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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: Thinking Outside the Box

In my recent print brokering work, I have worked with two clients whose print books have lent themselves to various optional presentations to save money. The thing to keep in mind when designing a book is that book printing is actually a physical manufacturing process. We forget this. We often think of a book as an intellectual or artistic product, something more than an “object.” However, if you approach it as a physical product made from various kinds and thicknesses of paper that has to weigh a certain amount and open and close, and if you take into account the fact that different printers can do different things well and economically, then book printing becomes a puzzle of sorts, a challenge.

The First Book

The first book, from the first client, is a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound print book (with a press run of 50 or 100 copies; i.e., short enough to be a digital print job). Unlike most perfect bound books, it has an additional dust jacket. Usually, dust jackets are reserved for case bound books. Like a case-bound book, my client has designed a very simple outer perfect-bound book cover with just the book title in black.

To the unaided eye, it looks like someone has just not yet affixed the cover (i.e., the accompanying dust jacket) over the book block (the text plus the existing book cover with only the title printed on it). How do I know this? Because my client sent me a photo of the perfect-bound book and the accompanying dust jacket. Take this as an object lesson for your own print buying work. Nothing conveys the goals of a print book designer as well as a photo or a physical copy of the book.

Once I understood my client’s desires, I didn’t question them. I assumed this treatment was what he was accustomed to from other countries (other countries often have different approaches; for instance, French flaps seem to be more European in design than American). So I sent out bid requests to four printers, “as is,” with no changes in the specs.

I have now received three of four bids. The printers changed some of the specs (offering what they could produce with their equipment or what they would suggest as an alternative approach to my client’s specs):

  1. Two printers bid the book as is (perfect bound with an additional dust jacket). They may or may not have thought this was an unusual format. (Usually you would produce a perfect bound book with or without French flaps, or you would produce a case bound book.)
  2. One printer could only produce the book digitally (no offset print runs under 1,000 copies). He would have limited options for digital printing. They would include a paper-covered case-bound book (as opposed to a fabric-covered case-bound book), made with limited options for the paper cover. This could then be wrapped with a 4-color dust jacket printed on laminated, enamel text stock. Based on the economics of scale, this printer would probably provide an extremely low price for such a printed product. Keeping options to a minimum insured the printer’s buying a limited number of supplies in bulk, rather than a lot of different supplies for higher prices. The only reason I asked this printer to essentially bid on a different product than my client had specified was the following. My client had mentioned three times that his budget was tight. That is, maybe he would be open to alternate ways of doing things to save money (such as a simple case-bound book).
  3. The fourth printer bid the book as a case-bound book without asking me about changing the requested bindery method. Again, I didn’t mind. Options might yield lower pricing. That said, when I received the price I asked the sales rep about options, and she suggested a perfect-bound option with French flaps. The book would have the look of a case-bound book. It would have three-inch fold-in flaps on which the author could put explanatory and marketing information. But this cover would replace the separate dust jacket, and the 65# cover my client wanted with the book title in black would then become the title page of the print book. The sales rep said this would cost less than the case-bound version (at this point her bid was the low bid, so I was hopeful that once she rebid the project, her bid would be wonderfully low. We’ll see what happens).

To complicate matters, my client had noted that he had solicited pricing from China. The unit cost was great: $8.50 per book. However, the shipping cost had made the total cost prohibitive. Hence, he had come to me.

Now what makes all of this interesting is that the low bid vendor’s price (with the French flaps, which as noted would already cost less than a case-bound volume) was only about $17.00 per book, with money included for both potential overs and estimated freight. And this price would most likely come down as the printer rebid the job as a perfect-bound book with French flaps rather than a case-bound book with an additional dust jacket.

You could say that almost double the initial cost is bad. But we don’t know that yet. (I haven’t received the revised bid yet, or my client’s projected freight cost from China.) All we know is that the manufacturing cost for the book through the Chinese vendor is half that of the US vendors.

The total cost all depends on what my client’s Chinese vendor would charge over and above the $8.50 per unit manufacturing cost to account for shipping. Moreover, this particular low-bid US vendor could potentially omit the French flaps and bring down the price even further, depending on what my client wants to do (and what he wants to pay). And he may like the comfort level of not printing as far away as China.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Think about these things for your own commercial printing work:

  1. Don’t necessarily be wedded to a particular print book style or format. Discuss the look and feel you want (early) with your print provider, but listen to his suggestions.
  2. Get multiple bids. Keep in mind that some printers will have all equipment in house (like my low-bid vendor). This drives down the price and often increases the number of options he can provide (again, my low-bid vendor can do remarkable things with low-run work—50 copies–for a great price).
  3. Use physical samples and photographs to communicate your needs and desires, not just lists of specifications.

The Second Book

Think of the second book as an unbound book comprising 68 pages. It is from my “fashionista” client who usually produces small color-swatch books of hues used to help women choose clothing and make-up based on their complexions.

This particular print book is a second product based on the same color samples and color theory. It contains 66 pages (33 cards), each with a different color on each side and a semi-circular cut-out for the user’s chin (plus a two-sided instruction sheet). You hold the color up to your chin and see whether it works with your complexion.

My client had a prototype made on 14 pt stock, laminated both sides, just to see how it would “look and feel.” After all, it had to feel substantial enough because she planned to charge a lot for her set of color chin cards. They would have to be firm and hold up to heavy use (hence the lamination).

She received the prototype this week and loved the colors but thought the 8.5” x 11” cards were a bit flimsy. She asked about printing on paper thicker than 14pt. So I approached the sales rep.

The commercial printing sales rep said the digital press (again the equipment at this particular printer, as opposed to at all possible printers) would accept nothing heavier than 14pt stock.

Moreover, he suggested increasing the thickness of the lamination to solve the problem. He had priced the job with 1.5mil laminate on both sides, but he could provide 3, 5, or 10mil as well.

So I have something to bring back to my client, to see how she wants to proceed.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Think outside the box. What my client was really saying was that she wanted a thicker product (overall, not necessarily thicker paper). After all, think about how bulky menus can be. That’s not just the paper thickness; it’s the thickness of the lamination.
  2. Be aware that digital presses have more limitations than offset presses. Some can only handle thinner paper. Moving the job (in my client’s case a 50-copy set vs. a 100-copy set of the 68 pages, or 34 cards) to an offset press would have driven up the price significantly. Adding a thicker laminate, on the other hand, solved the problem through creative thinking and an open mind.

So the take-away is as follows: Look to the book printer for his expertise and creative thinking. Be flexible, and you might wind up happier with the printer’s advice than you would have been with your own initial plan. And you might wind up saving money, too.

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