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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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Book Printing With Online Printing Companies: Subliminal Design Elements

A dear friend and I recently had a misunderstanding based on the imprecise nature of Internet communications. Fortunately he called me on the phone, we reconnected, and everything was good. We had both been trying to be respectful and kind through our emails, but the inability of email to reflect tone and nuance of speech had hindered our communications.

“The medium is the message”

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian educator and philosopher, coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” By this he meant that the form of a message influences how the audience perceives the message.

The brightly back-lit computer screen can give undue harshness to the words in an email or on a website. In addition, unlike other venues on the Internet, email carries with it no aural information. You can’t hear anything. When you speak with someone face to face, you have the visual cues (the person’s body language, their carriage). You have the sound and inflection of their voice. And you have the words themselves. In an email you have only the words. From a straightforward email without these cues, one might infer a tone of sarcasm or an overly formal and distancing tone—even if none were present—because you can’t see the person or hear his or her voice.

How can we apply this to book printing?

We have been talking in previous posts about the message carried through such additions to a perfect-bound book as French flaps, cream stock, and a deckled edge (or rough-front trim). If the medium is the message, these components of the books my clients produce send a message. Perhaps it is a subliminal message, but it is a powerful message nevertheless. My clients want their readers to relax, relish the tactile experience of reading a print book (as opposed to an e-book), and immerse themselves in the story. The paper, the extra flaps, and the other elements introduced by the online printing company lend an air of luxury to the experience of reading fiction and poetry, a leisure activity for which many people no longer have the time.

If the medium is the message, it behooves the book designer to consider how the book will be perceived. After all, a book, like an email, is a communications device. The goal is to communicate something of value to the reader, and, in addition to the content of the book, its form will either amplify or detract from this message.

What elements can influence the reader’s perception?

Here is a short list. I’m sure you can think of more elements:

  • The paper on which the book printer has printed the book.
  • The binding method: whether the book printer has bound the book with a hard or soft cover.
  • The choice of typeface. Is it a classic serif face or a bold and definitive sans serif face?
  • The leading (space between the lines). Does this make it easier or harder to read?
  • Margins: Are they ample or tight?
  • Paragraph length: Does the text feel heavy and dense, or do the shifts from paragraph to paragraph make reading comfortable?
  • The imagery on the cover of the book and the tone it conveys.
  • The coating the online printing company has added to the book covers. A gloss finish can give an air of harshness, while a dull film laminate can provide a more soothing first impression.
  • Even a hinge score (the folding line running parallel to the spine) can give a sense of precision and quality to the custom book printer’s work, while making the reading experience a little bit easier.

Granted, you may not want every reading experience to be pleasurable. You may want to challenge the reader to think and act differently. If so, your design and production choices should reflect this goal as well.

Marshall McLuhan was right. Book printers and designers should take note. When you design and print a book, be mindful of the subliminal cues offered by the physical elements of the book. This is one thing that sets a print book apart from an Internet page. It may not speak in words and sounds, but it does communicate volumes.

Your custom book printer can help you make the design and production choices that will touch your readers in subtle but powerful ways.

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