Print is an industry. Print is a business. Print is a profession. But, print also is a craft that deserves to be showcased as the art form that it often succeeds in becoming.
This year, Neographics offers that opportunity to practitioners of the craft in what has become the industry’s largest regional competition for excellence in print. Two trade groups – the Graphic Arts Association (GAA) and Printing Industries Alliance – have extended the invitation to 4,000 potential entrants who have until July 29 to submit samples of their finest work for judging. The winners will be hailed at a banquet ceremony in Philadelphia on October 6.
The Neographics competition has been staged for more than 50 years by GAA, which represents printing businesses in Pennsylvania, central and southern New Jersey, and Delaware. Melissa Jones, president of GAA, notes that the tradition also salutes printers for being the providers of “one of the most longstanding parts of communication for humanity.”
The theme of this year’s event is “Celebrate Print,” a tribute to the industry’s richness and resilience in difficult times. As Jones says, “We’re here, we’ve made it, we’ve made it through COVID, and now we’re making it through the paper shortage, so we’re celebrating.”
A Good Neighbor Comes on Board
Joining in the celebration is Printing Industries Alliance, an association with a membership base in New York, northern New Jersey, and northwestern Pennsylvania. Both groups are encouraging their members to enter, although the competition also is open to nonmember printing businesses in their respective regions.
A joint effort makes sense because the territories “are so symbiotic” in their interests and outlook, according to Jones. “Even culturally we come together.” The print market “is so ingrained” across the regions that making the competition available to everyone in in it was a natural step forward for Neographics, Jones adds.
“We’re delighted that GAA has opened Neographics to participation by our members, who include some of the finest printers in the Northeast,” says Tim Freeman, president of Printing Industries Alliance. “Their entries are going to make this year’s competition a memorable one.”
Thirty-three judging categories are open to printing and printing-related businesses that submit work produced in the United States (a requirement) between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021.
There are three tiers of recognition: Franklin Awards for Excellence, given to pieces selected on their own merits; Best of Category, in which Franklin Award winners compete against each other for a unanimous vote by the panel of judges; and Power of Print, a best-of-the-best honor that also requires unanimous agreement.
A Bar Set High
These distinctions are not easy to win. The Neographics judges – veteran producers and buyers of print whom Jones describes as “really tough” – rate the pieces before them according to a list of stringent quality criteria. Emphasized, for instance, is color consistency: entrants must submit three copies of each piece in order to demonstrate it.
Entries are identified only by numbers – not their submitters’ names – during judging. Judges can move a piece from the category in which it was entered into a different category if they think it will get a more proper evaluation there. That way, says Jones, “we are being fair, and we give people more of an opportunity to really show off their work.”
“As print has evolved, the competition has also evolved,” she observes. Spanning all production processes, the judging categories include all of the major types of products in commercial and publication printing. The most heavily entered category is Books and Booklets, for hardcover and softcover examples above and below 32 pages. Annual reports, packaging, wide-format graphics, and finishing also are attracting strong shares of entries this year, according to Jones.
The most esoteric part of Neographics takes place in the category aptly named, “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done.” Entries here represent the kinds of jobs that can strike fear into the hearts of printers, involving what Jones describes as “just really unique, very difficult challenging print processes.”
For example, the category winner in a previous competition was a real estate piece with extra-heavy ink coverage and complicated crossovers that the customer wanted the printer to run on lightweight (40-lb.) offset stock in the form of a newspaper with nested signatures. “But they did it, and the agency and the client were absolutely delighted,” Jones says.
Members of the two sponsoring organizations can enter one piece for free and submit additional entries for $65 each; nonmembers pay $75 per entry. High school, tech school, and college students are welcome to compete in Neographics at just $15 per entry. Students as well as professional designers donate their services in creating the Neographics poster, entry form, and marketing materials.
