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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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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Archive for the ‘Book Printing’ Category

Book Printing: Why Skill in Typesetting Is Important

Monday, July 1st, 2019

One of my new clients is a “wordsmith.” She helps authors get their books into print and then promotes them. I have a lot of respect for her. Just recently, though, as I understand her situation, a new client of hers asked her to not only edit the text of his print book but also lay it out in MS Word. He wanted to save money by not paying a designer to lay out the text of the book (fortunately, he did pay for a professionally designed cover).

I want to clarify the direction in which my thoughts are going. My client referred to the text design of the print book as “desktopping.” This term, in itself, does not carry the weight of the skill and experience of the proper term, “book designer.” In fact, it is easy to assume that just because one can process the words of a print book, add photos, add a table of contents, and such, that this is of the same caliber as the product created by an experienced designer who understands typography, layout, page grids, the use of white space, and all the myriad of nuances that make a professionally designed book aesthetically appealing (and easier to read).

When I started in the field of publications management, back in the late 1970s, I would take the manuscripts for the magazine (I was the managing editor) to the typesetter. She produced galleys (a photographic process of setting each line of type on a dedicated computer). These were then physically pasted up on grid paper based on a mock-up of the design that I had created. (The key here is that the typesetter did nothing but set type. She was an expert in this aspect of publishing.)

Granted, this was before desktop publishing, which democratized publication design by making it “possible” for anyone to produce text. But the typesetter understood the various classifications of type, how the type letterforms differed, why to choose one over another, and how to “tweak” type with such precise controls as kerning and tracking. She also understood such elements of design as adding letterspacing (moving successive lines of type slightly apart to improve readability).

The designer who then pasted up the magazine also understood these elements of design. She knew exactly how to specify these type nuances and communicate directly with the typesetter such that both professionals could work together to create a readable, attractive magazine based on the paper mock-up I had taped together (using photocopies of the strips of typeset manuscript—the galleys). Everyone understood their own and everyone else’s job. Everyone could communicate based on this understanding. But since everyone’s respective job differed from everyone else’s and since each required a depth of knowledge not held by the others, it took all of the participants to produce a quality magazine.

Then, in the late 1980s, everything changed. At that point, everything could be done on a desktop computer. Granted, this made the publishing process faster, easier, and cheaper. Untrained staff could produce a newsletter for next to nothing. For certain things, that’s great. (I’m a great believer in doing what is necessary in a particular situation, neither more nor less. For certain publishing tasks, good enough is good enough. Most people won’t see the difference. When I started in the field, I couldn’t tell the difference.)

Back to My Client

I don’t want to disparage my client. I think she is wonderful and highly skilled. However, in order to help her prepare the text for her client’s print book (with me working as her commercial printing broker), I have had to teach her to look closely for a number of things. Catching and correcting these errors will make her client’s book look more professional and be easier to read. If you are new to design, these are some things you might want to consider as well, whenever you design a print book:

  1. My client set the entire book—excluding the cover–in MS Word rather than InDesign. Some printers won’t accept MS Word files. When processed in prepress, some MS Word files can apparently develop problems. I believe these include reflowing of copy and/or potential inadvertent font changes. This may have been addressed and corrected in the recent past, but I was always taught by printers to use InDesign or Quark. Typesetting functions of these dedicated page composition software packages are more nuanced and more precise. In my client’s case, she will save the MS Word file as a PDF (which should eliminate problems, or at least keep them from creating unexpected results). However, I have asked the printer to check the files carefully as well. When my client reviews the hard-copy proofs of the print book, she will also be able to look for any anomalies (changed fonts or reflowed copy). But if she had used InDesign, there would have been far less opportunity for error.
  2. The Takeaway
    Always use a dedicated page composition program for laying out your publication, brochure, or any other commercial printing job. Don’t use Microsoft Publisher. Don’t use Illustrator. Don’t use Photoshop. Use InDesign or Quark.

