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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Custom Book Printing Case Study: Deciding Which Printing Errors to Fix

Custom book printing is a process, not a commodity. It involves many people, many skills, and many steps. To some extent, things go wrong in every press run. The challenge is to determine what constitutes an actual printing error and to work with the business printing service to correct it.

Identifying the Printing Problems

Upon reviewing F&G’s for a case-bound book project, a client contacted me and said she had found some printing errors. Based on my client’s descriptions, it appeared that all errors were smudges, ink streaks, scratches, or faint white text images within the black solids. The printing problems affected six pages within four press signatures.

To begin with, here’s a useful definition: F&G’s are the printed, folded, and gathered (but untrimmed and unbound) signatures of a perfect-bound or case-bound book. A book printing error caught at this point is expensive to fix, but it is easier and cheaper to reprint one signature or a few signatures and then bind the entire press run than it is to find the error after the books have been bound. At that point, a complete reprint by the book printing company might be necessary (or at least tearing off the covers, reprinting one or more signatures, and then rebinding and retrimming the books).

What Is Reasonable, and What Is Not?

The first step is to define the problem and determine if it is unacceptable or merely an annoyance. For my client, the scratches and smudges, as well as the light white type in the black solid areas, were unacceptable errors. They didn’t impede readability, but they made the workmanship of the custom book printer look shoddy. The misting (faint trails of ink on a block of text on one page, like fringes on the letterforms) was noticeable and irritating but not as bad.

The next step is to determine the number of pages affected by the problem or problems. For my client, the problems were confined to six pages within a 600-page book.

The final step, with the custom book printer’s help, is to determine the extent of the problem (how many copies of your book have been affected).

In my client’s case, the problems fell into three categories: press blanket issues, misting, and plate scratches. The light type caused by press blanket problems may have affected only some of the books (probably more rather than fewer, since the printer would have needed to see the error in the sample review sheets pulled from the press and then change the press blanket). Nevertheless, these pages were very unattractive, regardless of the number of copies affected, and therefore the book printer was willing to reprint the press signature.

The misting problems were less noticeable and probably did not extend throughout the entire press run. They reflected difficulties with the ink consistency and composition. The book printer probably saw the errors and made adjustments rather quickly.

Finally, the scratched plates probably affected every copy of the book, since plates are usually not changed during the press run. Because the error was so visible, and because it probably occurred in every book, a reprint of the signature was in order. Fortunately the book printer agreed.

It is common industry practice for the custom book printer to pull press sheets periodically throughout the run to check for all manner of errors, make appropriate changes to correct them, and remove problematic press sheets from the stack. Sometimes the printer doesn’t catch every error. That is why you need to look carefully at the F&G’s and work with the book printing vendor to determine the extent of any problems you catch. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, it is easier and cheaper to do this now than wait until the book has been bound.

Why Is Reaching a Compromise with Printing Companies Often a Wise Move?

This was a true compromise between the custom book printer and my client. The printing vendor reprinted the most egregious errors, and my client forgave one of the less noticeable problems. This compromise has allowed both the book printer and the client to feel comfortable about working together again on future projects.

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