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Archive for the ‘Book Printing’ Category

Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

Monday, April 29th, 2019

A print brokering client of mine is a husband and wife publishing team. Usually they print one or two new titles a year, mostly books of poetry, fiction, and essays. I’ve written about them in these PIE Blog articles before. They both appreciate the finer points of a physical print book, so all of their projects include French flaps (extensions on the front and back covers that are folded inward toward the inside front and back covers). They also have soft-touch laminated covers (a coating that gives a nice rubberized feel to the matte cover), a press score running parallel to the spine, and faux deckled edges on the text block (actually a “rough front” trim).

This client team appreciates quality.

Another way they show this commitment to quality is to initially print 50 or 75 copies of a “galley” proof of each print book (prior to the final run with the French flaps and such). The galleys go to “readers,” who review the books and make suggestions, which can then be incorporated into the final print books.

The Pricing (and Then the Revised Pricing) for the Print Books

Just recently, I requested pricing for 75 copies of each book and provided this to my clients as a benchmark prior to the actual design and layout of the books. Keep in mind that these are 5.5” x 8.5” format, perfect bound books: relatively standard, with standard 70# offset text paper inside and 12pt. covers. The text blocks are black ink only without bleeds. The covers are 4-color process with bleeds.

After I provided my clients with their pricing for the three galley books, their book designers (a different designer for the text and the covers) produced the book art files. In all three cases, the page counts increased significantly (upwards of 100 pages in one instance), and the press runs dropped from 75 readers’ copies to 50 readers’ copies.

I collected this new information, revised the specification sheets, and went back to the book printer’s sales rep for revised estimates. When the prices arrived, the sales rep and I were both surprised by how much the prices had jumped. In fact, the unit costs were almost double those of the first estimate.

Why Did the Prices Go Up So Much?

After the initial shock, this is what I did. I took one of the three book estimates and analyzed the pricing. I multiplied the initial press run (75 copies) by the number of pages (256 pages) and came up with 19,200 pages total. Then I multiplied the revised press run (50 copies) by the the revised page count (382 pages) and came up with almost the same number of pages (19,100 total book pages printed).

This was a bit of a happy accident, because it showed that even though the book was much longer, the total amount of digital press work needed would be about the same. Almost exactly, actually.

Then I compared the initial price ($462.00) to the revised price ($727.00), and determined that the first estimate for 75 copies would cost $.024 per page while the revised price based on the lower press run and higher page count would be $.038 per page.

At this point I asked the sales rep to have his estimating department explain the discrepancy (to his credit, the sales rep had initially called me and offered to do this). We agreed that we wanted to know whether the pricing was accurate (or a mistake). And, if it was accurate, why was it so much more than the initial bid? All of this would occur before I went back to my client with the revised pricing.

Possible Answers

Here are some possible reasons that the increased cost per page might not be either an accident or an unreasonable charge:

  1. Due to the short press run, these three books will be printed digitally, as opposed to by offset lithography. This is true even though the text block of the example discussed above (one of three books) is almost 400 pages. In spite of this book length, the press run is only 50 copies for initial reader review.
  2. Offset commercial printing requires a huge amount of make-ready: that is, preparatory work to get the printing, binding, and any other operations in print book manufacturing ready. For each process, the make-ready precedes the actual run. It contributes to the overall cost, but since offset printing runs are usually very long (perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 copies or more rather than 50 copies), this larger amount of money attributable to make-ready can be spread across the 5,000; 10,000; or even 100,000 copies of the press run. In fact, the longer the run, the less each copy costs, and the less impact the make-ready charges have on the cost of each print book.
  3. In contrast to offset printing, digital printing has relatively little make-ready. But it still has some. The prepress operators and pressmen still have to set up each individual step in the process: everything from producing the digital proofs (if they are printed on an inkjet or laser device) to printing the actual run of pages to all binding, trimming, and packing operations.
  4. This make-ready expense is increased if multiple finishing operations are necessary (anything that follows putting ink or toner on paper). In addition, there is the spoilage that occurs during these extra steps. For instance, after the pages have been printed, the books need to be perfect bound. And to complete all manufacturing processes with a total run of exactly 50 books, more text blocks and covers must be produced to allow for spoilage (in this case, books damaged during the perfect binding process). The same potential for spoilage exists during all printing and finishing operations, and addressing this inevitability (by initially starting with enough copies to accommodate the loss) drives up the overall print book manufacturing cost.
  5. In my client’s case, the page count for each of the three print book titles went up, but the press runs dropped from 75 copies to 50 copies. What this means is that the cost of make-ready (time spent setting up all pre-press, press, and post press operations) and spoilage (books damaged during production) is above and beyond the cost of the actual 50-copy press run (referred to as “make-ready” vs. “press run” on some estimates).
  6. In my client’s case, this cost of preparation or make-ready will now be spread over 50 books, whereas this cost initially (on the first book production estimate) was to be spread over 75 books. When you compare this process to a 10,000 copy press run (or more) of an offset printed book, you can see that a much greater portion of the make-ready cost gets allocated to the unit cost of each of the 50 copies (produced digitally) vs. each of the 5,000; 10,000; or 100,000 offset-printed copies.
  7. This is a hypothesis (albeit a legitimate, potential reason for the increased cost). Plus, the books will be significantly longer than initially expected.
  8. That said, the only way to know for sure is to have all three revised estimates re-checked, which is what the print sales rep has offered to do.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. The initial human response to something like this is disbelief and possibly anger. But that’s not productive, so if this happens to you, just ask for a check of all specs and pricing and an explanation of the increased unit cost. After all, your printer is a business partner, not an adversary.
  2. The more additional operations you must do (prepare files in prepress; print the job; fold, trim, and bind the job; etc.), the more money will go into make-ready. If you need die cutting as well, or foil stamping, this make-ready portion of the job will increase even more.
  3. The more steps in the process, the more spoilage will occur (and the more copies will be needed to compensate for this spoilage). Some processes, like perfect binding, may also cause more spoilage than others.
  4. When in doubt, ask your printer to break down your cost by “make-ready” and “cost per run.”
  5. Without printing more copies than you actually need, requesting a higher (vs. lower) print run will reduce the cost per unit of the make-ready portion of the total expense.

Book Printing: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

A print brokering client came to me recently with a book project. She wants to print 300 or 500 initial copies of her 432-page, 6” X 9”, perfect bound book (potentially with our without such high production values as French flaps and deckle edges on the text pages). She plans to follow this initial press run with a print on demand contract through one of the online POD (print on demand) vendors.

The Paper Specifications for My Client’s Print Book

My client specifically requested 100# gloss text for the interior of the book. I suggested a 12pt cover (rather than a thinner option of 10pt). I noted that with or without the French flaps (an extended cover folded in on the back and front of the book, making the perfect-bound book appear to have a dust cover), the overall feel of the cover paper would be more substantial at 12pt. I said this heavier cover stock would be consistent with the heft of the text block (at 432 pages, as noted above).

So I sent the specifications to six book printers.

The vendors that offered digital printing all limited the paper choices, and some sent me an email restricting these paper choices to just an uncoated 80# cover stock and 50# or 60# uncoated text stock. Based on my knowledge of commercial printing, I believe the printers did so to keep prices down (fewer paper choices allow print suppliers to buy only a few kinds of paper in bulk, at a lower rate, while avoiding specialty stocks that would require costly minimum purchases).

