May 082013

Laliberte PosterDigital Imaging Inc. has been selected to print the official commemorative giclée posters for the Norman Laliberté “Exuberance 2013” exhibit currently hosted by the Marblehead Arts Association.

Filling all seven galleries in the King Hooper Mansion in Marblehead and running from April 27 through June 2, the exhibit gives just a sample of the incredible range of work by this world-renowned artist. Paintings, prints, mixed media, sculptures and books are on exhibit, many of which have never been seen publicly before. With works that hang in over 100 museums, numerous corporate offices and countless private collections, Laliberté is celebrated for his vibrant colors and zest for life and people.

The 18×24 limited edition poster is available through the MAA by visiting the exhibit or contacting Deborah Greel at Printed on our HP Z3100 printer on archival paper, this print captures the vibrancy of his work for those of us who may not be able to come up with the 4 or 5-figures needed to purchase the originals.

The poster sells for $30 unsigned and unframed or $50 for a signed, unframed copy. Digital Imaging is proud to have been involved with this project and we urge anyone who has an interest in the arts to take advantage of this unique opportunity to view these world-class pieces in a local venue.

Notes from “the other side”

 Posted by at 11:01 AM
Oct 182012

Digital Imaging has completed its physical move. For those of you who were unable to reach us last week, we apologize. Our phones and internet service were interrupted while we switched to a more powerful fiber optic system. While we are not fully operational just yet, we have our computers, phones, and internet services back on line.

We anticipate a return to “normal” by early next week as we unpack, regroup, and get organized. We appreciate you patience as we work out the bugs and find a place to put everything.

Just to reiterate our new market position, we will continue to create digital archival prints from both electronic files and artist’s originals as we have in the past. We will also continue to scan and electronically restore legacy images as well as historic photos of local sites, which will be available through this web site. We are also continuing to produce commercial large format graphics for interior and exterior applications. Please feel free to request a quote on your next project. And finally, we will continue to offer copywriting, typesetting, and graphic design services.

Watch this site for updates. And thanks for staying in touch!


Aug 192012

Douglas Adams was a very funny man. We shall miss him. But I’m sure he would be agreeable to my hijacking the title of his 1984 book to announce that Digital Imaging is saying “so long” to many of its customers as we close down our Salem operation at the end of September.

Of course, this is some pretty serious stuff, but we would hate to have anyone out there feel badly about it. While we will certainly miss the day-to-day snappy repartee we so often share, the camaraderie, and the crazy dance we do as deadlines near, we shall not look back.

We are no longer the young folks we once were. I am within shouting distance of 70, and by the time you read this, will probably be a grandfather (for the first time)! It becomes increasingly difficult to continue to do many of the wild and crazy things this profession demands. Not that they aren’t still challenging and gratifying. The nature of the job hasn’t changed, but we have.

So we stand at the crossroads and have to decide if we want to sign up for another four years. The internet has again lowered the value (and standards) of print beyond the damage done by “desktop publishing.” Overhead costs continue to soar and the marketplace where quality is the main concern continues to shrink. And “the road less taken” begins to look pretty good.

Almost all of our customers have by now been informed of this decision. But don’t expect this web site to disappear. We are not going away, we are simply once again, evolving.

Our new rebirth is as a more focused Digital Imaging. We will continue to provide graphic design and photo retouching work, scanning, and producing prints on our high-end 12-color HP. Call them giclée or call them Digital Electronic Archival Prints, they will be the part of Digital Imaging that will endure. Look for a posting of the many Salem and Swampscott prints we have restored (and will continue to restore) and will be selling on this web site. Production facilities will be moving into our home studio in Swampscott.

We will continue to work with artists, photographers, and anyone who seeks to create lasting images in print or purchase an image of the past, frozen in time forever. It is the kind of work that is closest to our hearts and this change will allow us to devote more time to it.

If anyone out there has a need for equipment, we are currently in the process of selling of most of our short run color and large format devices and a lot of furniture and fixtures. Please give us a call for a complete list.

For those we will no longer service, we shall indeed miss you.

But, as Douglas Adams put it so well, “thanks for all the fish.”






