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099: ABCs of GCM: S-&

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

We learn our ABCs as preschoolers; we begin to write down our alphabet, combine letters into words into sentences and eventually into stories. When entering into a new industry, it can be like learning a whole new language to understand the technical jargon and specific buzzwords thrown around. The graphic communications industry is no different so let’s pick up where we left off on our journey through the alphabet, using it as a framework to explore the ABCs of GCM.

S is for Saddle Stitch

A fancy term for ‘industrial stapling’, saddle stitching gets its name from the way paper looks as it travels along the machine.

Books are made up of groupings of pages called ‘signatures’ that are brought together in binding equipment (perfect binding and saddle stitching are the two most common book binding techniques). In the case of small booklets destined for the saddle stitcher, folded signatures are loaded into ‘hoppers’. Each signature gets its own hopper; its own cozy spot to hang out before meeting the rest of the signatures in the book. When all signatures are loaded into hoppers and ready to be assembled, the first hopper spits out a signature onto a long, narrow conveyor and the paper looks like a saddle sitting on a horse. (The conveyor is like the horse, itself.)

As the signature moves along the conveyor and passes by the next hopper, the next signature in sequence drops down on top of the first signature, like two saddles now stacked on top of one another. The growing booklet moves down the line, adding each signature in succession until, finally, the cover is placed on top. A large coil of metal wire then pierces the spine of the booklet in two or three places. The book is trimmed to its final size with a three-knife trimmer 🔪, which is a huge, scary chopping knife that cuts through paper like a hot knife through butter. Lastly, the final stapled booklet is spit out the back of the machine.

As the old saying goes: save a horse, ride a saddle stitcher. 🏇

T is for Trim size

Trim size is simply the final size of a printed document. It’s called ‘trim size’ because it is quite literally the final size after trimming excess paper off of a document before it’s shipped to a customer.

Trim size is often described in inches because the printing and design industries in North America don’t believe in the metric system 🙄 and sometimes trim sizes are quite odd. For example, a 5” x 8” printed product is manufactured, but often so is a 5 7/16” x 7 7/8” printed piece. If you were to measure some of the books on your bookshelf you would probably find that most of them err on the side of weird dimensions versus whole numbers or a half numbers. This usually has to do with maximizing the project for the press it will be printed on, as well as the size/width of the paper used.

Also remember that if you are designing a project for print you will also likely have to build bleed allowance into the digital file. Bleed allowance is typically an additional 1/8” that extends beyond the trim size. It’s there so that elements on the page (like a graphic element or a photo) that’s designed to extend all the way to the edge of the printed page will actually look that way in the final piece.

You can think about bleed in the same way that you might think about making a sandwich. 🥪 Picture bleed as the crust of the sandwich. You’re going to spread 🍴 whatever filling is inside the sandwich all the way to the crust but it’s not going be perfect, neat and tidy all the way around. However, when you cut the crust off on all four sides, you’re left with a neat and tidy sandwich with filling all the way to the edges. This is exactly how and why bleed works in print. Add some additional size to the digital file, print the larger size, and then cut that bleed area off so that the job is in its final trim size and looks neat and tidy. And now you’re left with your beautiful, yummy printed piece.

U is for UV Coating

Coating is applied to a printed piece for a number of reasons: for protection, for visual appeal and impact, and/or for increased tactility. There are three commonly used types of coating: aqueous (AQ), lamination (a subcategory of coating) and ultraviolet (UV) coating.

AQ coating is often applied in-line on press, typically flooding the whole sheet after printing with a low-sheen protective top coat. It’s like a clear coat of nail polish applied on top of pretty painted nails.

Lamination is not a liquid coating at all, but a film of protective plastic applied on top of printed work. Books are often laminated (in either gloss or matte finish), as lamination provides the most protection of all three options.

