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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: Fashion Color Book Reprint–Already

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

I always learn something from my clients, and the creator of both the color fashion swatch book I’ve been working on for the last year and a half and also of the color system underlying this product, is already reprinting the book.

So the initial copies have been received remarkably well.

How to Approach a Reprint

Here’s a short recap of the specs: There are 22 versions of the color books. Each is approximately 3.5” x 1.5”, with 55 color swatches and front matter. (In many cases, the colors differ from print book to print book, based on the complexion of the individual in question. The purpose of the books is to help clients choose appropriate fashion colors based on their hair color, eye color, and skin tone.

Needless to say, in order to keep my client’s initial expense under budget, she only printed a limited number of copies of each of the 22 original print books (ranging from 7 to 24 copies, depending on the expected popularity of the individual books).

At this point, some have sold better than expected and are almost ready for reprinting. What to do? And how to keep my client’s clients happy? After all, even though they are willing to wait (the books are that popular), it would be preferable to fulfill the orders immediately.

The Initial Plan

My client has a limited reprint budget since she pays all costs out of her own pocket. She wants to spend $1,000. She has asked me how many print books she can get for this amount. In this way, she has options. She can decide to reprint now; or she can wait, take more orders, collect funds, and reprint a larger batch in a few months.

I contacted the printer and was asked for my client’s list of specific books to reprint (a wish list, containing four titles, three of which were essential, and one of which would be reprinted if the funds allowed).

The whole estimating task was somewhat complex, since pages of the print books would need to fit on an Indigo 10000 press sheet (approximately 20” x 29”). The good news is that the sheet size is unusually large for an HP Indigo or any other digital press. In fact, according to this printer’s website, their HP Indigo 10000 sets this printer apart from other commercial print vendors in the mid-Atlantic area.

Based on the particular titles (the 4 books out of 22), the printer gave me a target of from 6 to 10 copies of each. This total would come in under the $1,000 budget. The reason the book totals were vague is as follows: This is an especially short press run. Therefore, it will depend on the makeready used for the laminating, collating, trimming, and round-cornering processes as to what quantity the printer will get. Six copies would be the appropriate quantity for the $1,000 cost, but the printer will need to run more sets to allow for spoilage within the other processes. Therefore, the printer’s customer service rep thinks we could get closer to 10 of each.

Plan B, for a Larger Custom Printing Run

Even though digital printing on the HP Indigo is a quick process, it still does require some makeready, so continually reprinting a job in small batches would start to become expensive and eat into my client’s profit. More specifically, the $1000 press run would yield 24 to 40 books at approximately $41 each (worst case scenario, assuming 6 copies per print book title), in contrast to the initial printing (which yielded between 7 and 24 copies per original, depending on the specific book), which cost closer to $18 per copy.

The challenge would be to keep the unit cost down (after all, the price charged minus the cost of the book would be my client’s profit, and a $20 difference per print book could add up quickly in lost profits).

Conversely, not reprinting in batches could have a cost as well. If my client’s clients paid up front and then waited longer then they might like for the books to be reprinted, my client could lose customers.

So Plan B is to secure another backer (I believe “angel funding” is the term these days). If my client can secure a loan from a partner, who would add approximately $5,000 to the pot in return for a percentage over the initial outlay, within a specified time, the total budget would jump from $1,000 to $6,000. For this amount, my client could get 7 to 24 copies of all 22 books, or even more (the same as in the initial printing), and fulfill her client’s orders immediately.

Although this is not a printing issue, per se, it is an interesting view of how both large businesses and entrepreneurs must operate. They must commit funds with the expectation of selling enough of a product to not only recapture the initial outlay but also reap a profit.

Digital Printing Benefits

What makes this a special case is twofold:

  1. Before the advent of digital printing, my client and I would not even be having this conversation. Doing a short run on an offset press of so many originals would have been cost-prohibitive. Digital printing has made printing a handful of copies of 22 books a possibility, not just for a business but for a single-person shop, an entrepreneur. And the quality is superb. My client could not otherwise sell color-critical books of fashion color swatches.
  2. The size of the digital press (approximately 20” x 29”) is unusual. Most digital presses accept 13” x 19” sheets. Therefore, the unit cost for my client’s books will be more reasonable (even if they are now approximately $41 each). Laying out 114 pages plus covers (the 55 swatches, front and back, plus front matter) would require significantly more press sheets on a smaller digital press. In short, most other printers in the mid-Atlantic region could not do this job this effectively at the moment.

