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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Book Printing’ Category

Book Printing: Different Approaches, Different Prices

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

A print brokering client of mine sells a small color book that helps her clients choose fashion and make-up colors. She is a “fashionista,” and her product is essentially a PMS color book for cosmetics and clothes. I’ve seen other swatch books for choosing wood paneling (in the hardware store) and still others for choosing paint (also in the hardware store).

My client’s print books are very small in format: approximately 1.5” x 3.5”. They comprise 114 pages plus cover, and they are attached on one side with a metal screw and post assembly. Each leaf (front and back of a page) has a color on the front and explanatory information on the back.

My client reprints every few months depending on her clients’ orders.

That said, my client has new financial backers who are interested in increasing the number of books printed and also adding color chips to the print books. So I’ve been soliciting prices based on various reprint totals for the 22 different versions of this book (since different facial complexions warrant slightly different color swatches).

Adding New Colors

About a week ago, I requested prices based on my client’s $2,000 budget for printing and shipping a selection of the 22 master copies of the print books. (In some cases, my client needed one, two, maybe even six copies of a particular original book, but for some books she didn’t need any copies since she already had inventory.)

According to the book printer, my client could get 99 books for her $2,000 budget. That said, she could also get five additional colors added to the end of each book for just $85 more.

This small amount would cover the printer’s adding the pages to the master art file (for each original of the 22 titles), printing the pages (5 colors x 99 copies), laminating them, round-cornering and drilling them, then assembling the pages into the new print books and individually shrink wrapping each bound book.

So essentially, the printer would do all of this for almost nothing. All my client would need to do would be to provide the five leaves (front and back of the pages) together as a single PDF file.

The big question is why would this be so cheap? Here’s the answer. Because almost all pre-press, press, and postpress operations would already be a part of the initial job (the reprint of the 99 previously printed books). Another way of saying this is that once the five extra pages had been added to each of the 22 master files, everything else (all other prepress, press, and post press operations) would be the same as if the books had been reprinted as is.

The Prior Bid: Extra Swatches Produced As a New Job

Prior to this plan, my client had asked about printing three sets of 300 copies. The printer’s estimate had been close to $3,000.

Now why would it cost so little to add five pages to the end of 99 books and so much to print three sets of 300 small color swatches?

Again, it really has to do with the set up (or make-ready) for the various aspects of the print job, even if this is a digitally printed job (liquid toner printed on an HP Indigo press) rather than an offset job. For the three sets of 300 copies, all aspects of prepress from preflighting the PDF files to imposing the job (about 30 color chips will fit on this particular HP Indigo’s 13” x 19” press sheet) would be required. Therefore, ten separate press forms would be necessary (30 1.5” x 3.5” color swatch book pages per sheet multiplied by ten press forms), and the printer would need to print three copies of each press form.

And that’s just printing. Then the pages would need to be laminated, and all die cutting operations would need to follow (trimming, round cornering, and drilling for the screw and post assembly). As a stand-alone job, without the reprint of 99 copies accompanying it, even these 900 loose swatch pages would cost an incredible amount when compared to the $85 for producing 5 pages of fashion color swatches multiplied by 99 reprinted books (i.e., by doing both jobs together).

The Take-Away

All of this can be mind-numbingly complex. But the main thing to learn is that by ganging up all prepress, printing, and post-press finishing operations for the 99-copy reprint of my client’s color book–plus the extra five color swatch pages per print book (multiplied by the 99 reprinted books)–my client is almost getting two jobs for the price of one.

This is reflected in other aspects of the job as well. For instance, my client looked at an option to reprint 44 books before she settled on 99 books (various numbers of copies of the 22 master book files). In this case the estimated unit cost was almost fifty percent higher for 44 books than for 99 books. Another way of saying this is that it would cost two thirds as much to print 44 books as to print 99 books (rather than approximately half as much).

I’m not surprised when this happens in offset printing. After all, there’s a lot of make-ready in offset lithography that doesn’t exist for digital printing. In fact, most printers will tell you that the unit cost for digital printing is almost the same if you print one copy or 500 copies. But apparently in this case–probably due to the extensive laminating and die cutting work–it really pays to print more than you need rather than risk printing less than you need.

How This Relates to Your Own Print Buying

So, in your own print buying work, consider the following:

  1. If you’re doing multiple jobs, ask your book printer whether there is any way to gang up any of the individual prepress, printing, or post-press/finishing operations to reap a cost benefit. In most cases, the more complex the job (the more prepress, press, and post-press finishing operations needed), the greater the savings will be for ganging the work.
  2. Talk with your printer. Ask questions. Make it a habit to discuss various options for approaching a job. How you approach it may yield vastly different overall costs.
  3. Find printers who value saving you money to earn your business. Considering various options for producing a job takes time. Not all printers will approach a job as a consultant and take the time to consider alternatives. If you have found the kind of printer I’m describing, make him a partner, and nourish a mutually beneficial working relationship of trust. It will pay off.

Book Printing: Resolving Printing Problems

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

I got a dreaded email from a book printing client today, the kind that no commercial printing broker likes to receive. My client was unhappy with the printed product that had just been delivered.

(Ironically, she had been my assistant seventeen years ago when I was an art director, and I had taught her to be a hard-nosed print buyer, accepting nothing but the highest quality.)

My client’s print book is approximately 300 pages, 6” x 9” format, and perfect bound. It’s a government textbook for high school students. I used to design and typeset this specific book myself back in the early 1980s.

My client had two problems with the book:

  1. There was a visible shift in the paper within the final signature of the book. The last pages had a bit of a purple cast, faint but still noticeable.
  2. The type on the book’s spine was not centered vertically (between the folded edge of the front cover and the back cover).

How I Approached These Problems

I have two deeply held beliefs about problems in custom printing. The first is that problems will occur from time to time. After all, this is a multi-step process with ample room for error. It’s not whether problems will arise but how they are addressed that counts. And the second belief is that the first thing to do in a crisis such as this is nothing: that is, don’t react immediately, but rather observe and gather facts.

So I asked my client about the extent of the problem. She only had 200 office copies of the 3,000 total press run. I suggested that she spot check books in the small boxes she had received (twenty boxes of ten books each). (That is, I asked her to to check a few books in each box.) I assumed (just a hypothesis) that the problematic books would be together in several boxes rather than distributed throughout the press run.

While I was waiting for my client to spot check the print books, I called the book printer’s CSR (customer service representative) and the sales rep.

The CSR did some research and discovered that although the paperwork did not disclose this fact, the plant manager had changed paper lots at the tail end of the print job. That is, 30,000 press sheets of paper stock (for a sheetfed job rather than paper rolls for a web press) had been made and sent out at one time, and the remaining 1,200 sheets of press stock had been created at a different time. Because of this, there was a difference between the two paper lots (a faint purple tinge on the 1,200 sheets but not the 30,000 sheets).

