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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 Prices Can Be a Killer–What to Do

A book printing client of mine is producing 300 copies of a long print book. At the moment it is 428 pages, 6” x 9”, perfect bound with a 12pt cover and 60# white offset text paper.

Initially my client had asked for 100# gloss coated text stock, so I had the book printer price this paper. However, when I saw that the book was text-heavy with no screens or solids and only ten halftones, I made a suggestion to my client.

Choosing Paper

I said that gloss text stock is better for photo-heavy books. The coating reflects a lot of light directly back into the viewer’s eyes, and even though this makes photos seem crisper and more dramatic, it does tire the eyes. In contrast, a matte or dull coated stock diffuses the light it reflects (sends it back to the reader’s eyes in a more random way).

Photos on dull or matte stock are less dramatic, but the paper coating is easier one the eyes. I noted that the subject of the book (by this time I had seen the text and the cover) was medical in nature and seemed to be directed toward middle aged or older readers. And the eyes of such people (including my own eyes) are less flexible and more prone to tiring. (Remember, once you tire your reader’s eyes, they’re no longer reading your book.)

Moreover, since I noticed that the content of the book was scholarly (i.e., more traditional in content), and since there were only ten photos, I said the book might be fine on an uncoated paper stock. Having champagne tastes, I suggested 60# Finch Opaque. I did this for the following reasons:

  1. 50# stock would be too thin and would make it likely that the reader would see the photos on the back of a page while reading the front of the page. This is called “show-through,” and it can be distracting. Thin paper is less opaque; thicker paper is more opaque. I thought 60# (the standard) would be best since 70# uncoated text stock would make the 428-page book thicker than necessary.
  2. I chose opaque paper to minimize show-through with the photos, just in case.
  3. I chose Finch (followed by Husky, Lynx, and Cougar) because I liked the bright blue-whiteness of these papers. In contrast to lower-quality, dingy-white sheets, the best blue-white sheets (to me) seem more dramatic. They tend to enliven the look of the print book page.
  4. I told my client that the alternative might be a 70# matte coated sheet but that this might have more chance of show-through than the uncoated text stock. The matte coated paper also would make the book look more like a magazine and less like a scholarly textbook (in my own opinion).
  5. In addition, I said the Finch Opaque might cost a little more than the gloss coated or matte coated paper stock. I told my client that sometimes a premium uncoated paper will cost more than a lower-quality coated stock.

Oops: A Dramatic Cost Difference

Boy was I surprised. The revised pricing came back $500.00 more than the initial $2,200.00 bid for 300 print books. Ouch. I told my client, and she was not happy either. Here’s what I learned from the printer:

  1. Even though I thought the price might go up a bit, I had actually chosen a superior paper, which even for 300 books would still incur a surcharge since it was a special order item.
  2. Premium sheets (known as #1 press sheets) are brighter than #2, #3, or #4 stock, and this drives up the price. Presumably, the initial bid from this printer on 100# gloss text stock included a lower quality (i.e., lower brightness) of paper.
  3. An opaque sheet can be pricier than just an offset paper because it has been treated to make it more opaque (less transparent). This is good for minimizing visibility of anything printed on the back of a page when you’re reading the front of the page. However, it costs more.
  4. Specifying a paper by name tends to cost more. If I had asked for a 60# white offset “house” sheet (or even a house opaque sheet), the price increase might not have been so dramatic. A “house sheet” is something a printer buys a lot of, so it tends to cost less (i.e., the pricing reflects the economy of scale).

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Fortunately, by having the book printer compute a cost for 60# white offset (generic house brand) I brought the price of the overall job back down to the initial $2,200.00 for 300 copies. So the client was happy.

Here are some thoughts I had as I recovered from this pricing shock.

  1. In your own work, specify paper qualities rather than brands, or at least tell the printer you would be open to paper substitutions to keep the price down.
  2. If there are photos, screens, solid ink coverage, or anything else that might be visible through the paper when you’re reading the other side of a page, ask about the opacity of the paper.
  3. Ask about the brightness and whiteness of a particular paper. Brightness is the amount of light it reflects; whiteness is the purity of the light it reflects. That is, you can have a blue-white or yellow-white paper. The blue-white is often called by such names as “bright white” or “solar white.” Yellow-white is often called “cream” or “natural.” Yellow-white paper can make people in photos look jaundiced when compared to the same images on a blue-white stock.
  4. Brightness is expressed in such terms as “premium” or “number 1 sheet,” in contrast to a #2, #3, or #4 groundwood sheet.
  5. That said, choose paper that’s appropriate for the job. A #4 sheet isn’t a bad paper stock. It’s just appropriate for a certain kind of catalog or magazine but not for high-end marketing materials.
  6. Ask about a “house sheet.” If your printer buys a truckload (or a train car load) of a particular paper, and if it’s appropriate for your particular job, why not share in his discount. It will save you money you can later use for a nice premium sheet for your annual report.
  7. Depend on your printer’s experience and knowledge base. Ask lots of questions.
  8. Always request samples. In fact, it helps to see not only blank samples of the paper you’ll be using but also printed samples. This will let you see how photos, text, area screens, and solid blocks of color will look.
  9. Once you have the printed samples, look at them under sunlight, incandescent light, CFL, LED, and/or fluorescent light (or as many of the above as possible). Each kind of light has a different “temperature.” (This is the technical term for its color, as expressed in degrees Kelvin. For instance, 5000 degrees Kelvin is daylight.) And each kind of light will make the color of the paper, and the text and images printed on the paper, look slightly different. (This is because many printing inks are transparent, and therefore the ink color is affected by the paper on which it is printed.) It’s best to know this before you commit to buying paper and printing the job.

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