So we’ll see what happens.

Book Printing: How to Approach a Small Poetry Booklet

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

A poet was referred to me recently by a husband-and-wife publishing team for whom I do print brokering work. The couple publishes fiction and poetry, and they wanted me to help a friend of theirs produce a print book of poems about her recently deceased husband.

So I called her and worked up specifications for her book of poems (called a “chapbook”), a very simple design with a small format of 4.5” x 6”, saddle-stitched, on 70# cream text stock with a 10pt. cream cover, and comprising only 28 pages plus covers. She only needed 20 copies for her close friends.

Clearly, due to the press run, it would require custom printing on a digital press, so I sent the specs to two vendors with HP Indigo presses. One printer’s price came in at almost $800. The other barely exceeded $200. It was a clear choice.

Interim Thoughts

At this point there are two interesting things to note:

  1. This client was self-publishing her work. And her press run was very small: 20 copies. As I noted in an earlier blog, many of my clients are now self-publishing their work. I think it’s a growing trend, and it necessitates access to quality digital commercial printing equipment.
  2. My client had never produced a chapbook, so she didn’t know how to get her poems ready for the printer. She had used MS Word comfortably, but I told her that many printers will not accept MS Word files because they can be problematic. (They prefer InDesign files or PDFs.) Since my new client didn’t know about preparing press-ready PDF files in InDesign, I offered her my design and production services.

The Design of the Print Book

I approached the job as follows. It was small and required only a few hours of design work. However, since I no longer do more than about one design job a year (I used to be a print designer and then an art director), I was more conscious and conscientious about the steps. They were no longer second nature.

I thought that you, as designers, might benefit from my approach to the layout process.

  1. The first thing I did was design a sample page spread for the text of the print book. I used master pages, and considered such things as margins, treatment of poem titles, and treatment of folios. I gave my client two options based on her stated preference for Palatino type. (I chose Palatino for the text and heads, and then Garamond as an option.) I selected Garamond because of the serious nature of poetry about a deceased loved one. I also set the poem titles in all caps, again due to the gravity of the subject matter.
  2. My client had noted a preference for 11pt. type to ensure readability. Based on the length of her lines of poetry, I made the outer margins of the booklet slightly smaller than usual. I didn’t want any line of poetry to wrap onto the following line.
  3. I didn’t take the easy way out. Instead of just coding the type, I created style sheets in InDesign, knowing that I could later apply these to all poems in the book. Time spent in preparing style sheets would be worth it later when I could just apply these to all poem titles and text blocks.
  4. When my client had approved the typeface (Garamond), I produced all pages of the text based on her MS Word file.
  5. Then, for the cover, I used a similar type treatment (all caps for the most important words in the print book title). I wanted the tone and appearance of the cover to match the tone and appearance of the text and poem titles inside the book.
  6. In spite of the fact that my client had specified a 32-page book, I noticed that the laid out book actually came to 26 pages. I told my client that it would have to be 28 pages (for a saddle-stitched book, binding would necessitate 4-page signatures for the staples to hold the pages together). So my client added some back matter and an extra poem.
  7. Early in the process I had suggested a cream white 70# text stock. I said this would look somewhat subdued. My client had suggested a russet brown solid color for the cover, with the book title reversed out of the solid. Without thinking, I had initially specified a 10pt. white cover stock (C1S, or coated one side). I thought the uncoated, interior side of the cover would match the texture of the uncoated interior pages. However, I had not initially thought about the color. Having a white interior book cover followed by a cream text stock would look odd. Therefore, I asked the printer for his suggested cream cover stocks (both coated and uncoated). He suggested a 100# cream uncoated cover stock.
  8. By this time, I had designed the cover, and my client had approved it. (It was a type-only design reversed out of a full-bleed reddish brown background.) I had built the brown out of 4-color process toners since the print book would be a digitally printed product. If my client had needed 500 books, the printer would have offset printed the job, and we could have used a PMS color for the brown, but since the job would be digital, the brown had to be built out of the HP Indigo’s 4-color process liquid toners.
  9. The printer had suggested a dull film laminate over the front and back covers. I was a bit concerned, because at this point I thought an entirely uncoated book (text and cover) might be nice. That said, the printer confirmed that the heavy coverage of liquid toner on the front of the print book could be scratched unless it was coated in some way. So I shared this information with my client, and she agreed.

