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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: Everything Is an Advertisement

Friday, December 28th, 2018

About 25 years ago, when I was an art director/production manager, the non-profit foundation for which I worked brought in a marketing consultant. Even though it was a quarter of a century ago, I still remember two things he said.

First he told a story of a campaign he had created for a foundation seeking funding to help the disabled. He had sent wheelchairs to select donors and had asked them to spend a day in the wheelchair and then donate what they thought appropriate. (Sort of a “walk a mile in my shoes” approach.)

The second thing this consultant said that stuck with me was the following: Everything you do, every printed piece you send out to a client, is an advertisement. (This was before the concept of “branding” had become so widely known.)

From this consultant’s story and his insight on advertising, I came away with a deep conviction that he was right on both counts.

What Does This Have to Do With Book Printing?

A print brokering client of mine is producing three new print book titles this coming year. The client is a husband and wife publishing team. They focus on the quality production values that set apart print books from more generic print-on-demand books and the digital-only books you read on a screen. My clients always have French flaps on their print books, faux-deckle edges on the books’ paper, and superb cover art. They also have the printer coat the covers of the books with a soft-touch matte film laminate, and they request a press score on the front and back covers (a vertical score parallel to the spine that makes it easier to open the books).

These characteristics of my clients’ books tell a story about them. They reflect my clients’ values. These characteristics say that my clients appreciate the tactile qualities only a print book can have. This value is a part of my clients’ brand. A part of who they are and what they offer their clients. So whatever they send out, be it a flyer noting an upcoming book launch or even a new print book itself, everything is an advertisement.

Cover Coating the Galleys

Prior to printing the final editions of these three books next year, my clients will produce “galleys” for selected readers to review and comment on. My clients will then incorporate these comments into their final texts prior to the final book printing. This will do a few things:

  1. It will improve the final books. After all, nothing adds to the quality of a work in progress more than input from one’s colleagues who themselves are writers, teachers, and book reviewers.
  2. It will promote the books. This is a bit unusual. My clients produce books of fiction and poetry, and in the past, in most cases, galleys were of low quality and were only used as editorial tools (albeit for multiple readers to review). Promotional copies came at a slightly later stage, when the text of the work had been set in final form. In my clients’ case, this galley really functions as both a galley and a promotional copy. Because of this, and because of what the consultant said to me 25 years ago, it is clear to me that these books are an advertisement for my clients’ brand and their values, the reasons they don’t just produce e-books.

The Specs for the Galleys

How this relates to book printing will become more clear as we focus on the specifications for the galleys. Unlike the final books, the galleys will not have deckle edges on their face trim. Nor will they have French flaps or a press score. They will just be 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound books with 70# offset text and 12pt. 4-color covers and black-only-text ink.

To save my clients’ money, and since these are not the final books, to date we have printed the covers digitally (usually a 50-copy press run) and without a cover coating. After all, they may need to look good, but they don’t need to look good for very long, since the final copies with the French flaps will follow them into production within a short time.

That said, the printer, a new vendor who specializes in book printing, noted his firm belief that these books should in fact be coated with a gloss laminate to prevent scuffing during shipping.

I was pleased and a bit surprised by his proactive stance, but I brought his suggestion to my clients. Overall, this would raise the prices for each of the galley press runs by only about $40.00 (for 75 copies this time), so it was not a lot of money. I thought it was a good investment in the quality of my clients’ books but also a good investment in their brand image. I said as much, and they agreed.

However, when I asked the printer for the cost of a matte film laminate (the initial bid was for gloss), his pricing went up an additional $40.00. On the one hand, the final books would be cover coated with a soft-touch matte film laminate, so you could argue that consistent treatment of all covers would be good for the brand. It would show coherence. It would be a good advertisement for my clients’ work. Moreover, this would work on a subconscious (and yet still powerful) level with readers.

But, in the final analysis, my clients, the printer, and I felt this was overkill, since the goal was protection of the ink on the print book covers and since the cost of coating the covers was starting to approach a sizable chunk of the total expense.

As an afterthought, what has made this an easier than usual process, in determining the nuances of the cover coating, has been the specific nature of the printer. He is a book printer. Unlike most printers, he has all of the equipment to do the printing, cover coating, and binding in-house. Therefore, the turn-around time is reasonable, and the prices are superb, leaving primarily (but not exclusively) the aesthetics of the product to inform the final decision.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

If you parse out this experience I had, a few teaching points come to mind:

  1. It’s always helpful to have a book printer print a book. A commercial printer can usually also print a book, but he may not have in-house perfect binding, case binding, or even some of the more esoteric cover coating options you might like. If he has to subcontract this work, it will lengthen the schedule, raise the price, and possibly even take away some of the printer’s control over the quality of the final product.
  2. Think about the overall “look,” not only of an individual printed product but also of the other printed pieces that will accompany it. When you varnish, UV coat, or laminate one product, consider the overall look of all the products together. You may still choose a different coating for each, but it will be a reasoned decision (sometimes even a decision based on money as well as aesthetics).
  3. Keep in mind that everything from your business cards to your emails to your texts to your most high-profile printed product is an ad. It speaks volumes about both your customer and about you.

Book Printing: Don’t Forget the Book Designer

Monday, December 10th, 2018

A potential book printing client of mine is producing a 6” x 9”, 220-page, perfect-bound book. Over the last few weeks we have been discussing her project, and I have been providing prices. What’s intriguing to me is that she had been considering printing her book through an on-line, print-on-demand publisher, but after our discussions, she likes the personal attention of working with a custom printing broker and going to a “brick-and-mortar” printer. She had spoken to a number of friends, and some had not been altogether satisfied with the overall quality of their print-on-demand books.

I heard back from her this week after a hiatus during which she had been considering her options.

One of the items I had included in her book printing estimate was the line: “artwork submitted as press-ready PDF files.” When my client contacted me, she asked whether all of the printers wanted the art files prepared this way or whether they could do the formatting themselves. She also asked whether there was an additional cost for this service.

Her question took me aback. It showed that both she and I had made assumptions. I assumed she was a graphic artist, used to designing books in InDesign, while in reality she was preparing a job for her father-in-law in MS Word. She was a writer, not a designer.

So this is what I told my client.

Formatting is an extra cost for any commercial printing company. I had found her prices for two book printing suppliers that could do the formatting. One would charge $80.00 per hour. He thought he could produce the book in four or five hours, but this was based on no knowledge of what the book would look like. He would need to see what was involved before providing a firm estimate. The second printer would do the formatting for $45.00 per hour. I told my client that this was a great price, since I myself would do similar work for $70.00 an hour.

I noted that since the overall printing price for 30 copies produced digitally would range from $350.00 to $540.00 (depending on the vendor), the design component of the job would almost double the overall cost. And that’s just assuming a simple design job.

I did ask the book printer, however, whether the client could submit a MS Word file saved as a PDF, if the job were just simple text. I noted that many printers do not like MS Word files. One reason among many is that these files are saved in the RGB (red, green, blue) color space (used for creating colors on computer monitors) rather than the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color space used for creating colors with ink on paper. One printer had brought this to my attention. I had also been concerned about potential formatting errors introduced in the translation from MS Word to PDF files (any extra spacing, problems with special characters, font issues—I just hadn’t been sure).

