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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: Everything Is Connected to Book Length

A print brokering client of mine (a husband and wife publishing team) has a perfect-bound print book going to press in a week. As initially bid, the book was 80 pages in length, 1500 copies, produced on 60# antique eggshell text stock with a 12pt. cover, 5.75” x 8.5” in format with French flaps, hinge score, luxury matte film laminate, and deckled edges on the text pages. It is one of a series of books with these very specific qualities, aimed at a market that appreciates the tactile qualities of print books.

A few days before the file upload date I found out that the actual book length was less than expected: 62 pages rather than 80. Of course, since the print run length will be 1500 copies (i.e., offset lithographic printing rather than digital printing), I knew this page count would need to rise to 64 pages to be a complete press signature. So I revised the specs and sent them back to the book printer for repricing.

However, it didn’t end there because in book printing, everything is connected.

Considerations (The Number of Signatures)

On the side of economics, the book will be shorter, so it will cost less to print. Specifically, here’s why. At 80 pages, the print book would have been three signatures (presumably), since this printer likes to work in 48- and 24-page press signatures, so the book would have included a 48-page signature, a 24-page signature, and an 8-page signature (i.e., for this particular book printer, it is apparently cheaper to break down the book like this—as opposed to breaking it into 32-page signatures).

But once you reduce the page count to 64 pages, presumably the signature count will now be two signatures rather than three (probably a 48-page signature and a 16-page signature, and for this particular printer the 16-page signature may be more expensive to print because it doesn’t fit the ideal scenario for the print shop—i.e., it may require a bit more work).

Why does all of this matter? It makes my head spin.

The short answer is that two press runs will be cheaper than three. So my client (the husband and wife publishing team) will pay less overall, even if the 16-page signature production will not be as efficient as the 48-page signature. But to be sure, we’ll have to wait for the revised estimate.

Considerations (Design Issues)

As noted above, all of this client’s print books follow the same format to support their brand. That is, the cover art may change, but the size, French flaps, luxury matte film coating, and deckled edges identify all books as originating with this publisher. Subconsciously, clients can tell.

That said, a 64-page print book is much thinner than an 80-page book, so the spine will not have room for text that is of a readable size. In fact, in many cases a book designer would produce this title as a saddle-stitched book rather than a perfect-bound book (i.e., with no spine). But this would make the book not match its peers from this publishing house.

In addition, for such a thin book, the 12pt. cover and the French flaps folding back under the front and back covers will make the cover feel more substantial than the text block (presumably). In fact, in other cases I might even suggest to the client that she/he request a paper dummy (unprinted book sample made with the chosen cover and text paper). But in this case, this publishing team has a consistent brand look to uphold by using their standard paper stock and cover format.

Now what I did do is provide options. I did ask whether my clients wanted to keep or forego the French flaps (to make the covers less substantial) and move the cover stock from 12pt. to 10pt. (the next lower paper thickness I would suggest), and as expected they said no.

Considerations (Art File Preparation Issues)

Since the print book will be going to press in a few days and the text of the book has already been laid out and finalized, one key art production task will be to create the cover file. The cover designer (a different person than the text designer) will need to create one flat piece of art in Photoshop that has a (reading from left to right) back cover, spine, and front cover (the interior covers, front and back, do not print in this case). Again, this has to be of one piece, and the spine in particular has to be the correct width, or the printed back, spine, and front of the cover will not fit correctly on the text block. (In fact, if the book were long enough to have a spine with the title on it, the title might not be centered on the spine if the spine were not of the correct width.)

So how do you determine the spine width?

The printer does this, based on the page count (64 pages) and the specific text stock (60# antique eggshell), which in this case has a caliper of 420 pages per inch. (My math says this yields a spine width of .15”, but I always have the printer do the math and actually give me this number to ensure accuracy.)

With this in mind the cover designer can create a Photoshop file with a 5.75” x 8.5” back cover, .15” spine, and 5.75” x 8.5” front cover stitched together, and with 1/8” of bleed past the trim edge for any art that bleeds off the page.

For those who are wondering, the 5.75” measure (rather than 5.5”) allows the cover to extend slightly over the deckled edge of the text pages.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

First and foremost, remember that everything in book printing is connected. Even a change in the page count can affect not only the text but also the cover, any space you need on the spine for a title, the feel of the weight and size of the cover relative to the text block, and on and on.

Second, always ask for a cover template when you’re preparing the cover art. This will show you exactly what the book printer will need in the art file to ensure that the cover fits the text block accurately.

Third (and this does not apply to my clients because they want the same production specifications for all of their books), consider requesting a paper dummy of your book before you actually print it. How everything will look and feel (from the weight of the cover stock to the bright white or cream tint of the text) will be evident, so there will be no surprises when your printed job arrives.

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