  3. My client set the text of the book justified, without hyphenation. Therefore, MS Word either jammed words together (with too little word-spacing) or put too few words on a line (sometimes only three words with large spaces in between). This minimizes readability, because the spaces between words are so different from line to line throughout the 428 pages of the book. And minimized readability tires the reader’s eyes, making it less likely that she or he will continue reading. Moreover, if the type looks amateurish, people will question the accuracy of the content. It’s like a bad proofreading job. If your manuscript has spelling errors or errors in grammar, the reader will wonder whether the facts in the print book are also incorrect. It’s human nature. In fact, it may not always even be conscious. And at best, it slows down the reader’s progress.
  4. The Takeaway
    Avoid justified text whenever possible. Flush left/ragged right text is easier to read because the space between words is always the same. The reader’s eye gets used to this, and she or he gets into a reading “rhythm,” proceeding more quickly through the text. If you have to justify copy, use hyphenation to minimize differences in word spacing. But also carefully review the text (on a printout, not the computer screen) to identify problematic lines of type (which create a condition known as “rivers of white” running down the page).

  5. My client left some subheads at the bottom of pages without the paragraphs to which they referred.
  6. The Takeaway
    Make separate review passes through the entire print book text, looking for a number of errors and inconsistencies: in hyphenation, spacing between lines of type and particularly between typographic elements such as bulleted items (anything where the spacing is different from that of the running text). Make sure there are no “widows” or “orphans” (parts of words at the beginning or end of pages). Leave subheads with at least a few lines of the following paragraph, and start a new page with at least a few lines of copy.

  7. My client kept all photos as RGB images in a book text file that was for a black-ink-only print job. While the digital printer will automatically convert these to grayscale (black and white halftones), some of my client’s images will become too dark in this transition. So I have asked her to change the mode from RGB to grayscale and re-import the images. This way she will see how she can expect the final printed images to look. If they are too dark, she can lighten them before sending the job to press.
  8. The Takeaway
    Never send a color job to press with RGB images. Images for print should be CMYK (if the book is full color). For black-ink-only text blocks, always use grayscale, not color or bitmapped, images.

  9. On the title page, my client did not kern the letter pair “Wa” (in the word “War”). In large type, pairs of letters such as “Wa”–or, worse, “WA”–will appear to be too far apart. In my client’s case, this looked amateurish because of the size of the type (the title of the book on the title page). The type size magnified the flaw.
  10. The Takeaway
    In your own work, print out a copy of the text, and look for too much space in the pairs of letters, particularly in larger type. Learn how to tighten type using the “kerning” function (again, something like this will be superior in InDesign and Quark because these applications are intended for typesetting).

Why Is This Important?

Everything you design, print, and distribute is an ad. It reflects the quality of your work. If your type design looks amateurish, this will make your reader question the accuracy of the content, at worst, or tire his/her eyes, at best.

What’s the Most Important Thing You Can Do to Avoid These Problems?

Study typography. Learn the difference between Old Style, Transitional, and Modern typeface classifications. Learn to kern type. Make the study of type an interesting, lifelong pursuit. Understand how typography fits into the overall design of a printed piece. Look at printed jobs you like and try to articulate why they are attractive. Expect your knowledge base to grow and expand, but assume this will take time. If you don’t have the time, hire a professional designer (not a “desktopper”), and then focus on what you yourself do best.

Book Printing: Disc Binding, a New Bindery Option

Monday, June 24th, 2019

In commercial printing, I’m almost never surprised by new technologies, whether these involve closed-loop sensors that use computer feedback on a press to keep color accurate, or new printing technologies such as the ink transfer method called Nanography. I’m always excited by these things. But in post-press finishing and binding equipment, I’m more surprised by new technology. Somehow I expect to always see the perfect binding, saddle stitching, velo binding, tape binding, GBC (or plastic comb) binding, post-binding, and plastic coil binding I’ve grown used to over the past 40+ years.

But I’m happy to be wrong.

A friend and colleague sent me an article this week about a new binding technology called disc binding. I have actually seen samples before in stationery stores, but until now I haven’t looked at the new technology closely.

