Monday, July 18, 2011

What's on your wish list for Drupa 2012?

It's less than a year until the mother of all trade shows, Drupa, reappears to once again shape the future of all things print.  While the rhythm of print shows swings to Chicago and Graph Expo this year, most eyes are on May of 2012 when we'll get a chance to see the mavens of print manufacturing unveil what has been in process for much of the past years since Drupa 2008.

I see the printing industry at yet another tipping point.  It was big news when HP had the largest footprint at Ipex last year, overtaking the traditional offset manufacturers. And in a year where the biggest photo trade show in the US, PMA, is co-locating with CES in January, it will be interesting to see how the move to more electronic publishing is going to influence the folks whose main business is ink on paper.

When Blurb launched, we repurposed presses, DFEs, and binding equipement that was really made for other uses.  At Ipex there was a growth in new machinery that was more dedicated toward the POD book marketplace.  I'd like to see more of this, allowing larger digital printers like those in our global print network to continue to improve productivity, quality and price which will allow the self-publishing marketplace to continue to thrive.  I'd like to see the advances made in PUR binding continue beyond the few options currently available.  I hope to see high-speed ink jet keep improving print quality to the point that it rivals that of the best offset printing.  And I'd like to see lower priced entry-level presses to help to expand the global reach of companies like ours. Oh, yeah, and larger sheet sizes.  And faster.

What advances would you like to see at Drupa next year?

Monday, July 11, 2011

PUR-fect book binding?

When Blurb looks to add printers to the Blurb Global Print Network we look for companies that excel in four areas: printing, binding, IT, and fulfillment.  These core competencies bring together the art, craft, technology, and logistics that it takes to deliver one single copy of one unique book to one thrilled customer.  But it's not always easy.  When we delivered the first Blurb book to a paying customer in 2006, the state of the art for preparing files for printing, color management for digital presses, and one-off binding were all processes taken from other sectors, like direct mail, library binding, and traditional offset printing.

Book binding is where craft meets technology in a way that is not seen anywhere else in our process.  Our early books were all side sewn. We then moved some of our larger books to double-fan adhesive cold glue and wire stitching.  These were all alternatives to the way that longer run hardcover books are usually bound, Smyth sewing.  The issue is that POD is by nature run on small sheets, usually around 12x18 inches. To Smyth sew, you need to print in signatures, which are multiple pages printed on a single, large sheet and then folded.  Not really possible with cut sheets, so the POD marketplace required alternative methods.

Enter PUR, or polyurethane reactive glues.  This process, which has been around for a while but it was not really usable for short run book binding, is similar to hot glue binding which has traditionally been used for soft cover paperback books.  The issue with hot glue is that it does not "give" when there is pressure but on the spine, which is required for hardcover books due to the lever effect of the case on the book block.  PUR is much more elastic than hot glue allowing for a more "stay flat" binding that is closer to what you can get with Smyth sewing.

Working with the manufacturers of binding equipment and our network printers, Blurb pushed new products and processes to the market in our quest to keep improving on our promise of "bookstore quality" products. And we have been very pleased with the process.  A large portion of our books are now bound using PUR technology and we are continuing to expand the usage throughout our network.

There are other benefits of this move, some more obvious than others.  PUR bindings will hold even in extreme temperatures, has better adherence to coated papers, and can withstand a page pull of nearly double that of hot glue. It also allows for some aesthetic changes that we are working on for futre product releases.

The advances made in PUR binding for print-on-demand books is an example of how Blurb is constantly looking to improve our products.  We are excited about the new and improved offerings on track for release in the coming months so keep an eye out for what is next.