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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 Book Print-Buying Case Study

I’m brokering a print job at the moment for a print buyer who used to be my assistant, long ago. Ironically, I used to design, produce, and buy the printing for this particular print book. What goes around, comes around.

The Print Book Specifications

The product in question is a 272-page perfect-bound textbook, 3000 copies, 6” x 9” format, produced on 70# opaque white uncoated stock with a 12pt cover. Since the front and back covers will print in four-color process ink plus one PMS, and the interior covers (front and back) will print in 4CP ink as well, the cover stock will be a coated-two-side (C2S) sheet. The text prints black only, so the 70# opaque stock will be adequate, if not generous. That is, the 272-page print book will have bulk due to the 70# text sheet (rather than a 60# text sheet, which also would have worked). Since the interior will be on a heavier text paper, it makes sense to print the covers on 12pt (instead of 10pt) stock.

My client initially gave me a page count of 270 pages for the text. This is not divisible by 4, 8, or 16, so the printer needs to add pages to complete the press signature. That makes a complete 272 pages (seventeen 16-page signatures), which is what the five printers to whom I bid out the job used in their print estimates.

I also added to my client’s specifications that three to five divider pages within the text bleed on all sides. In some cases, based on the size of the book (in this case 6” x 9”), the size of the press signature (in this case 16 pages), and the size of the printer’s press, there might not be enough room for the laid-out book pages, the printer’s marks, and the bleeds on a press sheet. To remedy this, a printer might move the book to another, larger press, and this might drive up the price. So I wanted the printers to know about the bleeds before estimating the job.

On the exterior covers, my client had requested a UV coating. Some printers do not have this capability. Instead they have chosen in-line aqueous coating equipment. Others would prefer to laminate the covers. In all cases, I just asked the book printers to be specific if they needed to deviate from the specs.

This was also true about substitutions for the text paper. My client had specified 70# Finch Opaque (or comparable). The printers had different “house” sheets (which would cost less, having been purchased in bulk for numerous clients). So what I did was ask the printers to be specific in their estimates, and I would let my client decide. (One printer bid on Finch, one selected Accent Opaque, and one chose Husky.)

Since I chose five printers located anywhere from the Midwest to the Eastern states, I knew that freight would be a consideration, so I provided the specific ZIP Code for the delivery.

How the Printers Responded

The first thing I noticed was that all printers responded immediately, acknowledging receipt of the specs. Many years ago, when I had my client’s job and was producing this book myself, it was not unusual for book printers to respond within 24 hours rather than immediately. Times have changed. Businesses are lean and hungry.

All bids but one arrived within 24 hours from my submission of specs. One printer’s rep was on vacation but she recovered immediately and actually submitted the low bid.

What I saw immediately was that three of the five bids clustered around an average price of about $13,500 plus freight. All of these were to be produced via sheetfed offset lithography. One bid was about $3,000 lower, but it was to be produced via web-fed offset lithography. (When I shared the prices with my client, I noted that web-fed offset runs the risk of web growth—text pages absorb moisture from the air and grow out beyond the trimmed covers. To pay less, she would have to understand this risk.)

When the final bid came in (from the printer’s rep who had been on vacation), it was about half the high bid. Why (particularly since she didn’t realize it was so low)? Personally, I think it is because the printer is located in a region of the country where prices (and salaries) are particularly low. Fortunately, when I saw the freight charge, I was pleased. It was higher than the rest of the bids from the other printers, but the total cost of printing and delivery was still lower than everybody else’s price.

To complicate matters, my client was on a tight schedule, and paper is not always immediately accessible (it has to be bought from the paper mill under acceptable terms and transported to the printer to be on hand for the press date). Therefore, the web-fed printer’s estimate was only good for a day (for this book printer to meet my client’s tight schedule, my client would need to make a commitment by the next morning; otherwise the paper would not arrive in time).

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

    1. Actually, as a print broker, I’m just like a print buyer (in the eyes of a printer, that is). I have access to information and pricing from multiple vendors, and yet many individual printers have far more knowledge of their own capabilities and pricing and less information about other vendors’ capabilities and costs. So if you are a print buyer, make it your business to know your printers’ specific equipment. Understand what equipment and printing technologies are most appropriate for your particular jobs, and then find a handful of printers that match your needs. Then develop partnerships (not adversarial relationships) with them.


    1. Consider printers located outside your geographical area. But keep in mind that if something goes wrong and you can’t resolve it over the phone, you may want to meet with your printer on-site at his plant. Keep in mind also that freight costs will be higher the farther away your printer is, so you’ll have to compare total costs (manufacturing and freight) to determine whether it’s worth it to go outside your immediate area.


    1. Allowing your printer to substitute paper may yield substantial savings. But make sure you know what paper your printer has included in the bid, and ask for printed samples to be safe.


    1. It’s easy to forget packing and shipping costs. If you need specific packaging (my client needs 20 books per carton), make it known and ask for the cost. To get a freight cost, provide a ZIP Code, a breakdown of all delivery locations, and whether the delivery locations have a loading dock (or are inside office deliveries). Breaking down a skid of books and then moving the cartons up the office elevators to another floor will cost more than a loading dock delivery. Don’t be caught off guard. Specify this early and discuss it with your printers.


  1. Consider the schedule. If you need the book immediately, you may have fewer options, since paper must be found, secured at favorable terms, and shipped before your printer starts the presswork. It’s better to contact your printers early and let them know a job is coming up, even if you don’t yet know exactly when it will be ready.

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