What Is Disc Binding?

If you can picture a disc with an extended rim, like a wheel, that extends beyond the central disc on both sides, you’re well on your way to grasping this concept. Disc binding is similar to the three-ring binding of a notebook, but the rigid wire loop has been replaced by a series of solid discs with extended rims.

To bind a notebook with this new method, you hook pre-punched pages onto the ridge on the disks. The pages, when punched, have holes and little tabs that will grasp the ridge of the discs, which can be applied one by one, every inch or every few inches down the length of the bind edge. Even though this sounds like a lot of work to set up, it is similar to a binder in that you can easily remove pages and reorder them within the notebook.

Presumably, you would then add a cover at both ends of the stack of pages. Just like the interior pages, the covers are also pre-punched with little tabs that grasp the extended ridges of the disks.

If you want to add your own pages, you can buy a notebook hole punch that will match the pre-cut holes on commercially produced pages.

What Are the Benefits?

When I first saw these little books in the stationery store, I could see some benefits. Compared to a three-ring binder (even a small one), a disc bound notebook is slim, compact, and attractive. Clearly the designers wanted to make this an aesthetically appealing product.

You can also fold back the covers, which you cannot do with a three-ring binder. Therefore, writing in a disc bound book takes a lot less space. (Your “footprint” on the desk, if you will, is much smaller.) Of course, you can also do this with a spiral bound book, a Wire-O bound book, or a plastic coil bound book.

Unlike a spiral bound book, however, facing pages of a disc bound book (when laid open, flat on a table) exactly align with one another. If you have any image or text extending from a left-hand to a right-hand page, this can be a benefit. (It’s impossible with a spiral wire book because of the ascending/descending nature of a spiral. Facing pages will always be just slightly out of alignment with one another.)

With traditional mechanical binding methods (which include GBC, plastic coil, Wire-O, spiral, velo, tape binding, and notebook ring binding), you often have size limitations. If, for instance, you have a long print book, the page count may exceed the capacity of the binding method.

Let’s say the book printer tells you your 400+ page print book won’t fit the minimal binding capacity of a plastic coil. In this case, even though the plastic coil is more aesthetically appealing, you may need to move to GBC binding (which is a plastic coiled comb that curls through the holes punched in the collated paper sheets of your book). In my experience, this binding method can cause problems, since pages often come unhooked from a GBC bound print book. It’s also a very cumbersome process to unhook the plastic comb and then add sheets of paper to the print book.

If you’re using the disc binding system, it is much easier to expand the capacity of the rings. You can just replace them (swap out .5” rings with 1.5” rings, for instance). This is easier and more aesthetically appealing, and it allows you to add, remove, or reorder pages when you swap out the rings. So overall, assembling the disc bound books is an easier process than assembling traditional, mechanically bound print books.

Unlike some other mechanical binding methods, disc bound books also lie perfectly flat. This isn’t even true about most perfect-bound books, not to mention print books with mechanical bindings, like post binding, tape binding, and velo binding (all of which grip the pages with enough pressure to limit your ability to open the book so the pages lie flat). With disc binding, you can easily lay your book flat on the table, making writing in it a breeze.

Another benefit is the variety of cover materials, including textured, leather, and poly. Presumably, since the process is easy and the styles are standardized, you can swap out these covers at will.

Is It Ready for Primetime?

As with all new technology, from Barry Landa’s Nanography to the science behind the HP Indigo press (light years ahead of its cousin, the photocopier), things take time to become useful.

Currently disc binding does not come in all sizes. I’ve seen reference to 5.5” x 8.5” and 8.5” x 11” formats. In contrast, you can make a spiral bound book almost any size you want. Then again, three-ring notebooks also only come in standard sizes. But unlike three-ring binders, disc binding is based on adding a new ring every inch or every few inches based on the length of the book’s spine.

