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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: Use the Proper Page Layout Software

Don’t try this at home. No, really. You’ll wind up spending more money, and you probably won’t be happy with the results.

I’ve been working with a client to prepare a color swatch book for press (a small print book of single pages attached with a metal screw and post assembly, with color on the front of each page and black text on the back).

Backstory on the Job

The job, which comprises 16 separate print books in a series, and which will require digital custom printing due to the short run of each set, is almost a direct reprint of the prior version of this set of books.


The text and color swatches will only require minimal revision. Therefore, to save money on layout/art production (which essentially would entail making all 16 books again, from scratch in InDesign), my client wanted to compose the pages herself in MS Word and save each book as a PDF.

Or, more precisely, my client wanted to start with the prior year’s PDF proof (provided by the prior year’s commercial printing supplier as a high-resolution file), turn this into a MS Word file, make the corrections, and turn the job back into a PDF.

As a start, I asked the printer to preflight last year’s PDF of one of the color swatch books. The PDF passed the test. Essentially, this meant the printer would be able to produce an exact replica of last year’s print book (using only this PDF proof) on his Kodak NexPress. This was good to know.

Problematic Steps in the Process

The next step was a bit more worrisome. I had my client copy the PDF of one book, convert it to a MS Word file, and then change a few pages. She replaced the art for the cover with this year’s artwork. She made some text changes, and she changed some of the color swatch information (the CMYK values that comprise the color). I also asked that she keep the number of pages in the test file to a minimum (fewer than 20 pages).

I wanted to make sure that the conversion from PDF to Word and back to PDF would be accurate and would not cause problems. The printer agreed and said the best way to test the revised file was to send him a copy prior to adjustment, and a copy that had been updated, and then see how they differed.

Moreover, he did use the following words, which sent up red flags: “MS Word makes weird things happen—a lot.”

Now I don’t want to cast aspersions on MS Word. It’s a fine product—for word processing. But what we’re doing here is page composition for commercial printing, so even though the final product my client planned to hand off to the printer was a PDF (i.e., a “locked-down,” unalterable file), the printer’s concern weighed heavily on me.

I asked him in particular about maintaining the resolution of placed art (the cover art, for instance). I noted that in the sample PDF my client had sent me, the resolution of the cover art seemed to have been somewhat diminished. The printer was concerned, too. He said, “You have your answer.”

I also mentioned my concern that the colors might change (either a lot or ever-so-slightly) in translation from PDF to MS Word and back to PDF. He said, “It could happen.”

I also voiced a concern that my client had been unable to bleed the artwork on the covers in one direction (they wouldn’t extend past the boundary of the page). This didn’t sit well with him either. I didn’t tell him that my client had needed to add extra text boxes just to make some of the text bold in the MS Word file. (I’m not sure he would have liked this either.)

A Transition Back to InDesign?

I hated the thought of confronting my client, but I did it anyway, and I told her that the direction she was going would potentially cost a lot more than expected (i.e., for the printer to correct all the potential problems introduced by a MS Word workflow). And I was concerned that the final product might still not be satisfactory, even after all the stress and strain—and money.

In short, it would cost my client a lot for her attempt to save money by doing art production in-house and not paying a designer to do it correctly using InDesign. Even if MS Word could create PDFs and even if the final product looked exactly like the pages in MS Word.

For roughly 2,000 pages over the course of 16 books, design services would not be cheap. In fact, they would be about $5,600. But I thought this would be money well spent, now and for future reprints.

A Solution That Meets the Budget

My client finally agreed.

What I’m doing now is working with the printer to determine the number of sets of 16 books my client can afford within her stated budget, after factoring in the cost of design and art/production, digital custom printing, freight, overs, etc. The total number of printed sets will not be as high as she might have liked, granted. However, she will have original, accurate art files for all 16 books, and she will be able to reprint them as she sells more and makes more money.

I think this is an example of paying a little more to ensure accuracy of the art files, knowing that in each successive print run my client can pay a little less (i.e., no art/production fees).

It also demonstrates one benefit of digital printing. My client can pay for what she can afford now, then sell the initial sets of 16 books, then reprint the books as necessary. It’s not quite as cost effective as printing a long run. But it’s a lot cheaper than doing multiple press runs via offset lithography.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’ve ever heard the term GIGO (garbage in, garbage out), you’ll understand that starting with the right page composition software allows you to create the best possible art file. And nothing will print as well as a press-ready file made with the correct software for the job.

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