Jul 302011

Variable Data: The Gorilla in the Room

Say what you will about digital printing, there’s no getting around the one thing it does hands-down better than traditional ink on paper. And that’s variable data. If information is the engine of today’s business, then data is the fuel that drives that engine. And it’s the fuel that makes variable data technology work as well,

When we were typesetters, so long ago, our motto was, “He who keeps the most copies, wins.” In the course of any particular typesetting project, edits were made and crossed out, phone edits (this was before email) painstakingly recorded, and countless copies of interim print-outs produced and held on to. When there was (heaven forbid) a typo, it wasn’t hard to track its source down. A two-edged sword to be sure, but knowledge was power. And it still is.

For today’s information-driven world, it’s “he who keeps the most data, wins.” And one of the places you need the data to win is in variable data printing. As someone who learned to set up a California Job Case in high school (the “California Job Case” is a wooden frame that has compartments for the hot metal type pieces used in letterpress; the particular configuration by that name was supposed to reduce a typesetters hand movement by half a mile a day), I have seen some interesting technological developments in the print industry in my time. None has been more under-utilized than variable data printing. The reason is simple: we just don’t keep enough of the right kind of data.

Do you know what each of your customer’s favorite color is? Their favorite sport? Vacation destination? Food? Birthday month?

Extraneous information? Maybe. But in the hands of a skilled variable data designer, you can produce a promotional piece that might just have the extra edge it needs to really stand out from the crowd. Variable data technology allows you to leverage the information you have acquired to make print presentations more attractive on a very personal level. Variable data allows you to use different type or graphics on each piece of a print run. Seeing your name on the side of a train or movie marquee in a direct mail piece is a powerful motivator to read on. A catalog with a skier on the front is more attractive to someone who enjoys that sport than a catalog with a surfboarder on the cover. But you don’t have to pick one or the other. If you know what your customer is interested in, you can deliver that image through the magic of variable data technology.

Variable data technology has been around for a while. We “beta tested” the first version of “Darwin,” a surprisingly robust plug-in for Quark and were immediately struck by the potential power of the software, in the right hands. Unfortunately, except for some very large firms, the right hands seem hard to come by. It always seems strange that a company with thousands of accounts (or more) knew more about their customers than small firms with just hundreds of accounts. (Then again, maybe we’re just not meeting the right people.)

So we’ve ambled along, using this great technology for essentially mail-merge applications, although it has also proven useful for consecutive numbering applications, certificates, fund drive letters, and dealer-loader promotions. Will it ever live up to its promise? I hope so. Once you have the data, the additional cost to use it is almost negligible. And variable data printing is no more expensive per piece (at least here at Digital Imaging) than non variable data printing. Some additional set-up costs are involved, but they are usually quite minimal if the document is set up properly.

The value is definitely there. The effectiveness has been documented. All we need is the data. There’s an old proverb which goes something like this: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best time is now.” The best time to start collecting data on your customers was ten years ago, the second best time is now. Begin building your data base. Put it on a simple Excel or other “flat” spread sheet. Every entry is a deposit that can draw interest on as it helps you build more effective print marketing. This is a technology you can use right now.

Jul 092011

Go to the grocery store and at the check out line the question is “paper or plastic?” There are some quick print and “big box” printers that have pretty much the same limited choices. Text or cover? Gloss or matte?

There are countless choices in paper. Weights from a very light weight 16 pound text to a very heavy 110 pound cover are all available for our digital printer. And finishes vary from uncoated to dull coated to high gloss, and cover weights coated on one side or both sides are also available. The possible permutations seem truly overwhelming. Which should you use? There’s no one right answer; the choice depends on many factors. We like to ask about how and where you are going to use our product before you make that choice. Some people think we’re a bit nosy. And maybe we are, but in a good way.

All paper is roughly divided into text and cover. Text weights refer to the kind of paper that would make up the inside pages of a paperback book. Cover weights are what the cover of that paperback book might be made of. Within these categories, paper can be uncoated, dull coated  (also called semi-gloss) and gloss coated (also called “calendered”).

