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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 Estimates: Read Every Word Carefully

Choosing the right paper for a custom book printing project is a subjective and important decision. It can also have financial consequences, since the cost of paper can be upwards of 30 to 40 percent of the cost of a custom printing job.

I recently requested bids for a client’s perfect-bound book. I specified a “70# natural white sheet.” That is, instead of specifying Finch Opaque Vanilla Vellum 60 lb Text, I opted for a more generic specification (70# natural white) to encourage the printing companies to suggest a house sheet. I knew this would save my client money on the cost of printing by allowing the book printing companies to match paper qualities rather than brands, and to make substitutions or suggest optional paper stocks, wherever possible.

Unfortunately, when I received the first estimate, I noticed that the book printing company had listed Finch Opaque in the specifications for the bid. This is a blue-white sheet, not a yellow-white sheet.

In some cases, cream stocks (yellow-white rather than blue-white) can be more expensive than bright white sheets. At the very least, and regardless of price, had I not caught the difference in the paper specification on the custom printing provider’s bid, the final product would not have been what my client wanted.

What can you learn from this? Several things:

  1. Check the bids your book printing companies provide very closely. They are contracts. Don’t assume that just because you specified a blue-white or yellow-white sheet, your printer has included these in his price calculations. Also don’t assume that the weight of the paper included in your custom printing provider’s bid will be as you had specified. After all, books are printed with 50#, 60#, 70# (and even higher weight) stocks.
  2. The shade of the paper (and even its finish, such as smooth, wove, or antique) will affect the price, particularly since some paper stocks will be on the printer’s factory floor for use by multiple clients while other stocks will need to be custom ordered.
  3. Always request samples. When I discovered the discrepancy in the specifications, I had my book printing vendor send me a sample of the stock he had included in the book estimate. I checked it under sunlight (Sunlight is 5000 degrees Kelvin—the color of the light, not the temperature–which matches the light used by printing companies to check proofs.) The printer’s paper sample was a much bluer-white shade than the paper in the sample book my client had given me to match. I asked my printer for warm-white (natural white, ivory, cream) stock suggestions, and also asked that he send me new samples.
  4. Using my caliper, I determined the thickness of the paper in the sample book and apprised my book printing company. I assumed the paper in my client’s sample was 70#, but I wasn’t sure. That said, printing paper receives different amounts of “calendaring” (being passed through sets of metal rollers during the paper-making process, which compresses the fibers while creating a smoother paper surface). What this really means is that multiple samples of printing paper with the same basis weight might have different thicknesses. To be certain, then, I wanted my book printing vendor to match the thickness of the paper in the sample book rather than its basis weight.
  5. You should consider buying a paper caliper, too. It will cost less than $50.00 and can be purchased from a scientific instrument vendor (check the Internet). This is the tool printing companies use. It’s a good investment, allowing you to communicate very precise paper thicknesses to your printer. One thing it will let you do is measure the thickness of the paper you want to match so you can give this information to your printer. It will also allow you to measure the thickness of paper in a paper merchant’s swatch book. For instance, let’s say you have a sheet that you know is 8 pts in thickness (using your caliper to measure it). A paper conversion guide (also available on the Internet) will tell you that it is probably 65# cover stock. While this is not always accurate (note the discussion above about calendaring paper), it’s still a good start for discussion with your custom book printers.

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