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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: How to Discover the Source of a Printing Flaw

I recently emailed a client to follow up on a book printing project. I hoped, and expected, to hear good things. Unfortunately, there were three problems with the books:

  1. There were bubbles and scratches on the gloss UV cover coating.
  2. The text was not centered on the spine (not equally distant from the fold line of the front and back covers).
  3. A subscriber had called my client to complain that the pages were falling out of the binding.

Ouch. Part of the job of a printing broker is to discover the cause and extent of problems like these, and find a solution that will satisfy both the client and the custom printing vendor.

Check samples to confirm the extent of the problem.

First I asked my client to spot check samples from the book printing run in the approximately 40 cartons that comprised her 3,000-copy delivery. She didn’t need to check all boxes or all books in any one box. She just needed to make a thorough random review. My client checked about ten cartons thoroughly and found no further flawed books. Most of the books in the first box she had opened had problems, but the problem books seemed to be contained in that one carton.

I also asked the custom printing vendor to check all books at the plant. He found no problems.

What about the spine that fell apart?

That’s a serious and worrisome flaw. However, only one subscriber had called my client and requested a replacement book. If the problem had been pervasive, a number of subscribers would have requested replacements.

I called the business printing service again. The sales representative did some research and found that the perfect binding run had gone smoothly, with only a few brief stops of the perfect binding equipment during the run. He found out that PUR glue had been used for the hot-melt glue binding (to hold the pages in place). This particular glue has “brand equity.” It has been around for a long time. It is well regarded by printing companies as a durable glue that is flexible enough to allow bending of the spine but relentless in holding onto the pages. It has stood the test of time. Printing companies swear by it.

This was the real cause of the problem.

The custom printing vendor did find out one thing, though, from his research in his bindery. If the perfect binding equipment is halted for more than a short time, one or two books that have received the glue application but that have not yet had book covers attached will have problems with the glue. If the glue has started to harden or cure, and then the machinery is started up again, the book cover will not adhere properly to the book block, and the pages will eventually come out. It is the operator’s responsibility to remove these few books from the machine prior to restarting the perfect binder. It seems that he did not do this.

So apparently that was the cause of the problem, and that was its extent.

Trust but verify.

The fact that only one subscriber had called my client for a replacement book corroborated the custom printing supplier’s findings about the bindery problem. That said, I asked for a guarantee from the printer that if another subscriber, or multiple subscribers, were to call my client in the future and complain that the book pages had fallen out, the printing company would stand behind its work and resolve the problem to my client’s satisfaction. The printer agreed. Now the printer and my client can do business in the future with a level of mutual trust.

What do we learn from this?

Here are some thoughts:

  • If you receive a custom printing job and open the first box only to find that there are problems, don’t assume that every book is bad. Do a spot check throughout the run. Document the problem and its extent.
  • Distinguish between the inevitable flaws and the unusable books. Occasional bubbling in the cover coating, or even the presence of scratches localized in a few books, is not the same as binding that falls apart.
  • Ask the custom printing vendor to research the problem as well.
  • If the problem seems to be small, ask the business printing service to agree to stand behind the printing work should the problem be revealed over time to be more severe.
  • Depending on the severity of the problem and its extent, you have options, including a reprint or a discount.
  • Look to your business printing supplier as a partner, not an adversary, in remedying the issues. This will yield better results. The only goal is to produce the proper number of acceptable copies of your job. Laying blame does not fix the problem or ensure that it won’t happen again.

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