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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: Self-Publishing as a Labor of Love

I wrote a blog article a few months ago about a self-published World War II personal history book. I have had some insights as the print book design has progressed, and I thought you might find them useful in your own design work.

A Recap of the Print Book Specifications

As I mentioned in the prior blog, the client is producing a 9” x 12” print book that will be perfect bound with 3.5” French flaps folding back toward the inside front and back covers. The author plans to print 50 or 100 copies for family members and then provide a CD version of the book for other interested parties. The cost of the CD pressing will be minimal compared to the book production costs, much of which will go toward producing the covers and binding the books.

To maintain high quality standards, the book covers will be offset printed (4-color plus a cover coating), and the interior of the print books will be digitally produced (one-color, black). Printing the entire book via offset lithography would be wasteful and unnecessary due to the short run and the single-color interior book design. In addition, since the text paper will be a rough, uncoated vanilla press sheet, it will be far more forgiving of any imperfections than a gloss coated sheet would be.

Insights from the Design Process

That said, I have learned a lot by watching the interactions between the author and the two print book designers. Self-publishing is not the same as corporate publishing. In a corporate environment, the book design and production quality would probably hold a much higher level of importance.

In contrast, self-publishing involves more personal preferences and emotions. Therefore, the quality of individual photos, layout, and editorial may (perhaps not in all cases) take a back seat to “telling the personal story.” A self-published work may be more like a journal and less like an objective piece of literary art or reportage.

This need not be a bad thing. It just means that the print book designer will need to be especially sensitive to the needs of the author. Supporting his or her story telling may need to take precedence over producing what the designer may think is a “good design.”

Work Arounds for Some Technical Problems

Too Many Versions of the Same Photo

One of the first things I noticed in seeing the page proofs of the self-published World War II book was the number of photos the author had included of the same person. Again, since this is a personal history, this is important to the author (in a very intense and personal way). Plus, he’s paying the bills. Therefore, to give variety to the text design, I suggested enlarging the best photos and putting the photos of a lesser technical quality in the scholar’s margin in a much smaller size. This variety actually gave the book a freer and more interesting look than would have been possible had all the photos been printed the same size.

Documents of Questionable Quality

Another problem involved reproducing World War II documents that were of questionable technical quality. As much as I try to avoid upsampling photos, I found that enlarging the photos of hand-written letters and passports and then using a combination of “Despeckle,” “Median,” and “Gaussian Blur” (Photoshop filters that slightly blur images) and “Unsharp Masking” (a Photoshop filter that sharpens image detail), I was able to make the documents readable. They were not perfect. However, I knew they would be printed on a rough text stock that would minimize flaws. I tried this with a few document photos, and then I handed off the work to the designers, suggesting that they experiment with the filters to see whether they could improve some of the images.

I did not suggest that the designers use this approach for photos of people; however, depending on the size of the document photos and on whether they needed to actually be read (or whether they just needed to give a sense of what the World War II documents looked like), I thought this might be a good work-around.

Printing Test Pages on Both a Desktop Laser Printer and a High-End Indigo Press

The book printing vendor had suggested producing a few test pages of the print book on the HP Indigo digital press. This would highlight any flaws in the photos prior to the actual proofing cycle or final printing. The printer had suggested choosing the best and worst photos (technically) to see what adjustments would need to be made. This would be an inexpensive way to get feedback early in the printing process.

I went a step further and suggested that the designer gang a number of photos on a few sample pages prior to making the HP Indigo proof. I thought this would allow the largest number of photos to be included in the smallest amount of space. I thought that grouping a number of photos on the test pages would be more effective than printing the same number of actual book pages, with mostly text and only a limited number of photos.

In addition, I suggested that the designer make his own proofs even before sending the sample pages to the book printing supplier for output on the Indigo. I encouraged him to buy some vanilla resume paper at an office store. Running this paper through his desktop laser printer would provide an additional proofing step, offering similar output to the HP Indigo, since both would provide toner-based output on rough vanilla-tinted paper. This would allow the designer to output any number of photos for a much lower cost per page. He could then make changes as necessary in Photoshop before committing to a final test on the high-end HP Indigo printer.

Why You Should Care

This case study might actually be helpful in your own book printing work. Keep in mind that not all jobs are alike. A good designer has to be a diplomat and a sales-person. In addition, a good designer has to understand that different clients will have different goals.

For self-publishing, an untrained author may want a final product that comes closer to a journal than to a slick, professional publication. In some cases you can provide work-arounds to minimize technical problems. However, in some cases the author’s goals for accuracy and the emotional tone of the printed book may take precedence. Being sensitive to this will help you both.

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