In addition, based on notations on one of the estimates from one book printer (a reference to inkjet compatibility), it seems that paper choices are limited in some cases to ensure that the printer’s digital printing technology will be effective on the specific paper chosen for the job.

So, to summarize, paper limitations seem to reflect two things: the economy of scale in paper purchasing and the desire to choose paper that readily accepts either toner or inkjet inks.

In spite of these paper limitations, two of the printers agreed to bid the text of the job on coated paper: an 80# gloss text, closer to what my client had specified. This drove up the overall price by just under $1,000.00, even for the short press run (300 or 500 copies). Granted, the text was long at 432 pages, so the paper usage was substantial, but still nowhere near as high as for a 1,000-copy run one printer required to move the book from digital technology to offset printing.

One of the vendors who was willing to include an option for 80# coated text came in with exceptionally attractive pricing. So I asked him if he would produce the text blocks digitally, and then print covers with French flaps on an offset press, and marry the digital texts to the offset covers. He said he could not do this because the two printing plants (one digital, one offset, owned by the same printer) were nowhere near each other geographically.

So, in this case I learned that limits on hybrid book printing (marrying offset and digital printing technology), at least in the case of larger book printers, may be based solely on logistics. Since it’s cheaper to separate a large digital press installation from a large offset installation, marrying the output from each may be impossible (or at least financially imprudent).

To complicate matters, once the printers were already in the process of bidding on the print book, my client offered a description of the text. All text ink would be black, but, in addition, there would only be a handful of photos.

This last specification got me thinking. Why had my client specifically requested 100# coated text for the interior of the book? What was the purpose? So I asked. She thought it made for a classier looking book.

In response, I explained the reasons for selecting coated text paper. I said coated stock was ideal for a 4-color text, because the ink would sit on the surface coating of the press sheet rather than seeping into the paper fibers. Especially for 4-color images in the text, this would be essential. Gloss text is good for making photos “pop” (i.e., to appear as crisp as possible), while dull coated text would be better for printed words and other line art. A dull coating is kinder on the eyes than a gloss coating, minimizing reader eye fatigue.

The long and short of it was that my client agreed to a 60# white opaque text sheet. This will bring down the cost somewhat, and it will be thick enough (when compared to 50# white opaque paper) to minimize show-through of the photos. (This is the unwanted ability to see the photos on one side of a page through the back side of the same page.)

The one thing I should probably add at this point is that I did not immediately contact all of the printers and request adjusted estimates. Instead, I will compare all bids on 80# coated text. Then I will choose a few of the estimates I like (maybe two) and request updated estimates on 60# white opaque text paper. The initial bids on 80# coated text will provide a relative price comparison of all of the vendors. Then, by shifting one or two vendors’ bids to 60#, I can bring the price down a little. Any other approach would create chaos in the printers’ estimating departments.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

This project is still in flux, but here are a few rules of thumb you can use in your own print buying or design work as you narrow down the specifications for a book project:

  1. Consider an uncoated text sheet for a book that is text-heavy. You will save money, and your readers will probably be equally happy. I personally consider coated text sheets to be more appropriate for full color book interiors or photo-heavy texts.
  2. If your print book has a 4-color interior, or a lot of large photos, consider a coated stock. Ink has better “hold out” on coated paper. That is, the ink sits up on the surface coating rather than seeping into the uncoated paper fibers of an uncoated stock (which dulls down the look of the images). If you choose a coated stock, choose gloss coated paper for a photo-heavy book and dull coated paper for a text-heavy book that still includes some photos.
  3. Consider the weight and opacity of a commercial printing paper. A 60# white opaque press sheet is less transparent (less chance of show-through with photos) than a 50# white opaque sheet, and opaque paper in general is less transparent than offset text paper.
  4. Don’t assume an uncoated paper will always be cheaper than a coated one. I have found some premium uncoated papers that are more expensive than lower quality coated sheets. Be safe. Ask your printer.
  5. Start at 10pt (thickness) for a cover stock. For a weightier paper, choose 12pt. These are usually specified as C1S and C2S. The former means there is coating on one side, while the latter means there is coating on two sides. If you’re only printing on the outside covers, consider a C1S sheet. But if you’re printing on the inside covers, too, make sure you specify a C2S sheet. Otherwise the ink will look different on the inside and outside covers (because ink sits on top of the surface of a coated press sheet but seeps into the fibers of an uncoated press sheet).
  6. Some printers will specify cover stocks in pounds rather than points (80# cover rather than 10pt, for instance). I’d encourage you to stick to 80# and 100# cover stock, but, to be safe, ask for samples. You can even request a paper dummy, which is a bound, blank paper book created at your chosen page count with the text stock and cover stock of your choice. (Your printer can have the paper merchant make one for free.) It helps to get a sense of exactly what the book will feel like in your reader’s hands.
  7. Make all of your decisions based on what you see and feel with your hands (printed samples or paper dummies), because it’s all too easy to make a mistake if you only look at the specifications (paper weight, finish, opacity, coating, caliper or thickness, surface formation, brightness, whiteness, etc.). These specs are useful, but they ignore the fact that reading a print book is a physical, tactile experience.

Book Printing: Paper Prices Can Be a Killer–What to Do

Monday, April 15th, 2019

A book printing client of mine is producing 300 copies of a long print book. At the moment it is 428 pages, 6” x 9”, perfect bound with a 12pt cover and 60# white offset text paper.

Initially my client had asked for 100# gloss coated text stock, so I had the book printer price this paper. However, when I saw that the book was text-heavy with no screens or solids and only ten halftones, I made a suggestion to my client.

Choosing Paper

I said that gloss text stock is better for photo-heavy books. The coating reflects a lot of light directly back into the viewer’s eyes, and even though this makes photos seem crisper and more dramatic, it does tire the eyes. In contrast, a matte or dull coated stock diffuses the light it reflects (sends it back to the reader’s eyes in a more random way).

Photos on dull or matte stock are less dramatic, but the paper coating is easier one the eyes. I noted that the subject of the book (by this time I had seen the text and the cover) was medical in nature and seemed to be directed toward middle aged or older readers. And the eyes of such people (including my own eyes) are less flexible and more prone to tiring. (Remember, once you tire your reader’s eyes, they’re no longer reading your book.)

Moreover, since I noticed that the content of the book was scholarly (i.e., more traditional in content), and since there were only ten photos, I said the book might be fine on an uncoated paper stock. Having champagne tastes, I suggested 60# Finch Opaque. I did this for the following reasons:

  1. 50# stock would be too thin and would make it likely that the reader would see the photos on the back of a page while reading the front of the page. This is called “show-through,” and it can be distracting. Thin paper is less opaque; thicker paper is more opaque. I thought 60# (the standard) would be best since 70# uncoated text stock would make the 428-page book thicker than necessary.
  2. I chose opaque paper to minimize show-through with the photos, just in case.
  3. I chose Finch (followed by Husky, Lynx, and Cougar) because I liked the bright blue-whiteness of these papers. In contrast to lower-quality, dingy-white sheets, the best blue-white sheets (to me) seem more dramatic. They tend to enliven the look of the print book page.
  4. I told my client that the alternative might be a 70# matte coated sheet but that this might have more chance of show-through than the uncoated text stock. The matte coated paper also would make the book look more like a magazine and less like a scholarly textbook (in my own opinion).
  5. In addition, I said the Finch Opaque might cost a little more than the gloss coated or matte coated paper stock. I told my client that sometimes a premium uncoated paper will cost more than a lower-quality coated stock.

