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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: A Color-Swatch Book on a Shoestring

I have a printing client who needs to produce multiple color books cheaply. I’ve been working with her over the past year and have written blog postings about her books.

Picture a handful of color swatch books similar to PMS swatch books or process color build books. They will be small, only about 1” x 3”, with a screw-post binding. All pages will be drilled, and a metal screw and post assembly will not only hold them together but will also allow them to be fanned out. Or, you can select just one page for a particular color.

You’d probably find something like this at the paint store as well, or at a hardware store. But this is for a “fasionista,” a client who deals in make-up, skin coloration, hair tones, and clothing. I think this is fascinating, and it shows the importance of functional custom printing as well as marketing or informational printing. This product is a tool as well as a print book.

On the front of the pages is a color swatch bleeding on all four sides and defined as a percentage of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black toner. On the back of each page is descriptive material relating to fashion and cosmetics.

Now here’s the rub. My client is a small-business owner, and she will be working on a shoestring. The price the designer I had initially secured for her had quoted for print book design was just too high to meet her budget. Understandably she has therefore chosen to do the production job herself now that she has the money to print the books.

This is a rather large undertaking, but it can be broken down logically. There will be 16 original books, each containing about 60 different colors. The text on the back of the pages will be different as well. However, many of the same colors will appear in all books along with their explanatory material. So it’s really just a huge database comprising 16 print books based on the same page grid, with the same sized text.

The Solution

I presented a solution to make sure the printer would be able to produce the books (digitally on a Kodak NexPress, assuming a print run of 50 copies of each book; the job will be reprinted as my client sells these color swatch books and receives further funds). I created two InDesign templates for the book printer (and also for my client):

    1. A single page for a test run including about five sample color pages (colors with bleeds and trim marks) as well as a number of text-only pages, and the front and back cover. My client will see just what the pages will look like when printed on the digital press on the specific paper she has chosen. She will be able to check their appearance, but she will also be able to check their durability and rub resistance.


  1. A template (at the exact printing size) of the front and back of a single page (or rather a single leaf, or two pages). This shows the position of the drill hole, the bleed line for the color swatches, and the live-matter margin for any text. I also included some text (to show the typeface and type size).

Now the printer will benefit from these templates in that he can “pass” or “no pass” them based on the needs of his particular digital printing equipment. Any flaws will be visible before the onset of page production, and the template can be adjusted accordingly. No time will be wasted producing 16 books x 60 pages that will not be completely acceptable to the printer.

In addition, these templates will benefit my client.

My client has just signed up for one Adobe Creative Cloud application, InDesign, for a monthly fee of about $20.00. This will fit her budget. And with some online training, she will be able to produce the art files for the job herself. If she has difficulties and needs support, I can get her “unstuck.”

Why This Will Work

I would not expect a complete novice at print book design to do a complex job. However, if you break down this job into its fundamental components, you have a front and back cover (my client will need to learn how to place TIFF artwork in her file along with a little text), and you have color swatch pages and text pages. That’s it. My client will be using the template I created to help her with the page size and margins.

For the color pages, she will need to open up the color window in InDesign and change the percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. (She will also need to learn how to add pages to her document and copy picture boxes and text boxes for placement in successive pages.)

Beyond this, the job will really be more of an organizational task than a design task. I think it will actually be a good first project for a novice print book designer. And it will save my client a lot of money to do the job herself.

What You Can Learn

If you’re new at design, but you want to do a simple, but perhaps long, job yourself to meet your budget, here are some thoughts:

    1. You don’t need to buy page composition software outright. You can, essentially, rent it on a month to month basis through Adobe Creative Cloud. (If this doesn’t appeal to you, there are older versions of software you can buy through such venues as eBay. Or you can choose page composition packages that are not the most popular or the most comprehensive—but that cost less. You can even get page composition software for free if you run your computer on the Linux operating system.)


    1. If you need help, you can hire a designer to create a template for your project. Then you can fill in the text and images knowing the job will meet design specs and printer requirements. I’d only do this for simple jobs such as rudimentary print books, flyers, stationery, etc. You can probably even find templates online.


  1. Think outside the box. If you need to do something and it’s too expensive, open your mind to the options. This also holds true for custom printing processes. If, for example, you can’t afford to emboss a design on the front of your print book, ask your printer about using gloss varnish to highlight an image and make it stand out. It might not be as dramatic as an embossed design, but it may just fit your budget.

2 Responses to “Book Printing: A Color-Swatch Book on a Shoestring”

  1. Jordan says:

    Excellent tips for those just starting out in the world of printing. There’s a lot you have to learn at first, but the results are worth it!

    • admin says:

      What a kind and supportive remark. Thank you. There’s a lot you have to learn, but after a while I think it becomes enjoyable, as you see the art and craft involved, and as you see how technology can expand your options.


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