Printing & Design Tips: AUGUST 2006, #61

What is Newsprint?

Newsprint is an inexpensive grade of paper used primarily for printing newspapers, although it’s also a common stock used for comic books, trade publications, directories, classified magazines and the like. It is absorbent, not particularly bright (slightly yellowish), and due to its highly acidic nature, it becomes brittle and decomposes quickly. Newsprint is made by mechanically grinding up wood into paper pulp for the paper-making machine (Fourdriner machine) rather than chemically liquefying the wood into pulp. It is cheaper to produce than any other paper that is able to withstand the rigors of offset printing.

Newsprint comes in various weights and usually is not printed on the same presses used for higher grades of paper, although the process is the same (non-heatset web offset printing). In fact, newsprint used for newspapers is printed on non-heatset web presses specifically dedicated to this process and able to handle the tabloid size, multiple pages, and folding requirements of newspapers. Instead of having multiple color units one after the other in a line, their color units are often stacked, so the press is vertical rather than horizontal.

Newsprint is also referred to as groundwood stock (since the wood is ground up rather than pulverized chemically). Ink printed on newsprint spreads as it is absorbed. Halftone dots in particular spread and become larger. Hence, the line screens used for halftone images need to be coarse (85-line, for instance, rather than the 175-line screens and above used for coated stock). When you look closely at a halftone on newsprint you will see that the dots of the halftone are far more visible than the dots of a halftone printed in a brochure or book. Were the screens any less coarse, they would plug up and the printed product would be unacceptable.

Lay-Flat Binding

Sometimes you just need to produce a soft-cover book that will lay flat on a table and stay open. It might be a cookbook or a technical manual to which someone is referring while using his or her hands for another task. You can’t usually make a perfect-bound book lay flat without breaking the spine. So what do you do? You produce a book with a lay-flat binding.

Most books are either perfect bound or case bound, and one might say that lay-flat binding is very similar to case binding, with the main difference being that a lay-flat bound book has a paper cover rather than a hard cover. A hard-cover dictionary would be an example of case binding, and a paperback dictionary would be an example of perfect binding. In a hard-cover book, the pages are attached to a liner (a strip of fabric covering the spine and extending forward beyond the first page and backward beyond the last page of the book). The edges of the liner are then attached to the front and back of the case but not the spine. (This is true most of the time, although there are some tight-bound, case-bound books with liners actually glued to the spine of the case.) As you open a case-bound book, the signatures move away from the spine, allowing the entire book to lie flat when it is opened. In contrast to this, the pages of a perfect-bound book are actually attached to the spine of the paper cover. Therefore, the book does not lie flat when open. Only by breaking the spine (forcibly folding it open) can you make the book lay flat. Obviously, this wouldn’t work for a cookbook or computer manual.

In a lay-flat-bound book, the signatures are gathered and stacked (as with both a case-bound and a perfect-bound book), but the pages are then glued to a liner (just like a case-bound book but unlike a perfect-bound book). The liner is attached to the front and back of the paper book cover but not attached to the spine. When you open a lay-flat-bound book, it will lay flat without your needing to fold back the spine. One might say that a lay-flat-bound book is just like a case-bound book with a soft cover.

When I first saw a book of this kind, I expected it to eventually fall apart. It looked flimsy. Over the years, I have learned that these books are more durable than they look.

This binding option is good for products too thick for plastic coil binding. It also avoids the higher cost of GBC binding (a binding medium consisting of a plastic comb inserted through pre-punched holes in the book pages and allowed to curl into a cylindrical spine not unlike a large, flat plastic coil).

What is an AA?

If your print vendor makes a mistake (let’s say he or she is typesetting an invitation for you and makes a typo), this is called a PE (or printer error), and the printer absorbs the cost when the bill is prepared. If you provide typeset copy in the preformatted brochure you send on CD or via FTP and then see a typo when the digital blueline arrives, it is called an AA (author’s alteration), and YOU pay the extra cost when the bill arrives.

[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.]