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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: I’m Thrilled with the Printed Samples

A few weeks ago a client of mine took delivery of a short run of case-bound books. I didn’t get mine until today, and I was thrilled with the results. Particularly since I was using a new printer in the Midwest that had been courting me for over a year. I had liked the pricing and samples, but this was my client’s work. It had to look great. The printed sample made me glad I had chosen this book printer.

Backstory on the Print Book

To provide some context for the printed sample, let me describe the product. It was a 650-copy print run of a 536-page, 8.5” x 10.875” case-bound textbook. In prior years the job had been the same length but the press run had been over 1,000 copies. Unfortunately, the prior year’s vendor needed to print 1,000 or more copies to make its heatset web press profitable, so I was on my own to find a digital book printer. Fortunately, I was able to do so.

Now the prior year’s printer could have produced the book digitally, but it would have potentially cost more. Also, the prior year’s printer offered only limited binding capabilities. The binding would have been subcontracted, and the options for binder’s cover cloth would have meant not matching the prior year’s book. This was not an option, since my client’s clients had been purchasing issues of the textbook year after year for some time. A lesser quality binding would have diminished the overall quality of the job. Furthermore, my client’s clients paid a handsome price for the print book year after year, so the quality and especially the consistency of the books with prior years’ editions were non-negotiable.

The New Printer

The new book printer had provided an estimate slightly lower than the prior year’s price for an offset-printed book. For a book of this length (albeit one with a low press run), this was surprising. When I learned that the printer had in-house case binding capabilities, I understood the low price.

(As a point of information, most book printers cannot do their own case binding. They don’t have the volume of work to justify the cost of the equipment. So outsourcing is a necessity, and this can drive up prices and lengthen production schedules.)

Furthermore, this printer was in a geographic area with a lower overall cost of living (when compared to my own and my client’s). Therefore the printer could offer lower prices than many other vendors.

In addition, having in-house case binding capabilities made a huge difference. The schedule and pricing were especially attractive, and the book printer could provide more options than the much larger book printer I had sent the job to in prior years.

The printer was able to offer the same Arrestox B deep green book binding cloth with Rainbow Oatmeal flyleafs and endsheets. (Basically this means the cover cloth and the color, texture, and speckled finish of the endsheets were exactly what had been used for prior offset-printed editions. Had the prior year’s vendor done such a short, digital press run of this year’s book, the cover cloth and endsheet material would have been more generic and would not have matched prior editions of the book.)

The new book printer was also able to foil stamp the covers in-house (approximately 30 square inches over the front and back cover and spine).

What Was Missing?

Of course, nothing is perfect. I can live with that. In this case, the new book printer was unable to offer headbands and footbands (the little cloth attachments that give color to the binding where the stacked press signatures come together at the spine). This was a nicety, not a deal breaker. In addition, the print book was square backed and tight-backed (unlike prior editions). That is, the spine of the book was not rounded, and there was no opening between the folds of the book signatures and the spine when the book was open on the table (allowing the book to lie flat more easily). Again, this was noticeable but not a deal breaker. Only an experienced printer or bookbinder would see the difference, and the overall look was not “wrong,” just different.

How Was It Done?

Due to the short length of the press run (650 books), even though the book was a long one (536 pages plus cover), the job lent itself to digital laser printing (electrophotography) rather than either sheetfed or web-fed offset printing. Upon receipt of the book, however, I did ask the vendor what equipment had been used (I have not yet heard back). The book printer’s website unfortunately did not have an equipment list. Presumably it was a high-quality press like an HP Indigo. I was pleased with the consistency of the printed area screens and the quality of the halftones. (I didn’t see banding or artifacts in the screens.)

For such a short press run, I assume a table-top binder had been used for the case-binding work, although I may be wrong. In most cases this would be far too short a run for a large, production-quality case-binding set up.

Regarding the 4-color dust jacket, I’m not quite sure how it was printed. Under a loupe I see what looks like the traditional rosettes of offset halftone work. This would actually make sense. A 650-copy press run of a single sheet (the dust jacket) would not be cost prohibitive, and it would be slightly better than even the highest quality digital printing. Moreover, the image size for most of the higher-end digital presses is still close to or slightly above 12” x 18”. Since the spine was close to 2”, this would have left no room for the front and back covers and spine plus flaps plus bleeds. I asked the printer and haven’t heard back yet, but I won’t be surprised to learn that it had been offset printed. (If it had been printed digitally, the size of the press sheet would have required one of the largest sized digital presses.)

What You Can Learn

    1. First and foremost, if you are doing case binding, or even perfect binding, try to find a vendor that can do the work in-house. In many cases this won’t be possible, and it need not be a deal breaker, but your turn-around time and the cost of your product will benefit from this in-house equipment if you can find it. In fact, being open to vendors outside your immediate geographic area is a good way to find printers with in-house case binding.


    1. Be aware that digital printing often does not come with all the options available for an offset-printing run (no rounded spine, in my case). Think about what you do and don’t really need. A book printer with in-house binding will probably give you more options.


    1. Always ask for printed samples.


  1. Consider vendors outside your immediate geographical area, but also factor in the cost of freight. Books are heavy and cost a lot to transport.

2 Responses to “Book Printing: I’m Thrilled with the Printed Samples”

  1. Thanks for sharing such a useful information.


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