Oops: A Dramatic Cost Difference

Boy was I surprised. The revised pricing came back $500.00 more than the initial $2,200.00 bid for 300 print books. Ouch. I told my client, and she was not happy either. Here’s what I learned from the printer:

  1. Even though I thought the price might go up a bit, I had actually chosen a superior paper, which even for 300 books would still incur a surcharge since it was a special order item.
  2. Premium sheets (known as #1 press sheets) are brighter than #2, #3, or #4 stock, and this drives up the price. Presumably, the initial bid from this printer on 100# gloss text stock included a lower quality (i.e., lower brightness) of paper.
  3. An opaque sheet can be pricier than just an offset paper because it has been treated to make it more opaque (less transparent). This is good for minimizing visibility of anything printed on the back of a page when you’re reading the front of the page. However, it costs more.
  4. Specifying a paper by name tends to cost more. If I had asked for a 60# white offset “house” sheet (or even a house opaque sheet), the price increase might not have been so dramatic. A “house sheet” is something a printer buys a lot of, so it tends to cost less (i.e., the pricing reflects the economy of scale).

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Fortunately, by having the book printer compute a cost for 60# white offset (generic house brand) I brought the price of the overall job back down to the initial $2,200.00 for 300 copies. So the client was happy.

Here are some thoughts I had as I recovered from this pricing shock.

  1. In your own work, specify paper qualities rather than brands, or at least tell the printer you would be open to paper substitutions to keep the price down.
  2. If there are photos, screens, solid ink coverage, or anything else that might be visible through the paper when you’re reading the other side of a page, ask about the opacity of the paper.
  3. Ask about the brightness and whiteness of a particular paper. Brightness is the amount of light it reflects; whiteness is the purity of the light it reflects. That is, you can have a blue-white or yellow-white paper. The blue-white is often called by such names as “bright white” or “solar white.” Yellow-white is often called “cream” or “natural.” Yellow-white paper can make people in photos look jaundiced when compared to the same images on a blue-white stock.
  4. Brightness is expressed in such terms as “premium” or “number 1 sheet,” in contrast to a #2, #3, or #4 groundwood sheet.
  5. That said, choose paper that’s appropriate for the job. A #4 sheet isn’t a bad paper stock. It’s just appropriate for a certain kind of catalog or magazine but not for high-end marketing materials.
  6. Ask about a “house sheet.” If your printer buys a truckload (or a train car load) of a particular paper, and if it’s appropriate for your particular job, why not share in his discount. It will save you money you can later use for a nice premium sheet for your annual report.
  7. Depend on your printer’s experience and knowledge base. Ask lots of questions.
  8. Always request samples. In fact, it helps to see not only blank samples of the paper you’ll be using but also printed samples. This will let you see how photos, text, area screens, and solid blocks of color will look.
  9. Once you have the printed samples, look at them under sunlight, incandescent light, CFL, LED, and/or fluorescent light (or as many of the above as possible). Each kind of light has a different “temperature.” (This is the technical term for its color, as expressed in degrees Kelvin. For instance, 5000 degrees Kelvin is daylight.) And each kind of light will make the color of the paper, and the text and images printed on the paper, look slightly different. (This is because many printing inks are transparent, and therefore the ink color is affected by the paper on which it is printed.) It’s best to know this before you commit to buying paper and printing the job.

Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

Monday, February 18th, 2019

I still do some design work each year. Not as much as when I was an art director, but enough to keep my skills up and stay current with new technology. In addition to the extra money this affords, it also keeps me alert to the same issues PIE Blog readers who are designers must address each day.

At the moment, I’m completing a print book of essays for a local university. I’m just about to upload it to the book printer. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing for this particular commercial printing vendor and some ways other printers might address the same steps.

The Cover File

When producing art files for print books, I used to prepare the front cover (to size, whether 8.5” x 11” or 6” x 9” or whatever format was appropriate), the back cover, and spine separately. I then asked the book printer to determine the spine width and stitch all three pieces together into one file. I’m sure I paid for this assistance.

Now I ask the printer to determine the spine width based on the caliper of the paper. For instance, if the uncoated book paper used for the text is 60# in weight, it might have a caliper (or paper thickness) specification of 450 ppi. This means 450 “pages per inch,” so a 100-page text block would require a spine that is .222” thick.

In the case of the book of essays I’m producing, I created one art file containing a rectangle broken into three pieces with crop marks on the four edges and fold marks at the top and bottom of the combined book cover (back cover, spine, front cover) to indicate the placement and width of the spine. Then I extended the cover background color (turquoise, based on percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) one-eighth of an inch beyond the outer trim margin of the cover. This I did to account for bleeds.

This is a specific approach to the combined book cover. In contrast, for the interior book pages, which need to be imposed separately as PDF files (as per the printer specs), I omitted the crop marks, designed the pages separately, and pulled any bleeds out beyond the page trim.

More importantly, I created the book pages to size (6” x 9”), in contrast to the combined panels for the cover file components, all of which fit on a much larger single-page InDesign file.

This approach is based on the way the printer will actually produce the cover on press. It will all fit on a single press sheet (possibly multiple times side by side, depending on the size of the press sheet). In contrast, the interior book pages will not be repeated on a press sheet because there are 98 pages (in contrast to the single back panel, spine, and front panel of the cover).

You may say that a 98-page book is not a multiple of 4-, 8-, or 16-page press signatures. In this case the book will be produced on a digital press, which can handle single leaves (the front and back of a book page). So I did not have to compose the book in full 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page signatures, as I would have done if the book had a longer press run. (I will only need 42 copies of the book, so digital commercial printing is appropriate. If my client had required 500 copies of the print book, it would need to be reproduced via offset lithography.)

To further complicate matters, some book printers might produce the covers via offset lithography, if I needed 300 copies (for instance), and then print the interior text blocks digitally. This might yield a higher quality of cover printing. But for 42 copies, digital is the only option.

The final file for the cover (an InDesign file) must be distilled into a high-quality, press-ready PDF file and then uploaded to the printer’s FTP site. He has asked for a PDF rather than a native InDesign file. Some printers might prefer a native InDesign file with fonts in order to correct any problems with the cover without needing to reject a file and have me correct it. In contrast, this printer wants the PDF. He also wants it to be 300 dpi minimum, single pages (not page spreads), and without crop marks.

The cover crop marks in my case are part of the file, not added in the making of the PDF. I left them in to indicate placement and bleeds. The prepress operator at the book printer can (and probably will) delete the crop marks on his (or her) computer prior to imposing the job (setting up the press form for a certain number of covers side by side on the press sheet).

Prior to distilling the file into a PDF, I will check for any errors (InDesign has a preflight function), make sure I have not included any extraneous colors in the file, and check for any unused fonts. Then I will distill the file as a press-ready PDF.

In your own work, don’t assume you will be doing exactly what I did. Another book printer I work with has his own preferences file for InDesign that will adjust additional PDF options such as bleeds, additional printer’s marks, downsampling specifications, etc. This InDesign PDF preferences file becomes a part of the final PDF without requiring the user to check multiple options in five or more screens’ worth of PDF preparation information.

Fortunately, this particular book printer does not require this level of detail. In your own work, ask your printer for his PDF-creation guidelines to ensure that the files you send him will print. Also, rest assured that he will preflight your files and let you know if any errors have been flagged. So you will know where you stand before the hard-copy proof arrives at your office.

