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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: Avoid Assumptions with Web vs. Sheetfed

I learned something new today about book printing.

A Book Printing Case Study

A client of mine wants to produce a 68-page, 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound print book of poems. It has a press run of 2,000 copies, and she wants French Flaps (the flaps at the face trim of each cover that fold back into the book, giving the impression of a dust jacket). It’s an upscale “look.” The text is black only, and the cover is 4-color process, printed on the exterior and interior covers.

I didn’t really think about where I was going to send the book for estimates, since I had done a lot of work with this one client at a large book printer with plants across the country. My contact at this printer knew exactly what my client wanted, how to produce the French Flaps, what paper would match prior print books my client had published, and how to achieve the faux deckled edge on the face trim of the book block that my client liked. I had also submitted specs for another book, a 450-page perfect bound job with French Flaps, Sebago Antique text paper, and a faux deckled edge.

So I didn’t think about the technology the custom printing supplier would use, or its limitations.

The next day I heard back from the book printer. He could not print a 68-page book. He could print either a 64-page book or an 80-page book.

I did the math. Oops. I had jumped the gun. My assumption that the job could be produced as four 16-page signatures plus a 4-page signature was incorrect for this particular vendor. It would have been fine for a sheetfed press, but this printer had planned to run the job on a web offset press. To avoid hand-work, which would have driven up the cost of the project, the printer planned to produce the print book as two 32-page signatures plus one 16-page signature. Hence, the options would be a 64-page book or an 80-page book.

Moreover, for the 64-page book, the printer would need to saddle-stitch the project. The text was too short to perfect bind. In addition, French Flaps were not an option if the book were to be bound on the saddle stitcher.

When you add to this scenario the fact that my client would need to cut four pages, this option didn’t look good.

My initial reaction was that my client would have trouble collecting enough new material (for a poetry book) to bring the text length up from 64 pages to 80 pages, so I asked about 68 or 72 pages printed via sheetfed offset lithography. (Fortunately this book printer is huge and has plants all across the country with both sheetfed and web-fed equipment.)

My contact at the printer told me that sheetfed offset would be more expensive. In fact, an 80-page perfect bound book would be cheaper to produce on the web press than a 68- or 72-page book would have been to produce on the sheetfed press.

What I Learned from This (And What You Can Learn, Too)

Here are some of the things I learned from this experience that might benefit you in your own print buying work:

1. When possible, it’s always nice to have friends in print shops who will take the time to discuss your printing options. Nurture these relationships. You will benefit from the wisdom of these professionals.

2. When possible, choose a vendor with multiple printing technologies. The printer I’m working with in this particular case has web-offset presses, sheetfed presses, and digital presses. My contact at this printer can make suggestions as to the most efficient and cost-effective way to print any job, based on its trim size, press run, binding, etc.

3. Don’t make assumptions. I would have thought that a 68-page book with a press run of 2,000 copies would have been ideal for a sheetfed press. After all, you can get a lot of 5.5” x 8.5” pages in a signature on a press sheet, and 2,000 copies is a short run. In fact, I would have considered the job inappropriate for a web press due to its short print run. And I was wrong. Apparently, a short-run, 64-page book (saddle stitched, with no French Flaps) or 80-page book (perfect bound, with French Flaps) exactly fit this printer’s web-fed equipment, even at such a short press run length. Expect to be ignorant from time to time. Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions, and learn. However, don’t assume one printer’s equipment will be the same as another printer’s equipment.

4. Presses are becoming more efficient. It’s eye opening to see that a web press can be efficient on such a short run. I’m definitely going to keep this in mind for future jobs. This print book has black only text, which probably also made a difference in the pricing and printing limitations. If I had to rebid the job with a 4-color interior, I would not assume it could go on the same press, or that it would be as efficient (i.e., reasonably priced).

5. Don’t make assumptions for your client. I brought the options to my client. She chose the 80-page option with perfect binding and French Flaps. To my surprise, she actually could come up with an additional twelve pages of copy beyond her initial request.

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