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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: Short-run/Quick-turn Options

As a printing broker, I’ve been providing book printing services for one particular client for about a decade. I’ve always taken the print book to the same shop because this printer has done such a good job for such a reasonable price. (Although periodically I have gotten multiple bids to prove this to my client.)

The book in question is a 600-page case-bound text with gold foil stamping on the cover and a two-color dust jacket. It is just under 8.5” x 11” in size (slightly smaller than true-size due to its being printed on a heatset web press rather than a sheetfed press).

This year, after keeping in close contact with my client for what seemed like months after the prior year’s deadline, I finally learned that the print book needed to be produced in three weeks instead of the usual six.


Needless to say, I was aghast. The book printer that had produced this text book year after year required six weeks due to the extensive work needed for case binding. Plus, the printer didn’t have in-house case binding, so the book would need to be produced in one location and then bound in another: hence, the six-week turn.

So I got creative and had an epiphany. Could I deliver a partial shipment in three weeks to be followed by the balance? My client was ok with this. She only needed 250 copies within the three-week period.

I approached the vendor I had been using. He said that since all printing and finishing operations had to be completed sequentially before a new step could occur (all books printed before any could be bound, for instance), my suggestion was not viable.

The 250-copy target for the three-week period got me thinking, though, and I started asking the printers I frequent about digitally printing the book. At 600-pages, case-bound, I assumed the job would be extraordinarily expensive.

I Approached Four Printers

With this new direction in mind, I approached the four printers I knew had the most thorough knowledge of current developments in digital printing.

  1. The first has an HP T230 (a web-fed, inkjet production press made for print books and marketing materials). This would have been ideal. Unfortunately, his plant had just been bought and was divesting itself of its digital equipment. So, his answer was “no bid.”
  2. The second is a book printer in the Midwest (halfway across the country from me). Freight would be costly (books are heavy), but the run was short, and prices in that particular location were lower than here on the East Coast. Unfortunately, his price for a 650-copy run was high (he had suggested printing 250 copies digitally to meet the three-week schedule and the remaining 400 copies via offset lithography within a 32-working-day schedule). The concept was good, but the combined digital and offset run cost too much.
  3. The third is a local book printer that has actively sought my business for months. I had liked the samples and responsive service. In addition, this book printer had just bought a large-format HP Indigo 10000, which would allow printing more pages at once, driving down the digital printing price and making it more competitive with offset. Unfortunately, the pricing was also high.
  4. The fourth has been a charm. Although we’re still in final negotiations, here’s what happened. This printer has in-house binding and digital printing equipment appropriate for the case-bound book’s black-only interior. Regarding the binding work, this printer could do the entire job within the tight deadline since all work would be done in-house. This book printer’s price was close to $10K less than the other vendors’ prices due to the in-house case binding. Bingo. I think what has made this even more compelling is that the sales rep has actively sought my business for over a year. Her samples have been stellar, and all the samples have directly pertained to my work (the sales rep has done her homework).

What You Can Learn

I’m far too superstitious to say this is a done deal. However, I’m very encouraged by the direction in which things are going. My client will get her print books in one-half the prior year’s time-frame. Here’s what you can learn from this:

  1. If a printer is courting you—with good samples and responsive service tailored to your particular work—consider the vendor for your job. Vet everything carefully, but if all works out, you may get a good deal and exceptional quality and service.
  2. If your job is recurring (like my client’s annual textbook), book printers may be even more interested (and flexible with prices and schedules). They know you could come back again and again, year after year, if you’re happy.
  3. Notice which sales reps are selling you their services and which sales reps are “helping you to buy” what you need. The latter are partners and consultants. They are in short supply and are valuable.
  4. Think outside the box, as they say. If your job has to be done yesterday, consider whether a partial delivery will work, followed by the balance of the job. Also, consider digital printing—but look at samples carefully. Not every digital press is an HP Indigo or an HP T230.
  5. Get everything in writing—from several vendors. Check all paperwork and emails carefully. Match them to each other. Then check them again.
  6. Look for equipment as well as print providers. Read printers’ equipment lists. Study up on the various new technologies. Look for the HP Indigo, Kodak NexPress, Kodak Prosper, and HP T230. Then ask for samples to see if they’re appropriate for your job.
  7. Look for in-house binding. Even the printer that had done this job the prior year would not have been able to match the specific qualities of the binding (particularly the cover cloth) for a digital book. In contrast, printer #4 could do everything in house and could therefore replicate the prior year’s binding almost exactly.

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