The Text File

The text of the book of essays I’m preparing will be easy to distill because there are no photos, bleed colors (areas of color that extend beyond the page trim), or anything else beyond simple text. So I will be able to save the pages at the 6” x 9” size, as individual pages (not spreads), without crop marks (as requested by the book printer).

Again, if this were another printer (as noted above), he might very well provide an InDesign preferences file that would check off all the specific choices that fit his workflow, prior to my distilling the InDesign art file into a press-ready PDF.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Own Work

  1. The main thing to remember is to ask your printer for all PDF-creation information that will make your hand-off of book art files as flawless as possible, based on his specific hardware, imposition software, and workflow. Then follow this information religiously, to the letter.
  2. Ask to be informed when the PDF files have passed preflight. Learn from any mistakes you make, but also remember that they may be pertinent to only this particular printer.
  3. Get a hard-copy proof, and check for complete copy, placement of color, quality of halftones, etc. I personally think it’s easier to miss something on a virtual proof (screen-only PDF) even for something as simple as a black-ink-only book. And it’s always better to catch the errors in the proof rather than the printed copy, so I personally look at the cost of the hard-copy proof as an investment rather than a cost.
  4. The best kind of proof to get if your project will be produced digitally is a bound proof. For the job I’m working on, the printer will provide a single bound proof on the same text and cover paper as the final job. That means I will see exactly what the final job will look like. I will see whether the type will align perfectly on the book cover spine. I will see how the cover color will look. There will be nothing “virtual” about the proof. It will be exactly what the readers will see and hold in their hands. This can’t be beat. Fortunately it has been worked into the price (which was most competitive).

Book Printing: Everything Is an Advertisement

Friday, December 28th, 2018

About 25 years ago, when I was an art director/production manager, the non-profit foundation for which I worked brought in a marketing consultant. Even though it was a quarter of a century ago, I still remember two things he said.

First he told a story of a campaign he had created for a foundation seeking funding to help the disabled. He had sent wheelchairs to select donors and had asked them to spend a day in the wheelchair and then donate what they thought appropriate. (Sort of a “walk a mile in my shoes” approach.)

The second thing this consultant said that stuck with me was the following: Everything you do, every printed piece you send out to a client, is an advertisement. (This was before the concept of “branding” had become so widely known.)

From this consultant’s story and his insight on advertising, I came away with a deep conviction that he was right on both counts.

What Does This Have to Do With Book Printing?

A print brokering client of mine is producing three new print book titles this coming year. The client is a husband and wife publishing team. They focus on the quality production values that set apart print books from more generic print-on-demand books and the digital-only books you read on a screen. My clients always have French flaps on their print books, faux-deckle edges on the books’ paper, and superb cover art. They also have the printer coat the covers of the books with a soft-touch matte film laminate, and they request a press score on the front and back covers (a vertical score parallel to the spine that makes it easier to open the books).

These characteristics of my clients’ books tell a story about them. They reflect my clients’ values. These characteristics say that my clients appreciate the tactile qualities only a print book can have. This value is a part of my clients’ brand. A part of who they are and what they offer their clients. So whatever they send out, be it a flyer noting an upcoming book launch or even a new print book itself, everything is an advertisement.

Cover Coating the Galleys

Prior to printing the final editions of these three books next year, my clients will produce “galleys” for selected readers to review and comment on. My clients will then incorporate these comments into their final texts prior to the final book printing. This will do a few things:

  1. It will improve the final books. After all, nothing adds to the quality of a work in progress more than input from one’s colleagues who themselves are writers, teachers, and book reviewers.
  2. It will promote the books. This is a bit unusual. My clients produce books of fiction and poetry, and in the past, in most cases, galleys were of low quality and were only used as editorial tools (albeit for multiple readers to review). Promotional copies came at a slightly later stage, when the text of the work had been set in final form. In my clients’ case, this galley really functions as both a galley and a promotional copy. Because of this, and because of what the consultant said to me 25 years ago, it is clear to me that these books are an advertisement for my clients’ brand and their values, the reasons they don’t just produce e-books.

The Specs for the Galleys

How this relates to book printing will become more clear as we focus on the specifications for the galleys. Unlike the final books, the galleys will not have deckle edges on their face trim. Nor will they have French flaps or a press score. They will just be 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound books with 70# offset text and 12pt. 4-color covers and black-only-text ink.

To save my clients’ money, and since these are not the final books, to date we have printed the covers digitally (usually a 50-copy press run) and without a cover coating. After all, they may need to look good, but they don’t need to look good for very long, since the final copies with the French flaps will follow them into production within a short time.

That said, the printer, a new vendor who specializes in book printing, noted his firm belief that these books should in fact be coated with a gloss laminate to prevent scuffing during shipping.

I was pleased and a bit surprised by his proactive stance, but I brought his suggestion to my clients. Overall, this would raise the prices for each of the galley press runs by only about $40.00 (for 75 copies this time), so it was not a lot of money. I thought it was a good investment in the quality of my clients’ books but also a good investment in their brand image. I said as much, and they agreed.

However, when I asked the printer for the cost of a matte film laminate (the initial bid was for gloss), his pricing went up an additional $40.00. On the one hand, the final books would be cover coated with a soft-touch matte film laminate, so you could argue that consistent treatment of all covers would be good for the brand. It would show coherence. It would be a good advertisement for my clients’ work. Moreover, this would work on a subconscious (and yet still powerful) level with readers.

But, in the final analysis, my clients, the printer, and I felt this was overkill, since the goal was protection of the ink on the print book covers and since the cost of coating the covers was starting to approach a sizable chunk of the total expense.

As an afterthought, what has made this an easier than usual process, in determining the nuances of the cover coating, has been the specific nature of the printer. He is a book printer. Unlike most printers, he has all of the equipment to do the printing, cover coating, and binding in-house. Therefore, the turn-around time is reasonable, and the prices are superb, leaving primarily (but not exclusively) the aesthetics of the product to inform the final decision.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

If you parse out this experience I had, a few teaching points come to mind:

  1. It’s always helpful to have a book printer print a book. A commercial printer can usually also print a book, but he may not have in-house perfect binding, case binding, or even some of the more esoteric cover coating options you might like. If he has to subcontract this work, it will lengthen the schedule, raise the price, and possibly even take away some of the printer’s control over the quality of the final product.
  2. Think about the overall “look,” not only of an individual printed product but also of the other printed pieces that will accompany it. When you varnish, UV coat, or laminate one product, consider the overall look of all the products together. You may still choose a different coating for each, but it will be a reasoned decision (sometimes even a decision based on money as well as aesthetics).
  3. Keep in mind that everything from your business cards to your emails to your texts to your most high-profile printed product is an ad. It speaks volumes about both your customer and about you.

Book Printing: Don’t Forget the Book Designer

Monday, December 10th, 2018

A potential book printing client of mine is producing a 6” x 9”, 220-page, perfect-bound book. Over the last few weeks we have been discussing her project, and I have been providing prices. What’s intriguing to me is that she had been considering printing her book through an on-line, print-on-demand publisher, but after our discussions, she likes the personal attention of working with a custom printing broker and going to a “brick-and-mortar” printer. She had spoken to a number of friends, and some had not been altogether satisfied with the overall quality of their print-on-demand books.

I heard back from her this week after a hiatus during which she had been considering her options.

One of the items I had included in her book printing estimate was the line: “artwork submitted as press-ready PDF files.” When my client contacted me, she asked whether all of the printers wanted the art files prepared this way or whether they could do the formatting themselves. She also asked whether there was an additional cost for this service.

