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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: Reduce the Cost by Changing Trim Size, Paper Weight, Color Placement, and Binding

A print brokering client of mine recently provided specifications for a small-format book printing run. One option for this 64-page directory included 16 pages of color and the balance in black ink only. The other option assumed process color throughout. I found a custom printing supplier in Texas with a large-format press that could handle 32-page signatures, yielding a price much lower that those provided by local printing companies. However, the total cost still didn’t meet the budget. The job exceeded budget targets whether printed with only 16 pages of color or process color throughout, whether saddle stitched or perfect bound.

The Client’s Goals

The primary goal became cost reduction. To complicate matters, a secondary goal involved spreading color throughout the book. The color pages were for advertisements, and advertisers wanted flexibility in ad placement.

Regarding color placement, if the commercial printer had saddle stitched the book, the 16-page color signature would have fallen as follows. Eight pages would have been in the front of the book, and eight pages would have been in the back of the book. This is because saddle-stitched signatures are nested, one within the other.

In contrast, signatures in a perfect-bound book are stacked one on top of the other. Therefore, the color signature could be placed between any other signatures in a perfect-bound version. This would include placing 16 color pages at the front of the book, placing color between one 16-page black-only signature and another 32-page black signature, or placing the color signature at the back of the book). The commercial printer could even break up the 16-page signature into smaller color signatures and distribute them throughout the book.

A Novel Option for Saddle-stitching the Book

The custom printing vendor made a novel suggestion. If we were to saddle stitch the book (a 16-page color and 48-page black-only version), we could break up the 16-page color signature into smaller units. Instead of printing and binding one 16-page color signature (with 8 pages landing in the front and 8 in the back of the book), we could print the same sized signature and trim it into 4-page and 8-page signatures that could be interspersed between the black-only signatures.

In simplest terms, we solved the problem by breaking larger color signatures into smaller ones, and then positioning them among the black signatures, giving the impression of more color within the book.

Pricing Concerns

This solved the problem of color distribution, but it did not lower prices. In fact, it might have even done the opposite. Press work would have involved the same number of signatures, but finishing (cutting, folding, binding, and trimming) would have involved more steps and therefore would have potentially cost more.

More Options

So I went back to the custom printing supplier and suggested cheaper paper and a smaller format (at the request of my client). I reduced the weight of the cover stock from 100# to 65# . I also reduced the weight of the text stock from 60# to 50#.

In addition, I considered alternate sizes. The initial bid assumed a trim size of 8-1/8” x 10-7/8”. I suggested a reduction of the page size to 5-3/8” x 10-7/8” with an increase in pages. This assumed that the commercial printer could fit more pages on the press sheet. More pages on the press sheet would yield larger signatures and therefore fewer of them (i.e., fewer press runs).

I suggested these options: process color throughout, a 16-page color signature with the balance in black ink only, and black ink only for the text.

I gave all of these options to the commercial printer and told him the pricing goal: $4,500.00. Basically, I asked what my client could get for this price, given her goals.

Regarding color usage in a black-only book, I suggested printing the cover 4CP / 4CP (process color on both sides of the press sheet) and placing the color ads on the inside front cover, inside back cover, and outside back cover. This would at least offer advertisers three ad positions.

I haven’t heard back from the custom printing supplier yet. I’ll keep you posted.

What We Can Learn from This Experience

Here are some general ideas you can apply when approaching printing companies, as culled from my experience:

  1. Tell your commercial printer what your goals are (e.g., color throughout, cost reduction). Think about what you’re willing to give up to save money (i.e., paper quality and thickness).
  2. Present alternatives (changing page sizes and page counts, breaking up the color signatures into smaller color signatures and spacing them throughout the book, limiting the amount of color).
  3. Consider binding alternatives: perfect binding vs. saddle stitching.
  4. Ask your commercial printer for suggestions. When all else fails, remember that your custom printing supplier knows his equipment better than you do. He can often make suggestions to reduce cost.

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