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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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Custom Printing: How to Approach a New Magazine

I have a new print brokering client who wants to produce a magazine. The product will be 9” x 12” in format with a press run of 5,000 copies and a page count of 150 pages. She came to me for suggestions and assistance.

Preliminary Specs for the Job

A number of years ago, I had coordinated all printing activities for a magazine detailing the workings of Congress, so I felt qualified to make suggestions on paper stock in my initial phone meeting with my client. The magazine had been produced on a web-offset press on 60# text stock for the interior pages and 100# text stock for the exterior eight pages. So this is where I started with my client.

My client seemed open to the paper specs, although she requested an off-white stock to make the magazine look dated. She wanted it to have an older “feel.” The first custom printing vendor, a sheetfed printer, suggested 60# Utopia off-white coated stock for the text, so that is what I will have him price. Since these are only initial specifications, we will have time to change direction if need be.

A Web-Offset Option for the Magazine

I thought further, and since my client wanted a more “pulpy” look, in which the color was less important than the imagery, I thought about making the paper thinner and of a lower quality, perhaps a 45# commodity grade. So I sent the same specs to a web-offset printer, noting my client’s goals, and asked for his suggestions.

I knew the 45# paper would provide the “feel” of a lower-quality publication, but I also knew that a sheetfed press could not handle a 45# text sheet. Hence I brought the web-offset printer into the discussion. (For such a thin press sheet, you need the high tension of the printing stock running through a heatset press as a single ribbon of paper.)

Granted, the web-offset printer will need to use less ink than the sheetfed printer (open up the image separations) since the magazine will be image-heavy, and since too much ink (particularly on a lower grade press sheet in 4-color process ink, considering the higher pressure of a web press) would just create a thick, soupy mess. But I’ll let the printer address this himself when he responds to my specifications.

Where to Put the Inserts

My client wants several inserts included in the magazine. She had asked about saddle stitching the product, but I steered her away from this option. Although I have seen saddle stitched magazines that exceed 100 pages in length, they really don’t lie flat, and sometimes the center pages fall out. (And this will be a 150-page printed product.)

Also, a problem called “shingling” occurs in commercial printing in which pages closer to the center of the magazine are trimmed closer and closer to the live image area. Sometimes the trimming can cut into images or folios.

So I specified perfect binding, and my client agreed.

To go back to the inserts, this choice to perfect bind the magazine gave my client multiple positions in which to bind the inserts (a gatefold and two single-page products). In a perfect-bound magazine, she will be able to insert them between any of the signatures.

Now since 150 pages will not be divisible by 16 or 8 pages, I will suggest that she make the magazine 152 pages (nine 16-page signatures plus an 8-page signature) or ideally even 160 pages (five 32-page signatures). The bigger the signatures, the fewer the press runs and the more cost effective the job.

That said, she’ll be able to add the three inserts between these signatures.

Finally, she wants gold ink in addition to the four-color process inks on one page spread. I know this will add to the cost. Maybe there is a way to get the gold on one side of a press sheet (cheaper than two). I’ll discuss this with my client.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to ponder:

  1. Start early. Design your magazine using a page production application like InDesign, but also design it as a physical product using a specification sheet, considering the physical necessities of offset custom printing.
  2. Think about whether you will want a web-offset product or a sheetfed offset product. The web is for longer runs (your commercial printing vendor will help you determine optimal page counts, page sizes, and press runs for this equipment). In contrast, sheetfed offset usually costs more, and provides a slightly better product (color fidelity and such, although web-offset now comes very close).
  3. Think about placement of any supplied items, such as gatefolds and perfume inserts. Small cards can be “blown in,” or placed randomly, but they may fall out, particularly if they weigh much at all. Other items will usually need to be placed between signatures. Or you can sometimes “tip” them onto another sheet with “fugitive glue.” However, this would still be between signatures.
  4. When in doubt, ask your commercial printing supplier. He is there to make your life easier. Also, always ask for a blank paper dummy to see how the final printed product will feel in your hands.

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