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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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Digital On Demand Book Printing: How Many Copies? How many Pages?

A print brokering client of mine publishes literary works of poetry and fiction. She came to me last week with a book printing job to estimate: 100 copies of a 315-page perfect-bound text, black-ink-only with a four-color cover. These are “reader copies” of the book, and are also called “galley proofs.” Reviewers will make suggestions that the author will then incorporate into the finished book printing run.

My client wants the books to look polished. Keep in mind that in the ’70s and ’80s, galley proofs weren’t even bound. My client had considered a local photocopy shop and wanted higher quality.

What Are the Custom Printing Options?

I had two ideas of how to proceed: digital and—a long-shot—a huge offset book press running black ink and printing very few, large signatures.

First off, let’s discuss why I came up with the idea of the large-format offset press and why this was actually inappropriate. I had recently received an extraordinarily low bid for another book printing job from a Texas commercial printing company that had planned to produce the job on an eight-unit perfecting press. I knew that the size of the press allowed for large press signatures and therefore fewer press runs. The fact that my client’s literary book was to be 316 pages in length made me think it would not be cost effective for a digital on demand book printing press. I thought it had too many pages. So I considered offset, even though the press run was only 100 copies. I knew the make-ready would drive the price up. I didn’t think this would be a good fit for any commercial printer.

The representative of the Texas printing company with the large-format press “no bid” the job. He said the make-ready on such a press would render it inappropriate for offset. Only if the press run had been closer to 500 copies or 1,000 copies would such a large press have produced the job in a cost-effective manner. In spite of the length of the book, the rep suggested digital on demand book printing. (I made a mental note for future jobs and future clients: No matter what the page count, only consider offset printing for press runs exceeding 500 copies.)

What About Digital On Demand Book Printing?

I thought about digital options. I bid the job out to a printer with an HP Indigo press. I knew the digital output from this equipment would provide high-quality covers for the 100 copies of my client’s book. However, I thought that for a black-only book block (all the text pages), the Indigo would be excessive. The Indigo is geared toward color work, not black text. I thought a 316-page text block would be too expensive to print on an Indigo.

Black-only Digital Printing

As an experiment, I asked a commercial printer with a Canon digital press to price out the book block only. I had assumed that the Canon digital press excelled at black-only-text work, but the printer corrected me. He said that running black-only toner on such a press would damage the Canon engine, since the cyan, magenta, and yellow rollers would be turning but not applying toner. He suggested a DocuTech, a digital on demand book printing press made for imaging black-text-only. He offered to price the job (text pages only, provided as loose, gathered sheets, and delivered to the printer with the Indigo). The printer with the Indigo press would then print the covers and bind the book. Everyone agreed to work together. (I made another mental note: For black text only, look for a DocuTech, not a Canon digital press.)

Having Two Printers Work Together to Produce One Job

Last night I received the price for the second printer to produce only the black-ink text block. It was twice the price the first printer had offered to print the entire job on the Indigo.

What if it had been less expensive? After all, other printers have DocuTech digital presses. And using a dedicated black-only, digital on demand book printing press for a book block is still a good idea. Maybe another printer would not have charged as much.

There’s one thing you may want to consider here. After all, you might need to coordinate the work of two separate printing companies one day. Moving incomplete books from one printer to another for finishing touches costs money. Remember to add this freight expense to the total cost. In addition, like the old adage says, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” If you attempt to marry the efforts of two vendors, make sure it’s worth the savings. After all, if the job goes South, each vendor may point the finger at the other.

What About FedEx Office or On-line “Web-to-Print” Vendors?

Just to put the cost into perspective for my client, I priced out the job at both the local FedEx Office shop and an on-line printer.

The FedEx Office price was over $25.00 per book. At eight cents per page, that really wasn’t bad. After all, it was essentially a photocopy job.

I went online and picked a “web-to-print” vendor at random. (You upload the book design files; they send you finished books.) The unit cost would have been just under $8.00 per book. I thought there would be no way that the printer I use with the HP Indigo could match this. I was concerned. After all, I am passionate about the quality output of the Indigo digital on demand book printing press, and I wanted the books to look really good.

Final Price Estimates

To my surprise and pleasure, the price for printing the book on the HP Indigo was only slightly higher (less than $100.00) than the online vendor’s price. My client would get the stellar customer service of the printer with the high quality Indigo press, all for approximately the same price as the online vendor would charge.

It pays to shop around.

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