So we had our first answer. Approximately 4 percent of the overall press run had this problem (1,200/30,000 sheets). I apprised my client. (Of course, this did not answer the question of why the difference in paper color had not been caught during the press run, but it does suggest that the difference was slight.)

I then called the sales rep and asked him to contact my client. I wanted my client to have immediate access to the actual printer, not just to me, the print broker. He and I also discussed the extent of the problem and the fact that my client had noticed that the type on the book spine was not centered between the front and back covers.

The sales rep did some checking into the spine issue. He found that the photos and solid colors on the front cover abutted exactly to the fold of the book spine. In addition, the type was also not centered on the digital proof of the cover. Nor was it centered vertically on the prior year’s edition of the book. Presumably my client had missed this. (We all look at a job more critically when we find one problem, so we often find other problems as well.)

That said, being right is irrelevant when the client is upset. My client had pointed out that she had spent good money on this job, with this printer, and the product was not up to the usual level of quality.

(To put this in perspective, I can understand my client’s view entirely, since this printer usually provides the highest, or one of the highest, bids of all the competing vendors for this job. So my client essentially has been willing to pay a premium for the usual high quality and service this vendor offers. However, in this case my client felt that she hadn’t received the quality she had come to expect from this vendor.)

Potential Resolution

I asked how my client wanted to proceed. I wanted her to be happy, and I wanted her future business. First of all, she said she needed the remaining 2,800 books to be delivered. So I made sure this happened immediately.

Her taking delivery of the balance of the job implied that, while below her level of expectation, the print books were still usable. She needed them in her warehouse immediately for this year’s government education students. However, since she was not completely satisfied with their quality, she wanted a discount. But she wasn’t sure how much was appropriate compensation.

When we talked, I suggested that she take a couple of days to consider her request. I told my client that the sales rep was doing further research into the cause and extent of the misaligned type on the book spines. (I did not tell her that the front cover art abutted exactly to the fold of the spine because I had not yet received all of the information on this problem from the book printer.)

I also reminded her that about four percent of the job had been affected by the book printer’s changing paper lots (which is standard industry procedure in such a case, although in this instance it had led to problems). I said that the four percent might be a reasonable starting point for a discount, plus whatever my client felt was reasonable for the spine type alignment issue.

At this point (only a day after the problem had been brought to our attention), the book printer’s sales rep drove up from the plant to meet with my client and her assistants to offer support and assistance. His goal was to assure them that the printer would do whatever was necessary to regain my client’s confidence and make her whole.

At this point nothing has been completely resolved, but things are going in the right direction.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Both the book printer’s sales rep and customer service rep made it clear immediately that my client’s distress was of prime concern to them. They wanted to remedy the problem this year and ensure that it didn’t happen again in successive years. Since there was no time to reprint (and since the errors were not of sufficient gravity to even warrant a reprint), they nevertheless wanted to make my client (and her company) whole again.

Not every printer will do this. In your own print buying work, this kind of printer is a “partner,” who wants to resolve issues to your satisfaction and then continue the business relationship. Hold onto a printer like this. And remember that things do go wrong in custom printing. The important thing is how the problems are resolved.

To reiterate, the problems were not severe enough to reprint. If you have problems like this, it is important to be realistic and to only ask for a reprint for an unusable product (made unusable by the printer’s error). So if you missed something in the proof, you might ask for a reprint “at cost,” but your sign-off sheet does say that you approved the proof, whether or not you missed anything problematic.

You can be certain that in a small fraction of the jobs you print, something will go wrong. A printer who will help you resolve the problems is a keeper.

Book Printing: Digital Book Printing at Lightning Speed

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

A print brokering client of mine called me up early last week and asked whether I could provide a direct reprint of her prior year’s government textbook, 350 copies, 6” x 9”, 272 pages, perfect bound, delivered to Florida from Virginia in a week’s time. There was to be a meeting in a convention center on a university campus, and my client’s boss wanted the participants to have copies of the print book. Due to an inventory miscount, my client’s warehouse had run out of copies of the book before the next issue had been printed.

Fortunately, my client had been buying the printing for this book from the same printer for many years, so he had a strong motivation to do what she wanted, but I was still initially unsure that it was even possible. So I asked the sales rep.

What the Book Printer’s Rep Said

The printer said this was possible as long as he got a firm commitment that next day so he could purchase paper. The books would be produced digitally and then perfect bound. My client could have a PDF proof, but it was “confirming-only.” That is, the production process would not stop and wait for her approval. The proof was just a confirmation that the print book was a direct reprint from the prior year’s art files.

Now this news made my client very happy, but to be honest it both surprised and intrigued me. Almost forty years ago I had actually copyedited, typeset, and pasted up this very book for this same organization (three times a year). In fact, more than twenty years ago, I had hired and trained the woman to whom I was now brokering this printing (as a graphic designer), back when I was an art director. Back then, the book took six weeks to print and bind at a large book printer. So in my eyes producing 350 copies in one week was astounding.

Glitches and Resolution

Included in the one-week schedule was the shipping time from the book printer to the university. I did not know at the time, but a two-day delivery time from the Virginia printer to the Florida university actually required a third day for delivery. The print books would arrive at the university in two days, but the delivery service would have to arrange an appointment for final delivery (within the university) on the third day. In addition, the delivery would incur a surcharge since it would be made to a convention center. And it would be an inside delivery.

All of this is relevant because it shortened the time the book printer had available to digitally print and perfect bind the books.

The schedule proceeded as follows. My client contacted me on a Tuesday. She committed to the press run (it was still in flux at this time between 340 and 400 copies), and reviewed the proof, which the printer immediately provided as a PDF on Wednesday. Then the printer produced the pages (272 pages x 350 copies = 95,200 pages, so it wasn’t a short run) and bound the book in house, handing it off to the delivery service on Friday. The following Tuesday it arrived at the university, and Wednesday it was delivered to the final destination within the university.

My client was relieved, I was relieved, and the printer was relieved.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

First of all, this couldn’t have been done if the press run had been very long (thousands rather than hundreds) because the various analog steps of a true offset print run would have taken longer than book production on a digital press. (For example, since there are no custom printing plates on a digital press, there are none to image, none to hang on the press, none to wash up, etc. But even the digitally printed pages still had to be trimmed and bound, which took time. However, all of this was still possible within this time frame.)

Secondly, digital printing opens up a lot of options that had been unavailable when offset printing was the only technology. More specifically, back in the day, no one at the university conference would have received a copy. It wouldn’t have been possible. So they would have missed a learning opportunity, and my client’s boss would have missed a marketing opportunity.

