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Monday, June 13, 2011

Cost of ownership – the truth behind your trade show display’s bottom line
By Ben Ritacco

As marketing and event professionals know, the scope of any trade show or event display design is always governed by one controlling factor – BUDGET. A project’s budget is a means of keeping expenses capped while avoiding any unexpected over-spends. This also provides a laser focused mechanism for tracking your ROI.

Most of the time, rigid budgets are merely theoretical, as the final price tag is rarely even close. This does not have to be the case. The reason budgets are rarely set in stone is because of the “unknowns”. Inevitably, these unknowns can cause a project to exceed budget projections…sometimes tremendously.

So, how do we avoid this nasty problem??? The answer is as simple as basic math:

(A) + (B) = (C)
Budgeted Items + “unknowns” = TRUE BUDGET

Math can be tricky when variables are concerned. Event budgets are no different. Since we know what the initial budget (A) is, the variable (B) is your “unknown”. To figure out the TRUE BUDGET (C), we must determine the unknowns. This is where you, the marketing professional, can look like an event wizard (complete with crystal ball).

When shopping for displays and printing, your pricing only reflects what is called the “COST OF PURCHASE which includes what is “known”:

• Price of graphic design
• Price of building your display
• Price of Printing
• Price of having your display shipped to you

What we cannot account for (or avoid) are the unknowns. These fall into a second category – “COST OF OWNERSHIP” which refers to the costs associated with owning and operating a certain type of display. With the proper knowledge, these costs can be prepared for, greatly reduced or avoided entirely. This foresight has everything to do with making the correct decisions regarding your display purchase. Here are just some the things to expect regarding cost of ownership:

• Shipping costs (every show – inbound and outbound)
• Drayage costs (every show)
• Labor costs (every show – set up and tear down)
• Electricity costs (every show – varies based on the requirements of your display)
• Employee time / undue stress / reduced morale on the show floor

To make matters worse, overhead costs are recurring. This means that over the course of a year, you purchase your display only once, but you are paying for the cost of ownership each time the display is used.

What is the solution? One answer is – know your (enemy) cost of ownership. If you know that the operating costs for a particular display will be at a certain level, you can budget for it accordingly. This is a simple solution, but still very costly. In this case, you will manage to stay on budget, but have considerably less money to work with at the time of purchasing the actual display. This is due to the fact that most of your budget will need to be earmarked for your cost of ownership. In the end, this is no solution at all.

The correct way to combat this issue is – know your options. When shopping for your display, factor in all of the typical attributes which will effect your cost of ownership. These display attributes include:

• Weight
• Portability
• Ease of shipping
• Ease of use
• Low wattage appliances and lighting

Each of the factors listed above must be an important part of your decision making process. No matter what look, feel or aesthetic you are going for, there is a display out there which can work into your model. Many displays today can be set up and taken down by a single person in just minutes. And the best part:

• NO tools
• NO hair pulling
• NO union labor
• NO freight charges
• NO drayage
• NO last minute headaches

Portable, tool-less exhibits are no longer limited to basic pop-up displays and banner stands. Take a look at what is available out there. I’m sure you will be surprised at all of the options which are currently available. Just remember to always keep in mind – cost of purchase is a one time thing…cost of ownership is an every time thing. Put these elements together and you will always know the truth behind your trade show display’s bottom line!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Make Beautiful QR Codes

HOW TO: Make Your QR Codes More Beautiful

The QR code: A thing of beauty or an eyesore? The magical barcodes that can be scanned by a smartphone to launch an offline-to-online experience are often criticized for their black and white checkerbox appearance. Those who doubt that QR codes will go mainstream are quick to point out that the look of QR codes will deter marketers and advertisers from using them.
Fortunately, QR codes are malleable and can be redesigned in truly extraordinary ways, while still maintaining their scanability. The truth is, QR codes no longer have to be checkerbox in appearance. We’ve entered a new phase of “designer codes” that can be integrated into marketing campaigns in an attractive way that isn’t an eyesore.
QR codes have so much potential from a design perspective, so let’s take a look at a few tricks and techniques you should keep in mind when designing a code to enhance your brand and appeal to your audience.
1. Add a Color Palette
The easiest way to add branding power to your code is to add color to it. Your QR code does not have to be standard black and white in order to be scanned. You can embed multiple colors and apply a color gradient without affecting scanability. The only rule of thumb is that the code color should generally be dark and placed against a light-colored background. Make sure the contrast is sufficient, or the code will be difficult to scan.
A “reversed out” code, where the background is dark and the boxes are light colored, is generally not recommended. Only a small handful of QR code readers can treat such codes as a film negative and properly interpret the data.