Suggestions for My Client

The first thing I did was ask my client about her specific print book. I realized that my assumption that it would be one continuous column of text throughout the 220 pages (with potential running headers and folios as well as chapter opening pages) might not be correct. I asked whether the book had photos or charts or whether it was only a single text column running through all pages.

This is what she said.

The book is mainly a single text column with footnotes. There are some photos (maybe 10), charts (2), and maps (6-10). So these are the only things that really need to be worked out on the formatting. She agreed that it would make sense to create and work off a template.

So right off the bat we were working with a rather complex design, or at least something requiring a designer and not just someone to “format the text.”

This process made it clear to me that as a printing broker I was assuming the text of a book really didn’t matter except for whether it was 4-color process, black and a spot color, or black ink only (i.e., what the printer would need to know). My client, on the other hand, assumed the job was ready for the printer when all the words in the text file were perfect.

Communicating Design Requirements

I told my client that the best thing she could do to keep costs down was to give the designer samples (scanned and sent as PDFs) of printed work she liked. If she could show the designer what she wanted the cover and text to look like (including the type size; fonts; and treatment of photos, headlines, folios, running headers, charts, etc.), then the designer could “format” her book in that way on the first attempt. This way there would be no miscommunication. The designer wouldn’t have one “look” in mind while my client had another.

This also reminded me that for even the smallest job (whether a simple book or a one-page announcement), the fundamentals of good design still applied.

We’ll see what she says when we talk next.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you yourself are not a designer, you still have to consider the design of a book and then hire someone to do this part of the job for you. The overall job will then cost more than just the printing. Then again, it’s more than just “formatting,” because how the overall book looks will strongly (and in many cases subconsciously) affect the reader. If the book is hard to read (type too small, or type in a font that’s hard to read for some reason–like a script font or a display font used primarily for headlines), your reader’s eyes will tire. Once this happens, you’ve lost him or her.

In addition, if the overall look of the print book doesn’t match its tone and purpose, your reader will be confused or put off. For example, if your subject matter is technical and you choose a floral typeface, this will confuse the reader. And anything that takes the reader’s attention away from the content of the book will detract from his or her experience. These days people have limited attention spans and limited reading time, so you want the reader’s experience to be easy and enjoyable.

Overall, this means that if you are not a designer yourself, you need to hire one.

To do this, first ask for printed samples of the designer’s work. Then show the designer samples of print books you like. Next, request a mock-up of the main elements of the book: cover, title page, table of contents, chapter opening, etc. In fact, you might even want to request a few pages showing two or three alternate type/design treatments, even before the designer produces a complete mock-up including each of the main book components.

Look first for readability. This will depend on the choice of font and its point size, the space between lines, and the width of the column. The main question is whether it is easy to read. Think also about the age of the readers. Middle-aged eyes need larger type sizes to allow for comfortable reading.

Only after you are satisfied with mock-ups of all elements of the book should you ask the designer to proceed with a cover proof and proofs of all text pages, front and back matter. etc. This goes double if you’re including charts, graphs, and photographs, as my client will be doing. What you want to avoid is a 220-page book proof with design elements you don’t like. Work these issues out in the initial mock-up, not the first page proof.

Finally (and this is actually the first thing to think about if you’re working with a designer), make sure the MS Word document is the final edited and accurate copy of the text. Of course there will be some edits, but if you want to keep the budget under control, edit the book before you submit it for final design, not at the first proof stage.

Book Printing: High-End, Case-Bound Look-Books

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

My fiancee found two print books at the thrift store this week that together weighed about twenty pounds. They are perfect-bound art books. One is a “look book” showcasing street art in both New York City and Barcelona (four-color throughout, with bleeds and minimal text).

The other is a catalog of art prints. This one really needs its own table, it’s so heavy. Its contents have been broken down into photography, still life paintings, floral paintings, figures, etc. While it doesn’t cover all art periods, it really does provide a visual survey course in art history.

My fiancee picked these up as a resource for our art therapy work with the autistic: idea books to help us come up with new and thought-provoking art projects that will challenge our students. But as a print broker, I also noticed the superior print book production values these two case-bound books display.

The Street Art Book

Street art–as the book NYCBCN, by Louis Bou, suggests through its imagery—is a reflection of urban life applied to all manner of canvases, ranging from the sides of trucks to ramps in skating parks, from posters plastered over windows to walls emblazoned with graffiti. All of this is art. All of it tells a story about what it’s like to live in New York City or Barcelona.

I see a number of qualities in the book printing work that will affect the reader on a subconscious level:

  1. The paper stock is substantial (probably 100# text). This not only prevents show-through from one side of a page to the other. It also gives a sense of importance to each page. A thinner press sheet would feel flimsy.
  2. The paper is almost invisible. The ink coverage is just that thick, and every page bleeds on all sides. However, here and there you can see the specular highlights (i.e., areas with no halftone dots, or very tiny ones). The paper is an exceptionally bright blue-white shade. Granted, in contrast to the surrounding heavily saturated colors, the white would naturally stand out and seem whiter than usual. However, the bright blue-white press sheet does still increase the brilliance of the colors, since process colors are transparent. That is, the whiteness of the press sheet enhances the intensity of the ink colors.
  3. The book is more than 600 pages in length. No other binding method I can think of would be appropriate for such a long print book as the case binding chosen by the book designer. Perhaps a perfect bound option would have worked. But for such a large and heavy book block, case binding does make this book seem a lot more durable. After all, the case on which the book block has been “hung” has to support approximately five pounds of weight.
  4. In addition to the case binding, the book has been Smyth sewn. You can see the stitches holding the book signatures against one another now and then as you page through the print book.
  5. The book cannot lie completely flat since it is a case-bound book (and not a lay-flat bound book). Nevertheless, it is a loose-back book (the fabric “crash,” to which all book signatures have been glued, has itself not been glued to the spine of the book-binding cases). Therefore, the book almost lies flat, or as flat as one can expect a 600-plus-page book to lie. Since the spine is loose and the book is large—and clearly designed to be used a lot and last a long time—it is clear that the thickness of the crash and the thickness of the paper work together to ensure the print book’s durability. You can see the attention to detail. Bookbinding clearly is an art.
  6. Given the gritty nature of the subject matter, it seems fitting that the cover is made of 4-color-printed litho paper laminated to the chipboard of the binding. (Or, rather, this is not a cloth-bound book in a dust jacket.) The intense color of the cover art is augmented by this treatment. And adding the title of the book in large foil-stamped letters (both reflective and textured) provides an even more intense and edgy tone to the print book.
  7. While I’m not certain about this, the intensity of the interior art and cover art would suggest the following: either the printer added fluorescent ink to some of the process colors, or the printer used touch plates (additional colors beyond the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

The Fine Arts Book

The cover of this book just says Art. It’s a catalog. In fact, the price list is printed right on the interior front cover. Like the first book, this book is case bound. Unlike the first book, which I would consider to be an art book meant to showcase street art, this is a book used to sell printed reproductions of fine art prints. Nevertheless, it will give the careful observer a good education in a number of contemporary styles and approaches to the fine arts.

