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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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Book Printing: A Few Tips for Approaching Book Design

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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