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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: 2 Print Books That Make You Look Twice

I found two intriguing books in a thrift store yesterday and quickly snapped them up for my fiancee. Both exemplify the element of surprise and the tactile quality only available in a print book.

A Unique Book About Elvis Presley

The first is a book about Elvis Presley (Elvis Recording Career, 50th Anniversary, Forever in the Groove, by Susan Doll). What makes this book special is its shape.

Picture a book with three quarters of a spine (from the bottom of the spine almost to the top). Then picture the bottom of the book (the foot trim). This extends three quarters of the way from the spine to the face trim. Then picture a circular arc extending upward and outward from the top of the truncated spine all the way around and back to the bottom face trim of the book (i.e., almost ¾ of a circle attached to the spine and bottom of the book).

The print book is black, with a circular paper applique in the center. It looks just like a record with a label on it. The record even has grooves debossed into it (i.e., sunken into the cover material, just like a real vinyl record).

When the book is open flat on a table, it looks a little like two records side by side, with an almost circular left-hand page and a mirror of the circle comprising the right-hand page.

The interior of the print book traces Elvis’ career in words and pictures. It’s quite compelling, but it’s the unusual shape of the book, both open and closed, and the simulated record on both the front and back covers with a label and record grooves that sets this book apart from its peers.

Binding Observations for the Elvis Book

On a side note, it’s interesting to closely inspect the interior covers, where the endsheets are pasted down over the turned edge of the cover printing paper. The debossed cover, a 4-color printed gloss litho press sheet laminated to extra thick chipboard, has been cut at approximately 3/4” intervals, and then each little triangle of paper has been turned over and pasted down onto the interior front and back book covers.

Ultimately, this allows for the simulation of the curve of the vinyl record. The endsheets are then pasted down over these small triangles of paper. In this way, the binder was able to create an illusion of the curve of the record. The thickness of the cover binder’s boards also gives a heft to the book that reflects its air of importance.

Book #2: A Recycled Keyboard Blank Book

The second print book is a play on words, of sorts. I like it because it’s both humorous and unique. The book is approximately 5” x 7” and is case bound with cloth. On the cover, the bindery has glued the remains of a used computer keyboard. The keys tilt a little in various directions and have a rubbery feel. Some are printed with commands like “page up” and “scroll lock.”

In a world full of computer “tablets,” it’s refreshing to have a paper tablet (the name for a pad of paper when I was growing up). With the cover of the book closed, it looks like a computer appliance. With the cover open, it’s a functional blank print book ready for your notes and drawings.

Moreover, since the keyboard seems to be real, and since the frontispiece of the book clearly notes that “recycling is key, 80 page notebook, made from recycled electronics” (made by Two’s Company), the book has added merit. You can feel good that used computer parts have found a second life.

Finally, this little book “just works” as a design piece because the clunky keyboard gives you something to grab onto and run your fingers across. It has deep grooves between the keys, and the keys are rubberized. It feels good and substantial in your hands, whether the book is open or closed.

What We Can Learn from These Samples

Here are some of the things that came to mind when I held and played with these two books, trying to decide why they appealed to me so much and what set these print books apart from digital-only books:

  1. These books had weight and substance. They felt good in the hands, and their unusual shapes made holding them an distinctive experience.
  2. These books both looked—and felt—like the physical objects they were supposed to simulate.
  3. Each book had a playful quality, a humorous sensibility based on its being both a print book and a record or keyboard. This humorous quality was based on their unexpected, dual nature.

So, when you’re called upon do design a print book, if you want it to stand out from the crowd, consider starting with the question: What will make this different from an eBook? What qualities can I bring to the design job that an eBook cannot touch?

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