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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, Magazine, and Catalog Printing: Printer Spreads

A print brokering client of mine who is producing a graphic novel sent me a thumbnail-size layout of her print book a few days ago. The physical printing requirements of this 8.5” x 10.875” book, which will be produced on a heatset web press, were a lot easier to comprehend when all the pages were presented as a complete book, even in a small, low-resolution format.

I had mentioned in a prior blog that the print book, as provided in this low-res version, comprised 208 consecutive numbered pages. My client presented pages that would appear side by side as two-page spreads. For the two gatefolds, she presented sets of three connected pages (for each side of each gatefold). All pages were numbered consecutively.

The Printer’s Response

When I sent the PDF of the complete book to the printer, he responded by creating a signature by signature layout showing exactly how the job would be laid out on press. His layout included no thumbnail images of pages; rather, it just showed the numbered pages as they would appear on a press sheet.

More specifically, in contrast to the series of two-page spreads my client had provided (which is what the reader would see: i.e., each set of two pages side by side), the printer laid out the pages in 32-page signatures. His diagram showed which pages would be on either side of the press sheet for each 16-page signature that would be run simultaneously. (Two web rolls would be run at the same time. The first roll would run through the press inking units on the top of the press, and a second web of paper would run several feet below the first. Then, the two 16-page signatures would be combined into a single 32-page signature at the delivery end of the press.)

Comparing the Two Layouts

Essentially, these are two models of the same print book. I would even go further, saying that these are two approaches that you can apply to any press signature work, including full size case-bound and perfect bound books as well as smaller booklets and even catalogs and magazines. The key similarity is that all of these custom printing products involve press signature work.

Signature work essentially refers to a layout of 4-page, 8-page, 16-page or 32-page groupings (or in some cases even more pages) laid out on the top and bottom of a press sheet.

This pertains to both sheetfed printing and web offset printing. In all cases the signatures are folded and trimmed, and then either stacked on top of one another or nested together (one signature slipped into another for saddle-stitched binding).

In the case of my client’s graphic novel, the printer’s version of the layout separated out the 4-page cover and the two 6-page gatefolds (3 pages on either side of each gatefold) from the rest of the print book. This left 192 text pages that would be numbered consecutively.

When grouped this way by the printer, the book pages showed exactly where the breaks would be between each of the six 32-page signatures. My client can now place a gatefold or any other insert (such as a bind-in card) between these signatures. Using the printer’s layout, she can see exactly where these breaks occur.

Both my client and the printer can also see which pages fall in line on the press sheet, and since the print book will have heavy coverage ink on many of the pages, both my client and the printer will be able to see where potential color conflicts may occur. For instance, if a heavy coverage solid magenta background will be in line (in the direction the paper travels through the press) with a photo of faces (requiring less ink coverage), this might result in a reddish cast in the faces. A knowledgeable printer (and client) may foresee this early in the process and seek options for avoiding these problems.

How to Print the Covers

I asked the printer about producing the covers on a sheetfed press. A 5,000-copy press run of a print book cover would lend itself to sheetfed offset due to the low copy count, particularly when you consider that multiple copies of the 4-page cover would be laid out on the press sheet. In this case the printer only has web offset capabilities, so the covers will be printed on his web press. Due to the low number of covers needed, this will be a very quick press run.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Ask your custom printing supplier if he has web-offset or sheetfed-offset capabilities. Web presses are good for multi-signature catalogs, magazines, and books. If your printed product includes color and will be printed on a coated sheet, you will need access to a heatset web press. In fact, if you will have a lot of pages, it would be wise to look for a full-web press (as opposed to a half-web press). If you’re printing black ink only or process color on uncoated paper, you can look for a non-heatset web press (some people call this a cold-set web). Such presses have no ovens to flash dry the ink on the coated paper stock.
  2. Look at the printed product both as a printer would (with the pages laid out as signatures) and as a reader would (with pages laid out side by side in multiples of two pages). The former will help you identify potential printing problems; the latter will show you potential graphic design issues (since readers see two pages at a time).
  3. Discuss with your printer any inserts (such as bind-in cards) that you want to include. Talk about exactly where they can be placed. In some cases, you can split signatures in two, but this will require more press wash-ups and plates, so it will be a more expensive option. But if you need an insert to appear in a specific position in your catalog, magazine, or print book, it helps to have signature options.
  4. Remember that whether you’re printing a book, a magazine, or a catalog, you’re essentially approaching the job in the same way: as a series of press signatures that will be printed flat and then folded and trimmed.

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