As of today, this is where we are in the process.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Apply good habits to all jobs. This is just a small, text-only booklet of poems. But using InDesign style sheets and master pages is a good practice whether the book is 28 pages or 500. It will ensure consistency, make the overall production process go more smoothly and quickly, and allow you to easily make global style changes (fonts or point sizes, for instance).
  2. Think about the paper as well as the design. If possible, get a paper dummy so you can see how it will feel in your hands. Consider the paper color. Be wary of using a white cover on an off-white text.
  3. Consider the coating you will apply to the book covers. Some printers have aqueous, some UV coating, some film laminate. If your book printer thinks the inks or toners will scuff, make sure you add one of these coatings. They come in dull as well as gloss. If you want an uncoated cover, make sure your printer sees a sample PDF of your art to ensure that scuffing won’t be a problem.
  4. In fact, it’s a useful practice to send a PDF of the book to your printer early in the job (as you’re specifying the parameters for the print book). If he sees anything that might be problematic, he can tell you.
  5. Look at print book design as a fluid process. I changed both the page count and the cover paper stock as the design progressed and then requested updated pricing for my client.

Book Printing: Make Plans for the Delivery Early

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

A husband and wife publishing team to which I broker printing just sent a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book to press. Even though they haven’t even seen a proof, now is the time to consider delivery. Now, not at the end of the process.

Why? Most importantly, the printer will need to make some decisions regarding packaging the finished books and labelling the cartons and freight pallets (skids). The sooner the book printer has the delivery information, the more immediate and more accurate the results will be. Doing all of this at the end of the printing process risks major screw ups.

What the Book Printer Will Need to Know

I just found an old delivery form these specific clients and I had produced for a print book they had published several years ago. I sent the spreadsheet back to my clients just now, suggesting that they revise it for the new book. Here are some of the issues it addressed.

Number of Copies, Destination, Carrier, Due Date

This is a list of the categories on the spreadsheet. It pretty much speaks for itself. It actually prompts the client to think of all possible deliveries. In my client’s case there are two book distributors involved, so there are two main destinations for the bulk of the 1,500-copy press run of the 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book.

However, there are also deliveries to my clients’ publishing office, and this year there will be an additional delivery to their assistant’s house. The benefit of a spreadsheet like the one I’m describing is that you can update it as needed, and all of the information will be in one place. In my case, I find that reviewing such a spreadsheet periodically during the job will jog my memory regarding additional delivery information that must be communicated to the book printer.

“Carrier” is an important line item for each delivery because in the case of my client, one book distributor prefers to send their own truck to pick up the books. The other book distributor doesn’t care how the books come, so I usually leave it up to the book printer. More specifically, the sample distribution spreadsheet I have asks the printer to ship via the “best way.” This means that he is responsible for finding the fastest and least expensive option and ensuring accurate delivery. Therefore, my client doesn’t need to worry about freight contracts.

As a point of information, when you read a printer’s contract, you will in some cases see the words “FOB printer’s plant” or “FOB destination.” The former means the printer’s liability ends before your freight carrier picks up the books at the printer’s plant (for delivery to you). The latter means the printer is responsible for shipping the books (as well as for their safety) until the books have been delivered to you.

Addresses and Contact People

This also seems self-explanatory. However, most book distributors, warehouses, and fulfillment houses must know in advance when a delivery will arrive. Think about it. Even if only one skid of print books will be arriving, unloading the truck and moving the skid into place in the warehouse requires time and labor, so advance notice is a must. Therefore, complete addresses, contact people, and phone numbers are essential. Anyone involved in moving the (usually) heavy delivery will be grateful.

Site-Specific Information

When you’re crafting a delivery spreadsheet such as this, after the general information noted above, it’s important to include all of the requirements provided by each delivery address.

For personal homes and office buildings the specifications are often simpler (but harder to actually achieve). For instance, if the truck driver must break down the skid and carry a number of boxes up an elevator to an office (or into a personal residence), it’s important to note on your delivery form that you need “inside delivery.”

