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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: How to Approach a Functional Print Job

I always prefer to work with people who are more knowledgeable than I in their particular field. I consider these to be my gurus, and in the field of custom printing I have a number of resources for whom I am grateful. They have been a huge help in the following job.

Specs of the Functional Print Job

A client of mine is producing a print book of color swatches, in many respects very similar to a PMS swatch book or a color book you might find at a paint store. It contains 60+ leaves (120+ pages), and its only binding is a single screw and post assembly (one screws into the other, holding all pages together at one end of the print book). Each page has a full bleed color on one side (a process color build) and black-only, descriptive text on the other. The size is a little over 1.5” x 3.5”. So it’s very small.

Approaching the Experts for Advice

This is really more of a functional or industrial printing project than a commercial printing project. It’s a bit out of my area of expertise, so I chose two trusted advisors at two separate book printers to provide estimates and advice. What I like about them is that they always challenge my specifications for job estimates. This actually makes them particularly valuable because they always see things slightly differently from me, and they come up with novel questions and solutions.

As a functional print job, this project posed a few novel issues to consider:

  1. What will the clients do with the product? How will they handle it? What is its purpose, if not to convey information or a brand?
  2. Will everyone get the same product? Or will the screw and post binding be removable, and will some print books be altered prior being sent to my client’s clients?
  3. How long will the color swatch book be useful before it needs to be replaced by a new edition with new colors?

The Answers Lead to the Printing Process

After discussing the project with my client, I learned that some clients will get different iterations of the color book. For some end-users, my client intends to pull out some of the pages and replace them with other color swatches.

What This Means

  1. First of all, this is why the print book has a binding mechanism that can be disassembled and reassembled. In prior years, my client had been using plastic screw and post assemblies for binding, but apparently they broke easily in disassembly. So my advisor at one of the print shops suggested metal screw and post assemblies and worked this into his price. These would last longer and could be disassembled and reassembled more easily. My client could swap out pages without distress.
  2. The end users of this color book would need to use the books regularly. Therefore, protecting the heavy ink coverage on the pages would be important. The natural oil in the user’s hands might cause problems with ink rub off. I asked my two advisors to look into this. The verdict is still out.
  3. Since the press run is short (100 sets of sixteen books), the product is ideally suited for printing on an HP Indigo press. Fortunately both printer/advisors have access to this equipment. Based on the need for color fidelity, I made it clear early on that only the best digital press (the HP Indigo, in my opinion) would do. (This reflects the industrial printing nature of this product. More than with many other kinds of commercial printing jobs, in this case color accuracy and consistency over the entire press run are crucial.)
  4. An HP Indigo does not coat the printed product in-line. Both vendors would need to subcontract this work after the Indigo digital press had completed printing the press sheets. Outside work slows down the schedule, but, more importantly, it also raises the price. However, given the nature of digital printing (in this case with liquid toners), I wondered whether a cover coating would even be necessary.
  5. The client had requested rounded corners on the job. The samples she sent me showed this had been done in prior years. When I received pricing from the vendors, I heard two different stories. One vendor would do the diecutting for $160.00. The other would send it to a subcontractor, and the overall price of the job would go up significantly compared to the cost of a square-edged printed product.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. At this point I have no final answers, just questions. Fortunately, I have two respected advisors who will tell me the truth about the job. So the first point I would stress is the importance of developing strong professional relationships with commercial printing suppliers, and using them as resources for their expertise.
  2. Consider the function of a print job. Making it pretty is useless if the colors are not faithful or consistent throughout the press run. Conversely, keeping the price down by omitting the cover coating (such as a UV coating) makes no sense if this omission will allow fingerprinting and skin oils to damage the product.
  3. Consider how long the printed product needs to last. Is it a brochure that will be read and discarded, a print book that will be kept for decades, or a functional printing product that must endure harsh use and be color fast for a number of years?
  4. If you have a tight budget and no definitive answers, have your printer list the component prices of the job in a “menu” format. Perhaps some things can be sacrificed (like the rounded corners in my client’s job) to meet the budget. At the very least it will show you what components of the job are the most expensive. If you see what elements of a job need to be subcontracted, you can in some cases replace these with in-house procedures your printer can do himself. This will save money.
  5. Always get printed samples. In my case, I will get HP Indigo digital samples for my client. She can put both a UV coated and an uncoated sheet (hopefully from her own color book art file) through some stress tests to see if she really needs the cover coating.
  6. When in doubt, return to suggestion #1 above. Develop professional relationships with experts in your field. Do this before you need their help.

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