Her question took me aback. It showed that both she and I had made assumptions. I assumed she was a graphic artist, used to designing books in InDesign, while in reality she was preparing a job for her father-in-law in MS Word. She was a writer, not a designer.

So this is what I told my client.

Formatting is an extra cost for any commercial printing company. I had found her prices for two book printing suppliers that could do the formatting. One would charge $80.00 per hour. He thought he could produce the book in four or five hours, but this was based on no knowledge of what the book would look like. He would need to see what was involved before providing a firm estimate. The second printer would do the formatting for $45.00 per hour. I told my client that this was a great price, since I myself would do similar work for $70.00 an hour.

I noted that since the overall printing price for 30 copies produced digitally would range from $350.00 to $540.00 (depending on the vendor), the design component of the job would almost double the overall cost. And that’s just assuming a simple design job.

I did ask the book printer, however, whether the client could submit a MS Word file saved as a PDF, if the job were just simple text. I noted that many printers do not like MS Word files. One reason among many is that these files are saved in the RGB (red, green, blue) color space (used for creating colors on computer monitors) rather than the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color space used for creating colors with ink on paper. One printer had brought this to my attention. I had also been concerned about potential formatting errors introduced in the translation from MS Word to PDF files (any extra spacing, problems with special characters, font issues—I just hadn’t been sure).

Suggestions for My Client

The first thing I did was ask my client about her specific print book. I realized that my assumption that it would be one continuous column of text throughout the 220 pages (with potential running headers and folios as well as chapter opening pages) might not be correct. I asked whether the book had photos or charts or whether it was only a single text column running through all pages.

This is what she said.

The book is mainly a single text column with footnotes. There are some photos (maybe 10), charts (2), and maps (6-10). So these are the only things that really need to be worked out on the formatting. She agreed that it would make sense to create and work off a template.

So right off the bat we were working with a rather complex design, or at least something requiring a designer and not just someone to “format the text.”

This process made it clear to me that as a printing broker I was assuming the text of a book really didn’t matter except for whether it was 4-color process, black and a spot color, or black ink only (i.e., what the printer would need to know). My client, on the other hand, assumed the job was ready for the printer when all the words in the text file were perfect.

Communicating Design Requirements

I told my client that the best thing she could do to keep costs down was to give the designer samples (scanned and sent as PDFs) of printed work she liked. If she could show the designer what she wanted the cover and text to look like (including the type size; fonts; and treatment of photos, headlines, folios, running headers, charts, etc.), then the designer could “format” her book in that way on the first attempt. This way there would be no miscommunication. The designer wouldn’t have one “look” in mind while my client had another.

This also reminded me that for even the smallest job (whether a simple book or a one-page announcement), the fundamentals of good design still applied.

We’ll see what she says when we talk next.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you yourself are not a designer, you still have to consider the design of a book and then hire someone to do this part of the job for you. The overall job will then cost more than just the printing. Then again, it’s more than just “formatting,” because how the overall book looks will strongly (and in many cases subconsciously) affect the reader. If the book is hard to read (type too small, or type in a font that’s hard to read for some reason–like a script font or a display font used primarily for headlines), your reader’s eyes will tire. Once this happens, you’ve lost him or her.

In addition, if the overall look of the print book doesn’t match its tone and purpose, your reader will be confused or put off. For example, if your subject matter is technical and you choose a floral typeface, this will confuse the reader. And anything that takes the reader’s attention away from the content of the book will detract from his or her experience. These days people have limited attention spans and limited reading time, so you want the reader’s experience to be easy and enjoyable.

Overall, this means that if you are not a designer yourself, you need to hire one.

To do this, first ask for printed samples of the designer’s work. Then show the designer samples of print books you like. Next, request a mock-up of the main elements of the book: cover, title page, table of contents, chapter opening, etc. In fact, you might even want to request a few pages showing two or three alternate type/design treatments, even before the designer produces a complete mock-up including each of the main book components.

Look first for readability. This will depend on the choice of font and its point size, the space between lines, and the width of the column. The main question is whether it is easy to read. Think also about the age of the readers. Middle-aged eyes need larger type sizes to allow for comfortable reading.

Only after you are satisfied with mock-ups of all elements of the book should you ask the designer to proceed with a cover proof and proofs of all text pages, front and back matter. etc. This goes double if you’re including charts, graphs, and photographs, as my client will be doing. What you want to avoid is a 220-page book proof with design elements you don’t like. Work these issues out in the initial mock-up, not the first page proof.

Finally (and this is actually the first thing to think about if you’re working with a designer), make sure the MS Word document is the final edited and accurate copy of the text. Of course there will be some edits, but if you want to keep the budget under control, edit the book before you submit it for final design, not at the first proof stage.

Book Printing: High-End, Case-Bound Look-Books

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

My fiancee found two print books at the thrift store this week that together weighed about twenty pounds. They are perfect-bound art books. One is a “look book” showcasing street art in both New York City and Barcelona (four-color throughout, with bleeds and minimal text).

The other is a catalog of art prints. This one really needs its own table, it’s so heavy. Its contents have been broken down into photography, still life paintings, floral paintings, figures, etc. While it doesn’t cover all art periods, it really does provide a visual survey course in art history.

My fiancee picked these up as a resource for our art therapy work with the autistic: idea books to help us come up with new and thought-provoking art projects that will challenge our students. But as a print broker, I also noticed the superior print book production values these two case-bound books display.

The Street Art Book

Street art–as the book NYCBCN, by Louis Bou, suggests through its imagery—is a reflection of urban life applied to all manner of canvases, ranging from the sides of trucks to ramps in skating parks, from posters plastered over windows to walls emblazoned with graffiti. All of this is art. All of it tells a story about what it’s like to live in New York City or Barcelona.

I see a number of qualities in the book printing work that will affect the reader on a subconscious level:

  1. The paper stock is substantial (probably 100# text). This not only prevents show-through from one side of a page to the other. It also gives a sense of importance to each page. A thinner press sheet would feel flimsy.
  2. The paper is almost invisible. The ink coverage is just that thick, and every page bleeds on all sides. However, here and there you can see the specular highlights (i.e., areas with no halftone dots, or very tiny ones). The paper is an exceptionally bright blue-white shade. Granted, in contrast to the surrounding heavily saturated colors, the white would naturally stand out and seem whiter than usual. However, the bright blue-white press sheet does still increase the brilliance of the colors, since process colors are transparent. That is, the whiteness of the press sheet enhances the intensity of the ink colors.
  3. The book is more than 600 pages in length. No other binding method I can think of would be appropriate for such a long print book as the case binding chosen by the book designer. Perhaps a perfect bound option would have worked. But for such a large and heavy book block, case binding does make this book seem a lot more durable. After all, the case on which the book block has been “hung” has to support approximately five pounds of weight.
  4. In addition to the case binding, the book has been Smyth sewn. You can see the stitches holding the book signatures against one another now and then as you page through the print book.
  5. The book cannot lie completely flat since it is a case-bound book (and not a lay-flat bound book). Nevertheless, it is a loose-back book (the fabric “crash,” to which all book signatures have been glued, has itself not been glued to the spine of the book-binding cases). Therefore, the book almost lies flat, or as flat as one can expect a 600-plus-page book to lie. Since the spine is loose and the book is large—and clearly designed to be used a lot and last a long time—it is clear that the thickness of the crash and the thickness of the paper work together to ensure the print book’s durability. You can see the attention to detail. Bookbinding clearly is an art.
  6. Given the gritty nature of the subject matter, it seems fitting that the cover is made of 4-color-printed litho paper laminated to the chipboard of the binding. (Or, rather, this is not a cloth-bound book in a dust jacket.) The intense color of the cover art is augmented by this treatment. And adding the title of the book in large foil-stamped letters (both reflective and textured) provides an even more intense and edgy tone to the print book.
  7. While I’m not certain about this, the intensity of the interior art and cover art would suggest the following: either the printer added fluorescent ink to some of the process colors, or the printer used touch plates (additional colors beyond the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

The Fine Arts Book

The cover of this book just says Art. It’s a catalog. In fact, the price list is printed right on the interior front cover. Like the first book, this book is case bound. Unlike the first book, which I would consider to be an art book meant to showcase street art, this is a book used to sell printed reproductions of fine art prints. Nevertheless, it will give the careful observer a good education in a number of contemporary styles and approaches to the fine arts.

