Printing and Design Tips: September 2017, Issue #194

Why It’s Smart to Ask for F&Gs

A book printing client of mine who is publishing a 5.5” x 8.5” collection of poems just asked that the printer supply “approval” F&Gs before binding the book.

To begin with, “F&Gs” stands for “folded and gathered.” These are a set of all printed and gathered signatures from a book prior to its being bound. Usually this set also includes a printed cover wrapped around (but not bound to) the press signatures.

(A client requests F&Gs as a final check before binding. It’s a press proof because it has been printed on a sheetfed or web-fed offset press, not on a digital printer like the initial hard-copy proof. However, unlike an actual press proof, at this point in the manufacturing process the entire press run will have already been printed.)

So what’s the point?

My client found an egregious typo and chose to reprint one of the press signatures at her own expense (not cheap: $800.00+). The book is about her mentor’s writings, and the error would have embarrassed my client.

If my client had foregone the F&Gs, she would have missed the error. If she had then caught the error in the final printed books, she would have had two options. She could have felt bad about the typo for the foreseeable future, or she could have reprinted the signature, as she did this time.

However, once the book has been bound, reprinting and replacing a signature is problematic. You have to tear off and reprint the covers as well as the offending press signature. When you rebind the book, you need to trim it flush again, but at this point it is smaller in format than it had been. It’s no longer a 5.5” x 8.5” book, even though the interior design (margins and such) had been prepared for the full 5.5” x 8.5” format. So it looks “wrong” when rebound. It feels “tight” (at best) because the margins are smaller than they should have been, and in some cases, depending on the design, they are now uneven from side to side (i.e., too small on only the exterior margin, giving an unbalanced look to the book pages).

So my client saved herself from this heartache, even if she did have to pay for a reprinted signature.

A downside to all of this is that for an “approval” F&G, the printer stops all work until he has received approval of the press signatures. This is good in that no problematic signatures get bound into the book. On the other hand, it is bad in that it lengthens the book printing process.

My client could have requested “confirming” F&Gs as an alternative. In this case the printer would have sent her the F&Gs, but he would not have waited for her approval prior to binding the book. In my client’s particular case, this would have been a catastrophe. In other cases, everything might have been fine. Essentially, a confirming F&G just lets you see how the press signatures and cover will look before you get the fully trimmed books. Sometimes you’re lucky. My feeling is that if you’re going to request book F&Gs, you should ask for “approval” copies and work this into the overall schedule early in the printing process.

As a final note, the F&G stage is not a good time to proof a book, although I can understand my client’s impulse. And she did save herself heartache. Rather, it’s best to look primarily for printer’s errors at this point. These would include uneven inking, smeared copy, overly heavy halftones, and such. What you’re really looking for are printing problems that jump out at you.

Now, The Cover

My client was spending time outside the country when all of this happened, so a printed copy of the cover which I had asked the printer to send to her cabin in the woods didn’t make it there before she came home.

(Granted, usually the cover would have been sent out with the folded and gathered press signatures, but in this case it had not been included.)

Since my client missed her cover delivery, I gave her two options: pay for a second cover sample to be sent to her home residence or forgo the sample cover. She chose the latter.

A very unusual thing then happened. The printer said he would rather wait for my client to see and approve the cover, since it would have French flaps and would therefore require two passes in bindery. (That is, it was a complex cover design requiring special treatment in the “finishing” department.) So he sent out a second copy of the cover.

My client’s, and my own, regard for the printer rose even higher than it had been because he wanted to ensure her satisfaction with the book. Granted, I’m sure this printer’s motives also included his avoiding reprinting and replacing the cover if my client did not like it. (So F&Gs really benefit both the printer and the client.)

There’s one more reason that I’m glad my client will be seeing the cover sample (probably in a day or so). That is, a printer’s contract proof is produced digitally, and it has no cover coating. In contrast, this sample cover was actually printed in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks (not toners or inkjet ink), and it has been coated with the printer’s “soft-touch” coating (a tactile, slightly rubbery feel). None of this can be replicated digitally, so my client is actually seeing exactly what will be delivered to her once the book signatures have been gathered and bound along with the cover.

Additional Printed Pages for Another Client’s Color Swatch Book

Another client has been reprinting a color swatch book for fashion for the last several years. The books are 114 pages plus covers and are a little larger than 1.5” x 3.5” in format. They are held together with metal screw and post assemblies.

This time, instead of a direct reprint, my client has added onto the tail end of the job 15 copies of 30 new colors. These will be laminated, round cornered, and drilled along with the other books (100 copies distributed among 22 original master copies), so their overall price will be negligible in comparison ($240.00+ rather than $2,000.00).

For the artwork to reprint the 100 color books, the printer will access the files in his archives (i.e., since it is a direct reprint). However, for the 30 new colors, the process for my client will be slightly different:

1. She will provide an art file (both InDesign and PDF) containing 60 pages (30 color swatches on the fronts of the pages and 30 text-only descriptions on the backs of the pages).

2. It is relevant that the HP Indigo on which the job will be printed takes a 13” x 19” press sheet because the printer can get up to 30 of my client’s color swatch book pages on a single press “form.” Initially she had chosen 35 colors (which would have required two press forms for each complete set of color chips). Therefore, my client finally chose 15 copies of 30 colors, cutting her initial cost in half.

3. My client did not need to “impose” the press sheet. The printer would do so. That is, the printer would take all 30 of my client’s swatch book pages and lay them out on the 13” x 19” press form with adequate margins and printer’s notations. This would ensure accuracy, in that the fronts and backs of all pages would line up, and the pages (even though they were to be delivered loose in a carton) would line up correctly when my client disassembled the screw and post assembly for each book to add the new pages.

4. The printer advised me, and I advised my client, that if she added more than five leaves (i.e., two pages, or the front and back of a trimmed color sheet), she would need longer posts, which she could buy through the printer.

5. Finally, the printer would be sending my client a hard copy proof of the extra pages. For the reprinted 100 copies of the 22 complete master books (some originals requiring one or two copies, some requiring more than this) she would only see PDF proofs, but this would be enough since she had been requesting “direct reprints” successfully for some time. For the extra pages of loose color chips, these hard copy proofs would ensure that any color decisions my client had made based on the appearance of the hues on her monitor were to her liking. (That is, colors on the monitor are not the same as colors made from liquid toners on a digital press. They’re usually close, but the printer would need my client’s approval of actual toner on paper before proceeding with the new pages for her fashion color swatch books.)

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]