Basically, this means that a bookseller (or in this case an educational foundation that provides books as part of an educational experience) can produce an initial offset book print run that’s almost right and then follow up later with a short digital print run if necessary.

Otherwise, to avoid running out of copies, such a book provider would need to always overestimate and overprint a job. And this would lead to excess inventory that presumably would eventually be thrown away. But before the books were discarded, they would take up space in the warehouse, and they would be counted during inventory. Essentially they would cost money to be produced and stored, but they would generate no income.

Not needing to do this saves a lot of money. So in your own work, even if you need to reprint a few hundred books now and then (and their unit cost was quite a bit more than the offset press run: about $10.00 per book for 350 rather than $4.60 per book for 3,000), the cost still is reasonable when you consider the avoidance of waste and extra storage costs.

What we also learn is that dedicated book printers have their own perfect binding equipment. This shortens the lead time for binding, since most other printers have to subcontract out this work. In fact, another (much smaller) press run of books for another client of mine will take a full week to bind because the printer in question is small and therefore does not have in-house perfect binding capabilities.

Granted, in most cases perfect binding equipment at a book printer is large and is intended for long press runs in order to be cost effective. However, some book printers have smaller perfect binders that are ideal for short digital runs.

The final thing I would like to point out is that even with a short press run, the text pages of a long perfect bound book still require a lot of post-press finishing work after the liquid ink or toner is on the press sheets. The pages still need to be bound and trimmed to size, then cartoned and shipped. So if you need to do a job like this, research all the shipping costs and physical requirements first. Make sure you know whether the delivery point is a loading dock or a location inside a building. Avoid finding this out at the last minute.

Finally, this is not the kind of thing every printer will do for you. In my client’s case, there was a long-term, mutually beneficial working relationship that kept my client coming back and motivated the printer to meet the requested schedule, no matter how short it was. When you buy commercial printing, you’re buying a process more than a product, so it is extremely helpful to know your print vendor is a trusted business partner who will cover your back.

Book Printing: Thoughts on the Future of Book Printing

Monday, December 11th, 2017

I found a very heartening article online today about print books. The article was in Printing Impressions (or more specifically, www.piworld.com). It was entitled “2018 Book Manufacturing Outlook Includes Ranking of Top 5 Book Printers from PI 400,” written by Julie Greenbaum and published on 12/6/17.

Book printing is very much alive. This is nothing new. I’ve been writing articles from time to time in this blog saying the same thing. What I found interesting about Greenbaum’s article, though, is the new information it shares about book printing, and the new drivers for growth in book printing as well as the kinds of changes and new equipment to which this will lead.

Same Day Delivery: The Amazon Model

Greenbaum’s article opens with the “new disrupter,” Amazon’s same-day delivery model. Now I realize that you can go online and Amazon (as well as other web portals) will allow you to upload your print book files, and print an on-demand run that is replenished as Amazon (or another vendor) sells your digitally printed books. However, Greenbaum’s Printing Impressions article approaches this more from the vendor side of the equation. That is, the article addresses the book printers that will actually produce the books for Amazon, and considers what their strategy will be for meeting the “same-day delivery” model.

To answer this question Greenbaum references John Conley, CEO of Borderland Advisors, noting his belief that production inkjet (large-format, quick throughput, sheetfed and roll-fed inkjet printing on large equipment) will be one answer. However he expects there to also be new market-driven improvements (and even groundbreaking print-engines that haven’t been developed yet). He also believes that improvements in digital binding are on the way. Conley thinks that costs will decrease and quality, reliability, and speed will improve to meet the demands of consumers.

On the positive side, this will allow more titles to be produced, since inventory can be tightly controlled. Instead of printing a huge number of only the most popular books, it will be possible to print fewer copies of more titles reflecting the varied interests of the numerous niche market customers.

Continued Demand But Shorter Press Runs

“2018 Book Manufacturing Outlook Includes Ranking of Top 5 Book Printers from PI 400” then goes on to share the opinions of management at Walsworth in Marceline, MO; Edwards Brothers Malloy in Ann Arbor, MI; and Worzilla, in Stevens Point, WI.

David Grisa, executive vice president of commercial sales at Walsworth, notes the continued demand for short-run printing, and describes the digital binding changes Walsworth has implemented along with e-commerce solutions, inventory management, and fulfillment services. In short, this book printer has expanded the services offered, improved the company’s workflow, and expanded its digital printing capabilities in response to the needs of the market. As Grisa says, “Digital printing has allowed us to economically produce smaller order quantities.”

John Edwards, president and CEO of Edwards Brothers Malloy, seems to share Grisa’s beliefs. Greenbaum’s article notes Edwards’ views that “Being able to print a book of one helps its customers manage titles that can range from one book to those in the thousands.” Edwards says this “has kept titles alive, economically.”

Being able to produce anywhere from one book to thousands of books has helped Edwards Brothers Malloy’s customers both control inventory and respond to their own customers’ needs much more quickly. And the quick turn-arounds made possible by digital printing, along with diversification of printing services, has kept printers relevant while at the same time providing more books (and more titles) to people who still prefer print books.

Edwards does note that for longer press runs, offset printing is still the more economical method.

A third printer Greenbaum mentions in her article is Worzilla, in Stevens Point, WI. Worzilla’s president, Jim Fetherston, notes that Worzilla can be economically competitive even on runs of several hundred books on its offset printing equipment due to improvements in its presses and finishing equipment. This has allowed Worzilla to produce high-quality full-color books more quickly and efficiently.

What’s In Store for 2018?

Greenbaum’s article, “2018 Book Manufacturing Outlook Includes Ranking of Top 5 Book Printers from PI 400,” goes on to describe Conley’s (of Borderland Advisors) vision of the near future, noting:

  1. Schools are not abandoning print books and embracing digital readers. They’re still not sure how effective ebooks are as a learning tool. More specifically, educators are not sure that students retain information read on a computer screen as well as what they read in physical books.
  2. Printers will continue to consolidate. There will be fewer offset book printers and a lot of digital book printers and printers with both digital and offset capabilities.

Grisa (of Walsworth) notes:

  1. There will be shorter press runs requiring less inventory management.
  2. Grisa sees the advent of simplified workflows and improved fulfillment services.
  3. Grisa also notes that there is “an increasing need to reduce the total cost of production, not just reduced unit costs.”

Edwards (of Edwards Brothers Malloy) notes:

  1. Print is “still viable and in demand.”
  2. But the paper market is changing, and this could seriously affect paper availability and pricing.
  3. And Edwards expects any increases in energy prices to affect shipping costs and therefore overall costs (since freight is a big part of the total print production expense).
  4. Edwards also expects “a trend this year toward shorter runs, faster replenishment, and a focus on ultra-short, on-demand runs to minimize inventory.”