It is also especially heavy: perhaps five times as heavy as the first book. When you open this case-bound book, the crash does not come away from the spine. Unlike the other (“loose-back”) book, the crash of this case-bound book has been glued to the spine of the binder’s case to increase the durability of the print book. (This is called a “tight-back” book.) After all, it is especially heavy, and it has to last a long time and be used regularly as a reference. I firmly believe that a loose-back book block of this weight might otherwise tear away from its case after numerous uses.

Here are some further thoughts about the production values of this book:

  1. There are numerous index tabs inserted between press signatures. If you look closely, it is clear that they were folded in (maybe two inches from the face trim of the print book) and then opened so the thumb tabs would extend past the trim of the book pages. This is why. If the tabs had not been folded in, they would have been trimmed off as the guillotine cutter came down to flush cut the face (outer vertical side) of the book. To avoid this, a bookbinder folds in the tabs, trims the book block, and then opens the tabs for final use.
  2. As with the other book, the designer has chosen an especially bright white (blue white, since it appears even whiter than usual) press sheet to showcase the images. Since this is a case-bound catalog, to be used to sell art prints, the images of the fine art prints are relatively small. Positioning a small number of images on a page and then surrounding them with a lot of white space make reading the 800-plus-page book less daunting. The commercial printing press sheet seems to be matte (not gloss or dull). This makes reviewing the imagery easier on the eyes. But to make the images “pop,” the designer has also apparently varnished the photos.
  3. As I consider the length of the book and its weight (maybe ten pounds), it is clear that all of the elements of the case binding add to its durability. These include the tight-back case binding and presumably Smyth sewing (everything is glued too tightly for me to see the stitching, but Smyth sewing would add additional durability), plus the exceptionally heavy end-sheets and flyleaves (the papers to which the book block is attached and which are in turn glued to the interior front and interior back covers).
  4. The goal of this print book is to present to the reader a huge number of images. These have to be attractive (a number of images per page but with ample white space). It looks like the colors in the prints may have been augmented (either with fluorescent ink added to one or more of the process colors or touch plates with additional inks beyond the usual CMYK palette). But beyond everything else, this book is meant to last. It is clear to me that the artistry of the binding has both a functional component and an aesthetic one.

Book Printing: More Thoughts on the Color Chip Book Snafu

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

I’ve written many blog postings about a small color chip print book for which I broker the custom printing. It is only a few inches long, 118 pages plus cover, laminated, drilled, and attached with a metal post and screw assembly. There are 22 master copies of which each requires only three to six copies for my client’s clients. My client is a fashionista. Her clients love these little books. So she reprints the job every few months.

When I last wrote about the print book, the inside pages of the color books (a tool used to suggest make-up and clothing colors that match one’s complexion) had not been laminated. (It was my fault, and I present this as a strong suggestion for all PIE Blog readers to check the list of specifications for all of their jobs one extra time, or more.) It’s so easy to think something is there when it’s not. The spec sheet is your primary contract with your commercial printing supplier. Approach it with respect.

That said, the printer reprinted the job and sent the books to my client. She then sent them on to her clients who had been waiting. Fortunately, the first press run (unlaminated) was color-accurate, so these books could be used to temporarily fill my client’s back-orders. This made for good public relations and probably even attracted some new customers.

When the reprinted and laminated (this time) books went out, my client got five complaints. The colors on one side of the color swatch book pages didn’t match the descriptions on the back side of the pages.

What to Do?

Needless to say, my client has been remarkably patient. Practically anyone else would have found another commercial printing supplier. Fortunately, my client trusts me, and both she and her business partner (separately) had had many problematic printings over the past several years (inside the United States and abroad). This may explain her patience.

My client was actually at an advantage for the following reasons:

  1. She had requested a preliminary press run (at cost) to make sure the colors were all as she expected. (After all, prior book printers had produced color swatch books with color shifts.) All of the colors were ganged up, so there were only a handful of full-size HP Indigo press sheets containing all 300+ hues (that showed up in various locations within the 22 master books).
  2. She had requested and carefully reviewed all virtual proofs the printer had provided for this particular press run. You might consider these PDFs to be akin to position proofs, like bluelines. We knew the colors were right. The goal of the PDF proofs was to ensure complete copy and colors placed in the right location with the correct margins. The time my client spent making sure these were accurate will have been well spent, since she will have proof of the misprinting (correct colors on the front, incorrect copy on the back).
  3. She informed all clients of the potential problem via an email newsletter, but she fortunately only heard back from five clients (apparently the other print books were ok). This was after several weeks, so she is reasonably certain that the extent of the problem is five books out of 126. (What had started as a much larger problem eventually filtered down into a five-book problem.)
  4. My client had in her possession at least one copy of all master print books (all 22 titles) except for two. She checked these and found no problems. Moreover, the problem books her clients had flagged were copies of the two master books my client did not have samples of (she had sent them out to paying clients).

Next Steps

I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of quickly articulating and then quantifying a problem with a commercial printing run. In this case my client can say she needs five good books in exchange for five bad books she is returning. Granted, if this were offset lithography, this would be a crisis for the printer. Firing up an offset press to produce five 118-page-plus-cover books would be pretty much the same as firing up the press to reprint 100 or 200 books. The entire cost—a sizable one—would go into makeready. But for digital printing (remember, in most cases my client only had needed three or four copies of each of the 22 master books), this would not be a crisis for the book printer.

(As a point of information, if this had been an offset printing run, the printer would have been responsible only for the cost of the misprinted books, not for replacing them.)

I personally believe that the ideal sale involves both the client’s and the printer’s benefiting from the transaction. My client needs to reprint the job again, since she already has a substantial number of new pre-orders for the book. At the same time, the printer that messed up the fronts and backs of five books has been dead-on accurate in the color (all 300+ colors). Given the problems with past printers, this is a highly significant fact in their favor.

Therefore, my suggestion to my client at this point is the following:

  1. Have the current printer produce the new run of books. Give them enough lead time to do all the hand work (laminating, in particular) to ensure that quality standards are high. Avoiding this printer’s needing to rush will benefit my client as well as the printer.
  2. Send back the five books retrieved from my client’s clients along with the PDF proof showing that the final product was different from the proofs my client had approved (i.e., there’s no room for interpretation of the error or the responsibility).
  3. Ask that the printer add five new books to replace the five bad books (doing this during the new run will minimize effort and reduce the chance of error for the printer, which will also benefit my client).
  4. Send specs, target pricing, and sample books to two more printers (also trusted vendors) and ask for estimates. This way, if anything goes wrong with relations with the current printer (including its going out of business, as our prior printer did), there will be a “Plan B.”
  5. Take the time to thoroughly vet these two new book printers. This will include getting samples printed from the color swatch book files themselves (not just attractive book samples from the printers).
  6. By uncoupling the search for a back-up printer from the actual reprinting of the next set of my client’s books, we will ensure good decisions. After all, we don’t ever have to move the job, or we can move the print job at some point in the future. We just don’t need to shift printers immediately–in a panic–just to ensure that my client’s clients get their color swatch books on time.

What Is Not the Printer’s Fault?

On an entirely different note, another client of mine created the back cover, spine, and front cover art file for a perfect-bound textbook based on the text paper thickness (pages per inch), as noted on the book printer’s cover template. She positioned the text for the spine slightly off center (vertically, that is, between the front and back cover). She herself missed this on the proof, and yet she had somehow expected the printer to still catch and correct the error before printing the job.

