decisions can have a big impact on how a printed product looks and how much it costs to produce. A basic understanding of printing processes and awareness of trends and developments in the printing industry will help marketers and designers create materials that fulfill their client’s needs while ensuring they can be produced within the budget.


Printers create most colors by mixing the four basic inks; cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). Any colors produced in this manner are called “process colors”. However, limits exist. Printing presses cannot create all colors in the spectrum using CMYK. Sometimes, such as when producing a particular hue in a logo for example, the ink must be specially created and used as a “spot color”. Other examples of spot colors include metallic inks and especially bright or fluorescent colors. We may identify these colors within the Pantone Color Matching System with a particular PMS number.

Offset, inkjet, and laser printers can reproduce specific specialty colors but this comes at a cost. Specialty inks cost more than the process colors. Print companies may need to produce extra printing plates or add a “fifth color” print station to a press to add a corporate color to a printed piece. These extra steps add to the cost.

A further benefit to CMYK colors is the ability to combine print jobs on the press, creating efficiencies in the printing process.

Sometimes clients insist on their exact spot color. Coca Cola red or Home Depot orange, for example. Other times, clients sensitive to the added expense and complexity associated with custom colors may settle for an approximation of the ideal color. Designers should discuss this choice with their clients.

Different presses and printing technologies define the colors they can reproduce. The color gamut on an inkjet press may be less expansive than that of an offset press, for example. As designers are creating their printed pieces, knowledge of the likely production devices will keep them from choosing unreproducible colors.

Process color technology continues to advance and press manufacturers are expanding the color gamut on their equipment. Some digital presses can accommodate extra print stations, expanding the CMYK choices. You may hear printers talking about OGV (orange, green, and violet) which extends the color gamut and allows printers to match about 90% of the colors in the Pantone Matching System. CMYKOGV isn’t common yet, so many print service providers don’t have this capability.

Over time, color technology development will lessen the need to use spot colors. However, document designers should still be acquainted with the color reproduction capabilities of the devices used to produce the printed output and design their projects accordingly.


The environmental impact of inks and substrates concerns consumers and print buyers. This awareness is affecting choices about the printed materials companies produce and the methods printers use to produce jobs for their clients. Organizations with public environmental stances may insist all their printed materials be created according to certain environmental standards and their materials bear certification stamps or logos

Standards organizations certify printing practices, methods, and materials.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies paper manufacturers that use materials harvested from responsibly managed forests. They enforce a chain of custody record that traces the wood fibers in paper to an FSC certified forest. An FSC logo may appear on a printed piece if the printing company is FSC certified.

The Sustainable Green Partnership (SGP) recognizes and acknowledges printers committed to sustainable printing through a formal registry program. SGP certified printing companies pass several tests and achieve acceptable performance in areas such as energy use and other environmental evaluations.

Print buying companies often demand recycled paper when they state their requirements for printed materials.  Recycled paper has different levels, labels, and definitions. Designers should be familiar with them so they can discuss with their clients. Here are some terms to understand:

Paper labeled as “recycled” must contain at least 30% post-consumer sources. The percentage of recycled fibers used in the materials can vary.

Paper manufacturers can reclaim scraps that never leave the paper mill and use them to make more paper. This salvaged material is known as Pre-Consumer Waste or Mill Broke.

Wood fibers from Post-Consumer Waste have gone through processes to remove ink, toner, and coatings.

Paper labeled as Chlorine Free means the chemicals used to brighten the paper to whiter shades did not include chlorine.

Virgin Fibers have never been used to make paper. This material is stronger than recycled fibers. Virgin fibers are often used in conjunction with recycled fibers to make “recycled paper”.

Designers and printing companies must continue to satisfy a client’s environmental objectives while still maintaining the level of quality and color consistency the client expects.  Different papers, coatings, and inks will affect the appearance of finished pieces. Designers should confer with printing companies to understand how these variables will impact their projects.  It is also important to remember that while substrate choices for production inkjet presses are constantly expanding, not all papers available in the offset environment will work on inkjet devices.

Additional recycling terms and definitions can be found at Conservatree.


Designing for personalization in print may be different from personalization in digital delivery channels. Be aware of the limitations when attempting to personalize or segment printed materials.

Printed material must follow certain specifications to allow it to process on automated machinery. This would include items such as page counts and element matching. Machines can fold, insert, bind, or otherwise finish a certain thickness of pages in an automated document workflow. If the limit is exceeded, machines will divert the pieces and they must be finished by hand – an expensive and time-consuming task.

An example of when this can be a problem would be legal terms and conditions or disclosures that vary according to the recipient’s address. If extra verbiage in some versions result in a variable number of printed pages, it could be a problem. A similar situation occurs when material contains content written in multiple languages, which can vary in length. The physical length of the text can cause issues like page overflow which can thwart document integrity measures or exceed the capacity of paper-handling equipment.

Package elements produced separately but matched at document production time are another area where document design can impact productivity and accuracy. Designers should meet with printing professionals to become familiar with the matching capabilities of the operation. Some print service providers can match based on text. Others may require barcodes. Some support three-way matching, others do not.

Personalization and segmentation increase the effectiveness of printed communications. Data on which to base these activities is abundant and designers should take advantage. Just be sure the print service providers can handle the proposed material.


Understanding how materials are printed and handled and being aware of industry trends will help marketers and designers create items and campaigns that can be delivered on time and produce superior results. Changes occur often in the printing industry. Stay up to date and take advantage of new technologies and capabilities you can add to your projects.

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