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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: How to Approach a Huge Design Job

In the late 1970s I found a book by cartoonist B. Kliban entitled Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head. The title stuck with me, as did the image of a getting more than you can handle.

Well I did just that. Oops. What to do next?

The BackStory on the Print Book

This case study concerns a print book I’m brokering for a client. I have mentioned it in prior blogs. It is approximately 120-pages, 4-color on one side and black-only on the other side. It’s small in format like a PMS color book, and it will be drilled and then assembled onto a screw and post (a mechanical binding that can be disassembled to add more pages and then reassembled).

The job involves a press run of 100 copies of each of sixteen originals. Last night as I was creating a template and a mock-up, I did the math. I came up with over 2,000 original pages. Oops.

The commercial printing technology I had secured for my client was the correct one for the task. I had suggested a Kodak NexPress at a local printing vendor since it had an inline coating capability and produced excellent digital output. Normally I would have suggested an HP Indigo, but the inline coating option for the Kodak NexPress made the difference.

Other vendors that had bid on the job planned to subcontract the coating and round cornering (diecutting), and this had driven up their prices. The preferred vendor would be able to print and coat the sheets in one pass, and this would shorten the schedule and lower the price.

Regarding the choice of digital printing, I had deemed it appropriate for the following reason. The press run was short (100 copies of 16 versions of a 126-page-plus-cover print book).

The Moment of Awareness

Here’s something you can learn from my experience. Describing a job on a spec sheet is not the same as actually designing it or laying it out. I started to become aware of this (and to fully grasp the size of the 2,000-page job) as I was creating a template to make sure the job specs would be acceptable to the printer and creating a mock-up for a test run.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

    1. It never hurts to break a job down, particularly at the beginning. Start with a spec sheet. This will help you communicate your custom printing needs to your vendors. It will also get you to focus on such issues as paper choice and delivery requirements, which you might otherwise forget in your rush to design the job.


    1. Consider producing a single-page template for your printer if the job will be unusual in any way (an odd size or an unusual binding, for instance). Show the live matter boundaries (how close to the trim any image or type will be positioned), and make sure these are acceptable to your printer (in my case it’s 1/4”). Also show bleeds (1/8”), and make sure you leave room for the binding (in my first draft, I forgot the drill hole for the screw and post, so I had to redo the design).


  1. Ask the book printer to produce a few pages on his press (if it’s a crucial job and if it’s being printed digitally). This would be prohibitively expensive for an offset-printed job (it also has a name: a press proof). If your printer will produce a few sample pages for you, you can see whether the paper weight, caliper, opacity, brightness, and whiteness are to your liking—with your job actually printed on the chosen paper stock. You can’t beat this method for determining whether a design will or will not work.

How to Approach the Big Job

To get back to my 2,000-page job, this is how I approached the next steps after the template and mock-up:

    1. I asked my client for her print deadline, and I factored in the creation of the template and mock-up, the actual production of the 16 126-page-plus-cover originals, and the turn-around time the printer had given me for the digital printing (Kodak NexPress), diecutting (round corners), drilling, and assembly.


    1. I contacted a group of three related (same family) designers who had experience and comfort with print book production (as opposed to print book design). One family member also has an extensive background in database management.


  1. I sent them samples of the spec sheet, template, and InDesign file I had done. I requested an estimate for production of the 16 versions of the book and a proposed schedule. I will coordinate the job and ensure its consistency and accuracy; they will do the production based on my template and mock up.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

    1. If something seems huge, break it into its component parts. This will help you start breathing again.


    1. Involve others if you will need help (i.e., if it’s too big a job for one person).


    1. Don’t spread the job too thin. Make sure the assistants you collect will produce consistent work. It doesn’t help you to bring in several assistants and then spend time cleaning up their files (or making them match one another).


    1. If a job has multiple versions, then research the variable-data capabilities of your software. (In my case, I’m starting my research with the “book making” and “variable layout” capabilities of InDesign.)


    1. If the job is more of a database job than a design job, like mine, look for “patterns” and “logical rules” or any other way to simplify the production process. Think about which components will be in all of the versions of your project and which will only be in some of them. Draw pictures and flow charts if it helps. You may even find a way to merge a spreadsheet with an InDesign file to automate the production work.


    1. Let the computer do the repetitive tasks. (For instance, you may want to create one template, add elements common to all versions of the book, copy the file multiple times, and then add the pages unique to each book.)


    1. Consult your book printer for suggestions. There may be an easier way than what you came up with.


  1. Search the Internet for others who have used your particular page composition software to do similar jobs. (Chances are that someone else once had a project just like yours. Learn from their experience.)

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