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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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Print Book Production: Boxed Sets

I believe the term is “critical path” in project management speak. What this really means is that certain processes within the flow of production will take the most time, and everything else that depends on this critical sequence of events must conform and take this into account.

Print book production is an example of project management. It may not seem like it when you’re in front of an iMac designing page spreads, but every element of the process, from preflight to printing to finishing to shipping to delivery is connected and must fit not only within a specified budget but also within a specified time frame.

My Client’s Boxed Set of Books

Over the last few weeks I have been working closely with a print book brokering client to develop a set of 6” x 9” saddle-stitched booklets that will fit into a box sleeve. The booklets focus on individual topics in government education for high school students. Three copies of each of four originals will fit into each box.

Most of the time to date has been spent determining what the particular page count of the booklets will require in terms of the interior width of the box. We have discussed paper thickness as well, which has brought up such issues as the opacity (or show through) of the paper. On 70# Finch Opaque text stock, there will be less of a chance that photos printed on the backs of pages will be visible through the fronts of the pages than there would be on 60# stock.

But beyond the specific choices involved (paper, inks, bleeds), the print books have a due date. To be useful, the boxed sets must arrive in Florida early next month.

What This Means in Terms of Time

Working backwards from the delivery date, this means the boxed sets must leave the printer on 5/4. This will leave ample time for a 5/8 delivery.

Printing the books themselves can be done relatively quickly. Most printers can produce saddle-stitched books of this press run (about 3,300 copies of booklets ranging from 56 to 72 pages plus covers) in approximately seven to ten days, from uploading of art files through 24-hour proofing (presumably screen proofs), through printing and binding. Hard-copy proofs might lengthen this schedule by a day or two.

However, producing the box will take time–that’s the kicker–for two reasons: 1. It will involve a lot of steps, and 2. It will involve outside labor.

First the dieline must be created for the box. This is a flattened out drawing of the front, back, bottom, top, and sides of the box as they will fit on a press sheet (before being folded up into a box). It must be created precisely to size, since a metal die rule will be created to cut these box “blanks” out of the press sheet and the fluted corrugated board to which the press sheets will be laminated. Size matters. It must be precise, or it will need to be redone, and this will burn time and money.

The book printer responsible for all aspects of the job (including the subcontracted box printing and conversion) has committed to a fifteen-day schedule. Most of this time will be spent in die creation, box printing, lamination of press sheets to the corrugated board, diecutting the boxes and removing the scrap, then folding and gluing the flat box pieces into completed box sleeves. Of course at this point the books (which will have been printed on different equipment by the book printer, not the box converter) will have been printed and bound, and readied for insertion into the boxes prior to the final shrink-wrapping of the boxed sets. They will then be cartoned and shipped to the client in Florida.

Getting back to project management, it becomes clear that the most crucial portion of this job is the box production. Creating the die and printing, diecutting, and converting the boxes will make or break the schedule.

To Complicate Matters: Not Having a Firm Press Run Yet

Today my client finalized the page counts for the booklets. She laid them out in InDesign (text, photos, and charts) and then gave me page counts from which the printer will determine the necessary width of the boxes: three books each of 56 pages, 60 pages, 68 pages, and 72 pages plus covers. The width of all 12 stacked books inserted in a box will depend on the paper thickness. My printer and I believe a better product can be made on 70# than 60# text stock due to the opacity of the paper. At this point we will see how this factors into the actual box width.

To make matters more complicated, my client has a buyer who may want anywhere from 25 to 100 extra sets. Waiting to hear back from the buyer could compromise the schedule. Pushing the buyer could prevent the sale. What to do?

Suggestions (in Case This Happens to You)

    1. Give the buyer a little time to make the decision (based on the actual time needed for box creation: the critical path of the job).


    1. Realize that it’s cheaper to print too many copies of anything and then throw some out than to print twice. A reprint would be expensive.


    1. Consider the fact that making a commitment to the number of boxes must occur immediately, but printing the books could start at a slightly later date. It could ostensibly be on a different schedule and still come together with completion of box production in time to ship the sets of boxed books.


  1. Consider ordering a generous margin of extra boxes, and then either ordering the correct number of books at the later deadline, or, at worst, ordering extra copies of the books and throwing some away. This may still be a prudent decision. It will still be cheaper to throw some away than to reprint any portion of the job.

As you can see, it’s all a game of estimating costs and predicting future demand. But its vital to keep in mind the connections among the various portions of the job and the time it takes to complete each task in order to meet a deadline as well as to make the sale.

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