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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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A Case Study in Saddle Stitched Booklets

A print brokering client of mine has been asked to take on a job from another designer. The job comprises two saddle-stitched booklets that have been provided in PDF format. My client has only these PDF files from the prior year’s printing. She does not have an InDesign file. Today my client came to me to discuss printer’s specs for a bid as well as some workflow considerations.

The Two Jobs

One of the jobs is a policy brief for a government organization. It is an 8-page, 9”x12” self-cover print booklet that will be produced in four color process ink (with bleeds) on 80# white gloss text or white gloss cover. (My client does not yet know whether her client will want thicker or thinner stock. I have suggested 100# white gloss text as a middle-ground option.)

Regardless of the stock, the covers will be UV coated or aqueous coated, depending on the capabilities of the book printer chosen for the job. The booklet will be saddle stitched on the 12” dimension.

The second job is a print catalog for the same government organization. It is a 32-page, 8.66” x 8.31” booklet that will print in four color process ink (with bleeds). Although my client’s client may want a self-cover book (like the short policy brief), it is more likely that she will want a 28-page text block and a 4-page cover. Hence, the book will most likely be printed on 80# white gloss text (for the interior) and 80# white gloss cover (for the four-page cover). The covers will be either UV coated or aqueous coated. The booklet will be saddle stitched.

As you can see, the sizes are non-standard (for the United States). The books will be used in Africa, hence the more international page sizes. However, since the second book’s dimensions are close to square, I have asked that my client’s client note whether the print catalog should be slightly taller or slightly wider. With this information, the printer will know on which dimension to saddle stitch the book.

Extra Information

Even though my client will only have the PDF from which to work (which may be difficult to edit), I could gather all the information needed for the specs by reviewing the PDF of the two books. After reviewing both jobs, I asked my client to request the following information from her client:

    1. The number of copies of each print book that will be needed.


    1. Whether the job will be digitally printed (if the press run will be very small) or printed via offset lithography (if the press run will be longer).


    1. Proofing requirements (hard-copy vs. PDF virtual proof).


    1. The printing schedule from submission of art files to delivery of books.


  1. Delivery requirements, including any mailshop or fulfillment work (such as inserting the books in envelopes and then addressing the envelopes).

The initial specs my client had drafted did not include this information. Since job specs such as delivery requirements will increase the overall cost of the job in a material way, I asked her to query her client (the final decision-maker).

What You Can Learn From This

The specs for the two books are relatively straight-forward. What is more important is that my client had omitted some information that would have affected the accuracy of the printer’s estimate.

Therefore, in your own print buying work, always consider requirements for proofing, delivery, mailshop (addressing and fulfillment), and scheduling when you approach your commercial printing vendors. It’s easy to focus exclusively on the design and production of the product itself (in this case a print book) and forget these other aspects of the job.

In addition, it’s important to consider the complexity of the job and the need for color fidelity when you choose a proofing method. For critical color, I’d always suggest that you pay the added cost (and take the extra time) for a hard-copy, contract color proof. You may then want to use PDF screen proofs (viewable on your monitor) for successive rounds of proofing (text changes and such) after you have approved the color on the hard-copy proofs.

Workflow Issues

My client’s other concern was the job workflow. The PDFs would need to be edited. Since my client does not have preflight software, she plans to use Adobe Acrobat Professional to make minor text corrections, if her client determines that only minor corrections are needed.

However, if my client’s client requires major changes (more than a few words here and there), I have advised my client (the designer) to recreate the file from scratch in InDesign. Even if this will require more preliminary work to set up the art files, the overall product will benefit. There’s only so much you can do to correct a PDF before you need the native InDesign files.

A second issue I saw when I reviewed the PDF files was the lack of bleeds. Granted, the commercial printing supplier can enlarge the pages slightly so the photos and color solids that now just come to the edge of the page will bleed. But enlarging photos and rasterized text leads to fuzzy images and type and/or visible pixellation. (It will depend on whether my client can get away with only a small enlargement: say 105 percent of the original size.)

To make matters worse, the text, rule lines, and folios come very close to the trim in these PDF files. My concern is that the printer’s cutting equipment may trim through live-matter text or photos. Most printers want live matter (any text or images that don’t bleed) to be at least 3/8” from the trim to avoid being cut off. (After all, trimming equipment is not perfect.)

This alone, plus the lack of bleeds on the art, may be enough to convince my client, the designer, to reformat the entire job from scratch in InDesign. You could argue that if the job is updated yearly, this initial effort will be rewarded by having an InDesign file for successive years that will be both accurate and editable.

What You Can Learn From This

Be wary if your client only has a PDF for you to update. There are work-arounds for minor editing, but tweaking a PDF file to add bleeds and account for live-matter text and images too close to the print book’s trim can be a recipe for disaster. Sometimes it pays to start over.

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