Inside delivery is the alternative to a “dock-to-dock” delivery. A dock-to-dock delivery is much easier, since your freight carrier is moving a much heavier, shrink-wrapped skid (or several skids) of books using a motorized pallet mover. A wrapped skid also actually protects the cartons and their contents, which can be more easily damaged if the cartons are shipped without being “palletized.”

The motorized pallet mover allows you to lift and move multiple hundreds of pounds of print books all at once instead of breaking down a skid of books into individual cartons. An inside delivery is more expensive than a dock-to-dock delivery. Therefore, you need to note this on the manifest you are creating.

Other site-specific information involves the labelling of the pallets of books. This information usually includes the publisher’s name, title, ISBN number, number of cartons, number of books per carton, carton weight, etc. The information may need to be both in “readable form” and in “barcode form.”

In addition to the labelling of the individual cartons (and the individual skids), your book distributor will probably request a delivery form that summarizes the entire order.

In some cases, the distributor will also have physical specifications, such as the weight of the cartons, overall weight of the pallets, and even the height, width, and length of the individual pallets. (All of this depends on the storage space within the warehouse and the requirements of equipment used to lift and move the pallets.)

Your print book distributor, fulfillment house, or warehouse will provide a list of requirements, which you can then send to your book printer. These are firm requirements. You will incur an extra charge if they are not followed. Although this sounds arbitrary, it actually facilitates inventory management, which ultimately benefits you, the publisher.

The Take-Away from this List of Requirements

Ultimately, the easier you make it for your book distributor to receive, store, inventory, and fulfill requests for your print book, the cheaper your overall cost will be. In addition, the control of the inventory will be more precise and therefore more accurate. You will know exactly how many books you have in storage at any given time, and your customers will get the right books in good condition in a timely manner.

To achieve this goal, your book distributor has developed effective guidelines, which will involve your printer’s preparation of the delivery (packaging and labelling). Therefore, the earlier you can get the required information from the distributor to the printer, the better. And the more lines of communication you can provide between the printer, the shipping carrier, and the delivery point, the smoother and more accurate the delivery process will be.

So it is prudent to start early crafting a single comprehensive delivery spreadsheet to which all interested parties can refer.

Book Printing: Tips on Preparing Book Cover Art

Friday, January 26th, 2018

A book printing client of mine is about to send a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book to press. She and her husband, a publishing team for literary books of prose and poetry, have circulated “galley-proofs” (lower production quality versions of the book for editors and reviewers to use for commentary), and the reader suggestions will have been introduced into the final-copy art files shortly.

What this means is that the page count is in flux. And that in turn affects the overall price of the book (and the dollar payment my clients will need to send before the production work begins), plus the width of the spine is also in flux, so the cover designer is in a wait-and-see mode at the moment.

Regarding the last comment above, here’s the rub. The designer will need to create a single file with the back cover on the left, then the spine, then the front cover, all side by side. For this particular print book, there will also be French flaps (3.5” extensions on either side of the back and front cover). When folded in, these French flaps will provide a little interior space to print an author bio, reviewers’ quotes, or marketing blurbs. They will also make the paper-bound book look more like it has a dust jacket (like a hardcover book).

So reading from left to right, the final art for the cover will include a 3.5” French flap followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” back cover followed by a spine (indeterminate size at the moment) followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” front cover followed by a 3.5” front cover French flap. To this the cover designer will add bleeds for this four-color printed product (the interior of the book is simpler: black text throughout, with no bleeds).

All of these components need to be stitched together, but more importantly they must be of the correct measurements, or the spine art will end up wrapping onto the front or back cover and looking just plain ugly.

Fortunately the caliper of the interior text paper is known: 400 ppi. For the ease of the math, that means that if my client’s book winds up being 400 pages, the spine will be one inch. In actuality it will probably be 256 pages (it has ranged from about 264 pages down to 250 pages—for the digitally printed “reader’s galleys”). So the spine will be more than half an inch and less than an inch (.64”), but the exact size cannot be finalized until the page count is firm. That means the Photoshop file (the cover designer likes to work in Photoshop rather than InDesign) will need to be fluid, and the final press-ready PDF cannot be distilled until the text pages have been finalized.