2. Soften Hard Edges with Round Corners

One of the QR code’s greatest aesthetic flaws is its numerous hard edges. You can dramatically lessen the severity of this look by strategically rounding some corners. It is not necessary to round all of the corners, but softening up the edges will definitely make the code appear more friendly and approachable.
3. Incorporate Dimensionality for 3D Impact
One high impact way to brand your QR code is to obstruct some of the boxes with imagery, such as a logo. By placing an image in front of the code, you imbue the code with a sense of depth. An ordinary barcode suddenly becomes a form of artwork, and you can really make a statement with the way you melt boxes together or choose to obstruct aspects of the code.
Fun ideas include adding a logo to the center of the code, but you could also add interesting elements to the corners or the sides for an even less standard look. Adding images or characters between the boxes is another playful way to dress the code with personality and style.
4. Use QR Codes With 30% Error Correction

If you decide to add in a logo to create a 3D feel for your QR code, you need to decide which part of the coding to obstruct with your logo. The key to creating these eye-popping designer codes is to take advantage of the fact that up to 30% of a QR code’s data can be missing or obstructed, and still be scanned. QR codes can be generated with 0%, 10%, 20% or 30% error correction rates built in. Building in the 30% error correction rate adds more noise (extra boxes) within the code, but those extra boxes within the code can then be removed to make way for a logo or other interesting imagery.
If you use a QR code with 0% error correction, the code will look more streamlined, but opportunities to brand the code by adding in a logo are very limited. Removing or obstructing a single box within a 0% error QR code could render it unscannable.
Apply a Trial-and-Error Process

Technically, it is possible to mathematically compute which boxes in a QR code are the buffers that can be removed, but such computations are generally unnecessary. By applying a simple process of trial-and-error, anyone can begin applying their design techniques to a code and then test for scannability.
Be sure to test your code’s scannability with multiple QR readers, ideally three or four. Some readers may be able to overcome some stylistic elements of your designer code, whereas others will not. Deploying your code without testing for scannability is designer malpractice and can cause serious heartache with clients. It is true that even with reasonable precautions, designer codes may still be difficult to scan, so you must always weigh the costs of scanning difficulty against the benefits of designing a code that is eye-catching. If a designer code takes more than a few seconds to scan, it probably needs to be redesigned.
In the end, creating branded QR codes is as much art as it is science. The mathematical qualities of a QR code and the impact of a clever design can truly elevate a QR code to the point where the code becomes the central artwork of a piece of marketing collateral. Applying designer best practices will enhance scanning conversion rates and effectively augment an offline item with online capabilities.
It is only a matter of time before QR codes hit mainstream. Knowing how to innovate both in technology and design, and how to implement a QR code in the right way for your business, will keep your brand on the cutting edge of marketing and technology.

Content provided by Print Tech from a previously published article by:
April 18, 2011 by Hamilton Chan 182
Hamilton Chan is CEO and founder of Paperlinks. With the free Paperlinks iPhone app, featured previously by Apple as the #1 New & Noteworthy app, consumers can scan and view QR code content with a native app experience. Paperlinks also provides a powerful platform for generating QR codes, hosting content and tracking their performance.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Let It Rip!

Your desktop publication usually contains two kinds of files, Raster images that use many pixels, like photographs, and Vector Art which uses a mathematical formula to create the lines, points and colors of type and illustrations.

A Raster Image Processor (RIP) takes the information about the photos, fonts and illustrations in your document and translates it into an image composed of dots that the imaging device (like our iGen, DI or large format printer) can output.

A RIP is like your printer driver, only super-sized. They are used in the graphic arts industry for batch processing, color separations and halftone screening. They can also check for missing fonts and graphics.

With the additional control of a RIP, a printer can increase productivity and produce higher quality results than non-RIP files.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Printing Press for Every Job

There are many factors that play into how your job will be printed at Print Tech. These include: the size of the run; the size of the paper; whether will it be one color, spot color or 4-color printing; and whether the printed piece will be personalized.

Once the scope of your job is determined, we will then print on the type of press that will be the most economical with the highest quality results. Print Tech currently uses the following three types of presses:

Traditional Offset

The Heidelberg Printmaster is an example of a traditional offset printing press. It is used to print one/two-color jobs (up to 10,000 pieces per hour), on sheets up to 12” x 18”. It is used primarily for envelopes, letterhead, newsletters, and business cards.

Traditional Offset Meets Digital

The Heidelberg Printmaster DI is a hybrid printing press. Although the actual printing is ink on paper, the plates are made on press by sending a digital file from the art department. This greatly speeds the process up, allowing the press to be running your job within 10 minutes of the files being received.

The "DI" can print up to 10,000 13" x 18" 4-color sheets per hour. It is used for large runs, four-color printing, newsletters, postcards and posters.