Fetherston (of Worzilla) notes:

  1. There’s no better cure than a print book for spending too much time in front of a computer screen.
  2. Since online news has become unreliable in some cases, Fetherston believes a print book “is reemerging as a vehicle where readers can determine if the author is knowledgeable, credible, and worth reading.”

What You Can Learn From This Article

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Print books are not going away. People still find value in the print book reading experience, the ability to learn from print books and retain that knowledge, and the ability to trust their content.
  2. The technology is changing to meet customer demand for more titles but with shorter runs. This means increased speed, reliability, and print quality, as well as the need for more digital finishing options.
  3. There’s still room for book printers that can adapt, providing a variety of services: digital and offset printing, finishing, inventory management, and fulfillment.
  4. There will be more consolidation of printers.
  5. Book designers will still be in demand and their skills will be relevant.

Book Printing: An Approach to Designing Infographics

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

A print book designer colleague of mine had a problem with a graphic last night, so I called her up, and we discussed infographic design at midnight (she’s a freelancer, and she was on deadline). Her design wasn’t working.

Now infographics weren’t as prevalent when I was doing print book design in the ‘80s as they are now, perhaps because we have so much more information now to digest, an overload of things to focus on, and a decreasing attention span. All of these can explain the explosive growth of infographics.

Wikipedia defines infographics as “graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly.” Wikipedia goes on to say that infographics “can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends.”

So they address both sides of the brain. They give the left hemisphere of the brain the logical, analytical information it craves, but they present this in a spatial and holistic, image-based format, which the right hemisphere of the brain likes.

Back to My Colleague

My colleague had positioned the initial elements of an infographic, condensing information about the birth rate, registration rate of new births, and birth registration offices. She had the beginnings of a similar infographic for a national ID card. (My colleague does work for government and non-government world-wide organizations, so this graphic was to be inserted in a print book for a small country in Africa.)

Needless to say, it was urgent, so I helped her at midnight.

The Problem

My colleague already had the icons for the registration rate (a circle with a blue highlighted segment surrounding a large numeric percentage), the registration method (a pencil and icons of two sheets of paper), and the registration centers (icons of administrative structures that looked like a series of tiny Supreme Court buildings).

In the center of the three icons (each with both an image and a short description) she had placed an icon of a baby. Unfortunately, the baby was the same size as the other icons, and the other icons just seemed to float around the baby. There was no implied visual connection between the baby (the births) and the administrative logos.

What added to the problem was that all of this visual information needed to fit in a narrow horizontal bar across the page. Otherwise the infographic would not fit in my client’s design grid along with all the other page elements.

The Solution

First my colleague and I discussed the need for simplicity. Infographics can convey a lot of information, but the icons used must be immediately understandable. Readers have little time, too much information, and limited attention spans, so they need to “get” the icon instantly. When my colleague understood this, she revised the image for the registration offices to include a man and woman standing on either side of an office counter (a more personal image than the small buildings), with the woman holding up an application form.

My colleague did a good job of condensing all of this visual information into a simple icon. The other two icons she chose to keep. However, she aligned them on one baseline (as noted before, the initial infographic had included three icons in a triangular formation around the baby). She then put a large bracket to the left of the three icons (joining them all visually). To the left of the bracket, she put the baby (a larger image than before).

My colleague also used color to her advantage. She highlighted the title (birth registration) in orange on a gray background (that comprised the entire rectangular boundary of the infographic). She also made the bracket and the baby orange. The three smaller icons (registration rate, registration method, and registration centers per 100,000 people) she highlighted with blue and white. She treated all three in the same way visually by using the same colors.

Because she had made these graphic choices (color placement and baseline alignment), the three blue and white icons “read” as being of equal importance and similar nature, and the larger baby and the bracket “read” as being the entity relating to those three icons. In short, my colleague had visually defined the relationship between the baby and the three administrative icons using size and color.

This was a success because the reader’s left brain hemisphere would absorb the analytical information more readily if the right hemisphere of the brain could first see a visual relationship among the pieces of information.

My colleague then made a “national identity card” icon and, using the same color distribution (and replacing one of the other icons with a fingerprint icon representing a “biometric ID”), created the second half of the infographic (to the right of the first, all within a narrow strip across the page). The consistent use of the blue and white for the minor icons and the orange for the heading, the bracket, and the main icon (in this case the national ID rather than the baby) unified the design visually while showing the reader what information was similar and in what way the various pieces of information were related.

The reader could absorb this information immediately, in a single glance, based on the color placement and spatial relationships. Presuming the reader could grasp the relationships through the graphic treatment (right-brain, spatial understanding), this would encourage the reader to go ahead and address the content of the infographic more closely (left-brain, analytic understanding).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Infographics are one of the main design/editorial tools in use today. They convey a lot of information quickly by first showing the interrelationships (interactions, levels of importance, flow of activity or information) and then including selected data to support the visual treatment.
  2. Simplicity is key. You have only an instant to grab the reader’s attention. Simplify the design, and use consistent color placement, simple type treatments, and a simple design grid to give structure to the visuals.
  3. Make sure the icons are immediately recognizable, even in a very small format. Consider using numbers (percentages, for instance) where appropriate as both a large graphic element and as a statistic (i.e., both as content and as the graphic treatment).
  4. It doesn’t hurt to show your infographics to others. They may be immediately understandable to you, but another set of eyes can often help you simplify and clarify the meaning and flow (i.e., successive steps in a process, as in a “flow chart”) of the information you’re trying to condense for the reader.
  5. Keep in mind that infographics are deceptively simple. They convey a lot of information quickly, both visually and in terms of their content. Make sure you don’t accidentally mislead or confuse the reader.

Book Printing: Making a Final Decision on a Book Printer

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

For about five years, I have been working with a husband and wife publishing team. They produce high-end literary books (usually 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound), both fiction and poetry. We are on the same page regarding quality. This publishing team wants to sell books to customers who appreciate the tactile nature of a print book, customers who like the feel of the book in their hands.

The Backstory on My Clients’ Books

To achieve this goal in a consistent way, my two clients include French Flaps on all their books. These are the extended flaps on the front and back covers of a trade book that fold inward toward the spine. They make paperback books resemble hard-cover books with dust jackets. The 3.5” extra width on the front and back of the book also lets the front-cover image extend into the interior of the book or provides extra space for author biographical material, photos, etc.

In addition to the ornate covers, which seem to be more common in Europe than in the United States, my clients have faux deckled edges on the text pages. While the irregular edges are not achieved in the traditional way (with a spray of water during the paper-making process), they still add another tactile element to the book production.

