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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: Attending to Details in Cover Design and Production

I’m brokering the print production for a perfect bound book with a unique cover. It has images and type on both the outside and inside covers, as well as French flaps. Therefore, the design and production of the cover reflects a number of concerns for both graphic artists and production managers.

Printing Gold Ink on the Cover

In addition to the process colors—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—the cover designer has used a match gold ink for the perfect-bound cover. Process color builds can simulate a lot of different colors, but they cannot simulate metallics. The closest 4-color custom printing can come is a yellowish brown. Gold ink actually includes flecks of metal in the liquid suspension of ink, and it is this metal that gives the ink its sheen.

Since nothing can be printed over the gold ink, other than the film lamination, the cover designer will need to add an extra Photoshop spot color channel with knock outs and standard trapping for anything that would touch the gold ink.

It is my understanding that the cover designer has created the art file in Photoshop rather than InDesign. Therefore, he will distill the Photoshop file as a press-quality PDF prior to uploading it to the book printer. Although the more recent versions of Photoshop can preserve the high resolution of vector type layers (allowing the platesetting software to determine the final resolution of the type during the rasterization process), the book printer may ask the designer to flatten the Photoshop file (merge the various layers, including the type layer) to avoid choking the RIP (overpowering the software that turns the PostScript curves and arcs of the type into a matrix of dots for the platesetter). All images will need to be 300 dpi or higher, and small type may suffer slightly compared to type produced in InDesign.

Laminating the Cover

Gold ink needs to shine to be considered gold and not brown or yellow. I had initially suggested a dull film laminate as a cover coating to distinguish the print book from its peers (fewer books seem to have dull coating than gloss, and any difference stands out on bookstore shelves).

Nevertheless, I was advised by the book printer to choose a gloss film laminate instead of a dull laminate, since the dull coating would subdue the gold ink and rob it of its sheen. Point taken, and a good lesson.

Adding French Flaps

The print book will have French Flaps, also known as a “double gatefold” cover. The 3.5” flaps will fold inward and give the impression of a dust jacket on a hardcover book. They will also add 3.5” of space in front of each interior cover for author photos and promotional text.

Specifying Paper Grain Direction

Paper grain direction will be parallel to the spine. That is, the direction of the majority of fibers in the cover paper (which are similar in appearance to grains of rice) will match the vertical backbone of the book. This will allow the pages to easily open and lie flat without becoming wavy. Were the grain to lie perpendicular to the direction of the spine, the print book would be harder to open, and the paper might be wavy or rippled.

Allowing for the Imprecise Nature of Presswork and Folding

No custom printing operation is perfect. Acceptable tolerance for cover printing, folding, and trimming is plus or minus 1/16” from side to side (1/8” total) and plus or minus 1/8” up and down (1/4” total). Therefore, while designing the book, the graphic artist must not position any graphic element too close to the trim margins or the fold of the spine, or imprecise folding and trimming could cut off either type or another element of the cover art.

Keeping the Inside of the Spine Free of Ink and Coating

Unlike many covers, in the case of this particular book, the inside front and back covers will be printed as well as the outside front and back covers. The important point is that no ink or coating is allowed on the backbone area (the inside spine of the book between the front and back interior covers). This is because the glue used to bind the print book and attach the cover to the gathered signatures must adhere to the fibers in the backbone area, and ink or a coating would lessen the strength of the glue bond, leading to the pages either falling out or being easily pulled out of the binding glue. To be safe, the book printer also requests 3/16” of clearance on either side of the interior backbone for any ink or coating.

Reviewing the Cover Template

Fortunately the book printer has provided a cover template based on the number of pages and the particular text paper chosen for this book. Using the thickness of the text stock (in this case 55# Sebago Antique Text, which is 360 ppi, or pages per inch), the book printer has calculated a spine thickness of 1.11” (400 pages at 360 ppi). The template the printer has drawn includes the precise size of the spine and front and back covers, as well as notations of bleeds and the permitted live area for type. A cover template like this is invaluable, offering the designer a roadmap of sorts, showing exactly where to place design elements and where to avoid placing them.

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