It is also especially heavy: perhaps five times as heavy as the first book. When you open this case-bound book, the crash does not come away from the spine. Unlike the other (“loose-back”) book, the crash of this case-bound book has been glued to the spine of the binder’s case to increase the durability of the print book. (This is called a “tight-back” book.) After all, it is especially heavy, and it has to last a long time and be used regularly as a reference. I firmly believe that a loose-back book block of this weight might otherwise tear away from its case after numerous uses.

Here are some further thoughts about the production values of this book:

  1. There are numerous index tabs inserted between press signatures. If you look closely, it is clear that they were folded in (maybe two inches from the face trim of the print book) and then opened so the thumb tabs would extend past the trim of the book pages. This is why. If the tabs had not been folded in, they would have been trimmed off as the guillotine cutter came down to flush cut the face (outer vertical side) of the book. To avoid this, a bookbinder folds in the tabs, trims the book block, and then opens the tabs for final use.
  2. As with the other book, the designer has chosen an especially bright white (blue white, since it appears even whiter than usual) press sheet to showcase the images. Since this is a case-bound catalog, to be used to sell art prints, the images of the fine art prints are relatively small. Positioning a small number of images on a page and then surrounding them with a lot of white space make reading the 800-plus-page book less daunting. The commercial printing press sheet seems to be matte (not gloss or dull). This makes reviewing the imagery easier on the eyes. But to make the images “pop,” the designer has also apparently varnished the photos.
  3. As I consider the length of the book and its weight (maybe ten pounds), it is clear that all of the elements of the case binding add to its durability. These include the tight-back case binding and presumably Smyth sewing (everything is glued too tightly for me to see the stitching, but Smyth sewing would add additional durability), plus the exceptionally heavy end-sheets and flyleaves (the papers to which the book block is attached and which are in turn glued to the interior front and interior back covers).
  4. The goal of this print book is to present to the reader a huge number of images. These have to be attractive (a number of images per page but with ample white space). It looks like the colors in the prints may have been augmented (either with fluorescent ink added to one or more of the process colors or touch plates with additional inks beyond the usual CMYK palette). But beyond everything else, this book is meant to last. It is clear to me that the artistry of the binding has both a functional component and an aesthetic one.

Book Printing: More Thoughts on the Color Chip Book Snafu

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

I’ve written many blog postings about a small color chip print book for which I broker the custom printing. It is only a few inches long, 118 pages plus cover, laminated, drilled, and attached with a metal post and screw assembly. There are 22 master copies of which each requires only three to six copies for my client’s clients. My client is a fashionista. Her clients love these little books. So she reprints the job every few months.

When I last wrote about the print book, the inside pages of the color books (a tool used to suggest make-up and clothing colors that match one’s complexion) had not been laminated. (It was my fault, and I present this as a strong suggestion for all PIE Blog readers to check the list of specifications for all of their jobs one extra time, or more.) It’s so easy to think something is there when it’s not. The spec sheet is your primary contract with your commercial printing supplier. Approach it with respect.

That said, the printer reprinted the job and sent the books to my client. She then sent them on to her clients who had been waiting. Fortunately, the first press run (unlaminated) was color-accurate, so these books could be used to temporarily fill my client’s back-orders. This made for good public relations and probably even attracted some new customers.

When the reprinted and laminated (this time) books went out, my client got five complaints. The colors on one side of the color swatch book pages didn’t match the descriptions on the back side of the pages.

What to Do?

Needless to say, my client has been remarkably patient. Practically anyone else would have found another commercial printing supplier. Fortunately, my client trusts me, and both she and her business partner (separately) had had many problematic printings over the past several years (inside the United States and abroad). This may explain her patience.

My client was actually at an advantage for the following reasons:

  1. She had requested a preliminary press run (at cost) to make sure the colors were all as she expected. (After all, prior book printers had produced color swatch books with color shifts.) All of the colors were ganged up, so there were only a handful of full-size HP Indigo press sheets containing all 300+ hues (that showed up in various locations within the 22 master books).
  2. She had requested and carefully reviewed all virtual proofs the printer had provided for this particular press run. You might consider these PDFs to be akin to position proofs, like bluelines. We knew the colors were right. The goal of the PDF proofs was to ensure complete copy and colors placed in the right location with the correct margins. The time my client spent making sure these were accurate will have been well spent, since she will have proof of the misprinting (correct colors on the front, incorrect copy on the back).
  3. She informed all clients of the potential problem via an email newsletter, but she fortunately only heard back from five clients (apparently the other print books were ok). This was after several weeks, so she is reasonably certain that the extent of the problem is five books out of 126. (What had started as a much larger problem eventually filtered down into a five-book problem.)
  4. My client had in her possession at least one copy of all master print books (all 22 titles) except for two. She checked these and found no problems. Moreover, the problem books her clients had flagged were copies of the two master books my client did not have samples of (she had sent them out to paying clients).

Next Steps

I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of quickly articulating and then quantifying a problem with a commercial printing run. In this case my client can say she needs five good books in exchange for five bad books she is returning. Granted, if this were offset lithography, this would be a crisis for the printer. Firing up an offset press to produce five 118-page-plus-cover books would be pretty much the same as firing up the press to reprint 100 or 200 books. The entire cost—a sizable one—would go into makeready. But for digital printing (remember, in most cases my client only had needed three or four copies of each of the 22 master books), this would not be a crisis for the book printer.

(As a point of information, if this had been an offset printing run, the printer would have been responsible only for the cost of the misprinted books, not for replacing them.)

I personally believe that the ideal sale involves both the client’s and the printer’s benefiting from the transaction. My client needs to reprint the job again, since she already has a substantial number of new pre-orders for the book. At the same time, the printer that messed up the fronts and backs of five books has been dead-on accurate in the color (all 300+ colors). Given the problems with past printers, this is a highly significant fact in their favor.

