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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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Custom Printing: Benefits of Being Alert and Nimble

Two things happened this week with two separate print-brokering clients’ jobs, and yet I saw a connection between them regarding being aware and being flexible. I thought you might find these insights helpful in your own print buying work.

The Missing Specifications in a Print Book Estimate

The first incident pertains to the cheese cookbook I’m working on. To give you some background, I have been working with my client for over a year to develop and print a wealth of information on cheese-making. The book is now two volumes, Plasticoil bound, 350 to 400 pages per volume, 8.5” x 11” in format, with a press run of between 500 and 2,000 copies. It has a coated cover, but there will be additional plastic sheets covering the front and back of the book. The goal is to protect the books from moisture and food.

In this round of pricing I had received estimates from five of the seven vendors I had initially approached with more preliminary specs. My client is almost done now and ready to print. So we’re tightening up the pricing and making sure all specifications have been addressed.

This week I received prices from the fourth vendor. Initially they looked great. They were right in line with the pricing of the current low bidder, giving me some flexibility in choice. However, upon further examination of both my specification sheet and the book printer’s estimate, I noticed that three key items were missing. The printer had neglected to include the hard-copy proof (not a great expense), the shrink wrapping, and the outer plastic sheets to protect the covers. It was only after the second pass through the spec sheet and the bid that I saw what was not there. So I asked the printer if they had been included. A day later he said they had not, and he provided additional pricing for these items.

To make a long story short, the extra cost for the shrink wrapping ranged from $500 to $1,600 for 500 to 2000 books, and the extra cost for the plastic sheets for the front and back of the book ranged from $900 to $3400 for 500 to 2000 books. Depending on the press run, this was a huge amount of money, and it could have been easily missed and then only caught after the book printer had completed the job and submitted the bill.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

The moral of the story is: Look at what’s not in the estimate as well as what is in the estimate. This is why I’m obsessive about checking and rechecking bids. Moreover, I know that each book printer’s estimate will be presented in a slightly different manner (format, wording, etc.) and that most printers will include certain items but not specify them on the bid. So having such a moving target, such variety in the presentation and meaning of estimates, necessitates careful checking and rechecking. Better to discover the hidden costs now, early in the process—or before the job has gone to press—than to find them after the job has already been awarded.

A Proofing Dilemma with a Small Poetry Book

Being alert and nimble is essential to the successful print buyer. Here’s another example.

This week another client of mine, who is printing a book of poems in memory of her deceased husband, needed to receive and review a proof. I had designed and uploaded the press-ready PDF of her print book, and it was time to confirm that all was right with the printer’s version before proceeding.

To give this some context, this is a 28-page-plus-cover print book. It is very small in format: 4.5” x 6”, printed on 70# cream text stock with a 100# natural cover stock for the saddle-stitched cover. There will only be 20 copies printed. But what makes this unique and important is that it is an individual client’s print book, not a job for a business. It is a labor of love for her, so it has to be right.

This week my client called me to let me know that her email was down (it was a problem with her computer, not the Internet provider’s service). Therefore, we potentially would not be able to review the online PDF proof once the printer had made it available. (In this particular case, due to the simplicity of the book, I had encouraged my client to forgo a hard-copy proof and just review the book online. For a more complex job, I would have advised her otherwise.)

Thinking quickly, she and I worked out a plan: She would pay for a physical proof of the print book (plus the cost of shipping). The printer would make an extra copy of the proof (at his cost), so my client would not need to return her copy. I discussed this with the printer, and he agreed.

Changing the workflow for a print job is an occasional necessary evil in print buying, but in this case there were benefits as well.

First of all, custom printing produces a very tactile product, and this turn of events meant that my client would actually see a copy of her print book on her chosen paper stock prior to its being printed. I had sent her a paper swatch to show her the thickness of the paper and the cream colored tone, but it was really just a square of paper. I also did not have a corresponding swatch of cover stock paper to show her.

But the way things were happening–even if not according to plan–my client could feel the texture of the paper and see her own printed poems on the chosen stock in the correct 4.5” x 6” format. She could also see the brown color of the cover, and see whether she liked the tone when printed on an off-white press sheet. If she wanted to make changes to any of the physical attributes of her poetry book, she could. Had she only seen a screen proof, all of these physical production qualities would have been absent.

Granted, this poetry book has one quality that sets it apart from a lot of other print jobs. It will be printed on an HP Indigo digital press due to its ultra-short press run (20 copies). (Printing such a book via offset lithography would be prohibitively expensive for 20 books.) But, fortunately, a digitally printed book can easily be proofed on the specific paper stock you have chosen for the final press run. It will then look exactly like the final printed product.

(As a final note, after I had written this blog article, my client’s physical proof arrived. It was delivered to the wrong house, and the printer had used an earlier—and therefore erroneous–version of the text. Nevertheless, my client could see most of her poems on the correct paper—both cover and text. Shortly after I had brought this to the printer’s attention, he sent me a revised PDF proof for my client. So my client can now take the weekend to read the book cover to cover to ensure its absolute accuracy. Best of all, the printer will only charge $10 to $15 per new proof cycle.)

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

    1. Changing your process on the fly is not always ideal or comfortable, but if you’re alert, you can sometimes find benefits not otherwise available. For example, in your own digital print buying work, ask about proofing the job on the specific paper stock you have chosen. You will both see and feel exactly how the finished product will look. You will be able to see whether a cream coated stock will change the printed toner colors in adverse ways (for example, yellow-white paper can make people’s faces look jaundiced). It’s better to see this on the proof than in the final print books.


  1. Proofing on the actual stock (for a digital print job) can also be helpful if you have heavy coverage solids. You’ll be able to see immediately if the toner lays down evenly (or if there are holes or uneven colors). In this way you can see whether a coated or uncoated press sheet would be better for your particular artwork. You can even scratch the dry toner with your fingernail to see whether there will potentially be problems with scuffing and whether you should therefore laminate the print book covers.

2 Responses to “Custom Printing: Benefits of Being Alert and Nimble”

  1. Gary says:

    I have a question concerning checking coating on printed sheets, as a quality check. I know of a process where a company used a red dye type liquid in their quality check process to easily locate areas on the sheet that were coated and uncoated.
    I am trying to find out exactly what type of liquid was used and possibly incorporate this into my current company quality process. Any ideas?
    Thanks. Gary

    • admin says:

      I wish I could help. This makes sense, since a dye would look different on coated paper, where it would sit up on the coating, and uncoated paper, where it would seep into the fibers. The same would hold true for a coating applied to a sheet (or part of a press sheet) at the printer. So this is what I’d suggest: Google this fluid online. But also ask one or more plant managers (not necessarily the CEO, who might not have as specific a knowledge base) at one or more printers. There are also online forums for questions about printing, and you can always write an email to PIA (Printing Industry of America). There should be a branch within your particular region of the USA.(Start at I know that’s not a complete answer, but this is how I would proceed. Good luck.


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