As we like to say here at Digital Imaging, it’s a matter of personal preference. Photos tend to set up and look snappier on a gloss paper, but if you’re planning on looking at the piece in what we call “high key” or bright overhead lighting, you may want to consider a semi-gloss to cut down on glare. Will you need to have someone write on the finished piece (perhaps a form to fill out)? Then gloss is a poor choice. Is the piece going in an envelope? Select a text weight. Is it a stand-alone piece? Perhaps a cover weight is a better choice. Bleed through is always a factor. Selecting a heavy enough stock to prevent the image on one side of the paper from being visible from the back of the sheet depends on the content being printed. Toner-based digital printing also tends to impart a gloss to the printed material. In some cases, if you use a semi-gloss stock, the printing looks as if it were varnished. This may be a good thing or not, depending on what you had in mind. We have a certain amount of control over this gloss. The newer equipment (like our DocuColor) has good control over this gloss effect.

Cost is always a factor. In general, the heavier the weight the more expensive a paper is. Gloss papers tend to cost more than uncoated paper. Semi-gloss (or dull coat) is often more expensive than either uncoated or gloss. Premium papers cost more in all weights. These are the fancy sheets that contain fibers, unique surfaces, or specific colors.

Post-processing also is a factor. Gloss papers tend to “crack” more along a fold than semi-gloss or uncoated stocks. Lightweight papers don’t hold up well to perfing. Some sheets are only available long grain; a score and fold across the grain is more difficult to control than a fold along the grain.

It’s confusing but we’re usually amenable to printing a proof on two or even three different stocks to help you decide. The comforting thing about digital printing is that the difference in price for a short run between or most expensive and least expensive stock is minimal.

Not all stocks can run successfully in digital presses. Some heavily-textured or “laid” papers do not reproduce large solids well. The toner needs a relatively smooth surface to adhere to uniformly. If the surface is uneven, a motley appearance may result. A lot of label stocks have difficulty, especially if they are formulated for ink jet printing.

As technology continues to evolve, we are able to offer an ever-growing inventory of papers. Some of the more interesting recent additions are: Window Decals, Magnetic Sheets, Pre-cut door hangers, CD tray cards and inserts, weatherproof plastic, non-tear sheets, metallic finishes, parchments and non-copyable security papers. Also available are carbonless forms in two or three part configurations, clear acetate (for overhead projections), tab dividers and pocket folders.

The world of digital printing offers the same quality, selection, and versatility of offset without the requisite numbers to make it cost effective. Making digital printing work for you requires some planning ahead and perhaps a few design compromises, but in today’s competitive marketplace the added value of quick turnaround in small quantities makes it a valuable tool for every graphic designer.

Next: Variable data: the “big gun” of digital printing


Apr 192011

About 50% of the time when I ask a customer “What stock would you like this on?” the answer I get is “Whatever you think it will look best (or print best) on.” I always wonder if they imagine a paper storage room with papers that print well on one side and papers that don’t on the other. Sometimes, I think it would be a lot easier if we stocked only one or two kinds of paper. But we don’t.

In the often confusing world of digital printing, paper weights and types have managed to distinguish themselves as a confusing topic for most people. Part of the problem lies in paper’s greatest drawback; it is a tactile product. Talk about it all you want; write long, complicated descriptions that start to sound a little like how a wine taster describes a wine; give it a brightness number. In the end, people want to FEEL the paper. And yet, this is also paper’s greatest asset, the reason it will probably survive the rush to a digital world. Paper has texture. Paper has a glossy or a smooth or a rough surface. It has depth. It has warmth.

In general there are only a few “rules” about what to print on, and these are very pragmatic. Things going through the mail need to be a certain minimum weight. No big surprise here. I have never had anyone try to send a post card that was printed on a text weight. Yet. BRC’s (business reply cards) must be a certain minimum weight. But aside from these few considerations, paper choice is a matter of taste and design. We try to stock a broad enough range of paper to meet most of those considerations.

Many US paper mills are no more. A good deal of our paper is from Canadian mills, some is from overseas. By the time it’s re-cut, re-branded, re-packaged and re-sold, it’s not always clear who actually manufactured it. Paper can be the cause of huge headaches in the digital print business. Humidity, too much or too little, can cause paper to jam unexpectedly, double-sheet feed, or curl out of the press. We keep most of our paper in sealed packs until we’re ready to use it. (We used to keep all of our paper in sealed plastic bins… the technology has gotten better.) We are very reluctant to add a new paper to our inventory until we have performed extensive testing. Sometimes, a rep (or a customer) will bring us in a few sample sheets which seem to run fine. Then when we begin the larger project, we suddenly experience multiple problems as the device heats up, or we try to duplex, or in finishing.