It seems to me that you would have a lot more flexibility with this overall concept than with the three-ring binder model. After all, the rings in a ring binder are attached to a metal strip running down the book’s interior spine. This has to be a fixed length. In contrast, with disc binding you can add more or fewer discs as needed (based on spine length), and there’s no need for the fixed-length “metal” (as the mechanism holding the binder rings in a three-ring binder is called).

Another problem is that disc bound books have no spine on which to print a book title. Now this doesn’t need to be a problem. After all, only a few of the mechanical bindings I have mentioned have spines. These include the three-ring binder (onto which you can screen print a title) and GBC binding (plastic comb binding), which also provides a screen-printable spine. In contrast, Wire-O, spiral wire, velo-binding, tape binding, and plastic coil binding do not have printable spines.

Final Thoughts

I realize that disc bound books, at the present moment, are high-design novelties you can buy one at a time at stationery stores. That’s their current purpose: a one-off product. That said, I personally look at the technology as a book printer might and ask how these can be used for long runs of print books.

In my experience, mechanical binding has always been the choice for short-run products (prior to the advent of digital commercial printing and short-run binding). For instance, a corporation hosting a seminar might produce 100 bound reports or workbooks for an event, and the technology of choice might be GBC binding.

For longer runs, mechanical binding has never been quite as efficient (i.e., it costs more per unit) because mechanical binding is usually labor intensive (i.e., it requires a lot of hand work). It also does not look as crisp and professional as the automated bindery methods (such as perfect binding).

That said, I can envision a seminar leader passing out disc bound workbooks. Since they’re so futuristic in design, this would even reflect well on the company brand. In fact, I can see disc binding potentially replacing many of the other mechanical bindings due to its ease of use.

When it comes to competition with long-run automated binding, such as perfect binding and saddle stitching, I don’t think this technology is ready for prime time yet. However, I could be wrong. All it would take would be a robotic assembly system that could add all the binding discs to a book at the same time. And that is within the realm of possibility.

Book Printing: A Cover and Page Design Analysis

Monday, June 17th, 2019

A consulting client of mine is a print book designer. She does work for government organizations like the World Bank and NATO. About five times a year, when she hits a snag in her book design, she brings me in to offer design suggestions. Having been a book designer myself at one point as well as an art director–and now working with my fiancee doing art therapy with the autistic–I can offer my consulting client (and long-time friend) a unique point of view.

My client’s strengths include her ability to balance simple page geometry (crisp, sparse design) with intriguing font usage, ample white space, and integrated color schemes. Keep in mind that the content of the print books is often rather dry, focusing on economic and social conditions in countries across the globe. So an approachable design that promotes readability is a major asset. This my client does well, and periodically I help.

The New Book Cover Design

In this instance, the print book addresses the ecology of a small African country, Malawi. My client sent me a PDF draft of her page design, including the cover and all interior text pages. She requested my design feedback since she felt the overall look could be improved.

To start with the cover, the design was based on a central photo of several people seated in a small boat. A man standing in the rear of the boat guided a long paddle back and forth to move the boat forward. Above this cover photo, my client had typeset the title of the book in an informal font that looked hand-drawn, and had then (for contrast) typeset the subhead in an austere, sans serif typeface.

One of the elements of the design that I felt worked well was the color scheme. This she had taken from the colors within the cover photo, the browns and greens and mustard color of the foliage behind the boat in the water. All together, these colors evoked an earthiness that was also reflected in the informal headline type. My client used a yellowish brown and then a dark brown (to emphasize words) in the coloration of the headline type, and then switched the placement of these two colors in the subhead (using the yellowish brown this time for emphasis).

What she achieved was the following. By using hues sampled from the photo to add color to the head and subhead, she unified the cover design. The type and photo shared a color scheme, providing a sense of balance and unity to the cover. For contrast, the bright green of some of the foliage in the photo stood out against the reds and browns and yellows (in both the type and photo). This is because green is the complement of the predominantly brownish red of the dark headline type. And because complementary colors are opposite one another on the color wheel, each of these hues will intensify the other when they are placed in close proximity.