Therefore, my suggestion to my client at this point is the following:

  1. Have the current printer produce the new run of books. Give them enough lead time to do all the hand work (laminating, in particular) to ensure that quality standards are high. Avoiding this printer’s needing to rush will benefit my client as well as the printer.
  2. Send back the five books retrieved from my client’s clients along with the PDF proof showing that the final product was different from the proofs my client had approved (i.e., there’s no room for interpretation of the error or the responsibility).
  3. Ask that the printer add five new books to replace the five bad books (doing this during the new run will minimize effort and reduce the chance of error for the printer, which will also benefit my client).
  4. Send specs, target pricing, and sample books to two more printers (also trusted vendors) and ask for estimates. This way, if anything goes wrong with relations with the current printer (including its going out of business, as our prior printer did), there will be a “Plan B.”
  5. Take the time to thoroughly vet these two new book printers. This will include getting samples printed from the color swatch book files themselves (not just attractive book samples from the printers).
  6. By uncoupling the search for a back-up printer from the actual reprinting of the next set of my client’s books, we will ensure good decisions. After all, we don’t ever have to move the job, or we can move the print job at some point in the future. We just don’t need to shift printers immediately–in a panic–just to ensure that my client’s clients get their color swatch books on time.

What Is Not the Printer’s Fault?

On an entirely different note, another client of mine created the back cover, spine, and front cover art file for a perfect-bound textbook based on the text paper thickness (pages per inch), as noted on the book printer’s cover template. She positioned the text for the spine slightly off center (vertically, that is, between the front and back cover). She herself missed this on the proof, and yet she had somehow expected the printer to still catch and correct the error before printing the job.

Some printers would have caught this and fixed it just to make the client happy. This printer did not miss it on purpose. Obviously it was just a slight misalignment (not obvious when the flat cover sheets came off the press). It was a shame that it happened, but it was not the printer’s fault.

Fortunately, my client came back to this printer the following year (actually for a reprint of the art files he already had archived, which was a benefit). For this reprint, the printer did adjust the art file so the type on the spine was positioned correctly. My client was happy with the printer again.

The Take-Away

In your own work, always request a proof: every single time, even if it’s just a PDF (virtual) screen proof. Personally, I’d advise you to rule it out in pencil (to show the trim size) to make sure nothing is off center or too close to the trim (this is mostly for a PDF proof or an untrimmed cover proof). Or at least check the folds for accuracy (on a hard-copy proof). Also check the type position and completeness (make sure nothing is missing or out of place).

Your proof (and the accompanying sign-off sheet that shows the paper on which the job will be printed, how many copies will be printed, etc.) is an incredibly important document. Consider it to be a contract (like your spec sheet). It is the point in the process at which responsibility for the accuracy of the job passes from the printer to you. If something is wrong in the final job but correct on the proof, your printer has to make you whole. But if you missed something, it’s no longer the printer’s responsibility.

Book Printing: What Do You Do in an Emergency?

Friday, August 24th, 2018

What do you do when a job goes south? It can happen in any number of ways. I have a client who regularly prints a color-chip book for fashion. I’ve written about her work a number of times in this blog. Her product is akin to a PMS swatch book for make-up and clothing based on one’s complexion. It is small (3.54” x 1.42”); 118 pages in 4-color process, produced digitally on an HP Indigo; and then drilled and assembled on a metal screw and post assembly. Depending on the particular press run, my client might print anywhere from 3 to 30 copies of each of her 22 master copies (each master copy addresses people with particular hair and facial complexion). Because of the ultra-short press run for each master copy, my client’s job needs to be produced digitally.

The Backstory

About two months ago my client put in an order for copies of her color swatch book. It was the first time the current commercial printing shop had done the job. To be safe, we had asked the printer to produce a complete, untrimmed set of all colors used in the 22 master print books as a test. Each swatch had the CMYK percentages noted below the solid color as well as my client’s proprietary name for the hue.

To determine if there would be a perceptible color shift once the sheets had been laminated in the final press run, we had the custom printing vendor produce one set of laminated, untrimmed swatches (as many as would fit on an approximately 12” x 18” press sheet) and one set of unlaminated swatch pages. I had seen in prior iterations of this job produced by another printer that some of the colors in the blue range had shifted slightly. I wanted to make sure that if there were color problems, they could be definitively attributed to either the custom printing or the lamination.

So we thought we were ready to go, once my client and her business partners had approved the test sheets. We also thought this would be a good way to ensure consistent color if we should ever need to change commercial printing vendors. After all, the prior printer had gone out of business just after one of my client’s reprints: hence the need to move the job.

My Oops

What we hadn’t foreseen was a simple error in the specification sheet: The covers had to be laminated, but somewhere in the process this notation had been removed from the specification for the text pages. Due to the heavy ink (actually liquid toner) coverage, without lamination the heavy solid colors on the swatches could easily be scratched. I actually tested this on a sample, and I found the problem to be marginal on light colors and more pronounced on darker colors. (This was due not to the toner coverage but to the eye’s tolerance for flaws in yellows, for instance, but not in dark purples.)

So the job came back with laminated covers and without laminated text. The printer’s customer service representative had caught the error (the inconsistency between the initial laminated but uncut proofs and the unlaminated text sheets in the actual press run), but he had assumed—without asking–that it was intentional. He had deferred to the specification sheet.

It was not the printer’s fault. It was mine, as the commercial printing broker. So I cut a check to my client to cover the printing. Fortunately I had not needed to do this up until this point in my history as a printing broker. It was unpleasant, but it kept my client happy.

The Next Steps

At that point, my client had a full run of unlaminated color swatch books. The colors were superb, but the pages were fragile since they were unlaminated.

Since my client had effectively paid nothing for these (since I had reimbursed her), she then paid the printer for a reprint—which turned out to be a much longer run. This one would be laminated.

Fortunately, my client still had 96 salable books (albeit salable for less than the usual price, since they were not laminated). I encouraged her to use these to keep her clients (she has a 4,000-name client list) happy while waiting for the new, laminated print books. I explained that she had an equity base. The books were usable. This would be a good, temporary, public-relations fix.

The Reprint Process

The reprint process didn’t go as well as planned. It was supposed to be a three-week turn-around. I understood that the lamination film had to be hand loaded, a sheet at a time, by the printer. There was going to be a lot of hand-work, but the good news was that all steps in the process, including the drilling, round cornering—everything—would be done in house.

The problem was that this printer is a small shop. In terms of service, that’s a good thing. I have been working with the printer for more than a decade, and I have always received a premium print job for a lower-than-usual price. In fact, I just sent this commercial printing vendor my sales commission invoice for the hundredth project we have done together.

But being a small shop, the printer had been hit hard recently when a number of key employees had to be out for health reasons, deaths in the family, and any number of other crises.

You may say that I’m naive. I believed the printer because of our ten-year-plus history. What I did do, however, was work out a plan with my client for daily (or every two days) status updates from the printer.

Initially, the job just seemed to sit there. But after a few days, things were back on track, and the job actually shipped today. I just looked at the calendar. The entire process had taken four weeks instead of three.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes things that look really bad can be salvaged. I salvaged the relationship with my client by paying for my mistake (and fortunately it was not a huge job). And what looked like an endless wait for the reprint turned out to be only a one-week delay.

I firmly believe it was because of a few important things:

  1. I had had a long, mutually beneficial, business relationship with the printer. This was not the first job. I made it clear that continuing the relationship was a priority. I also noted that other printers had not done as good a job with the color fidelity (which was clearly of utmost importance to my client for her color swatch book).
  2. Based on the length and quality of the business relationship, I was kind. I didn’t blame the printer. My goal was to complete the job to my client’s satisfaction, not to lay blame. Therefore, coming up with a way to leverage the initial printing to make my client’s clients happy while they awaited the new print books helped resolve the situation, as did requesting email updates from the printer (the written word seemed to make the process more formal and quantifiable).
  3. I focused on solutions. (Another job had gone south one other time in my 30-year history of buying custom printing. The printer went out of business during a textbook printing job. He had no credit and could not buy paper. So I urged the company I worked for at the time to purchase the paper for the print books at its own expense and then deduct this amount from the final payment to the printer. In this case, the printer was able to finish the books in satisfactory condition before closing his doors.)
  4. I did ask this printer to notify me in the future if anything seemed the least bit inconsistent in a job, between the specification sheet and any other verbal or email instructions.