Some printers would have caught this and fixed it just to make the client happy. This printer did not miss it on purpose. Obviously it was just a slight misalignment (not obvious when the flat cover sheets came off the press). It was a shame that it happened, but it was not the printer’s fault.

Fortunately, my client came back to this printer the following year (actually for a reprint of the art files he already had archived, which was a benefit). For this reprint, the printer did adjust the art file so the type on the spine was positioned correctly. My client was happy with the printer again.

The Take-Away

In your own work, always request a proof: every single time, even if it’s just a PDF (virtual) screen proof. Personally, I’d advise you to rule it out in pencil (to show the trim size) to make sure nothing is off center or too close to the trim (this is mostly for a PDF proof or an untrimmed cover proof). Or at least check the folds for accuracy (on a hard-copy proof). Also check the type position and completeness (make sure nothing is missing or out of place).

Your proof (and the accompanying sign-off sheet that shows the paper on which the job will be printed, how many copies will be printed, etc.) is an incredibly important document. Consider it to be a contract (like your spec sheet). It is the point in the process at which responsibility for the accuracy of the job passes from the printer to you. If something is wrong in the final job but correct on the proof, your printer has to make you whole. But if you missed something, it’s no longer the printer’s responsibility.

Book Printing: What Do You Do in an Emergency?

Friday, August 24th, 2018

What do you do when a job goes south? It can happen in any number of ways. I have a client who regularly prints a color-chip book for fashion. I’ve written about her work a number of times in this blog. Her product is akin to a PMS swatch book for make-up and clothing based on one’s complexion. It is small (3.54” x 1.42”); 118 pages in 4-color process, produced digitally on an HP Indigo; and then drilled and assembled on a metal screw and post assembly. Depending on the particular press run, my client might print anywhere from 3 to 30 copies of each of her 22 master copies (each master copy addresses people with particular hair and facial complexion). Because of the ultra-short press run for each master copy, my client’s job needs to be produced digitally.

The Backstory

About two months ago my client put in an order for copies of her color swatch book. It was the first time the current commercial printing shop had done the job. To be safe, we had asked the printer to produce a complete, untrimmed set of all colors used in the 22 master print books as a test. Each swatch had the CMYK percentages noted below the solid color as well as my client’s proprietary name for the hue.

To determine if there would be a perceptible color shift once the sheets had been laminated in the final press run, we had the custom printing vendor produce one set of laminated, untrimmed swatches (as many as would fit on an approximately 12” x 18” press sheet) and one set of unlaminated swatch pages. I had seen in prior iterations of this job produced by another printer that some of the colors in the blue range had shifted slightly. I wanted to make sure that if there were color problems, they could be definitively attributed to either the custom printing or the lamination.

So we thought we were ready to go, once my client and her business partners had approved the test sheets. We also thought this would be a good way to ensure consistent color if we should ever need to change commercial printing vendors. After all, the prior printer had gone out of business just after one of my client’s reprints: hence the need to move the job.

My Oops

What we hadn’t foreseen was a simple error in the specification sheet: The covers had to be laminated, but somewhere in the process this notation had been removed from the specification for the text pages. Due to the heavy ink (actually liquid toner) coverage, without lamination the heavy solid colors on the swatches could easily be scratched. I actually tested this on a sample, and I found the problem to be marginal on light colors and more pronounced on darker colors. (This was due not to the toner coverage but to the eye’s tolerance for flaws in yellows, for instance, but not in dark purples.)

So the job came back with laminated covers and without laminated text. The printer’s customer service representative had caught the error (the inconsistency between the initial laminated but uncut proofs and the unlaminated text sheets in the actual press run), but he had assumed—without asking–that it was intentional. He had deferred to the specification sheet.

It was not the printer’s fault. It was mine, as the commercial printing broker. So I cut a check to my client to cover the printing. Fortunately I had not needed to do this up until this point in my history as a printing broker. It was unpleasant, but it kept my client happy.

The Next Steps

At that point, my client had a full run of unlaminated color swatch books. The colors were superb, but the pages were fragile since they were unlaminated.

Since my client had effectively paid nothing for these (since I had reimbursed her), she then paid the printer for a reprint—which turned out to be a much longer run. This one would be laminated.

Fortunately, my client still had 96 salable books (albeit salable for less than the usual price, since they were not laminated). I encouraged her to use these to keep her clients (she has a 4,000-name client list) happy while waiting for the new, laminated print books. I explained that she had an equity base. The books were usable. This would be a good, temporary, public-relations fix.

The Reprint Process

The reprint process didn’t go as well as planned. It was supposed to be a three-week turn-around. I understood that the lamination film had to be hand loaded, a sheet at a time, by the printer. There was going to be a lot of hand-work, but the good news was that all steps in the process, including the drilling, round cornering—everything—would be done in house.

The problem was that this printer is a small shop. In terms of service, that’s a good thing. I have been working with the printer for more than a decade, and I have always received a premium print job for a lower-than-usual price. In fact, I just sent this commercial printing vendor my sales commission invoice for the hundredth project we have done together.

But being a small shop, the printer had been hit hard recently when a number of key employees had to be out for health reasons, deaths in the family, and any number of other crises.

You may say that I’m naive. I believed the printer because of our ten-year-plus history. What I did do, however, was work out a plan with my client for daily (or every two days) status updates from the printer.

Initially, the job just seemed to sit there. But after a few days, things were back on track, and the job actually shipped today. I just looked at the calendar. The entire process had taken four weeks instead of three.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes things that look really bad can be salvaged. I salvaged the relationship with my client by paying for my mistake (and fortunately it was not a huge job). And what looked like an endless wait for the reprint turned out to be only a one-week delay.

I firmly believe it was because of a few important things:

  1. I had had a long, mutually beneficial, business relationship with the printer. This was not the first job. I made it clear that continuing the relationship was a priority. I also noted that other printers had not done as good a job with the color fidelity (which was clearly of utmost importance to my client for her color swatch book).
  2. Based on the length and quality of the business relationship, I was kind. I didn’t blame the printer. My goal was to complete the job to my client’s satisfaction, not to lay blame. Therefore, coming up with a way to leverage the initial printing to make my client’s clients happy while they awaited the new print books helped resolve the situation, as did requesting email updates from the printer (the written word seemed to make the process more formal and quantifiable).
  3. I focused on solutions. (Another job had gone south one other time in my 30-year history of buying custom printing. The printer went out of business during a textbook printing job. He had no credit and could not buy paper. So I urged the company I worked for at the time to purchase the paper for the print books at its own expense and then deduct this amount from the final payment to the printer. In this case, the printer was able to finish the books in satisfactory condition before closing his doors.)
  4. I did ask this printer to notify me in the future if anything seemed the least bit inconsistent in a job, between the specification sheet and any other verbal or email instructions.

In your own print buying work, think about the approach I have described. Just because you can blame the printer, pull the job, and send it somewhere else doesn’t mean you should. After all, a trusted vendor can often step up and work wonders, even in the midst of a crisis.

Oh, and one other thing. Read and reread your specification sheet—again and again. Even if you do this, once in a great while you will miss something, and you may have to pay for a reprint. Ouch. After all, the specification sheet is your contract with the printer. But the more often you check and recheck it, the less likely you will be to let a costly error slip by.