The term I have heard regarding this effect is “rough-front trimming.” Basically it means the pages are not all trimmed exactly the same on the front margin (the vertical dimension of the printed page parallel to the spine, or the front, facing out). The reader’s finger touches these irregularly trimmed pages as he or she turns every page.

Finally, my clients have been printing all their books on Sebago Antique 55# text, the thickness of which is 360 ppi (pages per inch). A 55# text paper would usually be much thinner than 360 pages per inch. In fact, this particular text stock feels like a 70# text sheet because, during the papermaking process, it was not compressed as much as many other paper stocks by the rollers in the papermaking machine. (Think of a dry sponge going between heavy rollers. On the other side of the rollers, a thick sponge will end up being much flatter than it was initially—but it will still be the same sponge and it will weigh the same as it did before the compression.)

In my clients’ case, this means that their text paper is thick, rough, and surprisingly inexpensive. For black-only text (which all of their books have been), this has been great. It allows for crisp type, but it feels thick and opulent. Based on the print book being published, my client chooses either a warm white paper stock (a slight yellow-white tinge) or a bright white sheet (with a blue-white shade). Each creates a slightly different look.

The Current Printer

For a consistent look, year after year, my clients have included these specifications in all books published by their firm. They want their print books to look and feel luxurious and to reflect a unified brand. To achieve this goal, my clients have been going back to the same book printer for many years, and this has caused them to pay more in some cases.

Furthermore, in this challenging economy, and in an age when many people read their books on electronic readers, some of my clients’ colleagues have encouraged them to choose online printers for their books. To date this has not been an option because my clients have specifically wanted the particular textured paper for their print book interior pages and the extended French Flaps for their covers. My clients have chosen a luxury appearance over economy based on their commitment to “the art of the book.” By going back to the same printer, my clients have also ensured consistency (over many titles and reprintings) of the overall look of their products.

The New Printer: How to Make the Decision to Switch

This year, due to the challenging economy, my clients need to tighten spending. This is quite understandable. They still want the special covers and text paper, but they need to pay less. Fortunately, during the last several months I have been working with a new book printer who can provide significantly lower pricing. So the big question is whether to switch vendors, and how to make that decision without risking the quality my client has come to expect.

This is a surprisingly hard decision to make. After all, my clients sell their print books, and repeat customers have come to expect a certain level of quality for the price they pay. Therefore, this has to be a prudent decision based on more than the lowest commercial printing price. With this in mind, this is how I proceeded:

  1. I bid the book out to four printers, all of whom specialized in short-run print books. I did my homework to ensure that these printers focused specifically on books.
  2. To my surprise, two of the four “no-bid” the job outright. One said he specialized in case-bound 4-color books (not black-ink-only texts). (That is, perfect-binding would probably not be done in-house, and this would be reflected in the price. Also, a multi-color press would be used, and time on this equipment would be billed out at a higher rate per hour than a black-ink-only press would be.) The other printer who “no-bid” the job said he would have to outsource the cover due to the French Flaps. I actually was grateful for the honesty of the two printers. On the surface they looked ideal for the project (and prior bids on other print book work were surprisingly low), but for this specific job, these two printers were not the right fit.
  3. The remaining printers were the vendor who had been producing the books for my client over the past several years and the new printer. The new printer had two plants, and one of these specialized in black-text-only books. In addition, this printer’s focus on books meant he had all the necessary binding equipment in-house.
  4. Unfortunately, the new printer would need about a week longer than the current printer to do the job. That said, when he heard he was in the running, he agreed to a shorter schedule.
  5. I had requested samples from the new printer a number of months earlier for another client, and I had been very pleased with their quality. However (and this is the bottom line, since at this point my clients were ready to switch to the new printer to save money), I had not yet seen a book produced by this printer that had French Flaps and a faux deckled edge on the text paper.
  6. So I called the new printer. I made it clear that my clients loved the prices and schedule, but that they would need “relevant” samples to reinforce their decision to change printers. They would need to know that the printer understood, and could replicate, the exact look to which they had become accustomed.

So for now we’re in a holding pattern. Once I have the samples, I will meet with my clients and ask whether they want to change book printers or stay with the current vendor. Having a relevant sample will make the decision a lot easier.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Perhaps the most important thing to learn is that a printer can be good at one thing and not as good at another. Stellar hard-bound book samples are a good sign of a printer’s worth, but if you need French Flaps on a perfect-bound book, it behooves you to see samples of exactly this product. The page count and even the interior ink color of the book are irrelevant, but the structure (paper and binding) are very important.

And requesting samples does more than just ensure the quality of this particular binding technique. My clients’ French Flaps extend over the face trim (in contrast to a lot of print books, in which the covers fall just slightly short of the face trim). What my clients want requires a second trim in most binderies. More than anything, your printer has to know what you want—exactly. Make sure he sends you a sample (and ideally you should send him a sample of what you want as well) to make sure you are on the same page. Nothing communicates your intent better than a physical sample.

At the end of the process, you still do need to take a leap of faith. In my case, I have references for the book printer as well as the bids, schedule, and samples. One of the references is from a close friend, whom I trust completely. In your own work, it’s prudent to take your time and cover all bases, particularly if it’s a big or complex job, or an especially important job.

Book Printing: Giving the Printer More and More Book Titles to Estimate

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

As a commercial printing broker, I am in the position of potentially crafting a deal that would make a client happy while bringing more work to a good printer. What’s interesting is that there are a lot of assumptions that may be negotiable, if the client, the printer, and I go slowly and work together.

The Client

My client produces books at a local beach resort. For the most part they advertise local establishments, but they also promote events and include other editorial content. The print books are 4-color throughout due to the high percentage of advertising. They are case-bound, for the most part, usually oblong in format, and their print runs range from 1,000 copies to 10,000 copies.

Over the past two months my client has been on hiatus before starting the new publishing year. Usually she prints in China, but she has intimated that for the right price she would consider bringing the work to a local US vendor. I have written about her in the PIE Blog before. Our work has been on hold for two months.

The Printer

At the same time, I have been working with a US printer to craft a potential year-long schedule for my client’s print books and to reduce costs where possible to make the deal attractive to my client. This particular printer is ideal for the job because he specializes in book printing. Therefore, his plant includes all of the equipment most other companies do not have. This includes binding equipment for case-bound books, Smyth sewing equipment, and so forth. Because of this, he can produce my client’s work at a lower price and more quickly than his competitors. After all, he doesn’t need to subcontract the binding work.

