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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: Too Many Variables; What to Do?

A client of mine does work for the federal government. She has a large book that’s mostly complete, and she’s looking for printing options. She has a firm budget.

The book is an 8.5” x 11” soft-cover text, 478 pages without an index (which will come shortly, once it has been laid out). Based on last year’s print book, I have estimated the total page count at 488 pages (at least for this round of book production estimates). This is fortunate, since it works out to be fifteen 32-page signatures plus an 8-page signature.

Depending on the final press run, I will send this to either a sheetfed printer or a web-fed printer. Nevertheless, the web-fed printer might still have trouble with the page count. I would think that the 32-page signatures would work on a web press, but the 8-page signature will probably require handwork.

Adding More Color to the Text

That said, this print book might still be too expensive if produced on a web press, since many web presses are for black-only text, and my client wants this to include a 2-color or 4-color text block. The book printer I approach would probably need an 8-unit, heatset, full-web press to do the 4-color option.

A Moving Target: Too Many Variables

These are a lot of variables (press run, printing technology, text ink…). So what I’m going to do is ask three large book printing companies distributed across the USA for their suggestions of how best to spend the budget—approximately $40K–on a web-fed offset product, sheetfed offset product, or web-fed inkjet product, depending on how many copies the printer can provide for $40K on their most appropriately configured commercial printing equipment.

The option for 2C vs. 4C text will be a further dividing line.

Then, based on the general feedback from the three custom printing vendors, we can tweak the specifications to choose the best printer with the best equipment and adjust the print book specifications for the most economical printing and binding run.

I expect this will take several attempts. That is why I chose printers with multiple printing plants and many kinds of technology and equipment. Initial specifications from my client had ranged from a 1,600 to 10,000 press run. So this isn’t quick and easy. It’s a process.

An Insert: An Additional Challenge

My client also asked for an 11” x 17” insert that would be folded into the book to be flush with the other 8.5” x 11” print book pages.

I told her she had a few options. Even though she wanted the foldout to fall at the exact spot in which the textual reference to the chart is made, I explained that it would need to go between signatures in the perfect-bound book. That could cause problems. After all, that might mean that the bound-in insert could land far from the text reference, maybe even in a subsequent chapter.

To be safe, I suggested that my client put the insert at the back of the book and then include a footnote in the text that will send the reader to the end of the book to see the chart. This way there’s no chance that the insert will fall in an uncomfortable place unrelated to the paragraph to which it pertains.

To be even safer, economically, I’ve even asked the book printer to bid on a free-standing 11” x 17” poster, folded down to 8.5” x 11”, that might be inserted in the back of the book without being bound in. If this is cheaper, my client might choose this approach.

What You Can Learn

Granted, estimates aren’t free. Somebody has to take the time to do the math, even if it’s not billable to the client. However, a good printer will be willing to run some numbers to help you determine the best technology given your specifications.

A good printer might even be willing to crunch some numbers and work backwards from a budget target to a press-run copy-count. After all, for a print book this large, he stands to make a lot of money.

In addition, since printers tend to have different kinds of equipment, a knowledgeable printer can usually look at your specs and either agree that the job is a “fit” or make some suggestions to make it more appropriate for his custom printing equipment.

Overall, the best thing you can do is read voraciously. Study all the various technologies and make them familiar territory. Becoming a student of printing will make your discussions with custom printing suppliers more fruitful.

Also, if you choose larger printers with more than one technology (such as a web press, a sheetfed press, and a digital press), they will have an intuitive feel—based on their actual experience—of how best to proceed with your job.

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