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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 Paper Choices: When Is 55# Stock as Thick as 70# Stock?

One of my clients needed a custom book printer. This husband and wife team produces paperback fiction and poetry books with high quality paper, French flaps (the flaps that fold back in so the book looks like it has a dust jacket), and deckled edges. (Also known as a “rough front” trim, this provides an uneven face margin to help the reader grasp the pages when turning them.)

I recently received a bid for this book in which the book printing company had specified 70# Finch Opaque Vellum Book paper. Since I had requested a 70# natural white sheet (cream, or a yellowish-white shade), I was concerned. After all, Finch Opaque is a blue-white sheet.

This particular book printer looked high and low but could find no alternative paper to suggest. All the 70# cream stocks he could find would drive up the price of the finished book. (Cream stocks are often, but not always, more expensive than white sheets.) Then I received an email with good news. The book printing vendor had sent me a paper sample via overnight mail.

The next day, I received a few sheets of 55# Sebago, Antique Finish. The paper exactly matched the sample book I had received from my new client.

What can we learn from this experience:

  • Not all 55# paper is as thin as you might expect. Think of a piece of styrofoam or Foam-Cor board. Let’s say it’s 1/4” thick and weighs three ounces. If you run it through a series of metal rollers, it will get much thinner. But it will weigh the same. This particular Sebago sheet the book printer had suggested had not been “calendered” (passed between metal rollers during the papermaking process to make the paper smoother) as much as the 70# Finch stock. It was lighter than the Finch, but it “bulked” to the same thickness.
  • How did I know this? Because the paper bulk noted on the sample sheets from the custom book printer indicated that it was 360 ppi (pages per inch). Finch Opaque “mics” (the same as bulks) to 364 ppi. Therefore, a 300+ page book made with 70# Finch stock would be approximately as thick as a book made with 55# Sebago paper.
  • While this does not need to be important, some people might like a thicker book rather than a thinner one. Another Finch paper, a 50# sheet, has a ppi of 606. So a book produced with a 50# sheet when you’re used to a 70# sheet might be a bit disconcerting. After all, at 606 ppi rather than 360 ppi, it would be a much thinner book.
  • I had the custom book printer reprice the job. (Always remember to do this when you change any specification on your spec sheet, or when the book printer–or any custom printing vendor for that matter–includes erroneous specs in a bid.) Fortunately, the price stayed exactly the same. This was in spite of the general rule that cream paper costs more than white. In this case, the Finch was a pricier sheet overall, and I benefited from the paper substitution the book printer had made.
  • The specification sheet accompanying the samples from the custom printing supplier noted additional useful information. The Sebago has an “antique” finish. This is the roughest surface of an uncoated sheet. Fortunately, the roughness of the book printer’s sample also matched the roughness of the sample book provided by my client. Interestingly enough, it probably also explains the difference between the Finch and the Sebago sheet. Rougher sheets require less calendering. Smoother sheets require more. Finch Opaque is a smoother stock than the Sebago antique, so a 70# sheet (having been compressed more during the manufacturing process) will be of almost equal thickness to the less compressed, rougher 55# Sebago antique sheet. So always read the spec sheet that accompanies the paper samples. You will find a wealth of useful information here.
  • Finally, I checked the paper in sunlight as well as under my desk lamp. The shade exactly matched the paper in the sample book my client had provided.

A little resourcefulness from a custom printing company goes a long way with me. If your book printer takes the extra time to help you choose a paper stock, consider him a partner and not just a vendor. These are the best book printing companies to work with.

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