Commentary & Analysis
'Best of Show' Award Spotlights Toppan's Digital Book Expertise
y Tom Wetjen November 30,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: November 30, 2006
y Tom Wetjen November 30, 2006 -- As a senior at the renowned Parsons The New School of Design in New York City, Monica Eun-Kyung Yoon was invited to exhibit in the annual senior thesis show. But doing so required printing her thesis professionally, and the school's print shop -- the only free-of-charge service available -- couldn't meet her sketchbook-like collection's demanding specifications. So she looked into commercial printing options. Book-related production accounts for about half of Toppan's U.S. sales volume, including work for leading publishers and museums such as the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The run of just four copies was best-suited to the low, short-run costs of a digital press. But the book's large size -- 12" x 17" -- was beyond the spec of most digital presses. Further, its use of optical illusions, containing as many as 2,000 extremely fine lines, demanded precision printing. And the book block, interleaving 80-pound cover stock with transparency paper, presented a difficult case-binding challenge. None of the printers she contacted would take the job. But a classmate, Dino Manuel, was having his challenging book printed by a company that had helped sponsor the Parson's senior show in 2005, Toppan Printing Company America, Inc. "He said Toppan was the best place to go," Yoon said. "Neither of us could find any other place to do exactly what we wanted." Printing at Toppan proved to be especially rewarding for both classmates. Yoon's book helped deliver her first job out of college and last month won "Best of Show" among more than 300 entries in the 2006 Printing Innovation with Xerox Imaging (PIXI) Awards. Manuel's book won a Silver Award for both he and Toppan in the competition's Digital Book and Manuals category. (see "When Fear Won Out," ODJ, November 6, 2006) Building a Book Business Toppan Printing Company America is part of Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., the largest printing company in the world, founded in 1900. Since initiating its U.S.-based business in 1970, Toppan has become the printer of choice for many Fortune 500 companies, including Citigroup, Oppenheimer Funds and Sotheby's. The company built its reputation upon impeccable quality and today counts international book manufacturing and digital printing as key strategic growth areas. The firm's International Book Division manufactures at multiple locations in Asia and North America to optimize delivery efficiency and cost effectiveness and also has sales offices in Europe. Today, book-related production accounts for about half of Toppan's U.S. sales volume, including work for leading publishers and museums such as the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fear doesn't exist unless you create it. So fear is an illusion. I use optical illusions to make that point." Toppan is in the early stages of bringing digital printing services to high-end publishing customers, according to Gavin Smith, director of digital services, Toppan Printing Company America. "We can produce extremely low quantities, at a reasonable cost, at a fast turnaround and at a retail quality the consumer would buy," he said. However, the trade book industry professionals Toppan targets "are wondering how they can market a digitally printed book for retail," he said. Toppan promotes these capabilities through such vehicles as sponsoring and producing senior thesis books for Parsons, then inviting publishing clients to the exhibition. Some of the publishers were impressed enough to print some of the students' books, Smith said. Conquering 'Fear' Yoon's book concept began to emerge in her junior year at Parsons, when she first created optical illusions in Adobe Illustrator. The book, Fear is an Illusion, has six sections based on her personal interpretation of six different kinds of fear, such as fear of loss or fear of pain, accompanied by her optical illusion creations. "When you think of consequences, you tend to anticipate negative things that don't actually happen," Yoon explained. "Fear doesn't exist unless you create it. So fear is an illusion. I use optical illusions to make that point." She completed the book in fall 2005 as the senior thesis for her bachelor's degree in fine arts, submitting her own hand-made version. Toppan produced the professionally printed version in May 2006. From a quality perspective, "Only a toner-based printer can do this job," said Fumio Kato of Toppan, who coordinated the project with the production team. "The illusions are created with different patterns of very thin white lines on a black background. Liquid ink would be absorbed into the paper and blur the edges of the lines." Only a toner-based printer could do he job. The illusions are created with different patterns of very thin white lines on a black background. Liquid ink would be absorbed into the paper and blur the edges of the lines. Although the book was entirely black and white, Toppan chose to print it on the full-color Xerox iGen3 110 Digital Production Press due to its excellent image quality and "its unique way of producing black," said Kato. The production team printed from PDF files, but also fine-tuned the native Adobe InDesign layout files. According to Kato, Toppan's strict process controls, including precise calibrations, helped overcome some imaging problems in the early proofing stages. Toppan's Hisatoshi Watanabea expertly case bound the book by hand. Yoon's digitally printed book is atypical for Toppan in that it was assembled by hand, bypassing many of the firm's highly efficient, automated digital production processes. Yet, in other ways, it represents the new Toppan, blending new and traditional methods and technologies to please customers in new ways. A Powerful Showcase Yoon is thrilled with the result. "I knew I would be totally satisfied by working with Toppan, and I was," she said. Fear proved to be both a powerful personal statement and a favorable showcase of Yoon's design skills. The book was well received at the senior show, and it was a critical part of the portfolio that helped secure her current position with Hour Media L.L.C., as an associate art director for two magazines, New York Home and Absolute. For Toppan, the project is part of an ongoing effort to raise its profile and reputation for excellence in book manufacturing. As Smith said, "Innovating this process and finding ways to inform the industry are two distinct avenues we continually pursue to build relationships that grow revenue."