UV coating is (in my humble opinion) the most fun of the coating options. UV coating is the party girl 💃🏼 of the three with wild and wacky possibilities for the final result. UV coating is a liquid coating similar to AQ, however it’s formulated to dry instantly when hit with UV light💡. This provides the opportunity to apply UV coating only to specific places on a design (ex: to the title of a book or creating a realistic ‘wet look’💧on packaging). This opens up a world of possibility to the visual impact and increased tactility, activating both visual and touch sensory experiences. UV coating is similar to getting your nails painted at a salon that uses UV-curable polish to dry your nails instantly under UV light. (If you’re into that sort of thing. 💅🏻)

V is Virgin Paper 📄

Log made it through the wilderness

It was about to be chewed

Didn’t know what a Fourdrinier was

Until the pulp stewed.

It was beat


It was sad, optical brighteners made it blue

But you made it peel

Yeah, rolled onto a reel

Calendared and new (Hoo)

Like a virgin [paper]

Touched for the very first time

Like a virgin [paper]

Feel the warm sheets

Or rewind.

The paper making process is quite extraordinary. I had the opportunity to visit a paper mill when in Corner Brook, Newfoundland a number of years ago and the entire operation is SUPER-SIZED. As I entered the building wearing full protective gear and climbed tall industrial staircase, I saw the front end of the paper-making process laid out before me. Massive logs 🪵 were transported from the yard to wood chipping machines that looked like huge dryer drums, churning and chewing up entire trees 🌳. The view was made more dramatic by my vantage point: through metal grates below my feet as I walked across a long metal walkway, two storeys above said ominous scene. 😳Needless to say, I survived the experience and I was forever grateful to the paper mill for giving me an insiders’ look.

This mill produced virgin paper, which is paper produced with material sourced entirely from natural resources (trees) versus sourced from recycled paper sources. The raw materials for virgin paper is often sourced from sustainable forests, the most well-known certification being FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). Others include AFF (Ancient Forest Friendly) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative). These environmental stamps of approval communicate that “no old growth trees were harmed in the making of this book and more trees were planted in its place.”

Paper with some amount of recycled content is another popular option that may contain recycled fibres from two categories: pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste. ♻️

Pre-consumer waste means that the paper or wood products contained in the paper did not reach the customer before being recycled.

Off-cut wood chips from sawmills or huge bales of scrap offcuts from printing companies are shipped back to the paper manufacturer, re-pulped, and made into pre-consumer recycled paper.

Post-consumer waste refers to paper made with materials that have been used and then discarded by the consumer through a municipal recycling program (curb-side pickup) and then shipped back to be transformed into new paper.

But no matter how eco-friendly we want to be as a society, we can’t rely solely on 100% recycled paper. Paper fibres break down each time they’re recycled and these fibres can only be recycled an equivalent of about 7 times before they become too short and too weak.

W is for Watermark 📄

For many the term ‘watermark’ is synonymous with digital watermarks; markings overlaid on top of creative works and other digital documents as protection from being used without permission. Stock photography sites are common examples. These lightened marks can be any size, shape or imagery.

Like many terms in the digital world that come from traditional communication (think: ‘scroll’ or ‘tablet’), ‘watermark’ is no different. In paper making, watermarks are distinct areas of a sheet with greater translucency that come into full view when held up to light, often a recycled symbol or a company logo. Watermarks are also part of many countries’ printed currency, stamps and passports, helping to ensure enhanced security that’s difficult for forgers to replicate.

How are watermarks made? They’re impressed into the paper during the paper making process and their origin dates back to Italy as early as the year 1282. More modern watermarks (modern, as in 1826) are created using a metal embossed image (dandy roll or a cylinder would watermark) that is impressed into paper when it’s still pulpy. This changes the thickness of a sheet in a specific area, allowing light to pass through more easily. So while digital watermarks can be created on-the-fly, paper watermarks are anything but spontaneous.