In your own print buying work, there are three take-aways from this case study to consider:

  1. Understand the concept of paper thickness or caliper, and get this information from your book printer once you have chosen a paper stock. To be safe, after you have calculated the spine width, have him confirm your math. It’s better to be safe.
  2. Learn how to stitch together the various pieces of a book cover, making sure the overall size is correct, with or without bleeds, and the pages are in the correct order (back cover, spine, front cover).
  3. Send your book printer both the native Photoshop or InDesign file (to his specifications) and a press-ready PDF (to his specifications).
  4. Don’t be surprised, or upset, if your book printer needs you to make some final technical adjustments and resubmit these files. This is complex work.

Further Thoughts

Here are a few more things that I do when I design a print book cover. You might find them useful.

The Color of the Paper

The clients noted above often print the text blocks of their books on a cream stock. That is, the color of the paper is tinted slightly yellow, in contrast to bright white sheets that are tinted slightly blue. (The blue-white is less noticeable. It just looks like a very bright white.)

When my clients add a 12pt C1S cover to this text block, it is usually blue-white rather than natural, cream, or warm white. Usually, my clients print the inside front and back covers as well as the outer front and back covers and spine. The difference between the bright blue-white of the interior covers and the cream white of the text is not visible to the reader at this point because of the ink on the interior covers (it distracts the reader). However, if my clients choose to print a book on cream stock and they have nothing printed on the interior covers, the difference in paper shade between the blue-white interior covers and the cream white text block will be visible.

In cases like these I have often encouraged them to choose a bright white shade for the text as well as the cover.

As an alternative, could my clients print the covers on a cream-white cover sheet? Presumably. However, printing four-color process imagery on a yellowish tinted paper will change the tone of the inks. Remember, process inks are transparent, so the substrate will affect the perceived color of ink printed on an off-white substrate.

So it’s a trade-off. Depending on the colors, my clients may actually either have a bright white cover and cream white text, and live with the difference, or they might print four-color imagery on cream cover stock—depending on the colors in the images. It’s usually not good to print flesh tones on a cream substrate, since facial coloration can look odd (i.e., jaundiced).

Coated One or Two Sides

On a related note, when my clients do print on the interior covers, I always specify a C2S paper (coated two sides). Many coated cover sheets are specified this way: as 80# cover, for instance, rather than 10pt C1S. It can be assumed that cover stock paper has coating on two sides, since this is not specified, whereas C1S paper specified in points (10pt., 12pt.) is coated on only one side because the notation says it is.

I encourage my clients to do this for the following reason. Ink behaves differently on a coated, vs. uncoated, surface. Ink sits up on the top of a coated surface, but it seeps into the paper fibers if there’s no coating. Because of this, four-color imagery printed on the front of a C1S (coated one side) sheet will have a completely different look than four-color imagery printed on the uncoated interior covers (front and back). Ink on the interior covers in this case would seem dull in comparison. If you want that look (a softer, crunchy granola look), it fine if it’s done throughout a book, but it looks odd if it’s done on the inside front and back covers only.

(On a related note, keep in mind that all of the text blocks of this particular client’s books are printed in black ink only on uncoated paper stock. Everything I’m saying would become far more complicated if my clients were to shift to four-color interior text blocks. In fact, at that point, I’d suggest that they either print both the cover and text on coated stock or print the cover and text on uncoated stock, depending on the effect they were seeking.)

Print Out a Hard Copy

One thing I always suggest for my clients’ book covers is that they print out a hard copy on paper with crop marks and printer’s bars. They may need to tile the pages and then tape them together. But the idea is for them to have a full-size physical representation of the cover, ruled out to show the bleeds. This will make it abundantly clear–in ways that often elude the viewer who only looks at the cover on-screen—as to whether everything is correct.

You can see where the type falls on the spine: whether it is centered vertically, or whether it is too high or low. You can see whether the front or back cover art is centered on the page (exclusive of the bleeds, which can be misleading, because once you draw pencil marks–“rule out the cover”–to connect the trim marks, you can see what the cover will look like after it has been printed and trimmed to size).

All of this is visible on a computer screen, granted. Maybe I’m just “old school.” But I do find it easier to see the flaws when the entire front and back cover and spine are before me in actual size (not enlarged or reduced– zoomed in or out). You can always catch the errors at the physical proof stage (and I would encourage you to request a hard-copy cover proof rather than depending on a virtual proof for a print book cover), but why pay to fix errors you can catch by just printing out and taping together a cover mock-up?

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, 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.


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