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Dove Direct Print & Marketing Blog - “Selecting Print Signatures and Bindery Options”

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Welcome to the Dove Direct Print and Marketing Blog. Today’s post, “ Selecting Print Signatures and Bindery Options ” discusses the fine points of why print signatures matter, including various bindery options, impositions and spreads. With the rise of books, catalogs and direct mail marketing driving ROI, creative print designs for small to mid size businesses are also increasing in demand. And to that end, organizations should have basic knowledge of print signatures and bindery choices. This type of print collateral knowledge goes a long way toward developing stunning print collateral and how those choices can affect budget considerations.

Print Signatures Offer Creative Advantages

To begin with, design concepts affect budgets. Print signatures are a design method whereby print designers are able to optimize both the creative concept and better adhere to budget guidelines. Make no mistake, print signatures are extremely flexible and provide the opportunity to create outstanding print collateral. For example, a design can provide various types of paper stock selections as opposed to being locked into a single paper choice. In addition, not only can various paper choices be available, but also divergent ink combinations can be applied to each separate print signature. Using print signatures offers unlimited choices, particularly for designing awe-inspiring brochures.

Understanding the Print Signature

The easy to comprehend definition of a print signature is; a print job that requires a collection of pages being output which includes printing on both sides of a distinct sheet of paper when folded, trimmed, bound, and cut emerge as a definitive number of pages. This process of course is directly dependent and proportional to page size(s) including the dimensions of the press sheet.

The number one rule for determining signature implementation is that each particular signature is set up as an individual print run. And for each of these print runs, paper stock selections and the number of inks to be used must be decided. Keep in mind that the print budget can be affected by each signature, including the specific paper choices, the number of inks via each signature, and could alter the design considerations. With all the umpteen choices ranging from paper types to ink selections, it’s easy to comprehend that these choices play a definitive role with the look and feel of the final output, although budget constraints may play a larger role.

For example, obtaining pricing knowledge about paper and ink selections will determine a major aspect of the required budget. That said, opting to print utilizing a 4 color process on #1 coated paper is more expensive than say, using a single ink color on #3 uncoated stock paper. If you are unsure of how the final output will look and feel, it’s always a good idea to ask for samples of various paper types and single ink selections up to and including the full 4 color process.

Having a firm grasp of these choices will also aid in the design aspect and level set any budgetary requirements. Regardless of nailing down pre-design considerations, this newly acquired information is ready to be applied to a design. Typically, small 16-page brochures are great for sales people, trade shows, and even a direct mail piece. Let’s examine how print signatures can be applied to a 16-page brochure, with the addition of a cover. Keep in mind, the entire brochure actually turns out to be 20 pages.

Here’s the breakdown of the signatures that can be applied; A 4-page signature represents the cover. The bulk, or 16 inside signature pages can range from a 16-page signature, or two 8-page signatures, or even a 12-page signature added with a 4-page signature. In short, a signature design can contain various combinations of signatures that add up to 20 pages. This signature process affords the design aspect with the ability to artfully craft how the brochure content will be presented. Therefore, designers are afforded the capability of selecting the optimal combinations of various print signatures to deliver client messaging in an engaging manner. Ok, what about printing an 8 page booklet. Obviously that would require an 8-page signature. In short, print signatures are always divisible by 4. Another clear cut observation for example, is that it is virtually impossible to design a 14 page brochure booklet that does not contain fold-out pages which have not been binded onto the spine. Due to the fact that the printed paper has two sides, the fold out pages must always be divisible by 2.

The Imposition

Print signatures are also interdependent and rely upon a fairly obscure term called ‘imposition.’  Imposition represents the direction and page placements within the signature. In some cases, particularly evident in print signature templates is that pages on a press sheet will appear to be upside down, or successive page numbers will not be next to each other, such as 5 will not be next to 6 and so on. At the end of the day, if the imposition set up was accurate, when the pages are folded they will appear in successive viewing order, 2 will follow 1, 4 will follow 3, etc.  In addition, margins will also appear aligned. Typically, the Print Estimator is responsible for setting up a signature’s imposition.

Binding and the Print Signature

Before diving into design creation using print signatures, it is highly recommended that the binding type be given consideration from the outset. If you guessed that binding type selection is virtually dependent upon the total number of pages the brochure will have, you are correct. In addition, binding types can also affect the design concept and the budget. By selecting different binding types, it will change the order in which print signatures are assembled in the final brochure/booklet, therefore giving you the ability to manage the order in which different papers are presented.

When ‘saddle stitching’ is the choice for bindery processing, the first page will go with the last page template, so if you have a 12 page booklet/brochure, page 1 and page twelve will be on the same page. Page two with page 11, and so forth. Conversely, when selecting the ‘perfect bound’, bindery type, the signatures are stacked in succession, one after the other. Similar to perfect bound, ‘spiral bound’ also stacks signatures in order, but with an added twist, single sheets can be inserted in any position, which allows the booklet/brochure to lay flat when it is opened. In the event your designer is unsure of the bindery selection choices, it’s always a good idea to speak with the chosen print house. Selecting the right binding choice is paramount to getting the design considerations right the first time. Another example of a signature choice is the ‘pull out. ’ This application could be used for a loose sheet, and it can be folded, taking into consideration where it will be inserted in the binding. Typically, most pull outs are inserted between two signatures, during the binding process.

The Spread

There are two types of spreads, the first being the reader spread, which is what readers see when opening the pages, with consecutive pages, such as page 10 follows 9, page 12 follows 11, etc. Then there is the printer spread whereby the consecutive page numbers are not next to each other, such as page 11 and 12 could be on the same sheet, but could also be on different sheets. Some designers are more comfortable designing from the reader spread and in that case, the pre-print department will have the job of converting print files into printer spreads. It is also important to keep in mind that more pages in a project, the tougher it is to lay out. That’s why it’s important to coordinate with your printer.

It is a good idea to visit your printer, or give them a call regarding signature types and binding options.  This will point you in the right direction for your next booklet, catalog, or brochure print job.

The Net-Net

Understanding the complexity of selecting the right print signatures, bindery options, imposition and spreads is paramount to creating exhilarating print collateral that optimizes the budget, look and feel of your next booklet, catalog, or brochure.  Enjoy Selecting Print Signatures and Bindery Options!

Let’s have a conversation about direct mail strategies, printing, print software, transactional documents, variable digital printing, brand equity and unified marketing collateral during our next Open House. We invite you to join us on Thursday, August 30th, 2018, for an hour or two, anytime between 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Let us show you how to improve your document processes to optimize your workflow, reduce your costs, and maximize your organization’s printing, letter shop and mailing capabilities. Dove Direct does have an official USPS certified bureau located within our offices that will save you time and money. And, if you bring us your files, we will create a demo file for you. For more information call Carla Eubanks at 404-629-0122 or email Carla at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Dove Direct, your Atlanta based print and mail solutions provider offers organizations end-to-end data, printing and mailing solutions: Data Management, Variable Digital Printing, LetterShop and Fulfillment, Fully Automated MLOCR Presort Bureau, Marketing and Production Management Support and Secure Data Life Cycle Management.

If you don't want to wait for the Open House, you can reach Dove Direct today by calling 404-629-0122 or use the contact form for Dove Direct.

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Leland Hicks is the CTO of MatterMax Media, a digital marketing agency that provides business strategy, web design, social media management and training.  He can be reached at lahicks@mattermaxmedia.com