In addition, the blue of the water was aesthetically pleasing next to the green of some of the foliage. (This is because green includes blue and yellow hues, so the two of them together create a sense of unity.) At the bottom right of the cover, my client placed the logos for the organization, which include bright blue elements. (These also fit nicely with the blue water and the green foliage.)

Moreover, the image of the boat on the water, the earth tones of the foliage beside the river in the photo, and the informal typeface for the headline all work together to create a natural, relaxed feel to the cover. Not only does this work on an aesthetic level, but it also makes what would otherwise be a dry textbook appear more inviting.

Inside the Print Book

My client then continued the color scheme of the cover within the book’s interior, using the yellowish brown and the dark brown in the heads, subheads, and callouts of the text. This unified the design of the cover and the text, particularly since my client also brought the casual cover headline type and sparse sans serif subhead type of the cover into the design of the print book’s interior.

To make the interior text approachable, my client used the sans serif typeface from the cover as the main typeface for the text. She created a page grid comprising either one or two columns (slightly offset toward the center of the book, leaving a larger scholar’s margin to the outside of the book pages). Within this scholar’s margin, my client placed the folios (page numbers) reversed out of what appeared to be a horizontal stroke of yellowish brown paint (with jagged edges like a brush stroke) in the same color she had used on the cover. And under any large heads at the top of the page (section headlines, for instance) she placed a rule made in the same fashion (like a swoosh of paint). The distressed and reversed type of the folios and the horizontal rule at the top of the page added to the approachable, informal feel of the print book while unifying the design of the interior pages and the cover layout.

As noted before, my client is very good at simple page geometry. She groups all related elements into simple geometric shapes to make their relationship immediately clear. In this case, my client did this by setting type in justified columns, in the sans serif type noted above, and with generous leading (extra space between lines of type). She also included generous amounts of white space around the columns of type (this allows the eye to rest periodically; it also helps the reader’s eye group the columns of type together visually and cognitively as being related).

As I now look at a string of my client’s book pages along the left panel of my computer screen, with the large book page in the adjoining window of the PDF page image, I can identify everything in the approximately 1” x 2” thumbnail images. By color, relative size, and placement in the generous surrounding white space, I can see what is a headline, a subhead, an initial capital letter, a run-in subhead, and text copy. Because the images are so small, I can’t even read the largest headlines, but I can identify the purpose of each chunk of type and each color. That is good design. Why? Because it leads the reader’s eye through each page. The reader never has to wonder what to read next.

And because the overall “look” of the cover is echoed throughout the text of the book, there is a sense of unity. The reader can be carried onward, from the cover to the front matter to all interior text pages of this print book.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Although I have read many books about book design, and design in general, what has taught me the most about the craft of design is actually looking at printed samples I like and learning to articulate why I like them. I would encourage you to do the same. Keep a file of brochures, books, and posters, or any other commercially printed items that appeal to you.

Then look at the typefaces, color usage, page layout grids, and paper choices, and think about how these were chosen to give a sense of visual unity to the printed piece.

Then consider the use of white space. White space is anything that is not subject matter (not images or type). Nevertheless, white space is just as important as the subject matter in conveying to the reader what visual elements are related as well as their levels of importance. Ideally, when you look at a print book or brochure, you should be able to identify the hierarchy of importance for all visual elements, even if the printed piece is in a language you don’t read or speak.

The best way to learn this craft is to study the design work of those who are better at it than you. That’s how I learned. In fact, I often look at this client’s design work and say to myself, “I wish I had done that.” She’s that good.

Book Printing: Considerations for Perfect Bound Books

Monday, June 10th, 2019

A print brokering client of mine is a husband-and-wife publishing team. Each year they give me titles of poetry and fiction books to bid on, along with readers’ galleys for each new print book. The galleys are perfect-bound, 5.5” x 8.5” print books, and the final books have French flaps, deckle edge text paper (faux deckle edge, actually), press scores, and lay-flat soft-touch film laminate. In other words, the first set of books are for my client’s readers to review and critique, and the second set of the same titles are salable print books with superior production values (all the bells and whistles that set print books apart from their digital cousins).

