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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: Different Printers/Different Capabilities

In prior blog postings, I have written about a 450-page, 8.5” x 11” book I’ve been working on with a client of mine. My client and her boss have looked at a number of press runs (from 1,600 to 10,000 copies) and binding options (perfect binding and plastic coil binding). I have approached digital printers (with the new HP T230 web-fed inkjet press), sheetfed printers, and web offset printers.

It has actually been quite a learning experience for me, albeit a much longer print brokering process than most. But my client is printing savvy, so she has sought my counsel and pricing multiple times throughout the print book design process.

What I noticed this week in reviewing the last set of estimates is that different printers have different equipment, skills, and capabilities. I know I have said as much in prior blogs, but I was clearly reminded of this fact once again.

Different Prices from Two Book Printing Vendors

I had already requested and received pricing for 2,000 and 2,500 copies of this print book produced on an HP T230 web fed inkjet press from a vendor in the South. The prices were quite good, but I wanted to get a few more bids to be sure.

The second printer could produce the job via web-offset printing technology for close to the same price as the digital printer’s bid (about $5,000–or 13 percent—more on the 2,000 run and $4,000–or 10 percent–less on the 2,500 copy press run).

First of all, this was useful information, and it also made sense. The 2,000-copy press run of the 450-page book as produced via digital printing was a more appropriate match of technology to page count and press run than was the web offset version. However, as the press run rose from 2,000 copies to 2,500 copies, the appropriate technology for the job changed from digital printing to offset printing.

That said, once plastic coil binding came into the mix, the second vendor couldn’t match the capabilities of the first.

Comparing Plastic Coil Bids from Each Vendor

The first book printer could plastic coil bind the book for about $2.35 per unit. When you compare this to $.90 per unit for perfect binding (by the same vendor), you see just how expensive mechanical binding can be. After all, in many cases it’s hand work.

I had asked both vendors for pricing on 70# text stock in four-color process ink. The first provided pricing only on this specific text weight. However, the second printer’s equipment could not handle the automated plastic coil binding of a 450-page book produced on 70# text stock. Therefore, this book printer would need to bind the book by hand.

Comparing the two vendors’ bids, on 70# text stock, I could see that the second vendor’s price was 20 percent higher than the first vendor’s price (the first printer could handle the plastic coil binding with no difficulty). The second printer got creative and offered a 50# text paper, which could be plastic coil bound on automated equipment. This would cost only $2,000 more than the first printer’s price on 70# stock (or about a 5 percent premium).

Keep in mind that 50# stock would yield a thinner book. It would save several hundred dollars in freight for shipping the finished product to my client, but I was concerned that the thinner paper would not be as opaque as the 70# text stock. It might also seem flimsy compared to 70# stock. And most of all, I already had a better price for the 2,000-copy run on 70# stock.

When I studied the prices for a 2,500-copy press run, things changed. The first book printer, using inkjet technology, could provide 2,500 plastic coil bound copies of the print book on 70# text stock for approximately $50K. For the second printer to provide a plastic coil bound book on 70# text stock (hand bound), he would charge $1.5K more.

However, the second printer could produce a print book on 50# text stock (with automated plastic coil binding) for 11 percent less than the first printer’s pricing on 70# text stock. Again, the lighter paper would also save a couple of hundred dollars in freight costs.

Granted, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. I will need to get revised prices from the first vendor for 50# text stock, if my client finds this option attractive. But it does show that there are options, and the options may yield both a printing and shipping advantage.

What You Can Learn

Just this little bit of information will yield some interesting insight. Consider these caveats when you’re buying custom printing:

  1. Not every printer has the same equipment, or even the same overall technology. The first printer had web-fed inkjet capabilities. Most printers around the world do not have this particular HP T230 web-fed inkjet book press. If you want access to particular equipment, search for it on Google. You may find vendors to approach for samples and pricing.
  2. Not having specific equipment can show up in a printer’s pricing (and in pricing differences between vendors). The first printer could plastic coil bind a 70# text block. The second vendor would need to do this by hand for more money, or he could provide an automated plastic coil binding on 50# text stock.
  3. A good printer will provide options. The second printer, knowing he would not be competitive on the hand-bound plastic coil book, offered a lower priced option on thinner paper using automated equipment.
  4. Mechanical binding is expensive in longer press runs. Consider carefully why you want to use it. (For instance, you may only be producing 200 copies of a digital book, and this may save you money overall.)
  5. Both paper weight and binding techniques make a print book either lighter or heavier. Over the course of 2,000 copies—or 20,000 copies—this can really add up in freight costs.
  6. Pricing isn’t everything. Look closely at printed samples. I’ve requested printed samples on the 50# stock in 4-color process inks. I want to see for myself to what extent inks printed on one side of the press sheet will be visible on the opposite side of the sheet—particularly due to the heavier ink coverage of the 4-color printing. I’m also worried that the 50# text stock might seem flimsy compared to 70# text stock. Then again, I could be wrong—or my client might not mind the 50# text stock. The only way to know for sure is to request printed samples (not just unprinted samples from a paper merchant).

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