National Competition to Follow
Everything will culminate in the gala Neographics Exhibition Awards Ceremony at Philadelphia’s Cescaphe Ballroom on October 6. From there, the top five winning entries – the Power of Print winner and four runners-up – will seek industrywide recognition in the 2023 Americas Print Awards, a new national competition organized by a coalition of 15 regional trade groups operating as Americas Printing Association Network (APAN). The national winners will be showcased at America’s Print Show 2023. (Dates and location TBD; America’s Print Show 2022 takes place in Columbus, Ohio, August 17-19.)
While everyone enjoys acclaim and accolades, bestowing them isn’t the sole purpose of Neographics. It’s just as important, says Jones, to see honorees “using this win to get the word out, to show what excellence you can display if you’ve done something amazing.” One of the judging categories is Printer’s Self-Promotion, and GAA helps award recipients to do just that with a “winner’s kit” of press releases that can be used to spread the good news.
Companies that have earned Neographics honors appreciate the marketing potential that comes with the prestige of capturing the awards. PDC Graphics of Southampton, PA has been entering the competition since 1997 and is one of its most prolific winners, including the Power of Print it took in 2020. Jim Rosenthal, president, can testify to the impression that success in Neographics makes on clients.
“There are certain types of customers that want to know how good you are,” he says. “It really adds legitimacy when we can say that there are a lot of printing companies out there, but not a lot that are as good as we are. If the requirement is something amazing, that’s why you want to talk to us, because we can do that.”
‘Now Do That for Me’
For customers, the quality of Neographics-caliber work can be a deal-clincher, according to Rosenthal. As he puts it, “when someone sees these pieces, they say, if you can do that for someone else, you can do that for me.”
Jeff Pintof, a senior account executive with The Standard Group in Reading, PA, has taken part in Neographics for nearly 20 years, serving frequently as chairman of the event. Standard is a two-time Power of Print winner, one of which was the “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done” job noted above.
Participating in Neographics over the years “gave independent reviews of the quality of our work and enabled me to develop business that I wanted,” Pintof says, noting that the entries his team put together focused on high-end, niche work. “By entering the competition and sharing the awards with those clients, it helped me to bring a lot more business in.”
Pintof promotes Standard’s winning entries through social media and encourages customers to do the same by taking them to lunch and presenting them with copies of the award. Prospects get samples of the winning pieces along with job specs and handwritten notes of introduction. By leveraging Standard’s Neographics track record in this way, Pintof says, “I’ve developed a lot of clients.”
Done Well Can Win
He thinks that every printing company eligible to enter Neographics should take its own best shot at the honors. “Everybody has a chance,” he says, pointing out that submitted pieces don’t necessarily have to be fancy or complicated in order to win. “A lot of the jobs are just done well. You never know what the judges are looking for.”
Pintof also recommends entering as a gesture of solidarity with the sponsoring trade associations, and with other printers – a sentiment that Rosenthal shares.
Supporting Neographics “is very good for our industry,” Rosenthal says. “If other companies are doing well, that probably means we are doing well also. It proves out the kind of work we can all do. It’s bragging rights for all of us, but it’s bragging rights for us as a whole. You get to give everyone an ‘attaboy’ for our hard work.”
Those spurred to action by these words should remember that the entry deadline for Neographics is firm – all entries and fees must be received no later than July 29. Download the entry form here. For additional information, contact Pat Rose at GAA: (215) 396-2300; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Challenging Checklist
Neographics judges use poker chips to tag the entries they believe should move to the next round of the process. Those chips do not fall randomly. To earn one, a piece will have to measure up under any or all of the following criteria:
• Register, clarity, and neatness of impressions
• Sharpness of halftones and line drawings
• Definition in material requiring detail
• Attention to symmetry of margins and columns
• Richness and tonal qualities of color
• Effective contrast or softness as required by design or purpose of piece
• Quality of binding, stitching, punching, die-cutting, inserting, and folding
• Unusual spacing, size, shape
• Construction and format
• Clarity and readability
• Effective execution of color
• Overall visual impact
• Lineups and crossovers
• Consistency of color
The judges examine the finished products as well as how the job was performed. The number of colors, press size and printing process are used in determining the winners.