The reason I bring this up is that I just bid out three sets of these books, and a number of issues arose that you might find interesting as either a print book designer or a print buyer.

The Trim Size and Page Count of the Books

Based on specs I had not yet adequately updated, I bid out the final books and the galleys with the same trim size: 5.5” x 8.5”. When the bids on the final books came back, the printer had changed the trim size to 5.75” x 8.5”.

This is not unusual. It just means that one has to read closely and match the specs of one’s project to the specs the printer provides in his estimate. Seeing the discrepancy, I questioned the sales rep, and he said the book had to be 5.75” x 8.5” due to the deckle edge.

To begin with, a true deckle edge was created (actually as a flaw) on the oldest paper-making frames. These feathered edges were often trimmed flush. Later, certain paper-making machines simulated this feathered effect.

In my client’s case, the deckle edge is really a rough-front face trim. That is, the outer side of the pages (the long dimension parallel to the spine) is uneven (some pages longer, some pages shorter), a quality achieved (as I understand it from several printers) by turning off (or adjusting) the trimming knife that chops all pages flush. When I was growing up in the ’60s, most of my family’s hard cover books had this uneven face trim. It added to the tactile quality of the pages, and I found that it actually made grasping the pages a little easier. For my client, it just adds to the overall feel of the perfect bound print book as a quality product that readers will want to hold.

The point of this is twofold. When you’re specifying the trim size for a book, discuss with your printer the following issues:

  1. the most efficient size (that will fit his particular press equipment)
  2. and the physical requirements of the binding process (in this case, to ensure that the folded French flaps cover the rough-front trim, and to ensure the accuracy of the rough front trim)

In my client’s case, there were also changes in the page count. For one book, my client specified 100 pages; the printer bid on 104 pages. For another, my client specified 250 pages; the printer bid on 256 pages. In each case the printer changed the page count to the nearest number either divisible by 32 pages (ideally), 16 pages, or 8 pages, but not 4 pages. This was to ensure a fit (compatible press signatures) with his particular press equipment. The ideal was a 32-page signature (for example 256 pages = eight 32-page signatures). In your own print buying, remember to discuss this early with your printer.

The French Flaps

French flaps are part of a book’s cover. They extend 3.5” (more or less, depending on the book design) beyond the face trim of the book and then fold back part of the way over the blank (or printed) interior covers (front and back) of a book. They make a paperback book look and feel like it has a dust jacket. These, apparently, are very big in Europe. I think they add a cosmopolitan feel to a book, and since these particular clients of mine publish books of fiction and poetry, the French flaps are ideally suited to the ethos they want to project.

So far, French flaps have worked just fine on the 5.75” x 8.5” format of my client’s print books, but if you decide to incorporate these into your own print book design, discuss the size with your printer to make sure everything works on his printing and finishing equipment.

One additional thing I have found over the years is that for these flaps to fold in and still extend over the face trim of the book, the book must be trimmed twice. That is, the face trim of the book’s text block must be trimmed separately from the covers. If the folded front and back covers with the attached (and folded in) flaps were trimmed at the same time as the text block, the flaps themselves would be chopped off at the fold. Instead, the folded flaps must either be trimmed too short (they must not reach the edge of the text paper) or too long (they must extend over the edge of the text paper).

(If you look at the perfect-bound magazines in the grocery store, you’ll often see some space between the face trim of the magazine and the folded covers. The folded magazine covers with their French flaps–used to add space for an additional fold-out advertisement attached to the cover–often end about a half inch–more or less—short of the the trim of the interior magazine pages.)

The take-away from all of this is to discuss with your printer—early in the process–any French flaps or other cover extensions or modifications.

In the case of my client’s reader’s galleys that precede the final, salable books, the book trim size can actually be a true 5.5” x 8.5”, since the reader’s galleys have no deckle edge and no French flaps.

