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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: Reviewing Magazine Printers’ and Book Printers’ Samples

I just received three boxes of samples from commercial printing suppliers. Somehow the boxes look bigger in the condo than they used to look in the house, where I had a whole room for samples.

The three boxes contain specific samples from three separate printers for three separate print brokering clients. Here’s why I requested them, what I’m looking for, and why they will be beneficial to my work.

In your own print buying work, you might also want to request samples from your printers before choosing a particular supplier for a job.

The Magazine Samples

One of my clients is producing a graphic novel. After negotiating an attractive price for the job and requesting a list of references, I asked for printed samples. However, this last part I did after receiving from my client a few samples of printed jobs she liked.

My client had sent me an old copy of Glamour magazine, and I had sent a few pages of the cover and text paper stock to my printer, asking for comparable press sheets he had printed.

I received sample magazines with notations of all paper contained in the books. These included 40#, 45#, and 50# text sheets as well as covers printed on 60# and 70# text sheets. These commercial printing papers included #3 sheets, #4 sheets, and #5 sheets (reflecting gradually diminishing brightness).

To make the paper analysis process easier, instead of sending all of these printed samples to my client, I chose one sample of each paper weight and grade and marked the specifications in back sharpie pen on each item. My client can now compare each paper weight to all other samples (in various lighting conditions).

She can also see examples of this particular printer’s offset printing skill on these press sheets. And she can compare the brightness of each press sheet to the others to determine the “look” she wants. After all, my client is seeking a gritty appearance for her graphic novel, so a #4 or #5 sheet (which might appear dingy to someone else) might be just what she needs.

We’ll see what my client says. Once she has identified the paper weight she likes for her graphic novel cover, text, and gatefolds, I’ll request more printed samples from this custom printing supplier, just to give my client an even broader awareness of the quality printing she can expect from this vendor.

Samples of a Print Book for a Small Literary Publisher

Another vendor just completed a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book. It has a 4/4 cover (it’s printed on the inside as well as the outside covers), and it has French Flaps. That’s a lot of four-color imagery and text even before you start reading the literary anthology between the covers.

I wanted to review these print books closely before I spoke with my client to make sure everything was in order. The samples were beautiful. But here’s what I looked for in particular:

  1. I noticed that the cover had been printed with abundant but even ink coverage, and that it had a smooth matte film laminate and a square and even bindery trim.
  2. The type on the spine fell squarely in the center, as planned.
  3. The interior printing (black-only on both sides of the press sheet) was crisp, and the running headers aligned when I flipped the pages.
  4. The overall binding of the perfect-bound text was precise and evenly glued. It appeared to be sturdy.
  5. All halftones had a good tonal range, from the deepest shadows to the highlights.

With this information in hand, I felt comfortable approaching my print brokering clients, who said they loved the book. This I let the book printer know immediately.

Book Samples for Checking Paper Opacity

I’m bidding on the printing of an annual 576-page case-bound textbook with black-ink-only text. It has a lot of halftones and charts composed of various shades of gray as well as black rules and area screens. In this particular case the opacity of the paper is crucial in selecting a vendor.

I’m negotiating with a well-known book printer with a stellar reputation, but this supplier has substituted paper on the estimate. That is, the house press sheet is not what I had specified. This doesn’t need to be a problem if the paper substitution involves comparable qualities. In fact, it will yield quite a savings over the cost of last year’s print book.

This particular printer sent me case-bound and perfect-bound samples containing the paper stock (Lynx rather than the Finch Opaque I had specified). All printed samples include photos and charts. The charts include a range of tones from black to lighter shades of gray. By paging through the books I can see just how well this paper obscures images printed on the back of the page when I’m viewing the front of the page. In all cases I’m satisfied.

In fact, I’m ahead of the game because I can also see how well this book printer has case bound this particular sample. In addition, the other samples I received give me a good idea of both the binding capabilities and printing capabilities I can expect from this vendor. And I’ve also seen the 4-color work the printer can do, since he included the full-color dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound book.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here’s a short list of things to look for in book printers’ samples:

  1. Look for color fidelity in the full-color printing work. (Memory colors, such as grass and food colors, should be accurate.) Look for even ink coverage printed in tight register.
  2. Check out the interior printing of the books (look for even ink coverage and clear halftones with no plugged screens–or muddiness–and a good tonal range).
  3. Check the physical properties of the books. Are the pages trimmed squarely, and are all the pages aligned at the running headers? Look at the endsheets, as well as the spine and the head and foot bands. Has the spine of the book been rounded? Does everything appear sturdy and exude quality?

By reviewing the samples closely, you’ll quickly get a good idea of whether this particular vendor can meet your printing and binding needs.

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