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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 Printing: Paper Choices Case Study

A client of mine runs a small publishing house for literary works: poetry, fiction, memoirs, and such. She has recently sent a book to a commercial printer for a short run of 100 reader copies. These are also called “galleys.” Reviewers will read the copies and make suggestions, then the author will update and correct the text. After this step, a book printer will produce between 2,000 and 3,500 copies of the final edition. The commercial printer will produce the short run digitally on an HP Indigo press. The book printer will run the job on an offset press.

The galley is essentially a proof. It needs to look good, but the final book printing run must be spectacular, since it will be sold in bookstores.

That said, I will meet with my client in about a week to discuss paper choices. You may find it useful to learn how I’m preparing for the meeting. It may help you choose book papers for yourself or your clients.

The Specifications

Together, my client and I compiled the following list of specifications for the book:

340 pages plus cover
Trim Size: 5.5” x 8.5”
Cover ink: 4CP + PMS match gold ink + dull lay-flat film laminate / 4CP; with bleeds
Text ink: K/K, without bleeds
12pt. C2S cover, white
Text stock: 70# Finch Vellum Vanilla Text, 364 ppi, or 55# Sebago IV Antique C/W, 360 ppi
French flaps on cover to extend over text (trim twice); score/fold for a 3.5” flap on front and back.
Deckled edges on the foredge of the text block
Perfect bind on 8.5” side with cover press score

Here are a few thoughts that come to mind when I review the specifications:

  1. The soft-cover book will have black-ink-only text, without bleeds, but the cover will be far more ornate.
  2. The cover will be printed not only with 4-color process ink but also an additional match color: gold, a metallic ink made with actual flecks of metal. Both the inside and outside covers will be printed, and the outside covers will be laminated.
  3. The cover will have additional flaps that will fold inward, simulating a dust jacket. This is popular in Europe, but it is also popular in the United States for upscale, trendy books.
  4. My client wants deckled edges on the text stock (rough edges rather than flush-cut, smooth edges).
  5. My client wants an off-white text stock with a rough surface to augment the tactile experience of reading this book.

To achieve the best possible look for this volume, I suggested a 12 pt. cover stock (thicker than many other perfect-bound print book covers that are often only 10 pt.). Thicker stock will probably be perceived by the reader (subconsciously) as being of higher value. I also used my caliper to measure the thickness of the cover stock on a sample given to me by my client. I wanted to make sure the 12 pt. cover paper I specified would actually match my client’s sample.

I also suggested a C2S cover (coated on two sides). In most cases, a book printer would produce a volume like this with a C1S (coated-one-side) cover. However, since the inside covers will also print (which is not always the case), I thought that a cover coated on the inside as well as the outside would provide a closer ink match between the inside and outside covers.

I also suggested a white cover stock, in spite of the fact that the inside text paper would be a cream color. Here’s why. The color of process inks printed on cream stock changes. It’s no longer the actual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Since process colors are transparent, the cream substrate alters the perceived color of the inks. Visually, the shift from a white inside cover to a cream text stock will be less jarring than having process inks that are off color.

I also suggested 55# Sebago IV Antique text stock. The book printer with the low bid had this on the pressroom floor. It will cost less than the 70# Finch Vellum Vanilla Text that I had initially wanted. However, as you can see in the specifications, 70# Finch Vellum Vanilla Text and 55# Sebago IV Antique are almost the same thickness (364 vs 360 ppi, or pages per inch). The Sebago has been calendered less (passed between metal rollers during the paper-making process). It is therefore thicker than usual. It is also rougher than usual since it is an “antique” sheet (one of the roughest surfaces on an uncoated press sheet). My client wanted rough cream stock. This fits both requirements.

What I’m Taking to the Meeting

When I meet with my client next week I will take the following:

  1. A printed sample with French Flaps.
  2. A printed sample with deckled text paper edges.
  3. An unprinted sample of the Sebago stock from the book printer, showing the paper color, surface finish, paper thickness, and paper opacity (light blocking power, which keeps ink on one side of the press sheet from being visible through the other side of the press sheet).
  4. The specification sheet for Finch Vellum Vanilla, showing that the specifications of 55# Sebago text stock come very close to those of the 70# Finch text stock. This will hopefully ease any discomfort my client may have in substituting Sebago for Finch.

It pays to do the research and to think through all the technical as well as design ramifications of paper choices. Often your paper merchant or book printer can suggest paper stocks with similar qualities (surface texture, color, thickness, opacity) that are nevertheless cheaper than what you initially had in mind. But it always helps to get samples from your custom printing vendor. Nothing can help your print buying work like actually seeing and feeling the press sheet.

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