Book Printing: Saving a Design Job in Mid-Flight

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

A client of mine works at a university. She teaches creative writing, and she wants to produce a 100-page, 6” x 9”, perfect bound book. She needs only 40 copies. I have mentioned her in prior blog articles, but, up until now, what she has needed has been only help with commercial printing knowledge and project management skills.

As a writer and editor, she has an almost complete manuscript of her students’ work. Unfortunately, she is not a designer. She has no book design experience and no experience in creating even simple projects in InDesign. A few weeks ago, she was able to persuade her university to fund her print book project, both the design and the book printing.

We have a budget, and the student designer even produced a first proof of the book within the five hours allotted to her work. Unfortunately, this is not a lot of time. In addition, the semester is ending, and everyone is going their separate ways. In fact, my client is also retiring.

With this as the context of the job, I thought quickly and offered my design services at a reduced rate, that is, a discount for an educational organization. I only produce a few (sometimes only one) design projects each year, and I thought this might be a nice one, since I usually prefer to design books of poetry and fiction.

How I Approached This Job

My taking control of this design project actually made things easier. I no longer had to offer suggestions to the designer concerning margins, running headers, and cover design. I know how to create final art for the cover based on the caliper of the 70# white opaque digital text paper. I can stitch together the back cover, spine (at the proper width), and front cover such that it will fit the text block exactly with allowance for bleeds. Sometimes it’s easier to do something yourself rather than explain to someone else exactly how you’d like it to be done.

The Design of the Book

My client’s 6” x 9” book includes no graphics of any kind. She had seen a poetry book I had designed, also without graphics, and had liked its appearance. The cover of the poetry book had been just a text treatment, with the relative importance of design elements achieved through typeface changes, type size changes, and changes from all-caps treatment to capitals and lowercase letters. On this book cover, the design hinged on the beauty of the individual letterforms.

Therefore, for this client I also created a text-only cover design based on the inherent grace of the typeface. I chose Garamond Pro, an Old Style typeface, because of its cursive letterforms and diagonal slant. I also knew it would be readable as both a display font (for the cover type and titles of the essays) and also for the text of the print book.

To give my client an idea of how we might proceed, I mocked up not only the cover but also the table of contents, title page, foreword, and two articles. I wanted her to see how the margins, the extra leading between lines of type, and the running headers would look. I used a “dingbat,” a printer’s glyph in the shape of a leaf, on the cover and in the running headers for a flourish, but overall I kept everything simple. I wanted the subject of the book to be the articles, not the design, so my goal was to make the text readable, easy on the eyes, and consistent. Any distinction I needed to make between one design element and the next (for example, the foreword head and text, and the titles of the essays and the essay text), I did only by varying the type size and the typeface from bold to roman to italic. Simplicity was my goal.

That said, I did carefully kern all the larger heads on the cover, and all heads in the print book’s front matter. I wanted the letterforms to nestle into one another with no gaps. I knew that the reader’s eye would move more easily from one letter to the next in the larger heads if I paid close attention to the proximity of each letter to the next.

Addressing Production Issues Early in the Process

Since the semester had just ended when I received the initial designer’s first proof of the print book, my client, the creative writing teacher, let me know that her prior sense of urgency was over. We now had time to do this right. So she attended to copyediting and proofreading the book (to ensure the cleanest and most accurate manuscript possible) as I worked on the design. After all, copyediting at the first proof stage could seriously bog down book production.

At the same time, I was beginning to think about the production of the print book (as opposed to its design). Therefore, in addition to designing the front matter and several text pages, I printed out a set of these pages and ruled them out (in pencil, from crop mark to crop mark). I immediately could see that the running headers were a little large and a little close to the face margin of the book. I also created a composite cover (back cover, spine, and front cover, using, for now, an educated guess of the spine width)—just as a place-holder, to be amended later upon confirming the final page count. I also set up the master pages and the automatic page numbering for the book.

Since the designer had made it through a first proof of the entire book within her five-hour time allotment, I wondered whether I could use her InDesign file and build upon her work. I thought this might make things easier, but I also assumed she was using a more recent version of InDesign than I.

Since I use my old CS5 version of InDesign, I thought this would be problematic. After all, it’s usually easy to access older design files with newer design programs, but I thought it unlikely that my older version would access the student designer’s newer InDesign files.

That said, the designer was ahead of me. There is a work-around in InDesign. I knew about this and was pleasantly surprised at how it fit our particular situation. The designer saved her Creative Cloud 2017 InDesign file as an IDML file. This stands for “InDesign Markup Language.” I could open this file in InDesign CS5. I couldn’t access the new features of InDesign Creative Cloud 2017, but I could still open the designer’s file and alter the fonts, margins, and other design elements. For such a simple project, this would be ideal.

So that’s where we are now. My client likes the cover, and I have carried the look (type treatment) of the cover throughout the following front matter and interior book pages. Now I’ll sit tight and wait for the clean and corrected manuscript with which I’ll complete the next proof of my client’s print book.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. First of all, if you can design the print book yourself, it will save you the time needed to explain your ideas to another person, the book designer.
  2. For a simple project, you can depend on the beauty of the letterforms themselves as design elements. Think of the book design as a picture frame, and the content of the book as the work of art within the picture frame. If you’re producing a book, your goal is to make it easily readable. If your audience will be middle aged and beyond, consider making the type slightly larger than usual and making the leading (space between lines of type) larger than usual as well.
  3. Use type size and typeface (bold, italic, and roman) to indicate different levels of importance. This will show your reader what to look at first, second, and third. If you direct your reader’s eyes around the page, reading will be a more pleasurable experience, because nothing will be ambiguous or uncertain.
  4. Use simple elements (such as the running headers) as a horizontal line from which to (visually) hang the column of text, and leave generous space between the two. White space here, as well as between heads and text, will make the page less imposing. White space lets your reader’s eyes take a rest, as do paragraph indents.
  5. Design pages together and place print-outs side by side to make sure the design flows, from the cover to the first page, the table of contents, foreword, and text pages. If there is not a sense of the flow of the book, adjust the type size and spacing as needed. All of this is visually analogous to a written outline, showing clear distinctions as to how bits of information relate to one another.
  6. If you produce a mock-up of a handful of pages and your client doesn’t like what you’ve done, it’s much easier to make changes at this point, before you have produced an entire proof of the print book.
  7. Use style sheets. In InDesign, you can manipulate a section of type to get it just right, and then highlight it and assign styles to what you have just specified. Then you can apply these styles throughout the book. If you do things this way and need to change fonts or the size of heads or text, all you need to do is adjust the style sheets, and the text of the book will change automatically.

Book Printing: A Bold and Unusual Print Book Design

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Since my fiancee and I do art therapy work with the autistic, among our other gigs, we’re always looking for new art projects, and the best way to get new ideas is to page through print books of paintings and collages by the masters. So in our travels to the local thrift stores, we always keep our eyes open for good art books.

This past week we found one that also showcases stellar print book design, in addition to its fine arts content.

The Reclining Nude As Art

This is a book containing nothing but paintings of reclining nudes by all the master artists through the centuries. Entitled Reclining Nude, by Lidia Guibert Ferrara, at 8.75” x 12” this is already an interesting size, taller than usual for its width. Although this does not exactly match the “A” sizes common in Europe, it is still different enough from common US print book sizes to give this case-bound book a somewhat European feel.