Digital Printing

The Xerox iGen 3 is a toner-based printing press that does not use printing plates. Instead, electronic files (Postscript, PDF, EPS) are sent to the printing cue for scheduling. The IGen 3 prints up to 6600 14.33" x 20" sheets per hour.

The digital art file can be combined with a database containing text, graphics and photos in a process called Variable Data Printing (VDP). With VDP you can change each message on one continuous print run. (More about VDP)

Digital printing and Variable Data are most often used in shorter runs of direct mail, postcards, sell sheets and any other marketing materials where personalization can help sell your product or service.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Five Tips For Creating Successful Design Documents

Graphic design packages (inDesign, Quark, Illustrator) give users unprecedented control over page layout, graphics and photos. The programs have become so popular that many clients design their own work and send it to Print Tech for printing only.

However, there are times when, by inexperience or mistake, we receive files that are not correctly set up for print. Here are the top five mistakes to avoid:

1. Don’t Get Your Graphics Off the Web
Many inexperienced designers will pull a logo or graphic off the web and place it into their document. This creates two problems: first, the resolution is too low and secondly, the web graphic is RGB (Red,Green,Blue) instead of CYMK (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Black).

2. Don't Use Low Resolution
The resolution is measured in DPI (dots per inch). A web graphic is considered low resolution because it is usually at 72 dpi. A printed piece is usually considered high resolution because it is created at 300 dpi. This means that the print graphic is roughly four times the size of the web graphic.

Web Graphic 4 inches @ 72 DPI = 288 pixels

Print Graphic 4 inches @ 300 DPI = 1200 pixels

Pasting the small web graphic into a printed piece would give you a pixilated, fuzzy result. On the other hand, if you placed a high resolution print graphic into a web site, what you thought was going to be a small insert would actually stretch across the entire computer screen.

3. Don't Use RGB Graphics and Photos
Our TV's, cameras and computer screens all use the RGB color space. It is known as an additive color and it works by visually mixing the primary colors. When red, green and blue are added equally at their highest intensity, we get the color white on our screens.

The printing process uses CMYK and is known as a subtractive color space. This works by the printer laying down inks, from light to dark, on a substrate. As more colors overlay each other they get denser.

Simply put, the difference is that with RGB, white is the presence of all color and with CMYK, white is the absence of all color.

For more information on color and printing, visit our blog posts from May of 2010.

4. Supply All Fonts and Graphics
When sending a file to a printer, you should always supply the fonts and graphics that you have used in your document. Without doing this you may end up missing graphics in the final print or the printer's graphic program may substitute a font, giving you something you didn’t expect or want.

5. Create a Great PDF
The most important steps in creating a successful PDF are:

  1. Make sure the fonts are embedded

  2. Graphics and photos are in the CMYK color space

  3. The resolution is 300 dpi

  4. Choose “High Quality” PDF when saving

Print Tech examines every file that comes in for printing. If you need help or tips on how to better prepare your artwork, call our pre-press department, they will be happy to assist you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Direct Mail Sells Baby Boomers

The rise of the internet, e-mail and social media, contrasted by the rising cost of stamps and the constant news of the U.S. Post Office losing millions, cause many to feel that mail is dead.

But, compared to all the other marketing methods available, direct mail is still the most effective in targeting, reaching and getting a response, This is especially true of the most powerful buyer...the Baby Boomers.

Mail Gets Baby Boomers’ Attention:

95% immediately sort through their mail

79% open their mail the day it is delivered

Mail Gets Baby Boomers’ Business:

56% of Boomers shop directly from catalogs

12% of them follow up with on-line orders

59% of them follow up with store purchases

As you can see, direct mail is targeted, and powerful!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Print Tech Is Moving To A New Location

Print Tech is in the process of moving their corporate headquarters and production facility from the current Mountainside, NJ location to 49 Fadem Road, Springfield, NJ 07081. The move is being made to better service the Print Tech customer base and will be completed on February 14, 2011.

“We are always looking for ways to provide additional opportunities for the success of our clients,” said Production Manager Enrico DiNardo. “We feel that by combining the latest building technologies, our talented team and a more efficient floor plan, we can maximize our resources and provide an unmatched customer service experience.”

Print Tech’s proofreader Fran Angiola agrees. “We currently employ a state-of-the-art tracking system to follow every phase of a job from start to finish. The new plant layout will give us more control over the QC process and our plan to cluster departments like graphic design, IT and customer service together will result in speedier service and greater customer satisfaction.”

The move has begun with some services already located at the new building. “We expect to be completely moved into the Fadem Road facility by February 14, with little or no service interruption,” said Keith Knox, Print Tech’s Printing Production Manager. “The main reason for this move is to enhance customer service. Our Print Tech team is determined not to let anything fall through the cracks during our move and so far, nothing has.”