Most paper has some kind of a grain. In traditional (ink on paper) printing, the grain is usually “long” which means it runs parallel to the direction of the movement through the press (or is parallel to the longest side of the cut sheet). This gives the paper extra strength to navigate the many turns and twists through the press. In general, in digital printing, we like for the grain to be short so the sheet is more flexible. Grain is much more important when you get to finishing.

There are a couple of ways to check the grain. The easiest is to look at the packaging. The direction of the grain is usually the second number you see. 8-1/2″x11″ paper is long grain. 11″x8-1/2″ paper is short grain. (We speak of 12×18 as a stock paper size, but the package says 18×12.) If the paper is loose, fold the sheet you have in half in both directions and feel the folded edge. Folds with the grain will be much smoother than folds against the grain. I know there are other ways; tearing the paper will reveal its grain, but I think this is a bit more difficult to discern.

Grain comes into play more when you are finishing; folding, scoring, etc. Folding across the grain leaves a ragged edge unless you score first. For some paper weights, you need to score anyway, but especially in the lighter weight texts, trying to keep the grain going in the right direction when you are step and repeating a file can be the subject of some serious mental calisthenics. Scores across the grain need to be different than scores with the grain.

Next: paper weights and surfaces.

Apr 162011

Back in the “old days” we had a fellow working here as a typesetter (when we still were typesetters), let’s call him Charlie. Charlie was pretty laid back. While we were all running around “doing the crazy dance” trying to meet a deadline, Charlie would just lean back in his swivel chair, put his hands behind his head and say “It’s all just ink on paper.” That was his answer for every problem.

So let’s just take a moment to talk about the pros and cons of this digital printing. It is quite a bit more than “ink on paper,” and quite a bit less.

There’s an old saying that “whatever they’re talking about, they’re talking about money.” And the difference between digital and traditional (that “ink on paper” thing) has a lot to do with the money. A traditional printer buys his press; he (or she) may take out a loan to do it so there’s a loan payment every month. A traditional printer can run a million copies a month through the press and other than the loan payment the only costs are the paper, the ink, the payroll and the overhead. Almost all digital presses have a meter, just like the meter on your electric power. Every piece of paper that goes through the press clicks that meter over one notch. At the end of the month (or some established billing period) a meter read is taken and you are billed for each and every sheet. Whether you use it or not. This is in addition to the pretty hefty lease payment. And of course, there’s the cost of the paper, the payroll and the overhead. So there’s no way that digital printing (as we know it) can ever really compete with traditional printing on volume work. Having said that, I’m sure there are some big plants somewhere that have developed enough of a volume to stay pretty competitive. But for most independent small shops, it’s the “short run” market we look for, in general. Once you start talking about thousands or tens of thousands, we’re probably going to refer you to a traditional printer. At a traditional printer, the cost of all the make-ready processes usually prices short runs out of the market.

On the other hand, there are a number of instances, other than short runs, where digital printing is the process of choice. For example, when you need something very fast. Traditional printing takes time. Time to set up the job, time to make the plates, time to do the stripping, time to set up the press, time to let the ink dry. None of these figure into the digital process. If your electronic file is ready to go, we can usually print you job in a day or two under normal turnaround. And if you’re really in a rush we can usually print it the same day (this will cost you a premium rush charge). Another example would be variable data printing.

Variable data printing allows you to change the content of each and every page you print, “on the fly.” The information can include text, images, page formats, nearly anything. It is usually linked to a flat data file that directs the content of the page based on the data in the spreadsheet. So you could create a coupon page that only featured coupons for products your customer has already purchased in the past. Send a personalized letter with specific information about each customer, all at the same speed and price as a regular print run (there is a small additional set-up fee, but the print price is the same). Variable data is simply not possible with traditional printing; you’d have to make a new plate for each page. Fugggeddaboudit!

