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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: Considerations for Perfect Bound Books

A print brokering client of mine is a husband-and-wife publishing team. Each year they give me titles of poetry and fiction books to bid on, along with readers’ galleys for each new print book. The galleys are perfect-bound, 5.5” x 8.5” print books, and the final books have French flaps, deckle edge text paper (faux deckle edge, actually), press scores, and lay-flat soft-touch film laminate. In other words, the first set of books are for my client’s readers to review and critique, and the second set of the same titles are salable print books with superior production values (all the bells and whistles that set print books apart from their digital cousins).

The reason I bring this up is that I just bid out three sets of these books, and a number of issues arose that you might find interesting as either a print book designer or a print buyer.

The Trim Size and Page Count of the Books

Based on specs I had not yet adequately updated, I bid out the final books and the galleys with the same trim size: 5.5” x 8.5”. When the bids on the final books came back, the printer had changed the trim size to 5.75” x 8.5”.

This is not unusual. It just means that one has to read closely and match the specs of one’s project to the specs the printer provides in his estimate. Seeing the discrepancy, I questioned the sales rep, and he said the book had to be 5.75” x 8.5” due to the deckle edge.

To begin with, a true deckle edge was created (actually as a flaw) on the oldest paper-making frames. These feathered edges were often trimmed flush. Later, certain paper-making machines simulated this feathered effect.

In my client’s case, the deckle edge is really a rough-front face trim. That is, the outer side of the pages (the long dimension parallel to the spine) is uneven (some pages longer, some pages shorter), a quality achieved (as I understand it from several printers) by turning off (or adjusting) the trimming knife that chops all pages flush. When I was growing up in the ’60s, most of my family’s hard cover books had this uneven face trim. It added to the tactile quality of the pages, and I found that it actually made grasping the pages a little easier. For my client, it just adds to the overall feel of the perfect bound print book as a quality product that readers will want to hold.

The point of this is twofold. When you’re specifying the trim size for a book, discuss with your printer the following issues:

  1. the most efficient size (that will fit his particular press equipment)
  2. and the physical requirements of the binding process (in this case, to ensure that the folded French flaps cover the rough-front trim, and to ensure the accuracy of the rough front trim)

In my client’s case, there were also changes in the page count. For one book, my client specified 100 pages; the printer bid on 104 pages. For another, my client specified 250 pages; the printer bid on 256 pages. In each case the printer changed the page count to the nearest number either divisible by 32 pages (ideally), 16 pages, or 8 pages, but not 4 pages. This was to ensure a fit (compatible press signatures) with his particular press equipment. The ideal was a 32-page signature (for example 256 pages = eight 32-page signatures). In your own print buying, remember to discuss this early with your printer.

The French Flaps

French flaps are part of a book’s cover. They extend 3.5” (more or less, depending on the book design) beyond the face trim of the book and then fold back part of the way over the blank (or printed) interior covers (front and back) of a book. They make a paperback book look and feel like it has a dust jacket. These, apparently, are very big in Europe. I think they add a cosmopolitan feel to a book, and since these particular clients of mine publish books of fiction and poetry, the French flaps are ideally suited to the ethos they want to project.

So far, French flaps have worked just fine on the 5.75” x 8.5” format of my client’s print books, but if you decide to incorporate these into your own print book design, discuss the size with your printer to make sure everything works on his printing and finishing equipment.

One additional thing I have found over the years is that for these flaps to fold in and still extend over the face trim of the book, the book must be trimmed twice. That is, the face trim of the book’s text block must be trimmed separately from the covers. If the folded front and back covers with the attached (and folded in) flaps were trimmed at the same time as the text block, the flaps themselves would be chopped off at the fold. Instead, the folded flaps must either be trimmed too short (they must not reach the edge of the text paper) or too long (they must extend over the edge of the text paper).

(If you look at the perfect-bound magazines in the grocery store, you’ll often see some space between the face trim of the magazine and the folded covers. The folded magazine covers with their French flaps–used to add space for an additional fold-out advertisement attached to the cover–often end about a half inch–more or less—short of the the trim of the interior magazine pages.)

The take-away from all of this is to discuss with your printer—early in the process–any French flaps or other cover extensions or modifications.

In the case of my client’s reader’s galleys that precede the final, salable books, the book trim size can actually be a true 5.5” x 8.5”, since the reader’s galleys have no deckle edge and no French flaps.

The Reader’s Galleys

Let’s get back to the reader’s galleys. These are probably even more unusual than a print book these days. When I was in college in the ’70s, I first came upon a reader’s galley at a thrift store. It was taller than a usual book, and it had no pictures, just text. The cover was simple. Later, when I learned to set type and do paste-up (a manual process that has become fully computerized in the last thirty or so years), I would cut up the long rolls of typeset material to paste up into book pages. Presumably, the galleys of this particular time period were taller than usual to allow for fewer book pages to print. After all, the sole purpose of this printed galley was as a final proofing tool. Publishers produced galleys so that authors could see their books typeset and make any final corrections to the text prior to the final book printing run.

(Advance reader’s copies are similar but a little more polished, since they are used for book reviews and marketing purposes.)

In the case of my clients, the 5.5” x 8.5” versions of the books (actually used as both galleys and reader’s copies) without French flaps, hinge scores, soft-touch lamination, or faux deckle edges just give reviewers an extra look at the text for their final suggestions.

In the age of the digital book, what I find interesting is that my client still wants a good number of galley copies prior to the final print run. This year the husband-and-wife publishing team asked for 75 galley copies of each title instead of 50. The reason I think these are popular with my clients’ reviewers is that you can easily write in a physical print book. My clients’ readers can easily annotate the text with all of their suggested corrections and comments.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Consider the small additions that make a print book a joy to hold, those qualities that add to the tactile experience. In my clients’ case it was the faux deckle edge, the French flaps, the press score, and the soft-touch laminate. Remember that holding a book is a physical experience.
  2. Discuss all of these variables with your printer to make sure that you understand the requirements of his press and finishing equipment as well as the cost.
  3. Ask for samples. Nothing speaks to the quality of a printer’s work like a physical sample, and nothing makes it easier to tell a printer how you want your book to look than a sample book with a comparable printing, finishing, or coating effect.

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