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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: Tips on Preparing Book Cover Art

A book printing client of mine is about to send a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book to press. She and her husband, a publishing team for literary books of prose and poetry, have circulated “galley-proofs” (lower production quality versions of the book for editors and reviewers to use for commentary), and the reader suggestions will have been introduced into the final-copy art files shortly.

What this means is that the page count is in flux. And that in turn affects the overall price of the book (and the dollar payment my clients will need to send before the production work begins), plus the width of the spine is also in flux, so the cover designer is in a wait-and-see mode at the moment.

Regarding the last comment above, here’s the rub. The designer will need to create a single file with the back cover on the left, then the spine, then the front cover, all side by side. For this particular print book, there will also be French flaps (3.5” extensions on either side of the back and front cover). When folded in, these French flaps will provide a little interior space to print an author bio, reviewers’ quotes, or marketing blurbs. They will also make the paper-bound book look more like it has a dust jacket (like a hardcover book).

So reading from left to right, the final art for the cover will include a 3.5” French flap followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” back cover followed by a spine (indeterminate size at the moment) followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” front cover followed by a 3.5” front cover French flap. To this the cover designer will add bleeds for this four-color printed product (the interior of the book is simpler: black text throughout, with no bleeds).

All of these components need to be stitched together, but more importantly they must be of the correct measurements, or the spine art will end up wrapping onto the front or back cover and looking just plain ugly.

Fortunately the caliper of the interior text paper is known: 400 ppi. For the ease of the math, that means that if my client’s book winds up being 400 pages, the spine will be one inch. In actuality it will probably be 256 pages (it has ranged from about 264 pages down to 250 pages—for the digitally printed “reader’s galleys”). So the spine will be more than half an inch and less than an inch (.64”), but the exact size cannot be finalized until the page count is firm. That means the Photoshop file (the cover designer likes to work in Photoshop rather than InDesign) will need to be fluid, and the final press-ready PDF cannot be distilled until the text pages have been finalized.

In your own print buying work, there are three take-aways from this case study to consider:

  1. Understand the concept of paper thickness or caliper, and get this information from your book printer once you have chosen a paper stock. To be safe, after you have calculated the spine width, have him confirm your math. It’s better to be safe.
  2. Learn how to stitch together the various pieces of a book cover, making sure the overall size is correct, with or without bleeds, and the pages are in the correct order (back cover, spine, front cover).
  3. Send your book printer both the native Photoshop or InDesign file (to his specifications) and a press-ready PDF (to his specifications).
  4. Don’t be surprised, or upset, if your book printer needs you to make some final technical adjustments and resubmit these files. This is complex work.

Further Thoughts

Here are a few more things that I do when I design a print book cover. You might find them useful.

The Color of the Paper

The clients noted above often print the text blocks of their books on a cream stock. That is, the color of the paper is tinted slightly yellow, in contrast to bright white sheets that are tinted slightly blue. (The blue-white is less noticeable. It just looks like a very bright white.)

When my clients add a 12pt C1S cover to this text block, it is usually blue-white rather than natural, cream, or warm white. Usually, my clients print the inside front and back covers as well as the outer front and back covers and spine. The difference between the bright blue-white of the interior covers and the cream white of the text is not visible to the reader at this point because of the ink on the interior covers (it distracts the reader). However, if my clients choose to print a book on cream stock and they have nothing printed on the interior covers, the difference in paper shade between the blue-white interior covers and the cream white text block will be visible.

In cases like these I have often encouraged them to choose a bright white shade for the text as well as the cover.

As an alternative, could my clients print the covers on a cream-white cover sheet? Presumably. However, printing four-color process imagery on a yellowish tinted paper will change the tone of the inks. Remember, process inks are transparent, so the substrate will affect the perceived color of ink printed on an off-white substrate.

So it’s a trade-off. Depending on the colors, my clients may actually either have a bright white cover and cream white text, and live with the difference, or they might print four-color imagery on cream cover stock—depending on the colors in the images. It’s usually not good to print flesh tones on a cream substrate, since facial coloration can look odd (i.e., jaundiced).

Coated One or Two Sides

On a related note, when my clients do print on the interior covers, I always specify a C2S paper (coated two sides). Many coated cover sheets are specified this way: as 80# cover, for instance, rather than 10pt C1S. It can be assumed that cover stock paper has coating on two sides, since this is not specified, whereas C1S paper specified in points (10pt., 12pt.) is coated on only one side because the notation says it is.

I encourage my clients to do this for the following reason. Ink behaves differently on a coated, vs. uncoated, surface. Ink sits up on the top of a coated surface, but it seeps into the paper fibers if there’s no coating. Because of this, four-color imagery printed on the front of a C1S (coated one side) sheet will have a completely different look than four-color imagery printed on the uncoated interior covers (front and back). Ink on the interior covers in this case would seem dull in comparison. If you want that look (a softer, crunchy granola look), it fine if it’s done throughout a book, but it looks odd if it’s done on the inside front and back covers only.

(On a related note, keep in mind that all of the text blocks of this particular client’s books are printed in black ink only on uncoated paper stock. Everything I’m saying would become far more complicated if my clients were to shift to four-color interior text blocks. In fact, at that point, I’d suggest that they either print both the cover and text on coated stock or print the cover and text on uncoated stock, depending on the effect they were seeking.)

Print Out a Hard Copy

One thing I always suggest for my clients’ book covers is that they print out a hard copy on paper with crop marks and printer’s bars. They may need to tile the pages and then tape them together. But the idea is for them to have a full-size physical representation of the cover, ruled out to show the bleeds. This will make it abundantly clear–in ways that often elude the viewer who only looks at the cover on-screen—as to whether everything is correct.

You can see where the type falls on the spine: whether it is centered vertically, or whether it is too high or low. You can see whether the front or back cover art is centered on the page (exclusive of the bleeds, which can be misleading, because once you draw pencil marks–“rule out the cover”–to connect the trim marks, you can see what the cover will look like after it has been printed and trimmed to size).

All of this is visible on a computer screen, granted. Maybe I’m just “old school.” But I do find it easier to see the flaws when the entire front and back cover and spine are before me in actual size (not enlarged or reduced– zoomed in or out). You can always catch the errors at the physical proof stage (and I would encourage you to request a hard-copy cover proof rather than depending on a virtual proof for a print book cover), but why pay to fix errors you can catch by just printing out and taping together a cover mock-up?

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