Printing and Design Tips: December 2017, Issue #197

The Effect of Paper Weights on Pricing

A client of mine is producing a book on cheese. This is her life’s passion, so the printed book must be stellar. We have been working together for over a year, and the book is very close to going to press.

I had bid out the job to about seven book printers over the past year to give my client a feel for what her print job would cost and to line up potential vendors for the final job. When my client came back to me last month with an almost-ready-for-press book, I adjusted the specs and went back to five of the seven earlier printers.

To give you some perspective, my client’s book had become two 8.5" x 11" Plasticoil-bound books: Volumes A and B. Due to the heavy use of photographs, I had increased the weight of the text paper from 60# to 70# or 80#. This would minimize show-through (the ability to see photos and printing on one side of the page while reading the other side of the page). Both volumes would be 350 to 400 pages and would have a 12pt. laminated cover that would have an additional plastic sheet on the front and back. (The lamination would keep the plastic sheets from scuffing the ink on the book covers.) My client wanted between 500 and 2,000 copies of her book. She wasn’t quite sure yet.

First of all, the cheese book is a cookbook. As such, it has physical requirements that a novel, for instance, would not have. It has to lie flat, and it has to be around food and moisture. This is why I opted for the outer plastic sheets (with my client’s encouragement), and why I thought the cover lamination and the thicker text paper would all contribute to the book’s longevity.

So I worked all of this information into my specification sheet and sent it to the five book printers. Interestingly enough, three of the five provided estimates that were almost exactly the same price. The other two have not yet replied.

To get back to the pricing, one thing I noticed in checking all of the specs in the printers’ bids numerous times to avoid missing something was that one of the printers had bid on 60# text stock while the others had based their estimates on 70# stock.

So really they had not bid on the same project. Here’s what this means (and what you can learn and apply to your own print buying work).

Since the two volumes of my client’s cheese cookbook were long (350 to 400 pages), even a 500-copy press run would use a lot of paper. While I cannot estimate the exact cost difference without requesting an amended bid, this is a red flag. If that printer’s current estimate is now right in line with the other bids, it will probably be $500 to $1,500 higher when the proper paper weight has been accounted for (depending on the press run).

So this is an object lesson for your own print buying. However, another thing to watch for when you are closely reviewing each bid is paper substitutions. Perhaps you have specified a particular text sheet you like (such as Finch Opaque). If your printer comes back with a paper substitution (based on what he has on his pressroom floor), make sure you like it. Get a printed and unprinted sample. There could be a difference between what you specified and what the printer substituted. Perhaps it does not have the level of whiteness or brightness you want, so it might look dingy. Asking your printer to put the original stock back in the bid might drive up the price hundreds or thousands of dollars (depending on the amount of paper used and on whether it is a special order item).

Why is this? Because your printer may get discounts on his house stock(s), and your paper choice might not be one of them. If he has to buy paper just for your job, your printer might have to pay more or even buy a larger minimum amount of paper. And this would drive up your cost.

A totally opposite situation exists with a client of mine now printing a small book of poetry. It is 28 pages plus cover, 4.5" x 6" finished size, 20 copies (you read that right). For such a printed product, the paper usage is minimal in comparison to the two volumes of the cheese cookbook. What this means is that my poetry publishing client could pretty much have any paper she wants, of any texture or thickness, without touching the overall price. The first book (the two-volume cookbook) would use a huge amount of paper, but the second book would use almost none.

What this means in your own print buying work is the following:

1. Remember that paper weight has implications. These include the price of paper as a materials cost, but paper weight will also affect distribution costs if your printed product must be mailed (i.e., thicker paper weighs more than thinner paper, so it costs more to ship or mail the books). A savvy print buyer has to factor all of this into the budget.

2. Read your printing estimates like they were contracts. After all, they are. Read them multiple times. It is remarkably easy to miss something. For instance, if your printer specifies a paper substitution (or doesn’t specifically note the brand you requested) and the PPI (pages per inch), which reflects the thickness of the paper, is too high compared to your paper of choice (a higher PPI indicates thinner paper, or more pages per inch), ask your printer about it. You can get this kind of information online. Just look up the brand of your paper and its basis weight. The PPI should be there with the other paper specs.

Things to Consider when Printing a Thick Book

My cheese cookbook client periodically prints out a copy of her book at a copy shop. She does this to be able to provide a hard copy to her reviewers, but from my perspective it offers a wealth of information.

Here are some thoughts:

A 350- to 400-page book is heavy and thick. Even with a 12pt. cover and outside transparent plastic cover sheets, it likes to fall out of your hand. It doesn’t hang together like a hardback book. It flops around.

That said, my client and I have looked at other options, which have included adding a thick, hardback cover (maybe .98pt.) around which a printed sheet of litho paper can be laminated. My client could still Plasticoil bind such a printed product.

Unfortunately, this would raise the price significantly when compared to her current Plasticoil-bound book with only a paper cover. It’s not out of the question. It’s just something my client will need to carefully consider.

Beyond that, in your own printing work, if you are producing a large book, it’s important to ask your printer if your binding method of choice will work. For instance, Plasticoil can be purchased with loops that are large enough to hold the 350 to 400 pages of my client’s book. GBC binding will also work on such a book. However, Wire-O and spiral wire binding would probably not hold this many pages. The best way to be sure is to ask your printer.

One final thing to remember: Mechanical bindings such as GBC, Plasticoil, spiral wire, and Wire-O are labor intensive. They are hand work. Therefore, they’re best for short press runs, they cost a lot, and in some cases you could say they look less "finished" than case binding. That said, for cookbooks they’re great because they can lie flat on the table. And in my client’s case, the plastic sheets covering the front and back of the book can keep water drops from damaging the book covers.

[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.]