That said, he still can only come closer than most US printers to the pricing offered by Chinese print vendors. He can’t duplicate the low pricing in the Far East. However, my client has expressed interest in repatriating the work, avoiding the schedule slow-down around Chinese New Year in February, extending advertising deadlines (since overall production and delivery will take less time here than if the books are produced in the Far East), and avoiding potential dock strikes and the need to reroute ships to other ports. The list goes on. She pays a price for the discount offered by the Chinese vendor, even if he does do stellar work.

The Pot Gets Bigger

Since my last blog article on this subject, my client has taken on more work (more book titles) and is in the process of merging with another print book publisher. What this means is that over the course of the year, my client will have more jobs to print either in China or here in the United States.

My client is concerned that the book printer I have paired her with (due to his pricing, equipment, core competencies, etc.) will not be interested enough to come down in price, since her work in some cases will not go to press exactly when planned (i.e., the jobs cannot always be ganged). We had initially discussed pricing based on ganged work. This particular printer had actually come down in price as more books were added to the pot, but we had still based a lot of the discussion on the assumption that groups of books would go to press simultaneously. Apparently, some of the authors have not been able to meet their deadlines precisely, so this may be an issue. My client was worried that this would be a deal breaker.

This is what I said. Book printers want work. If we are up front about the potential for late job submission, or even the potential omission of a certain number of print books from the planned schedule, perhaps the printer will still offer superior pricing, since we keep adding books to the list. Printers want work, I said, and this amount of work provides leverage as long as we’re candid about the potential pitfalls.

Next Steps

Needless to say, my client was pleased with the answer. We also decided to slow down the process. Not a problem, I said. It’s better to do it right rather than quickly and risk making mistakes.

So what I suggested was that she make a calendar of book titles going from the present through 2018. She has work up through next year already planned (which our printer of choice will love to hear, since it will involve more print book titles than we had discussed at our last meeting). In fact, when I called the book printer after discussing the work with my client, he was pleased and ready to take the information upline to decision makers in sales management and estimating.

I asked my client to include in her calendar the titles of the books, their formats (their sizes and whether they will be upright or oblong), press runs, page counts, delivery dates, and color usage. I said she should set forth general assumptions at this point (educated guesses), assuming that things will change as we get closer to the actual jobs. My goal is to get a schedule into the book printer’s hands, a rough blueprint of upcoming work.

I also asked my client to start thinking about her target pricing, not unit costs but the overall cost per book printing job, excluding ganged shipping (since, if the jobs come in at different times, she will not be ganging delivery from either a Chinese printer or a US printer). I asked her to base these target prices on what she currently pays for work in China. I also asked her to consider the prices she would accept (i.e., if the US prices are higher than those from China, what will it be worth to her to avoid the importing headaches, potential dock strikes, long schedule, etc., plus whatever advertising revenue she can expect to gain by keeping advertising deadlines open longer).

Once I have this chart, even if it is a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate, I will go back to the book printer and see what I can get for my client. If the printer wants a lot of work, he may very well be willing to reduce his profit per title in order to acquire many more book titles. Conversely, his pricing may just be within my client’s comfort zone if he can come close to her targets. I fully expect to have some back and forth discussions to bring both my client’s and the printer’s goals and expectations in line with one another. At least this is my hope. It would benefit both my client and the book printer.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to think about:

  1. If you have multiple titles, or even a year-long schedule of dissimilar work (books, brochures, posters, office materials), consider sharing this with your printers. Many will be able to give you a better deal based on bringing in more work. If the jobs can come in together and be gang printed, so much the better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for better prices. If you really like a printer and have a good working relationship, you can always ask about ways to reduce costs (such as paper substitution).
  3. In many cases, if you work out a one-year contract, or a multi-year contract, with a printer, you can get better pricing. After all, your printer wants consistent work. If you will be a loyal customer and bring in predictable work over a certain time period, this will be valuable to your printer.
  4. If you’re trying to negotiate a multi-job, multi-year contract, be very candid about which jobs may miss their schedule by a week or more and which may disappear altogether. After all, you’re working with your printer as a partner at this point, and that requires mutual trust and transparency. Both sides have to win for it to be a long-term relationship.
  5. Keep in mind that everything is negotiable, but be as explicit as possible. Show the printer samples of everything. Avoid any surprises.

Book Printing: Printing a Book Without Art Files

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

I just received a sample print book in the mail from a client saying he needed to potentially reprint the book without having the plates or art files.

I told him that this is not unusual. After all, once a print run has been completed, depending on the length of the run, the plates may have degraded. Long ago, many printers used to save the negatives and discard the plates. Now, I noted, printers save the digital information for a book printing job on hard drives or removable computer media.

My client did some research and found that the prior copy of the book (last printed a number of years ago) was on a Zip disk. If it could be found, potentially a Zip drive could be located, and the file could be accessed by the book printer.

(As an aside, the Iomega Zip disk was popular in the 1990s. It held 100 MB of digital information (or up to 250MB in later years–which at that time was a lot of digital information–and graphic designers transmitted files to the printer by submitting the job on a Zip disk. Of course this is nothing compared to the multiple tens of gigabytes small USB drives now hold, and regardless, designers usually now upload files to their book printer online.)

So the gist of my client’s dilemma is that he either has no art file from which to reprint his book, or he has an antiquated file on an antiquated medium from almost a quarter of a century ago. What to do?

A Description of the Print Book

My client’s book is 8” x 10” in dimension, one color inside with a four-color cover, and is perfect bound. It is a history book, a trade paperback about flight, with text and full-page images inside the book and a sepia-toned image created out of process color that wraps around the front and back covers and the spine. It is beautiful.

My client also sent me what he called a dust jacket for the hard-bound version of the book. The first thing that struck me was that the untrimmed dust jacket looked more like a proof. In addition, the color did not match the cover of the trade paperback. It contained a lot more red in the sepia image (presumably an image of the Wright Brothers and their airplane).

So I looked closely with a loupe. I noticed that the paperback book cover image had a halftone dot pattern and that the image was also composed of rosettes (a pattern of circles from the overlaying and slight tilting of the process color plates against one another to avoid moire patterns). The unbound cover (dust jacket) had no such pattern. Given this information, I now assume that it had been produced in a limited run on a digital press (perhaps an HP Indigo, given the quality of the image and the size of the press sheet).

The Analysis of the Book and a Plan for Its Reproduction

First of all, my client’s printer is searching for the Zip disk. Obviously, this is the best choice for reproduction since he can just produce new plates for the new print run. That’s Plan A. Plan B is to reproduce the job from a hard copy of the print book using a scanner.

With this in mind, I studied the inside of the book.

