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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: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

A print brokering client came to me recently with a book project. She wants to print 300 or 500 initial copies of her 432-page, 6” X 9”, perfect bound book (potentially with our without such high production values as French flaps and deckle edges on the text pages). She plans to follow this initial press run with a print on demand contract through one of the online POD (print on demand) vendors.

The Paper Specifications for My Client’s Print Book

My client specifically requested 100# gloss text for the interior of the book. I suggested a 12pt cover (rather than a thinner option of 10pt). I noted that with or without the French flaps (an extended cover folded in on the back and front of the book, making the perfect-bound book appear to have a dust cover), the overall feel of the cover paper would be more substantial at 12pt. I said this heavier cover stock would be consistent with the heft of the text block (at 432 pages, as noted above).

So I sent the specifications to six book printers.

The vendors that offered digital printing all limited the paper choices, and some sent me an email restricting these paper choices to just an uncoated 80# cover stock and 50# or 60# uncoated text stock. Based on my knowledge of commercial printing, I believe the printers did so to keep prices down (fewer paper choices allow print suppliers to buy only a few kinds of paper in bulk, at a lower rate, while avoiding specialty stocks that would require costly minimum purchases).

In addition, based on notations on one of the estimates from one book printer (a reference to inkjet compatibility), it seems that paper choices are limited in some cases to ensure that the printer’s digital printing technology will be effective on the specific paper chosen for the job.

So, to summarize, paper limitations seem to reflect two things: the economy of scale in paper purchasing and the desire to choose paper that readily accepts either toner or inkjet inks.

In spite of these paper limitations, two of the printers agreed to bid the text of the job on coated paper: an 80# gloss text, closer to what my client had specified. This drove up the overall price by just under $1,000.00, even for the short press run (300 or 500 copies). Granted, the text was long at 432 pages, so the paper usage was substantial, but still nowhere near as high as for a 1,000-copy run one printer required to move the book from digital technology to offset printing.

One of the vendors who was willing to include an option for 80# coated text came in with exceptionally attractive pricing. So I asked him if he would produce the text blocks digitally, and then print covers with French flaps on an offset press, and marry the digital texts to the offset covers. He said he could not do this because the two printing plants (one digital, one offset, owned by the same printer) were nowhere near each other geographically.

So, in this case I learned that limits on hybrid book printing (marrying offset and digital printing technology), at least in the case of larger book printers, may be based solely on logistics. Since it’s cheaper to separate a large digital press installation from a large offset installation, marrying the output from each may be impossible (or at least financially imprudent).

To complicate matters, once the printers were already in the process of bidding on the print book, my client offered a description of the text. All text ink would be black, but, in addition, there would only be a handful of photos.

This last specification got me thinking. Why had my client specifically requested 100# coated text for the interior of the book? What was the purpose? So I asked. She thought it made for a classier looking book.

In response, I explained the reasons for selecting coated text paper. I said coated stock was ideal for a 4-color text, because the ink would sit on the surface coating of the press sheet rather than seeping into the paper fibers. Especially for 4-color images in the text, this would be essential. Gloss text is good for making photos “pop” (i.e., to appear as crisp as possible), while dull coated text would be better for printed words and other line art. A dull coating is kinder on the eyes than a gloss coating, minimizing reader eye fatigue.

The long and short of it was that my client agreed to a 60# white opaque text sheet. This will bring down the cost somewhat, and it will be thick enough (when compared to 50# white opaque paper) to minimize show-through of the photos. (This is the unwanted ability to see the photos on one side of a page through the back side of the same page.)

The one thing I should probably add at this point is that I did not immediately contact all of the printers and request adjusted estimates. Instead, I will compare all bids on 80# coated text. Then I will choose a few of the estimates I like (maybe two) and request updated estimates on 60# white opaque text paper. The initial bids on 80# coated text will provide a relative price comparison of all of the vendors. Then, by shifting one or two vendors’ bids to 60#, I can bring the price down a little. Any other approach would create chaos in the printers’ estimating departments.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

This project is still in flux, but here are a few rules of thumb you can use in your own print buying or design work as you narrow down the specifications for a book project:

  1. Consider an uncoated text sheet for a book that is text-heavy. You will save money, and your readers will probably be equally happy. I personally consider coated text sheets to be more appropriate for full color book interiors or photo-heavy texts.
  2. If your print book has a 4-color interior, or a lot of large photos, consider a coated stock. Ink has better “hold out” on coated paper. That is, the ink sits up on the surface coating rather than seeping into the uncoated paper fibers of an uncoated stock (which dulls down the look of the images). If you choose a coated stock, choose gloss coated paper for a photo-heavy book and dull coated paper for a text-heavy book that still includes some photos.
  3. Consider the weight and opacity of a commercial printing paper. A 60# white opaque press sheet is less transparent (less chance of show-through with photos) than a 50# white opaque sheet, and opaque paper in general is less transparent than offset text paper.
  4. Don’t assume an uncoated paper will always be cheaper than a coated one. I have found some premium uncoated papers that are more expensive than lower quality coated sheets. Be safe. Ask your printer.
  5. Start at 10pt (thickness) for a cover stock. For a weightier paper, choose 12pt. These are usually specified as C1S and C2S. The former means there is coating on one side, while the latter means there is coating on two sides. If you’re only printing on the outside covers, consider a C1S sheet. But if you’re printing on the inside covers, too, make sure you specify a C2S sheet. Otherwise the ink will look different on the inside and outside covers (because ink sits on top of the surface of a coated press sheet but seeps into the fibers of an uncoated press sheet).
  6. Some printers will specify cover stocks in pounds rather than points (80# cover rather than 10pt, for instance). I’d encourage you to stick to 80# and 100# cover stock, but, to be safe, ask for samples. You can even request a paper dummy, which is a bound, blank paper book created at your chosen page count with the text stock and cover stock of your choice. (Your printer can have the paper merchant make one for free.) It helps to get a sense of exactly what the book will feel like in your reader’s hands.
  7. Make all of your decisions based on what you see and feel with your hands (printed samples or paper dummies), because it’s all too easy to make a mistake if you only look at the specifications (paper weight, finish, opacity, coating, caliper or thickness, surface formation, brightness, whiteness, etc.). These specs are useful, but they ignore the fact that reading a print book is a physical, tactile experience.

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