X is for x-height

In typography, the x-height (also called ‘waistline’) is defined as the height of the lowercase letters, from the baseline to the to the top of the lowercase letters, minus the ascenders. It’s the height of the lowercase ’x’. Curved lowercase letters (a, c, o, etc.) tend to be a smidgen taller than the x-height as their rounded tops overshoot the x-height to provide the same visual proportions as their straight-edged lowercase counterparts.

Typically, the larger the x-height, the more readable the typeface. However, like most instances in typography (and in life), a fine balance is best. The Goldilocks Principle should taken into consideration: not too big, not too small, juuuuuuuuuuust right. A medium-sitting x-height means that the letterforms will be recognizable and understandable for most reading the text. This is important for accessibility considerations and choosing letterforms that will be quickly recognized by the most individuals.

Mama Bear knows best.

Y is for Yellow

Yellow is sunny. Yellow is bright. Yellow is happy.

It’s one of four process colours that help transform an image into over 1 million possible printed colours. Here are a few more fun facts about the brightest colour of the fab four:

  • It’s sandwiched between orange and green on the visible spectrum of light (aka the rainbow)

  • The word ‘yellow’ originated from the Old English word ‘geolu’

  • Yellow often indicates caution because it’s easily visible: yellow street signs or a yellow card in soccer

  • This same cautionary phenomenon is present in nature: for example, bees and wasps are yellow that is a warning for other animals to stay away

  • Yellow is said to have a stimulating effect on the mind

  • Yellow is a theme in many popular songs: Coldplay’s massive hit “Yellow” helped the band achieve world-wide fame in 2000, The Beatles’ released the quirky track “Yellow Submarine” in 1966 and Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” released in 2010 was nominated for a Grammy Award

What can I say? They call me mellow yellow.

Z is for Zip File 📁

A ‘zip’ or compressed file is commonly used to include multiple files within a folder, into a single file. This not only takes up less space, but it also assists in situations where a series of files or a folder need to be sent by email or to a digital drop box, but where only a single file can be uploaded.

A zip file is kind of like Cinderella - lots of hard work housed within her world. 🧹

She wants to travel to the ball, but she’s not allowed.

A fairy godmother 🧚‍♀️appears and, just like magic, zips her up into a beautiful little file. If the fairy godmother is a Mac user 💻, she right clicks the folder and selects ‘Compress’, creating a single ‘.zip’ file that can be transferred or sent like any other single file can.

But the magic can’t last forever. At midnight (or when you receive a zip file that you want to ‘unzip’) the magic runs out. When on the receiving end, simply double click the little file and, just like Cinderella, it turns back into a working folder of files. 📂

If the story teaches us anything, it’s that one day her prints will come. 📑👰🏼‍

&: Ampersand

There you have it: the ABCs of GCM! Today we come to the last letter of the alphabet, ampersand.

This 27th character had its 15 minutes of fame as part of the alphabet in the 1800’s, with school children commonly reciting a poem called ‘Apple Pie ABC’ to learn their alphabet. Here’s our little version:

A is for Author’s Alterations

B is for Barcode

C is for Creative Cloud

D is for Descender

E is for Endpapers

F is for Fifth Colour

G is for Grain

H is for Hickeys

I is for Imposition

J is for Justified

K is for Kilobyte

L is for Leading

M is for Makeready

N is for Newsprint

O is for Offset

P is for PPI

Q is for Quire

R is for Ream

S is for Saddle Stitch

T is for Trim Size

U is for UV Coating

V is for Virgin Paper

W is for Watermark

X, Y, Z and ampersand,

all wished for a piece [of paper] in hand.

Sound Effect (public domain via Freesound): InspectorJ - Kids Playing

Music (public domain via Free Music Archive): John Bartmann (in order of appearance in episode)

Hopeful Start


Let’s Hit the Bar Fridge

Back on the Wagon

Jazzy Detective

Mellow Cafe Vibe

8-Bit Kung Fu

It Was Another Time

Weird Science

Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle

Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash

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