The images are all very old. Therefore they are of marginal technical quality but maximum historical interest. They are spotty. Some are better than others, but this is not really a problem because their purpose is to convey information. One expects this old an image to be scratched, washed out, or otherwise compromised, and this does not detract from the value of the print book. Therefore, I have suggested that my client have his printer “copydot scan” the interior pages of the book (scan the halftones and text exactly as is, reproducing the halftone dot pattern of the black-only images without descreening and then rescreening the pages–particularly the photos).

The covers are more challenging. Since they are composed of four colors, they probably cannot be copydot scanned. Rather, the printer will need to scan the large, wrap-around image and text as a single four-color image. Then he will need to descreen it (blur it slightly to make the halftone dots and rosettes invisible), then sharpen it and separate the four halftones (C, M, Y, and K) that will constitute the single cover image and text. Fortunately the image will be forgiving. Since it is a sepia image of two figures and an airplane, it looks more like a painting than a photo. It could even be fuzzier than it already is, and the image would just be more artistic and evocative. This is a blessing, since this kind of scanning, descreening, and rescreening will reduce the quality of each successive version of the image (i.e., every generation of re-copying will degrade the original; in this case, though, it will still make a good print book cover).

On my client’s book cover, the title is hand-written and printed in a light yellow (under the loupe it is mostly yellow with a slight halftone dot of magenta). The subtitle is almost white (white with a slight black halftone dot). Therefore, both should be readable in the next generation image, once scanned and manipulated. The spine is pretty much the same (i.e., probably quite readable, even after being scanned, descreened, rescreened, and printed).

The back of the book is another matter. On the hard-cover book dust jacket proof is a description of the book surprinted across the extension of the sky (which goes from the front cover across the spine and across the back cover). On the printed paperback are quotes about the book, pricing information, and a barcode. My client has said he would like to omit two quotes and add the description of the book on the back cover.

So this is what I suggested: He should ether recreate the mottled sky as the background of the back cover or use a consistent sepia screen (a four-color build to match the front cover and spine). Then he should reset all of the copy (description of the book, two fewer quotes, the barcode, and the pricing information) and submit only this page as new copy. Basically, the cover photo of two men and an airplane would now end at the edge of the spine where it abuts the back cover.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Technology marches on. Don’t assume the medium on which you save your job will be around in twenty years. That said, printers often have an uncanny ability to keep at least some of the old technology around to accommodate the needs of their clients.
  2. If you can’t do what you want to do, there’s usually an alternative. If my client’s print book cover were not ideally suited to scanning, descreening, and rescreening, he could have just paid a graphic designer to produce a new cover and then copydot scanned the interior of the book. If the images in the text had not been as forgiving as they will be (i.e., old photos to begin with), that might have been a problem. My client may have needed to redesign the interior of the print book.
  3. Your printer will have ideas like these. Tell him what you want to do, show him the book, and ask for his advice.
  4. Assume each generation of copying will degrade a printed image. Make sure you request a high-quality proof so you can see how the final printed book will look. Then ask about any potential unwanted patterning (moire) from the screening/descreening process.

Commercial Printing: “On-Shoring” Color Printing

Friday, July 7th, 2017

I am currently working with a print brokering client who produces a number of East Coast beach resort advertising print books, which are manufactured in China because it’s unbelievably cheap. However, she has to deal with a longer lead time, which cuts off her ad sales earlier than she might like. In addition, her print book production schedule falls during Chinese New Year, so book production slows down during this time. Also, there is always the potential for dock strikes, necessitating the rerouting of her books to another port for entry into the United States. Also, if something goes wrong, well, China is far away. So my client pays a lot for the discounted book printing prices.

In light of this, a situation that affects many of her fellow book publishers in the East Coast beach area and presumably a huge number of other publishers across the United States, I read an article the other day about inkjet color printing for trade books. I found it intriguing.

The Premise of the Article

I found the article on the AmericanPrinter.com website on 2/6/17. It appears to be a press release from Xerox, since I cannot find the name of the writer. If you Google the article, it’s entitled, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home.”

Even the title makes me feel warm inside. Here’s the premise of the article:

  1. Trade book publishers have been inkjet printing the text pages of black-ink-only trade books for some time now. This has improved inventory control. That is, publishers don’t run out of books, but neither do they need to buy books to cover the highest sales expectations. This means fewer inventory overruns and less waste, plus less overhead expense for inventory. Longer runs of the books are still best suited for offset printing. (Keep in mind that this pertains to the black-only text blocks, presumably not the covers.) (If you want to research this process, the technical term is “production” ink jet printing. This distinguishes it from inkjet products that are not trade books, educational books, and the like.)
  2. For books with 4-color interiors, inkjet color printing has not caught on. This is disappointing news, since it would be an ideal response to the seasonality of much of the 4-color book interior work. For instance, the American Printer article, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home,” notes that cookbooks are in demand around Christmas and Mother’s Day, color textbooks for higher education are in demand at the beginning of the school year, and children’s books sell well around Easter and Christmas.
  3. When a book publisher produces process-color print books overseas to fulfill expected orders at these specific times of year but runs out of inventory, he or she can’t just order more books from Far East printers and receive them in a timely manner. At best, it would take weeks for a reprint, not just a few days. This can mean either needing to over-order books initially or running out of books and losing sales later on.
  4. This short-run, inkjet-printed text-block paradigm for interiors of 4-color books would be ideal for solving the problem of seasonality in four-color book interiors. However, to date, there have been problems. Pretreated paper for currently available inkjet production presses has cost more than off-the-shelf coated paper, and there have been fewer paper options available. In addition, the quality of the printed product has not been of the same caliber as offset printed four-color work.

The Potential Solution

As I noted before, this article is most likely a Xerox press release. The article, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home,” goes on to list the benefits of the upcoming release of High Fusion Inks for use on its Trivor 2400 platform. This will “enable high-quality color inkjet printing on untreated commodity offset coated stocks with no pre- or post-print coatings.” “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home” continues, noting that “These stocks often cost 15 to 20 percent less than specialty inkjet treated stocks and can help providers standardize on fewer paper stocks to better manage costs.”

Clearly this is sales literature. However, it also has far-reaching implications. When the price of the inkjet-printed books drops due to lower paper costs, and when the quality of the printed product improves (which is directly related to the paper, since the color inkjet printing process can already exceed the color gamut of 4-color offset printing if you use the right expanded ink set), then the case for bringing production inkjet for color book texts back home improves significantly.

Color quality aside, along with the cost of the paper, there are still a number of additional benefits to bringing the commercial printing of color books back home. “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home” notes:

  1. Lower freight charges compared to shipping costs from the Far East.
  2. Minimized administrative and handling costs (to this I would add the elimination of the complexities and stresses of importing goods).
  3. The ability to control costs by more tightly controlling the supply chain.
  4. The ability to fulfill those orders that would be lost to a several-weeks-long reprint schedule compared to a few days’ reprint schedule for a locally-sourced ink-jet book.
  5. To this I would add the reduced cost of inventory.

