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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: But There’s Only One Bleed in the Book

To be perfectly fair, my book printing client did know enough to ask me about the potential cost increase for bleeding a halftone off an interior page of the print book she was designing.

We had discussed pricing for her client’s book for about six months, and all of the estimates I had requested from the printer had specified no bleed for the text and full bleed for the cover.

To give you some context for this book, it is now a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book with a page count of 480 pages, a press run of 1,000 copies, and a 12pt. C2S (coated 2 sides) cover with 60# white offset text stock. The cover will be gloss film laminated, and there will be a press score parallel to the spine.

So it’s a straightforward treatment of a trade paperback with no special features. Anything spectacular in the print book design will depend on the cover art (which is actually quite dramatic).

Interestingly enough, the cover is so powerful that my client repeated the cover art inside on the title page (in black ink only as a gray halftone, which, like the cover image, bleeds on all sides). It’s a good design decision. It makes use of the dramatic cover photo twice, in two slightly different ways (4-color vs. black and white).

However, it may require a different approach than that reflected in the initial specifications, and this might affect the price.

A Potentially Higher Price

First of all, here’s why it might cost more. It’s easy to make design decisions without thinking about financial ramifications, so in your own print buying career or print book design career, you might do well to consider bleeds early in the design process.

Next, exactly what is a bleed? My client is producing a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book. Without a bleed, each page would be exactly this size. With a bleed, my client would need to add a 1/8” extension to the page in all directions to allow the press to print ink beyond the final trim size. My client’s dramatic image that bleeds on page 3 will extend beyond the trim size and then be trimmed down to the final format after printing. At that point it will look like the image extends off the page.

The same process is used for a full-bleed cover. However, my client’s full-bleed cover had already been factored into the (approved) price by the printer’s estimator.

Here’s why this change (for even one page) might be problematic: Because a print book is composed of press signatures (so many pages lined up–known as the “imposition” of the press signature—above or below each other on the press sheet). The same number of pages will be on the back of the press sheet. When the finishing equipment folds the press sheet, it delivers a “booklet” consisting of the number of pages within the particular signature (4, 8, 16, or 32, for instance). Once the head (top), foot (bottom), and face (opposite the bind edge) have been trimmed to size, you have a little booklet with the proper pages in the proper order held together at the spine. If you’re producing a saddle-stitched product, the press signatures are then nested, each inside the next. If you’re producing a perfect-bound book, the press signatures are then stacked (aligned side by side).

The actual process is mechanized, with the flat sheet being folded into a signature, then collected and inserted into the multiple pockets of the binder (one signature per pocket), then bound, and then finally trimmed to size.

Potentially, you could fit a 32-page signature (16 pages per side) onto a 25” x 38” press sheet when the book page size (or trim size, or format) is 5.5” x 8.5”. This is a common press sheet size (25” x 38”) of a ream of paper ordered by printers from paper mills. Presumably, such a press sheet could be printed on a 40” offset lithographic book printing press.

To get a picture of this in your minds eye, think of four 5.5” x 8.5” pages printed across the 25” dimension of the press sheet. Side by side they would equal 22” of the 25” available inches on the short side of the press sheet (assuming the paper grain is parallel to the long side of the sheet).

Going the other way (the 38” dimension), picture three more rows of four pages, each with a height of 8.5”. So you have four rows of four pages. The depth would be 4 x 8.5”, or 34”, out of a potential 38” dimension of the 25” x 38” press sheet.

So far, so good?

Sixteen pages on one side of the sheet. Sixteen pages on the other. That would make exactly 15 press signatures (15 x 32 pages) in the 480-page trade paperback. This is ideal. Only 15 press runs (compared to producing the print book with 16-page signatures, which would necessitate double the press runs).

However, here’s the rub. If you add a bleed to the text block of the book (even one page), you need more room around the pages to allow for the bleed image to extend past the edge of the page and then be trimmed off. (Actually, you also need room for printer’s marks and the gripper, which pulls the press sheet through the press.)

Why the Print Book Might Actually Cost the Same With or Without a Text Bleed

To recap our computations, if you look at the short dimension of the press sheet (25”), you can fit four 5.5” pages across within a space of 22”. That leaves 3” for printer’s marks and the 1/8” bleed on all sides.

And going the other direction (the 38” dimension), the four-rows down layout takes up only 34” of the 38” of available space. That leaves 4” in this direction for printer’s marks, gripper margin (since the leading edge of the page is where the gripper grabs the paper, and since presumably the 38” dimension of the paper would be entering the 40” press first).

So if you put aside the math for a moment, it looks to me like everything should work (i.e., fit on the press sheet), and there should be no upcharge. This will probably be the case with my client’s print book, but to be sure I have asked for the book printer’s confirmation (in writing, on a revised estimate).

What Would Happen If I’m Wrong?

Let’s say the printer needs more room or is doing things differently, has a smaller press, or whatever.

If the printer needs more room, the job might need to be produced on a larger press. A larger press usually is billed at a higher hourly rate (than whatever press you’re using before you add bleeds). So the overall price might go up.

Another thing that can happen is, if the printer doesn’t have a larger press (maybe a 50” press dedicated to printing long signatures of print book texts), your job will need to be produced on a smaller press. Instead of being composed of 15 32-page signatures, your book might now be composed of 30 16-page signatures. Even at a lower hourly rate (since it’s a smaller press), your increased number of press runs could raise the overall book printing cost significantly.

So What Can You Do?

My book printing client is pretty savvy. She told me that since she didn’t want the cost of the book to rise, if there was an upcharge (based on the explanation above), instead of bleeding the page she would end the screen (or photo) before the 5.5” x 8.5” trim. So the photo on page 3 would have an unprinted border all the way around. To me this looks like a work-around. It’s an inexpensive solution, granted. But the photo won’t have the expansive quality a full bleed provides (the photo looks so much larger than the page because it seems to extend in all directions). Moreover, if my client has to provide a .5” margin on all sides, the photo on page 3 will no longer have the same look or feel as the cover photo, which does bleed off the page.

We’ll have to wait and see. I look forward to reviewing the updated book printing estimate.

What Can You Learn From This Case Study?

The short answer is that you should plan ahead for bleeds. If you’re unsure of what you want to do with your design, ask the printer to bid on both a text-bleed version and a non-bleed version.

The prices may be the same (depending on your printer’s press size and the size of the press sheet you’re using). But if it’s more expensive to bleed the text pages, it’s better to know early in the process than to make a quick design decision at the end of the process.

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