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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: Consider the Subtleties of Paper

I’m brokering the custom printing of two books for a husband and wife publishing team. Both print books will be 5.5” x 8.5” in format, but one will be 450 pages plus cover (the fiction book) and one will be 80 pages plus cover (the poetry book).

In this particular stage of the process, there will only be 50 copies of each, because reviewers will read and comment on these “galley” proofs, and then each title will be printed in a much larger final press run with French flaps, deckled edges, and on thicker paper. These print books are essentially an attractive version of a laser proof.

Paper Choices for the Two Books

Due to the short press run of 50 copies, the commercial printing vendor offered to charge the same amount for either 70# Finch Opaque Vellum Text or white offset stock. Keep in mind that even for the longer book of fiction, there would only be 50 x 450 = 22,500 5.5” x 8.5” book pages, so the amount of paper used in the entire job would be limited compared to any offset printed press run. And as expected due to the size of the press run, the printer will be producing both books on an HP Indigo digital press (with liquid toners, using an electrophotographic process).

I asked my client about her paper preferences, and she said the book didn’t need to look as good as the final copy at this point. It just had to be readable.

I played devil’s advocate, saying that any job coming out of her publishing house at any stage of development really is an advertisement for her (and her husband’s) publishing firm. Therefore, particularly if the pricing is the same, I would definitely choose the superior paper. My client appreciated my candor and agreed.

To explain this a bit further, Finch is an opaque, bright-white commercial printing sheet with a blue-white shade. It looks crisp, and the black type of my client’s poetry will stand out against the background of the paper. White offset stock does not block light as well as Finch Opaque. That is, the ink on the back of a sheet might be visible when reading the front of the sheet. White offset is also not as bright as Finch Opaque, and the Finch will have a superior surface texture.

What About the Paper Weight?

The book printer had offered 70# Finch Opaque Vellum Text, white (or an option for 60# white offset) for the same price. For the short book of poetry, I thought the 70# stock would be ideal. After all, I usually specify 60# for longer books (or at least I start at this paper weight and then adjust based on my client’s preferences). But for a short print book, the slightly heavier than usual paper stock would give the 80-page book a more luxurious feel and a bit more heft. It would make for a more substantial product with a thicker spine. (The book will be perfect bound, even though it is short enough to be saddle stitched. The perfect binding will also give the book a more sophisticated look.)

That said, I suggested only specifying 60# Finch for the 450-page book of fiction. I did this because the caliper of the 70# stock would make the book thicker (1.14” rather than just under an inch for 60# Finch). Since the Finch paper is brilliant white with a superior opacity, I thought the 60# would be adequate. Using 60# stock would also make the print books a bit lighter and therefore potentially cheaper to mail to the reviewers. My client agreed.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. Both of the books I’m brokering are reader’s galleys, not final editions. Therefore, while it is important to give the reviewers the best possible product (to promote the quality of both the books and the publishing house itself), it is smart to take into consideration the end use. This also includes such issues as shipping costs. In your own design and print buying work, be mindful of the goals of the printed product. Then select the most appropriate paper based on these goals.
  2. Consider the following qualities of paper when you specify a stock for the text pages of a book: thickness or caliper (thicker paper can feel a bit more luxurious; it will also have better opacity), paper weight, surface texture (from smooth to rough), shade (blue-white or yellow-white), and opacity (light stopping power, which keeps you from seeing images from the back of the page while reading the front of the page).
  3. Negotiate paper with your book printer. If the job is small, and your supplier offers the particular stock you want as a house sheet (i.e., he has the stock on the pressroom floor) and doesn’t have to order it specifically for your job, you can often get a great price for this component of the job.

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