The Reader’s Galleys

Let’s get back to the reader’s galleys. These are probably even more unusual than a print book these days. When I was in college in the ’70s, I first came upon a reader’s galley at a thrift store. It was taller than a usual book, and it had no pictures, just text. The cover was simple. Later, when I learned to set type and do paste-up (a manual process that has become fully computerized in the last thirty or so years), I would cut up the long rolls of typeset material to paste up into book pages. Presumably, the galleys of this particular time period were taller than usual to allow for fewer book pages to print. After all, the sole purpose of this printed galley was as a final proofing tool. Publishers produced galleys so that authors could see their books typeset and make any final corrections to the text prior to the final book printing run.

(Advance reader’s copies are similar but a little more polished, since they are used for book reviews and marketing purposes.)

In the case of my clients, the 5.5” x 8.5” versions of the books (actually used as both galleys and reader’s copies) without French flaps, hinge scores, soft-touch lamination, or faux deckle edges just give reviewers an extra look at the text for their final suggestions.

In the age of the digital book, what I find interesting is that my client still wants a good number of galley copies prior to the final print run. This year the husband-and-wife publishing team asked for 75 galley copies of each title instead of 50. The reason I think these are popular with my clients’ reviewers is that you can easily write in a physical print book. My clients’ readers can easily annotate the text with all of their suggested corrections and comments.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Consider the small additions that make a print book a joy to hold, those qualities that add to the tactile experience. In my clients’ case it was the faux deckle edge, the French flaps, the press score, and the soft-touch laminate. Remember that holding a book is a physical experience.
  2. Discuss all of these variables with your printer to make sure that you understand the requirements of his press and finishing equipment as well as the cost.
  3. Ask for samples. Nothing speaks to the quality of a printer’s work like a physical sample, and nothing makes it easier to tell a printer how you want your book to look than a sample book with a comparable printing, finishing, or coating effect.

Book Printing: More Thoughts on Paper Choices

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

I received an email today from a reader who had taken issue with a few of my comments on choosing paper for a book project I was brokering. Needless to say, I felt a bit chastened, but I was also very excited to know that people were carefully reading the PIE Blog, and that someone in particular had taken the time to draft a long email.

I write about a huge number of custom printing subjects, ranging from paper characteristics to various printing technologies to graphic design to marketing. I am a student of printing, not an expert. Since everyone has room to learn and grow, I took this as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge.

In that vein, I want to share with you what I had written in the initial PIE Blog article and what this particular reader had presented as an alternate point of view.

Moreover, this is a good opportunity to reiterate that no one knows more than your printer about how to put ink or toner on paper. This particular reader has been in the field for 23 years, working directly with equipment I have only read about and seen in custom printing plant tours. In your own work, as a designer, print buyer, print sales professional, or whatever other aspect of commercial printing you pursue, it is wise to learn from those who actually perform prepress, printing, and finishing operations themselves. They have learned the hard way by making (and correcting) mistakes on the job.

Choosing a Coated Stock

In a prior PIE Blog article I had said, “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.”

I had written about how light is reflected off a gloss sheet directly back to the reader’s eyes and about how matte or dull stock scatters the reflected light, sending the light rays in different angles rather than directly back to the viewer’s eyes. I had said that this makes photos printed on gloss stock “pop” but tires the reader’s eyes if the book is text heavy.

The reader who wrote to me noted that on his equipment in his shop (mainly Xerox digital presses), a glossier effect can be achieved by printing photos on matte paper rather than on glossy stock. Over the reader’s 23 years’ of experience, he has also used other digital equipment to the same effect. He now specs matte stock whenever possible to ensure the customer’s satisfaction with the photos.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Always ask the printer’s opinion. If your job is a photo-heavy print book, tell the printer you want the photos to pop. In contrast, if you’re worried that your text-heavy print product might tire the reader’s eyes on a certain paper, voice this concern as well. It is often prudent to describe the results you want and then ask the printer how best to achieve them.
  2. Consider the technology in use. When I learned what I believe about gloss and matte stock (for photos vs. text-heavy content), it was the 1980s and 1990s, and most of the work I did (almost all of it) was traditional offset lithography. It would be my best guess that toner-based printing technologies (the ones the PIE Blog reader references with the Xerox printer) may yield different results from offset lithographic presses (regarding making photos “pop” on certain paper). It’s always best to talk with your printer and request printed samples to help you choose the right commercial printing stock for your job.

