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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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On Demand Book Printing: Why You Request a Proof

Old habits die hard. And this goes for print book proofing as well. Choosing a particular type of proof without considering your goals misses the point of proofing. Certain proofs are not always appropriate for a book run.

I’ve been working with an author and two designers over the past several months to prepare a self-published book on the Holocaust. I’ve mentioned it before in these blog posts.

The job is a 9” x 12” perfect bound print book with 80# Finch Fine Vanilla text pages. To maintain the highest quality, the commercial printing vendor will produce the 4-color covers via offset lithography, and, due to the short run of the 180-page book (only 65 copies for family and close friends of the author), the printer will produce the text pages on an HP Indigo digital press.

Choosing the Correct Proofs for the Job

Although the book printer had sent unprinted samples of the 80# Finch Fine Vanilla text stock to the author, I asked that he also send my client a few sample printed text pages produced from the actual print book design files on the actual text paper. I wanted my client to see how the text, and particularly the photos, of his book would look and feel. A last-minute paper stock change, if my client were displeased, would be cheaper than his paying for a book he didn’t love.

The cover proof was to be a contract-quality inkjet print. I thought this would be best, since the covers would be produced via offset lithography. The only other alternatives would have been a dot-for-dot halftone proof (the printer didn’t have this equipment, and the inkjet proof would be reliable enough) or a press proof (which would have been far too expensive).

For the text of the book, I had requested a “one-off” digital proof produced on the HP Indigo using the Finch stock. The proof would be one actual copy of the book on the actual paper.

My usual inclination in book printing is to request an F&G (a set of unbound, yet printed, folded, and gathered signatures) as a final proofing step. I had made this request for this book as well, within the initial specifications for bid. But after discussing the job with the book printer today, I reversed my opinion and encouraged my client to forgo this step. Here’s why.

The Purpose of an F&G

Proofs for books that will be printed via offset lithography are either laser copies or inkjet copies of the pages (usually laser, or xerography, or electrophotography—which are all the same technology). They are not press proofs (proofs printed on the actual press and therefore totally faithful to the final press run).

Requesting an F&G gives the client an opportunity to see a printed yet unbound copy of the book. Printing errors such as chalking, scumming, slurring, and doubling (i.e., errors reflecting press problems) will be obvious in an F&G. These same errors would not show up on the proof, since the proof is produced with an entirely different technology.

Back to My Client’s Text Proof

In my client’s case, the proof is one full copy of the final digitally printed book. The HP Indigo press will produce 64 more digital copies after my client has approved the initial copy. Therefore, it will be unlikely that printing errors will creep into the final product. Ostensibly, copies 2 through 65 will exactly match copy 1. Realizing this upon reflection, I canceled the F&G request and alerted the client. He agreed. Fortunately, this will also save time and the cost of shipping an additional proof from the book printer to the client.

The Purpose of the Initial Sample Pages

For an offset printed book I would be unlikely to request an initial proof of a few sample pages on actual printing stock. I might suggest that the designer laser print or inkjet print a few pages on the stock to produce a reasonable facsimile of the final output, but to ask the printer to provide printed samples of the actual job would, again, be to request a press proof. Press proofs involve making ready a press and printing the actual sheets—an especially costly endeavor.

However, since a few pages of digitally printed stock from my client’s own PDF files will be cheap relative to their value (showing the actual look and feel of the book before committing to an 180-page text proof), this is money well spent.

What We Can Learn from This

Proofing is best when it exactly duplicates the final result of the job. For digital printing, the proof is the final product. For offset lithography the proof is only a facsimile, intended to show copy placement and reasonably accurate color. Even a contract-quality inkjet print used for proofing a cover is only a very close approximation (but not an exact replica) of the final offset-printed sheet. So it’s wise to keep costs in mind as well as what you’re actually trying to see within a particular proofing cycle. Proof early and often, but make sure you know what each kind of proof will show you and exactly what you are looking for in each proof.

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