Overall Impressions

Once production inkjet can compete with offset commercial printing in terms of image quality and printing paper price, this will be a game changer. I have looked closely at some inkjet printed color books, and I have seen the difference between these products and offset-printed color books. But I have also seen spectacular color inkjet work. I know we’re close. This might just be the right equipment at the right time. If so, it might just make the business case for bringing this commercial printing work home again.

Book Printing: A Sample of Outstanding Design and Production

Monday, June 5th, 2017

At a thrift store this week, my fiancee found a print book that is one of the best examples I have seen of effective book design and custom printing. It is exceptional on so many levels. A close examination of the book shows exactly what happens when book design is well executed, when the design reflects the content of the print book, and when the production qualities of the book support both the design and the content of the book.

A Description of the Book

The title of the book is Real Simple: 869 New Uses for Old Things, edited by Rachel Hardage and Sharon Tanenbaum. It is an 8.25” x 9”, almost-square-format, case-bound book. Instead of adding a dust jacket to a cloth binding, the designer has laminated the 4-color printed press sheet directly to the binder’s boards and then coated the book cover with a dull film laminate (or dull UV coating).

The color of the cover is bright and intensely saturated. The design grid on the cover comprises sixteen color squares (four rows of four squares), with each square containing a 4-color silhouette of a different household item. Three of the colors in the grid of squares are primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) or close relatives on the color wheel (for instance, the yellow changes to orange within the series of squares, and red cycles through magenta to pink). The back cover just extends this motif of squares to wrap the image completely around the book with a full bleed.

Type on the front cover is reversed out of the background colors, with the actual lines of text aligned with the borders between colors in a tight, geometric treatment.

Without even opening the print book, I think this approach stands out and makes the book unique for a few reasons:

  1. We are accustomed to books that are “portrait” format (taller than they are wide). Therefore, oblong books (also known as “landscape” format) and square books draw attention to themselves. They make us look again. I would even argue that square books are a bit more unusual than oblong books, outside the category of children’s books.
  2. The combination of the bright colors and the square format are reminiscent of a child’s book, but the content (lint roller, light bulb, rubber band, and so forth) make it clear that this print book is in fact for adults. However, the overall effect is still playful and perhaps even magical, specifically because of the saturated colors and the visual reference to books for children.
  3. The decision to laminate the printed press sheet to the cover boards rather than to add a dust jacket reinforces the casual and creative approach to the subject matter.
  4. The dull finish of the cover coating (whether laminate or UV coating) is just different enough from the usual gloss cover coating on the majority of books that it draws attention to itself. This is not just a visual acknowledgement of the subdued (not glossy) appearance. It is also—and perhaps more importantly–tactile. It feels softer than a gloss coated cover. To me that makes the book a bit more approachable in both a conscious and subconscious way.

Inside the Book

The print book designer has carried the intensity of the color into the interior of the book, starting with solid-colored endsheets and flyleaves. Divider pages and photos within the text of the book are all full pages of full color that repeat the saturated hues of the front and back covers. All photos and all color solids bleed off the page, giving a sense that the content of the pages is larger than the 8.25” x 9” format can contain.

Again, this reinforces the playful nature of the print book, as does the treatment of the photos. That is, all images are shot close up, which makes otherwise mundane household items seem new and captivating. Moreover, the images were illuminated with intense photo lights during the photo shoot, so they have a wide range of tones, from intense highlights to deep shadows. This gives them both depth and visual interest.

The overall approach to the book is, as the title states, “new uses for old things.” This is fully consistent with the visual treatment of the images, which could be summed up as seeing mundane household items in a new light. So the visual treatment echoes and reinforces the theme of the book.

Paper Choices

Paper is a subjective and particularly powerful component of design. This is easy to forget. In fact, that’s part of what makes it so powerful. The reader often doesn’t think about the paper. In this case the designer has chosen a bright, blue-white press sheet with a dull finish. This makes the text easier to read. Interestingly enough, the photos are all glossy (and crisp). Through a careful inspection, what I see is that the photos have been gloss varnished (to make them more dramatic). This creates an interesting contrast when the photos are seen next to the dull white text pages.

The Design Grid

Introductory pages of the book have one column of text extending from side to side. The designer has included small line drawings in places that would normally be paragraph breaks. That is, the text runs on without additional spacing between paragraphs, but the reader can identify the paragraph break from the position of the line drawing. In addition, the text shifts back and forth between a dark, bold sans serif face and a much lighter serif face. Since the intro pages have relatively little copy, this treatment is intriguing and playful rather than confusing. In addition, there is ample white space around the single column of text.

In contrast, the pages that actually tell you all kinds of new uses for mundane household items are set in smaller type in a five-column grid, with the column closest to the gutter left blank. The bottoms of the columns vary in depth, creating a nice visual zig-zag rhythm. This also allows for ample white space, so the reader is not faced with an overwhelming sea of type. In addition, a darker sans serif typeface is used for the headlines (only a few words each). For instance, you can look up “Avocado,” and the text will tell you “use to” and then offer suggestions for creative uses of an avocado.

What I like about this treatment is threefold:

  1. The typefaces are the same ones used in the intro pages, so the book has a rhythm and predictability based on common design elements.
  2. Shifting back and forth between the text (for the “how to” or “do it yourself” content) and the full page photos gives both predictability and variety to the look of the text. It’s creative but extremely readable.
  3. The contrast in typeface (and particularly the weight, or lightness/darkness, of the heads and text) make the content of the book easily understandable. If it were in another language, even one I couldn’t understand, I’d still be able to decipher the levels of importance (as well as relatedness) of one block of copy to another.

Divider Pages

Finally, the divider pages use two-page, full-bleed color solids to distinguish the break between subjects within the book. Minimal text is either reversed out of the color or surprinted over the color, and a large capital letter (the successive letters of the alphabet, since this book is formatted as a dictionary of sorts) is reversed out of the solid color. The letter bleeds off the page and is so large that it draws attention to its shape (the strokes of the letterform) as a piece of art in and of itself.

Overall Impressions and What You Can Learn from This Book

All of these design techniques create an easily navigable print book with bright colors, intriguing images, and an overall playfulness. This is fully consistent with the concept of playing with household items to discover new uses for them. If you are a designer, there is nothing that will lift your work above your competition than using these, or similar, artistic principles to marry the content and tone of your book with its overall appearance.

Keep in mind that design goes beyond the typefaces and design grid and includes paper choices, cover coatings, and bindery choices. If all of these support one another and also reinforce the purpose of the book, that’s true success in design.

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