In your own print buying work, think about the approach I have described. Just because you can blame the printer, pull the job, and send it somewhere else doesn’t mean you should. After all, a trusted vendor can often step up and work wonders, even in the midst of a crisis.

Oh, and one other thing. Read and reread your specification sheet—again and again. Even if you do this, once in a great while you will miss something, and you may have to pay for a reprint. Ouch. After all, the specification sheet is your contract with the printer. But the more often you check and recheck it, the less likely you will be to let a costly error slip by.

Book Printing: Saving a Design Job in Mid-Flight

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

A client of mine works at a university. She teaches creative writing, and she wants to produce a 100-page, 6” x 9”, perfect bound book. She needs only 40 copies. I have mentioned her in prior blog articles, but, up until now, what she has needed has been only help with commercial printing knowledge and project management skills.

As a writer and editor, she has an almost complete manuscript of her students’ work. Unfortunately, she is not a designer. She has no book design experience and no experience in creating even simple projects in InDesign. A few weeks ago, she was able to persuade her university to fund her print book project, both the design and the book printing.

We have a budget, and the student designer even produced a first proof of the book within the five hours allotted to her work. Unfortunately, this is not a lot of time. In addition, the semester is ending, and everyone is going their separate ways. In fact, my client is also retiring.

With this as the context of the job, I thought quickly and offered my design services at a reduced rate, that is, a discount for an educational organization. I only produce a few (sometimes only one) design projects each year, and I thought this might be a nice one, since I usually prefer to design books of poetry and fiction.

How I Approached This Job

My taking control of this design project actually made things easier. I no longer had to offer suggestions to the designer concerning margins, running headers, and cover design. I know how to create final art for the cover based on the caliper of the 70# white opaque digital text paper. I can stitch together the back cover, spine (at the proper width), and front cover such that it will fit the text block exactly with allowance for bleeds. Sometimes it’s easier to do something yourself rather than explain to someone else exactly how you’d like it to be done.

The Design of the Book

My client’s 6” x 9” book includes no graphics of any kind. She had seen a poetry book I had designed, also without graphics, and had liked its appearance. The cover of the poetry book had been just a text treatment, with the relative importance of design elements achieved through typeface changes, type size changes, and changes from all-caps treatment to capitals and lowercase letters. On this book cover, the design hinged on the beauty of the individual letterforms.

Therefore, for this client I also created a text-only cover design based on the inherent grace of the typeface. I chose Garamond Pro, an Old Style typeface, because of its cursive letterforms and diagonal slant. I also knew it would be readable as both a display font (for the cover type and titles of the essays) and also for the text of the print book.

To give my client an idea of how we might proceed, I mocked up not only the cover but also the table of contents, title page, foreword, and two articles. I wanted her to see how the margins, the extra leading between lines of type, and the running headers would look. I used a “dingbat,” a printer’s glyph in the shape of a leaf, on the cover and in the running headers for a flourish, but overall I kept everything simple. I wanted the subject of the book to be the articles, not the design, so my goal was to make the text readable, easy on the eyes, and consistent. Any distinction I needed to make between one design element and the next (for example, the foreword head and text, and the titles of the essays and the essay text), I did only by varying the type size and the typeface from bold to roman to italic. Simplicity was my goal.

That said, I did carefully kern all the larger heads on the cover, and all heads in the print book’s front matter. I wanted the letterforms to nestle into one another with no gaps. I knew that the reader’s eye would move more easily from one letter to the next in the larger heads if I paid close attention to the proximity of each letter to the next.

Addressing Production Issues Early in the Process

Since the semester had just ended when I received the initial designer’s first proof of the print book, my client, the creative writing teacher, let me know that her prior sense of urgency was over. We now had time to do this right. So she attended to copyediting and proofreading the book (to ensure the cleanest and most accurate manuscript possible) as I worked on the design. After all, copyediting at the first proof stage could seriously bog down book production.

At the same time, I was beginning to think about the production of the print book (as opposed to its design). Therefore, in addition to designing the front matter and several text pages, I printed out a set of these pages and ruled them out (in pencil, from crop mark to crop mark). I immediately could see that the running headers were a little large and a little close to the face margin of the book. I also created a composite cover (back cover, spine, and front cover, using, for now, an educated guess of the spine width)—just as a place-holder, to be amended later upon confirming the final page count. I also set up the master pages and the automatic page numbering for the book.

Since the designer had made it through a first proof of the entire book within her five-hour time allotment, I wondered whether I could use her InDesign file and build upon her work. I thought this might make things easier, but I also assumed she was using a more recent version of InDesign than I.

Since I use my old CS5 version of InDesign, I thought this would be problematic. After all, it’s usually easy to access older design files with newer design programs, but I thought it unlikely that my older version would access the student designer’s newer InDesign files.

That said, the designer was ahead of me. There is a work-around in InDesign. I knew about this and was pleasantly surprised at how it fit our particular situation. The designer saved her Creative Cloud 2017 InDesign file as an IDML file. This stands for “InDesign Markup Language.” I could open this file in InDesign CS5. I couldn’t access the new features of InDesign Creative Cloud 2017, but I could still open the designer’s file and alter the fonts, margins, and other design elements. For such a simple project, this would be ideal.

So that’s where we are now. My client likes the cover, and I have carried the look (type treatment) of the cover throughout the following front matter and interior book pages. Now I’ll sit tight and wait for the clean and corrected manuscript with which I’ll complete the next proof of my client’s print book.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. First of all, if you can design the print book yourself, it will save you the time needed to explain your ideas to another person, the book designer.
  2. For a simple project, you can depend on the beauty of the letterforms themselves as design elements. Think of the book design as a picture frame, and the content of the book as the work of art within the picture frame. If you’re producing a book, your goal is to make it easily readable. If your audience will be middle aged and beyond, consider making the type slightly larger than usual and making the leading (space between lines of type) larger than usual as well.
  3. Use type size and typeface (bold, italic, and roman) to indicate different levels of importance. This will show your reader what to look at first, second, and third. If you direct your reader’s eyes around the page, reading will be a more pleasurable experience, because nothing will be ambiguous or uncertain.
  4. Use simple elements (such as the running headers) as a horizontal line from which to (visually) hang the column of text, and leave generous space between the two. White space here, as well as between heads and text, will make the page less imposing. White space lets your reader’s eyes take a rest, as do paragraph indents.
  5. Design pages together and place print-outs side by side to make sure the design flows, from the cover to the first page, the table of contents, foreword, and text pages. If there is not a sense of the flow of the book, adjust the type size and spacing as needed. All of this is visually analogous to a written outline, showing clear distinctions as to how bits of information relate to one another.
  6. If you produce a mock-up of a handful of pages and your client doesn’t like what you’ve done, it’s much easier to make changes at this point, before you have produced an entire proof of the print book.
  7. Use style sheets. In InDesign, you can manipulate a section of type to get it just right, and then highlight it and assign styles to what you have just specified. Then you can apply these styles throughout the book. If you do things this way and need to change fonts or the size of heads or text, all you need to do is adjust the style sheets, and the text of the book will change automatically.
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