Even before you get to the content, the physical design of the book is intriguing. First of all, the book has both a printed cover (a printed press sheet laminated to the binder’s boards) and a dust jacket. The book cover image is a duotone of a reclining nude printed in a metallic blue and black. (It is actually a “fake duotone,” since the metallic blue is a solid color and only the black printing plate is a halftone.)

Unlike most books, Reclining Nude has no writing on the front cover, although the title, author, and publisher are noted on the spine. This allows for the reader’s total focus on the image. This approach continues throughout the print book; that is, once the writer has presented the subject matter in the introduction, the following book pages have no text, except for artists’ names in small type next to the folios.

Even with no explanatory text, you can actually learn a lot from the sequence of nudes and their styles, ranging from the French Romantic approach of Delacroix to the surrealism of Magritte to Picasso’s Cubism and Wesselmann’s Pop Art. Only when you get to the very end of the book do you see the list of illustrations, noting the title of each piece, dimensions, medium, and location of the work. But as you turn the pages, you still learn the differences in the schools of art, their approach to brushwork, composition, line, and color. Even without descriptions and analyses–on a pre-verbal level—you understand the elements of design and the history of art as they work together in a creative response to the reclining nude.

Printing Decisions Within the Book

From a commercial printing supplier’s perspective, here are some things to consider. The paper stock is 100# text, a smooth, dull sheet that is a very bright, blue-white shade. Then, to highlight the images, the printer has spot gloss varnished the photos of the oil and acrylic paintings.

To return to the cover presentation, there is a dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound cover. The dust jacket repeats the photo on the front case-bound cover (with the same positioning and cropping of the image). However, it is printed in the four process colors rather than as a duotone. The book title (which does appear on the dust jacket) is printed in the same metallic blue ink as was used for the background of the hardback book covers. This creates an interesting visual link, based on both the hue of the ink and its metallic sheen. I think it also creates an interesting effect to have only a small amount of metallic blue for the dust jacket title and then a large amount of metallic blue on the actual laminated covers.

An Oblong Book Format

One thing that sets this book apart from most other books is its orientation. It is oblong, but then again it’s not. When you open the book, all reclining nudes are horizontal. However, instead of being a horizontal print book with two paintings side by side, it is formatted like a calendar. The images are above one another. You have to turn the book on its side. (It is still bound on the longer dimension, though, unlike a true oblong book).

With the book in front of you and the book cover closed, you have a “portrait” format with the title set in letterspaced, all-caps text, with the first line (“RECLINING”) just above and just touching the second line (“NUDE”). (Ingres’ Odalisque is the background art.) But as a harbinger of the interior design of the print book, the author’s name, reversed out of the dark background, is rotated counterclockwise 180 degrees to be at a right angle to the book’s title. When you open the book, you have to turn it around so the even numbered pages are above the odd numbered pages (as I noted, just like a calendar).

Oddly enough, this presentation works perfectly, because the book is entirely about the experience of the art rather than an analysis of the art.

As a final note, the title page is the only two-page spread in the print book. However, unlike all of the other images of the reclining nude, which require a horizontal format for their presentation, the double-page image on the title-page, while still a reclining nude, fits nicely in a vertical format, albeit at twice the size of the other images in the text. This large size and double-page presentation work well as an introduction to more than a hundred pages of fine art prints.

What You Can Learn From This Book

I have heard this meme in different ways: “Form follows function.” (Louis Sullivan) “The medium is the message.” (Marshall McLuhan). When it comes to print book design, you’re working with a physical object, a multi-page product with a certain number of pages in a certain orientation at a particular size. It is physical in that you have to open the book and turn the pages to experience the content.

When designing a print book, it’s wise to consider the subject matter and its presentation when you determine the size (8.5” x 11”, larger, smaller, or perhaps square), the format (upright vs. oblong), and even on which side the binding should be. These physical choices need to reflect the content of the book and also the author’s approach to this content.

Unlike many case-bound books, which have only a cloth cover and a title affixed using hot foil stamping equipment, this format benefited from the designer’s creative approach to both the book cover and the dust jacket. When you’re designing a book, think about how you want to present the dust jacket, the cover, the title page, the introduction, the divider pages, and then the text pages. Develop all of these in concert so they will be congruent in tone and appearance (so they will flow from one to the next). Together, all of these parts of a print book give structure and organization to the reader’s experience. They make it easier for him or her to understand how the author connects one part to another.

In fact you could say that all of this structural information must be resolved successfully first, before the layout of the text pages (and the content of the book) can be easily understood and absorbed by the reader.

Finally, let this structure grow organically from the subject matter, as it did in this book, Reclining Nude. If you let the subject matter inform your graphic design decisions and your custom printing choices (type of binding, paper selection, paper trim size, and such), this will give the reader a sense of “rightness” in the presentation of the book’s content, as well as an understanding of where to start the reading experience, where to go next, and how then to progress throughout the print book.

Book Printing Design Before the Ink Even Hits the Paper

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

My fiancee picked up two art print books at the thrift store this week to get ideas for future art therapy projects for our autistic students. When I looked closely at them I noticed a few differences in their design and materials. I thought this would be a good way for me to discuss a few elements of book design that will make your print books look especially sharp.

Physical Description of the Books

Both books my fiancee bought are 8.5” x 11” format, perfect bound with fewer than 150 pages of text, and printed in 4-color process ink. They look alike until you check them closely under a good light.

The First Book

The first book has an 80# cover-stock cover. It appears to be a matte coated stock because the paper has a slightly rougher feel than a dull coated sheet and a bit of mottling (uneven coating). It is not unattractive, since the mottling looks intentional. It just looks a bit more distressed and edgy than the second print book.

Because the subject of the first book is making artistic journals incorporating collage, and since the overall tone of the imagery is bold and gritty, I think the choice of paper is appropriate. The interior stock seems to be 100# text, also a matte coated sheet. Both the cover and the text stock are a very bright white, which highlights all of the art in the print book. You could argue that a gloss coated paper might present the art in a more vibrant manner, but in my opinion, the artsy tone of the book and the matte coated sheet are an even better match.

The Second Book

The second book has a much thicker cover. It mics to 20 pt. on my micrometer. An online paper comparison spreadsheet I use says that this would be about 150# cover stock, which I think is rare. I am more used to 130# cover stock, which I often see as a substrate for thicker-than-usual business cards. It has a certain rigidity that gives the print book heft and a serious tone. It almost feels like a case bound book.

The paper used for the first book is actually more reflective than the paper used for the second, but this is because the second book paper is far smoother. It is a dull sheet, so it seems to absorb the light rather than reflect it. This dull quality, however, does not make the photos any less crisp, since the designer has specified a gloss varnish coating for the images. In some cases the coating covers the entire photo, but, for variety and emphasis, in other cases the designer has only spot gloss coated the silhouettes of the most important elements in the photos.

Interestingly enough, the subject matter of the second book is similar to that of the first. It is about hand-made gifts, but many of the samples in the photos are collages or assemblages (3-dimensional collages).

Overall, the dull text and cover paper make this print book seem more subdued and sophisticated than the first. Perhaps this is also due to the heavy weight of the paper.

