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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: Polybag Scuffing Problems in the Mail

For the past few years I have been designing, laying out, and brokering the printing of a non-profit educational foundation directory. For the most part, the process has gone like clockwork. It’s good money, and I enjoy working with the organization.

This year, when the job was complete and I had just submitted my invoice, I received an email and attached photographs showing damage to the polybags in which sample copies of the book had been mailed. Ouch.

Other than that, the book was great. My client was happy. However, polybags with little holes and tears didn’t showcase the design of the book in the best light. I agreed heartily. So I called the printer and asked some questions.

Specifics of the Book Printing Job

Let’s step back a bit. The directory in question was a 216-page, 8.5” x 11”, perfect-bound book inserted along with a promotional letter into 1.3 mil polybags and then mailed. The book covers had been UV coated for protection.

My client had sent several copies of the book to other employees in order to see exactly what subscribers would receive in the mail.

The six photos I received (which were incredibly helpful, both in terms of what I learned and in what I could easily communicate to the book printing vendor) showed various levels of damage. Four of the photos showed damage to the polybag material, one showed a damaged label attached to the polybag material, and one showed actual book cover damage through the plastic in which the cover of the book was either torn or the ink had been scraped off.

Solutions (Alternate Polybag Material)

In addition to sending the photos to the printer, I asked about using thicker plastic for next year’s polybags and also about other options for cover coatings for next year’s book.

The commercial printing sales rep researched the plastic material and came back to me with an option. Although 1.3 mil plastic is standard for such a job, the book printer could provide 1.5 mil plastic for next year’s mailing of the directory. He would also provide samples to my client as we got closer to the next version of the book.

On a side note, the sales rep did note that the extent of the scuffing of the polybag material and the book cover suggested heavy treatment during mailing. In other words, this was unusual. He did not think this problem was widespread.

Solutions (Alternate Cover Coatings)

The printer’s sales rep also offered suggestions about the coating applied to the cover of the directory. In this case the book covers had been UV coated. This had been applied at the printer’s shop. A thicker coating could have been applied—lay-flat laminate or liquid laminate—but this would have required subcontracting this part of the job and would therefore have added time to the schedule. It would have also increased the cost by approximately $600 to $800 (or about $.30 to $.50 a book).

(One thing you might want to consider in your own print buying work is that different commercial printing and book printing vendors have different equipment. Another printer might have had in-house laminating capabilities. However, I’m satisfied enough with the overall skill and responsiveness of this printer after three years’ of producing this book that I would not change vendors for that reason alone. But if you’re looking for a new printer for a job and you want to add a cover lamination, it may pay to ask about the printer’s in-house capabilities.)

I asked the printer’s rep about other cover coatings, just to be sure. He mentioned varnish, aqueous, UV, and laminate in the order of durability, from least durable to most durable. (I also knew that in addition to being the least durable, varnish can also yellow over time or even change the color of the ink below the cover coating.)

No Discount Requested

I believed the printer’s comments about rough handling by the Post Office. For one thing, we had developed a relationship of trust over a number of years’ worth of book printing work. In addition, I had not heard from my client in years past that any problems such as these had occurred. Finally, my client had made it clear that he only wanted to improve the process for the following year. He was very satisfied with the end product. He did not hold the printer responsible for the damage (particularly since only the polybagging—and one book cover–had been damaged). My client also trusted the printer’s word (and this speaks highly for the value of long-term relationships with custom printing vendors).

One Final Suggestion (Padded Envelopes)

The printer made one final suggestion, which might increase the price a bit. He suggested including the printed directory and the accompanying promotional letter in an addressed padded envelope. He said this would be the safest mode of transport, providing the greatest protection for the print book.

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