On the dark side,  there is this problem with alignment. Printing presses have a mechanism that positions each page before the image goes on. It keeps everything pretty much in line. They are still imperfect things, but they are a lot more perfect than many digital presses. Most toner-based digital presses are really souped-up copy machines. As such, the paper travels along a belt and the image is applied to it. This results in a couple of problems. First of all, the image does not necessarily go down on the same place on each page. In fact, on some digital presses, the specs allow for a substantial difference across an entire run, maybe as much as 1/8″. Then there’s the skew. The heavier the paper and the larger the sheet, the more skew you are likely to see. Both of these are combined to cause some issues on two-sided pieces where the designer has decided to use a different color panel on each fold. Expecting all of these sides to line up perfectly for each and every sheet is probably a bit optimistic in the digital  print world. It might happen, but don’t be too surprised if it doesn’t.

And finally there’s the post-processing issues. Scoring is my favorite. Toner, unlike ink, sits right up on the surface of the sheet. Try to score that nice glossy sheet on an all-black surface and you are probably going to end up with the image “cracking” along that seam.

Of course, all of these issues can be designed around. Try to keep your folds on light or white areas. Allow for a little extra “slop” on two sided pieces so folds that are a millimeter or so off won’t be too noticeable. Avoid borders, especially on business cards. We print them about 20-up on 12×18 and the cards on the outside corners are going to have just enough torque to show that border is not quite even. It’s the nature of the beast.

Digital printing is a valuable tool. It’s not, in its current generation, the answer for all your printing. But it can be the best way to go in a lot of cases. It does put some restrictions on design, but it can make up for that in speed, price, and flexibility.

Apr 132011

Space; the final frontier. Or, to put it another way; size matters.

Most, but not all, digital printers are sheet fed. At least our DocuColor is. And the “standard” size sheet we use and quote prices by is either 9×12 or 12×18. We do not stock a “legal” (8.5″x14″) size sheet. Some of the paper we use is not available in cut sheets and in a lot of those instances, we end up with a 11.5″x17.5″ size sheet cut from the 23×35 master sheet. And in at least one instance, we stock a sheet that is 13×19 (this is the largest size that can physically be run through the DocuColor). All of this is real important as you create files for digital printing.

Like traditional printing, digital “presses” need a “gripper” on the page. That is, there’s a portion of the page that simply cannot be imaged. On all size media this is 4mm (.15748031″) for lead and trail edge and .3mm (.11811″) on the edges for 12×18 media and 3.5mm (.13779528″) on the edges for 13×19 media. So, whatever you design, you have to start by subtracting that area from your total image space.

The size of your finished piece is the result of a lot of factors, some of a design nature, some of a more pragmatic origin, e.g. postal regulations, envelope size, etc. Sometimes, these parameters must be compromised to utilize digital printing efficiently. For example, let’s say you want to produce a note card that will fit in an A-6 envelope (4.75 x 6.5). A good size to make this note card might be 4.5×6.25 folded, 6.25×9 flat. However, this would something we could only print 1-up on a 9×12. If it was, say, 4.5×6 folded, 6×9 flat, we might be able to print it 2-up on that same sheet. Just a teeny, tiny quarter of an inch difference and we cut the print run in half. It will be a bit looser in the envelope, but that’s the compromise you have to decide to make.

Now, a word about “bleeds.” Whether it’s traditional ink on paper or digital toner-based printing, the world of print is a relatively imprecise place. No matter how you print something, when an image or a background color comes right to the edge of the trimmed sheet, you must leave at least 1/8″ of image BEYOND that trim for successful printing. This is referred to as a “bleed.” It prevents the occurrence of a thin white line on the edge of the finished piece where that particular sheet was printed perhaps little too far to one side (it’s an imperfect world, as I mentioned). It also requires that the piece be printed on an oversized sheet and trimmed.

Bleeds can really complicate the issue. In order to trim a piece that bleeds, we need guides that tell us where the trim should be, “crop marks.” In general we need about 1/2″ of space on each side of a bleed image to accommodate the bleed itself and a crop mark to indicate where the trim should be. So a piece that bleeds needs an extra 1″ in length and width on the page. You need to take all of this into consideration, preferably in the design phase, if you plan on digital printing. We’ll normally try to pry this information out of you when you call us for a quote. I know we sound very nosy, but most of our customers hate surprises, especially when they occur long after the design has been approved, priced out and is under deadline.