Cover Coatings on Both Books

The first book about journal making has what feels like a dull film laminate on the cover. However, since the cover stock itself is matte coated, the dull coating seems to act as a lens to accentuate the uneven mottling of the original matte paper coating.

In contrast, the second book about hand-made gifts has a thicker dull laminate cover coating, and this accentuates the total lack of surface texture of the dull coated cover sheet beneath. Again, it seems to soak up, rather than reflect, the light.

Press Scores on Both Books

Both books have a press score. This is an indented vertical fold running parallel to the spine and slightly less than 1/2” from the spine. It allows the cover to open more easily and more evenly (like a hinge on a door). Moreover, I think it is also a reflection of the quality of the print book. In my opinion, it makes a perfect-bound book look more finished.

The press score on the first book (the one about making journals) is slightly less visible, and also slightly less consistent in depth, than the press score on the cover of the second book (the one about hand-made gifts). When I see the two books side by side, I like the deeper score better, and it makes me appreciate the overall design of the book a bit more.

The Subconscious Effect of Paper Choices

Keep in mind that all of these choices are probably invisible to most readers. Readers respond to these details subconsciously (but powerfully). However, they may never be consciously aware of just why a particular print book appeals to them. (These are also some of the tactile qualities that set a print book apart from a digital book on an e-reader.)

Moreover, the differences between the books based on the designers’ paper choices extend beyond the visual. There is a difference in the feel of the matte paper and dull paper as well as the dull film laminate on the covers of the two books.

In fact, I have often found myself gravitating to books with dull film laminated covers in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent. Sometimes I think the feel of the book in my hands makes as much of an initial impression as the subject matter or the graphic design.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

It’s always a good exercise to go to a used book store and collect a few print books that appeal to you and then try to determine why you like them. If you can articulate the reasons, you can often go on to apply what you have learned to your own design work.

Think of the paper choices you make as analogous to the choice of a frame for a painting. You could say the same thing about the graphic design of a book, since the look and the feel of the printed book contribute to the reader’s experience of the subject matter contained therein.

When choosing paper, keep the subject matter in mind and select paper that reinforces the content and tone of the writing. This may be a smooth white sheet or a textured, colored sheet. Think about the feel of the paper, its hue, its ability to reflect light with sufficient brightness. Also think about the thickness of the paper. If it is too thin, not only will images show through the paper (you will see what’s on the back of the page you’re reading), but the paper will also feel flimsy.

Think about the binding as well. In the case of these two books, both were long enough to warrant perfect binding instead of saddle stitching. But if the book you’re designing is shorter, you may still want to select perfect binding over saddle stitching because it looks more substantial, more like a book than a periodical.

Once you have selected the paper, give careful consideration to the cover coating. Talk with your printer. He may only offer UV coating, film laminate, or aqueous coating. It’s always best to request and compare samples to make sure the finished look of the coating will complement the look of the cover stock you have chosen. Keep in mind that if you select one of these cover coatings and your printer does not have the equipment to apply it in house, he will need to subcontract the work, and this will increase the price and lengthen the production schedule.

Whenever you’re in doubt, always ask for a paper dummy to show how the individual sheets of paper will look and feel, and how the completed, bound book will feel as well.

And if you do opt for perfect binding, consider a press score. It gives a more pristine, finished look to the final product.

Book Printing: What to Look for in Digital Print Bids

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

A new potential client just requested pricing for a 220-page print book with a press run of 30 copies. It is 6” x 9”, perfect bound, printed on 60# white offset text stock with a 12pt. C1S cover, black ink inside (without bleeds) and 4-color process ink on the front and back cover.

Thirty copies. That’s an ultra-short press run, especially when compared to the 60,000-copy press runs I used to buy for a local non-profit when I was their art director/production manager. Times have changed.

My initial goals with this new client are to win her trust and then win her business. She has other options, including and especially on-line commercial printing vendors that will take responsibility for printing her book—at their expense—as the orders come in. In addition, they will store and inventory any overage, and fulfill all book orders. Given their size, they are often the first choice of those looking to buy a book like my client’s. They have an extensive clientele with a high level of trust, and they can do all the marketing for my client’s book with their extensive reach.

Why would my client choose my services with a brick-and-mortar printer?

First of all, my client gets my hand-holding, my knowledge base of custom printing gained over a 40-year time frame, my advocacy with the printer should anything be unsatisfactory (I will make sure the printer corrects whatever is wrong), and, with some of the printers I frequent, my client will also get more choices (paper choices, for instance) than she might get from an on-line printer.

But there’s still the issue of money. After all, these on-line printers don’t necessarily need to be paid up front. They will foot the bill for the custom printing, secure interested clients, and then pay my client a portion of what they make on the print book (based on the price my client sets).

The use of other people’s money (in this case, the on-line company’s money) is a powerful incentive. Then again, not having total control over a job and not getting the entire proceeds of a print book sale may be a disincentive for others.

The Book Bids

Within this context, I started receiving bids over the past few days. I don’t have all of them, but there are enough to see a pattern and also to draw some inferences about both on-line and brick-and-mortar printers for ultra-short-run books like my client’s.

First of all, I expected the 30 print books to cost about $400.00 to $500.00 based on prior experience with a client with similar needs. The client in question is a book publishing team: a husband and wife who print a short run of reader’s copies (or galleys) first and then follow up with a longer press run of offset-printed books with French flaps, deckled edges, and such. They want their books to not only look spectacular but also provide a tactile experience. They want the books to feel good in their readers’ hands. This publishing team still believes in the art of the print book, as opposed to the non-tactile experience of reading an on-line digital book.

This husband and wife’s initial run of press galleys is very similar to my new client’s 30-copy press run of her 6” x 9” perfect bound book. In most cases the publishing team’s books are closer to 300 pages (as opposed to my new client’s 220-page book), but there is enough similarity for me to consider $400.00 to $500.00 to be a reasonable, educated guess for the target price.

When the bids came in, the first printer offered to print and ship the book for $345.00. The second bid came in at $541.00, and the third book printer came in at $530.00. The fourth printer no-bid the job because he did not have in-house perfect binding. The fifth printer had recently gone out of business. And the sixth bid exceeded $1,400. All vendors had bid the job on various sizes of an HP Indigo digital press.

What Did I Learn From This Series of Bids?

I learned the most from the printer that had gone out of business and the printer with the low bid.

To start with the printer that had gone out of business, I had done a lot of work with this vendor for a number of years since they had provided such good service and such an exemplary printed product. That said, their prices had been high. But for certain clients of mine who had complex jobs, it was worth the extra money for the extra attention (nothing good is free).

A few years ago I had visited this particular printer when they had bought a new, much larger Indigo. Their work was exemplary, but my fiancee was concerned that they would not be able to support their new purchase.

Interestingly enough, this printer’s bids for similar work were higher than most. Due to the high pricing, and since ultra-short-run print books like these are relatively easy to produce (very few variables compared to the other work I had sent to this printer), I had not awarded any black-only text and 4-color cover books to this printer. The pricing was just too high. With this in mind, apparently this printer did not have the client base to support the purchase of their new HP Indigo, so they eventually raised their prices. When this understandably didn’t attract more customers, they had to close their doors.