Choosing a 100# Gloss Coated Stock

The PIE Blog reader noted that he would have steered the customer away from such a heavy, glossy stock for such a long print book. He said it would have made the book heavy and unwieldy. I actually agree.

My own customer was initially wedded to the idea of a gloss coated paper stock, so I provided an estimate on this paper. She had wanted the feel of a coffee-table book, which is why I had initially suggested 100# gloss text. For a gloss coated stock, the PIE Blog reader who wrote to me suggested a 70# or 80# stock rather than a 100# paper, which I do agree would have been adequate.

However, once I had seen the PDF of the print book and had noted that there were only about ten photos scattered across more than 400 pages, I suggested a 60# uncoated text stock.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Again, ask your print provider for his opinion. I tried to give the customer what she wanted. Perhaps I should have been more direct initially with my reservations. Fortunately, over time we changed the printing paper from 100# gloss to 60# offset. Once I understood the content of the print book, it was easier to offer advice on the best paper stock.
  2. So in your own work, consider the content of the book when choosing paper. If you’re producing a coffee-table book of photos, I’d still suggest a matte, dull, or gloss stock (depending on the printing technology). But, as the reader suggests, I’d also consider the length of the book (100# stock is still heavy if the page count of your print book is high).
  3. If you’re unsure of the results, request printed samples on your paper of choice. Or, you can ask for an unprinted paper dummy (a bound, blank book made with your chosen paper stock). The paper merchant will make this for you. Your printer can coordinate this. Requesting a paper dummy is based on the belief that nothing is as good as a physical sample. You’ll know exactly how the book will feel in the reader’s hands. (For example, the reader’s comment that a high-page-count book produced on 100# gloss stock would be unwieldy would be proven to be true with a paper dummy. The book would be very heavy.)

Rebidding the Job to All Printers

The reader who wrote to me said he would have rebid the job to all vendors after having changed the paper specs. He noted that some printers that had been competitive on one paper stock might be either more competitive or less competitive on another. That is, one printer’s prices on 100# gloss text (if the printer’s prices are low relative to the other printers who provided bids) might not be in the same position (low bid) after a change of paper to 60# offset.

I agree with this. In my own case, I was actually only getting a ballpark price at the early stage of production to see how the overall cost might change based on the new paper spec. I had approached maybe four printers, and I knew there would be more rounds of estimates in the future.

Furthermore, I knew that print estimating takes time and effort (unbillable by the printer), so I wanted to minimize my requests for pricing. (I didn’t want to wear out my welcome with multiple printers.) So I chose one (who had been low bid on a number of similar jobs) to get the initial cost of such a dramatic change (from 100# gloss to 60# offset).

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. If you want to do what I did (get an interim price to see if you’re going in the right direction with a major change, whether it be a change in paper, book format, or whatever), start by asking your printer. He may give you a ballpark idea (for instance, maybe a 20-30 percent price hike because the change affects a major element of the price, like paper in a long print book). Or he may choose to defer to the estimator.
  2. That said, once you know what you’re going to do (once you’ve decided on the final paper stock, for instance), it is wise to go back to all the vendors for revised pricing, keeping in mind what the PIE Blog reader said, that different printers may well change the relative order of their overall prices once you make a major change in specifications. This applies to paper, format, post-press operations like die cutting, etc. Don’t just assume the printer with the lowest bid will stay in that position.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that the PIE Blog is always grateful for readers’ comments. If you read something and really like it or really hate it, put your thoughts in an email. We welcome a healthy dialogue. It makes for better articles that are more useful to readers.

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.
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