Finally, a word about customer-supplied stock. There is a minimum size that can successfully be printed on the DocuColor. This is 5.5″x8.5″. We cannot run anything smaller than that through the device. While we will usually try to run whatever you are interested in printing on (with some exceptions; materials that appear to be capable of melting on our fuser are usually politely declined), it is sometimes impossible to print on the smaller pre-cut papers available at the local arts & crafts store.


Apr 122011

Ain’t technology grand? Digital printing has certainly changed things. Few of our customers today know what rubylith is (or was), have ever seen a stat camera, or have come home at the end of the day with a few miscellaneous words stuck to their elbow like oversized flakes of dandruff.

But digital printing is a two-edged sword and it takes some special considerations to get the most out of it. Let’s begin with the most obvious one, color. At a traditional printer (ink on paper), each color you add will probably change the price of your job. At most digital printers (toner-based), there’s one price for color and one for black and white. At a traditional printer you may pay a bit more for a piece printed, say, all in blue. It will probably include the expense of a press wash, but it will still be a one-color project. At a digital printer, you will probably be charged the same price as if you were printing a full color photograph covering that page.

These are considerations that should probably be made at the the design level. Once you’ve designed the piece in one color, you’ve substantially diminished the likelihood of digital printing as an economical choice down the line. On the other hand, if you plan on using digital output, let your creative juices fly and take advantage of the power of color to make your point or sell your product. Don’t forget to add color photos wherever you can. This is an expensive process in traditional printing; you need scanning, 4-color separations, and careful alignment of the plates for it to work. Not so in digital printing; take the electronic file of the image and drop it in the layout. Done. Well, you might want to make sure the image is CMYK and not RGB.

Which brings me to difference between the color models. If you’ve ever gotten your digital prints back and noticed that the color photos looked a bit flat or off color, there’s a chance you may have used RGB files instrad of CMYK. Most digital cameras, by default, shoot in RGB. This is the Red-Green-Blue color model. Almost all the light that is emitted by natural sources (e.g the Sun) is in this color spectrum, as most probably is the monitor you are viewing this page. It is the spectrum of transmitted light. If you think way, way back to High School health class, you may vaguely remember something about “rods” and “cones.” Well, that’s the connection, we see by interpreting the RGB spectrum. If you do the math you find there’s nearly 17,000,000 colors you can make with this combination (there are 256 steps of each color that are possible on your RGB monitor). Turn on the red, green and blue lights full strength on you monitor (or in the Sun) and you have white.

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) on the other hand, is what we see when most things are printed. It is a product of reflected light. Actually there are only three colors involved: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. Black is added because we live in an imperfect world. In theory, if you mix 100% Cyan, 100% Magenta and 100% Yellow, you should get Black. But you actually get a muddy reddish brown. Black is added both to achieve a real black and to replace some of the other colors in a process called Under Color Removal (UCR) or Grey Component Reduction (GCR). Maybe more about that at a later time. The CMYK spectrum only gets us about a million colors (100 steps of each of the three).

How and where an image is converted from RGB to CMYK is critical to how it will look when it’s printed. As you can see, the gamut (or range of colors) in RGB is substantially greater than that of CMYK. And since 100% of all the colors in one model equals white and in the other it equals black, you might guess there is more to converting between the two than meets the eye. The best plan is to convert the color in software designed for that purpose: PhotoShop. While most RIPs will do this conversion on the fly, some handle it much better than others. Making the conversion yourself in PhotoShop will at least let you know which colors, if any, will change.





Making Salem State Speakers Shout

 Posted by at 11:51 PM
Mar 032011

The “billboard” is located right on Rte. 1A in Salem, visible to northbound traffic. Once again, Salem State selected Digital Imaging to create this yearly banner. The product we selected was Tuff-Coat, a scrim vinyl with an exceptionally scuff-resistant surface. Due to the size, lamination was not an option so we needed the strongest surface available. To enhance the UV resistance, we used a liquid varnish that will substantially retard fading and surface damage from rough weather. It has to last until September, through the rest of this horrid winter and what may be an equally tough summer. Tuff-Coat is rated for up to a year in exterior use; this will be a pretty good test of that durability.