To move on, the low-bid printer actually surprised me. I didn’t expect their prices to be as low as those of the third printer, the one that had printed all the galleys for the husband and wife publishing team. The third printer is a very small, mom-and-pop vendor. They do excellent work, but they have to subcontract out the binding, since they don’t own perfect binding equipment. Apparently this was driving up the overall price for book production, as well as lengthening the book production schedule and taking away from the printer some control over the process. This was reflected in the fact that they were no longer the low bid.

The actual low-bid vendor is a much larger firm. They do yearbooks, so they have all of the binding equipment in house (which most printers do not). Even though their prior prices for similar work had been a bit high, their price for this 30-copy print run of my client’s book was right on the money.

Why? I think it’s because they see the value of capturing some of the on-line commercial printing business. They realize that to get the ultra-short print runs of the self-publishers, they have to provide pricing that’s close to what the on-line vendors offer. Based on this round of pricing, I think this vendor wants to do just this. Plus, of course, they have the in-house binding capabilities. Without this equipment in house, they would not be able to compete.

That the other bids are so close does not surprise me. It just confirms that I chose the right printers with equipment appropriate to my client’s job and with similar profit margins (which makes sense, since competition would encourage similar printers to charge similar amounts for similar products).

What You Can Learn From This Experience

  1. Take the time to collect and study printers’ equipment lists. Learn how to determine what kind of press is best for your particular job. (In this case, nothing beats an HP Indigo for an ultra-short color digital print job.) Usually this learning curve takes time, so it never hurts to send out bid requests to a number of printers. Then you can see which bids cluster together, study the printers’ equipment lists, and get a sense of what equipment will be appropriate. Also, it’s good to find gurus at the various print shops and ask questions. Finally, never stop reading and studying everything you can find on all aspects of printing.
  2. Collect all of the bids you receive, and after you have vetted them for accuracy and completeness, set up a pricing spreadsheet to identify the trends. There will usually be the low-ball price and perhaps a high bid, but most of the other prices will cluster together. Don’t trust the low bid. If you’re interested, ask pointed questions and request printed samples. Sometimes this vendor is charging too little. Perhaps they are doing too much work for too little profit per job. This can’t last forever. Sometimes the quality will suffer. Sometimes the vendor will go out of business. Also, note that the high bid is often not sustainable. This vendor may go out of business unless they offer something that sets them apart from the others (superior quality, special knowledge, and extra hand-holding during a job). Clients will need a reason to pay top dollar.
  3. This kind of awareness will come with time. The more you pay attention to the nuances, the more you will learn.

Book Printing: A Few Tips for Approaching Book Design

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

I recently bid on a job for a local university publication: a collection of essays and fiction. Based on a standardized 6” x 9” format and a length of 100 pages plus covers, it looks like the pricing for the job was reasonable enough for the university administration to approve the print job.

The press run for the job is 40; not 400 or 4,000, but 40. Therefore, although the unit cost for the job will be high, digital custom printing on an HP Indigo will keep the overall cost low. Actually, it will cost less than $350.00 for the printing and shipping, which is meager when compared to any offset print job of any kind. That’s because the set-up for a digital print job is minimal when compared to make-ready for an offset print job.

That said, I consider this to be an especially good price since the book will be perfect bound. More than likely, the printer not only has perfect-binding capabilities in house (which is why the cost will be so low), but he probably also has a table-top perfect binding machine. This would be my assumption since most perfect binding runs far exceed 40 copies. In fact, 40 copies would be more like spoilage and samples for a long binding run rather than the bind run itself.

The Challenges in the Design and Printing of the Essay and Fiction Book

My client is a writer and a teacher, not a designer or a printer. Therefore, I plan to help her through the process of designing the print book, preparing the files, and uploading them to the digital printer. Fortunately she has access to a student who is a designer. Unfortunately, though, it is almost the end of the semester, and my client will only have five hours of the student assistant’s time.

So here are the challenges:

  1. I will have to vet the designer and make sure she/he can design a print book (to make it an attractive product that will satisfy my client). She/he will need to produce a mock up of the cover, front matter, and text of the book, which will include essays and fiction from my client’s creative writing classes. All of this will need to hang together visually, giving a cohesive sense to all aspects of the print book design.

  2. I will have to make sure the designer can also produce print-ready PDF files compliant with the book printer’s requirements. (Fortunately, I can request a specification sheet for PDF file preparation from the book printer.) The designer will also have to stitch together the front cover, spine, and back cover of the book into a file that will conform to the printer’s specifications (including accurate spine width and allowance for bleeds). The job will need to be done in InDesign, not Microsoft Word, to ensure consistency in fonts, spacing, and all the other typesetting nuances that separate a word processing file from an artistically typeset page of copy.

Here’s how I plan to proceed, based on what I know so far:

  1. I have asked the printer to find a printed sample of a digitally produced perfect bound book similar to my client’s job. I want her to see how the final print book will look when produced by that specific printer on that specific digital press (an HP Indigo). I don’t want any surprises. (After all, not all digitally printed work is of as high a quality as offset printed work, depending on the digital equipment used.) I want to make sure my client is happy.
  2. To make sure the designer produces a mock up that will please my client, I have asked my client to start looking for samples she likes. I’ve asked her to consider the cover treatment, the treatment of running headers and folios (page numbers) within the text pages, and any front matter, including the table of contents, copyright page, etc. If she can show the designer samples of what she likes, it will be more likely that the minimal time the student assistant can provide will be effective.
  3. I will request a PDF specification sheet from the printer to help the designer create a trouble-free, print-ready file. In addition, I will ask for a ruled-out template for the cover, showing bleed and trim dimensions for the file that will include the back cover art, spine art, and front cover art stitched together. In particular, the spine width will need to be calculated exactly by the printer. Otherwise, the type on the spine will not be centered exactly between the front and back covers on the final printed product.

Implications of the University’s Decision to Fund the Print Book

I don’t take lightly the university’s decision to print this book. At first, the budget was so low that the administration was planning to publish the book online only as a WordPress document. My client wanted a physical book that the students could carry around and read, with all the tactile qualities only a physical print book can offer. Apparently the university’s administration understood this. Moreover, their decision to print implies that enough students feel the same way about the advantages of a print book to make this undertaking a prudent one. I find this gratifying. Not only am I a print broker; I also am a lover of beautifully designed print books.

What You Can Learn from This Process

  1. If you are a designer, you can benefit from the fact that the market for books at the university level has not dried up. Based on my discussions with my client, students still prefer print books over digital-only textbooks on e-readers. This may change over the next decade or two, but for now you still have a market if you’re good at what you do and creative in finding the work.
  2. If you’re a designer, make sure you understand the physical requirements of the book: all of the specifications from the type of binding to the paper color, surface, weight, and formation. Make sure you understand the book printer’s specifications for creating and uploading the PDF files, including and especially any requirements for producing the cover art. Think like a production artist as well as a designer.
  3. If you’re a writer and you have little or no design experience, hire a professional. Review her/his samples and vet the designer’s knowledge base. Check references. That said, also be able to articulate what you like. Collect books that please you aesthetically. Consider the design, typography, layout grid, thickness of the paper, and even the coating on the book cover. Show the designer what you want. Nothing communicates your needs and desires like a physical, printed sample.
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