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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: Why not Choose Both a Print and an Electronic Version?

I recently received an interesting (and yet also quite appropriate for the times) request from a client for whom I had just completed the design and art file production for a print book. She asked for a PDF of the book optimized for tablet computers.

Why do I consider this appropriate? Because of the trend toward digital books. But it was also interesting because my client will be offering her readers two options, a print book version and a “virtual” version. In the process, I expect that she will attract many more readers.

The Technical Considerations

Dimensions: The print book had been a 6” x 6” volume, yet the particular digital readers for which my client wanted to optimize the reading experience had more of a “portrait” orientation (taller rather than than wider or square). Therefore, I saved the InDesign file under a new name and changed the page size to 8.5” x 11” (“portrait,” as opposed to “landscape,” orientation).

Page Design: The print book had a photo on all left-hand pages and a memorable quotation on all right-hand pages. Since the vertical orientation chosen for tablet computers would lend itself to more of a “calendar” design, with the image above and the text below, I moved in this direction. I also made a mock-up of the front matter: title page, copyright page, introduction, dedication, etc., working to keep the look of the screen version consistent with that of the print book version. And I mocked-up three photo/quote pages (horizontal image, vertical image, and square image, all with their respective quotes) to see how everything would fit on the new 8.5” x 11” page size.

Type size: I enlarged the type and the photos to take advantage of the larger format (8.5” x 11” rather than 6” x 6”) and also to provide a more readable product. After all, reading text on a back-lit screen is harder on the eyes than reading ink on paper in a commercial printing job.

Images: My client and I discussed the preferred format for the images. While TIFFs had been appropriate for the print book version, the screen version would be a small PDF file. There was no reason not to use JPEGs of the photos to keep the overall file size down. Moreover, instead of including 300 dpi images within the CMYK color space, the images for the screen version could be 72 dpi RGB photos (sRGB, actually). We chose these specs for a few reasons.

  1. RGB has a wider gamut than CMYK. That is, the RGB color space includes more colors than CMYK, and the only reason to use the CMYK color space is in preparation for printing on offset or digital equipment. Monitors create color with red, green, and blue light; offset and digital presses create color with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink.
  2. The images could be of significantly lower resolution than print images (72 dpi rather than 300 dpi) and still be clear on screen.
  3. And due to their compression, JPEG images would be much smaller than TIFF images, yielding a much smaller PDF file for the tablet or e-reader.

Choice of the Digital Book File Format

My client requested a screen-optimized PDF as the final file format for the virtual book to be distributed to readers. She did this for two reasons:

  1. A PDF would be static: fixed and unchangeable. Every reader would see the same version. This would allow for consistency between the print book and the screen version. In addition, any anomalies from e-reader to e-reader would not cause any problems in the formatting of the text and images, the position of text and images within the file, or the typefaces. Everything would be consistent.
  2. PDFs capture the nuances of book design in ways that e-pub and other e-book formats cannot. They allow for multi-column layout and a host of other design choices. My client wanted the design grid structure, typefaces, spacing, etc., to be congruent with the print book, and a PDF would ensure that this would be the case.

The Implications for Print Books

This case study points out an interesting fact. The question does not have to be whether print books will cease to exist, but rather how to grow one’s reader base and facilitate and optimize the reading experience through multiple channels (print, screen, perhaps even audio).

My client will have more, rather than fewer, potential readers by providing physical print books to those who request them and a screen version at a lower price to those who choose this option. Who knows? Some readers might even buy both.

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