Finding new ideas and inspiration for printed applications can sometimes be a tedious task for graphic designers, but not if they have a close relationship with their print service provider. Paul Stead sheds some light on how designers can get the best from their digital print partner.


If you are a designer working with a print service provider then you will probably fall into one of two categories:- Your print service provider keeps you up to date with the capabilities of their equipment, giving you new ideas to work with, or your print service provider doesn’t and you rely on your own creativity, but don’t always know how to get the best from what the PSP can do.


The latter may mean that upon occasion you find yourselves looking for another PSP, because the one you are using can’t meet your current needs. This is a big shame, particularly given the progress being made with digital printing and the new revenues it can introduce for all. 


1. Packaging is now a real possibility with digital print and the range would surprise you. Some devices will handle board up to 640 microns and can include full end-to-end production of cartons/packages. Shorter run personalised packaging for ‘wedding favours’ and corporate events is also evident. Your PSP only requires a digital print engine to run 350gsm and off you go. 


2. Print On Anything used to be a ‘sublimation printer only’ area. Not any-more. Digital transfers that look as though they were embroidered, cups, bags, football boots…anything that comes to mind in the promotional items area is now supported by digital print. In some cases this can include printed electronics where the output contains a GPS tracker or ‘heart monitor’ encompassed in a logo on a t-shirt. You can even print corporate logos/messages directly onto the golf balls instead of just the packaging, so don’t let the old rules limit you. If you want a logo/design on it, there is a PSP who can do that. 


3. Let’s talk about Talking Print, yes, print that talks to you. I have a large Christmas Cracker on my desk, produced by David Hyams and I can’t bring myself to file it. Every few days I pick it up and set the video off. I can’t resist it and as such I am never likely to throw it away. Talking Print can even incorporate HD quality video into a piece of printed matter, so there’s an incredible opportunity for a creative designer to master this new method of enhancing print. 


4. Metallics are a big feature of many trade-shows at present, be it foiling through laminating devices or fifth colour stations in digital printers. But if you don’t visit trade shows, how would you know? PSPs can provide a whole array of metallic colours to suit most colours but they are not good at sharing ‘how to do it’. The next time someone asks you about ‘metallics’ get out from behind your desk and visit a few PSPs or trade shows.


5. Labels are enjoying a real area of growth, helped by the recent trend to push back on plastics and reduce overall packaging items. Smaller labels, short-run and on demand are something to explore. If you link these with packaging and metallics then the brands you are supporting can personalise everything and stick the right label on it.  With some fifth colours this can also include the digital production of hazard type labels in bright orange. The key to this is seeing how it is produced and obtaining a guide to fifth colour design - if you would like one I will be happy to send you one.


6. White toner/ink printing is just about everywhere and I’m sure you are already dealing with enquiries, but do you know how to design a document so that White (capital W is important) can be encompassed in your work. Some manufacturers or device venders can provide you with design guides that give a ‘how to’ view if you ask them. The guides are possibly a bit simplistic for design creatives, but once you understand how the PSP thinks, it will all come together nicely.


7. Security printing has in the past been limited to MICR (cheques), water-marks and RFID tags, all of which require some form of specialist equipment, not usually targeted at the low volume segment. Thankfully this has moved on and you can now incorporate ‘water-marks’ using clear toner that eliminates the possibility of ‘copy fraud’, keeping brands intact and free from imitation. You can also print using Invisible Red inks, only viewable through Infra red light for added security. Being able to understand how the output is produced will enable new design possibilities for you and your clients. Note: If your PSP can’t supply a design guide on how to do this, find someone who can! 


8. Size IS important. Whether you are printing micro-fonts (less than 2pt) or wrapping a building, PSPs can support most of your size issues so don’t get stuck in the SRA3 or pop-up banner thinking. How big, is big enough?


9. Substrates used to be a discussion about ‘just paper’. Yes, it is great to be able to print onto highly textured papers, synthetics and envelopes, but this is just the beginning. How about personalised wall-paper, curtains, cushion covers, bags, toys or even chocolates? 3D printers can output with chocolate as a medium. Think what you can do with that! 


10. Ask questions of your PSPs. Don’t stop there. Visit a few vendor showrooms or PSP open days and be prepared to have your eyes opened on the capability and your mind challenged on how you design to meet this.


Some PSPs that I speak with are often surprised by what they see as a lack of creativity from the creatives. When I push back and ask them if they told you what they can do, the common response is that we only really communicate at order point. That’s just a little too late, unless you are asking about the next job while ordering the current.


In addition to PSP hosted open days, at Smart Print we are planning regional manufacturer showroom open days for UK based design agencies to have a look at what is possible. Or maybe you don’t need to see what can be done and would prefer to start with one of our free guides on ‘how to design for clear toner’ or a ‘guide to fifth colour design’?


Send me a message via the quote box on the right of the page stating which guide (or both) and I will gladly send one out to you.