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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Book Binding Options’ Category

Book Printing: Perfect Binding and Saddle Stitching

Monday, November 9th, 2020

Once you move from single-sheet print jobs such as flyers, brochures, multi-panel mailers, and posters to multi-page print jobs, you are faced with a number of binding options. How do you choose?

Here are some of your options and some of the considerations you might need to address. I will primarily focus on two of these (perfect binding and saddle stitching), but first here is a list of some of the remaining bindery technologies:

Case Binding: This is hardcover book binding. You see these print books in libraries (often covered in fabric, with and without dust jackets). You also see them in bookstores. They are high quality and expensive. If you go back a little ways historically, you even see hardcover books bound in leather (rather than in paper or fabric). These are durable (some are well over a hundred years old) and are made with strong binder boards. They are crafted for use and made to last.

Mechanical Binding: This includes double-wire (or Wire-O), spiral wire, screw and post, plastic coil, GBC or comb binding, tape binding, ring-binders, plastic grip, and VeloBinding (a narrow strip of plastic on the top of the book and one on the bottom, connected through the pages by plastic tines).

Mechanical binding usually involves hand work. It is expensive. That said, it is ideal for very low run projects (maybe a dozen to a hundred, or more, reports for distribution at a convention). In a few cases you can even add pages to, or remove pages from, mechanically bound print books.

Now for the workhorses of the binding world: perfect binding and saddle stitching.

Perfect Binding Options

Perfect binding is used for longer paperback books. Unlike a saddle stitched book, a perfect-bound book has a spine. The benefit of a spine is that you can print the title of the book on it. Without a spine, a saddle stitched print book will be less visible on the bookshelf.

Perfect bound books come in a number of different flavors. They can be lay-flat bound, in which the printed, folded, and gathered press signatures are attached to the edges of the front and back book covers. More specifically, the book block is glued to the covers at the front and back fold but is not actually attached to the spine. This is very similar to the process used for case binding. The book block is essentially “hung” on the folds between the covers and the spine. This allows the book to lie flat on a table. For a cookbook or manual, this can be very helpful.

Another perfect binding option is the original method, in which the stacked press signatures are ground off at the folds of the signatures, then slathered with liquid glue or hot-melt glue, and then set into the paper covers (a single piece: back cover, spine, and front cover). What makes this different from the next option (burst perfect binding) is that once the folded edges of the press signatures have been ground down, the pages are essentially glued against the spine as single sheets of paper (not as folded, connected press signatures). Therefore, it’s easier for individual pages to get pulled out than in the burst perfect binding method.

In contrast, burst perfect binding leaves the folds of the press signatures in place. Instead of grinding off these folds, the equipment cuts notches into the fold edges of the signatures. Hot melt glue or liquid glue can then be slathered into the binding side of the press signatures, and the glue will have more surface area of the paper to which it can adhere. (And the pages are still connected at the folds, decreasing the chance that individual pages can be easily pulled out.)

Here are two things to consider if you’re looking at perfect binding your print book. First of all, the process is expensive and time consuming. Your book printer may have to subcontract out this work.

The second consideration involves the length of the print book. I have been involved in printing some perfect bound books comprising only 64 pages. Other books have been hundreds of pages in length. If you’re designing a very short book (maybe 28 pages), there’s really not much room for a printed spine. Granted, you can leave the spine blank. Talk with your printer about the minimum page count his binding equipment will handle.

Side Stitching and Saddle Stitching

Before I address traditional saddle stitching, there’s an alternate option called side stitching in which the individual press signatures are first stacked. A powerful stapler (essentially) then secures these pages (the tines of the stitching wire go down vertically through all the pages and are crimped at the bottom). This kind of binding is remarkably sturdy. When I was growing up, my National Geographic magazines arrived this way. (Or, more specifically, they were first stitched in this way and then covered with an additional paper cover to hide the side stitches.) That said, side stitched books will not lie flat.

In contrast, saddle stitching, the other bindery workhorse (along with perfect binding), involves first nesting the press signatures (sliding one folded press signature into another, as opposed to stacking them on top of one another as is done in perfect binding).

Saddle-stitching wire (like side stitching wire) then goes through the open books at the fold (the trimmed wire stitches look just like staples), and then the print book is folded shut.

Saddle stitched books have no spines. However, almost any commercial printer or book printer can do this binding work in-house. Therefore, it’s cheaper and faster than the (often) subcontracted perfect binding work. You will usually see this kind of binding used for short magazines.

But here are some things to consider that make saddle stitching less than ideal.

First, the book has to be short. I’ve participated in the saddle stitching of magazines that exceeded 64 pages. That said, the paper was thin, and occasionally the center spread of the magazines would pull out easily. To avoid this, in most cases I would advise clients to perfect bind such a print book or magazine. But, to be sure, ask your book printer how many pages he can safely accommodate in saddle stitching without risking the loss (or loosening) of the center pages.

Second, there’s a risk of “creep” or “push-out,” as the saddle stitched books start to get very long. As noted before (and unlike perfect-bound books), the 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page press signatures are nested (one slid into the center of the other), not stacked. What this means is that pages closer to the center of the book stick out further than pages in the front or back of the book. Therefore, these center pages are actually trimmed slightly shorter than pages near the front and back of the book.

If your page numbers (folios) are close to the trim edge initially, they may wind up even more painfully close to the edge after trimming. (The process of trimming is not as precise as one might like.) In fact, the trimming blade could even cut through the folios. To avoid this, ask your printer about the possibility of creep or push out and ways to avoid it. (You may even need to adjust the page design ever so slightly in the center signature(s) to compensate for this.)

The good news is that saddle-stitched print books will lie flat on the table.

What You Can Learn From This Discussion

  1. You have many options.
  2. When it comes to mechanical binding, you are often paying a premium (for hand work) for a less professional looking product. If you’re producing a cookbook, this may be ok or even desirable. (Consider GBC, plastic coil, Wire-O, or spiral wire.)
  3. Your best options are often perfect binding and saddle stitching. In either case, consider your budget, the need to have a spine you can print on, and the length of the print book. Involve your printer early. Ask about the best book length (page count) for each option.
  4. If you’re considering perfect binding and want a book that will lie flat, ask about “lay-flat” binding or Otabind (the brand name for this process).
  5. If your book needs to be durable and highly attractive, consider case binding. You may even consider adding a dust jacket, or you may choose a special binding cloth, or even leather, to cover the binding boards. But expect this to be expensive and time consuming work.

Book Printing: Sometimes Moving Text 1/8” Can Save $1,300 or More

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

In prior blogs I have always been a great proponent of making your custom printing vendor an ally and partner. Develop trust and a two-way relationship. It will benefit you both.

This week in my print brokering work I received a suggestion from a commercial printing supplier to whom I had bid out a 11,000-copy perfect-bound book. With a 6” x 9” format and 312 pages, the job involved a lot of custom printing paper, and therein lies the key to the savings.

The Commercial Printing Proposal

The book printer told me that if my client moved the position of type in the book 1/8” to adjust the face and gutter margins, my client could save approximately $1,300.00. He was proactive because he wanted the job. I’m fine with that, since he provided a way my client could save a considerable amount of money. I wanted to give him the work since he had delivered stellar print jobs on a number of prior occasions.

Specifically, the textbook had a face margin of 1/4” and a gutter margin of slightly more than 1/2”. The book printer told me that my client should move the column of text toward the gutter 1/8” on each of the facing pages, leaving a 3/8” gutter margin and a 3/8” face (outside) margin. He could do this automatically. My client would not need to adjust the art files she had produced.

This small change would allow the book printer to use a smaller press sheet for the job. Instead of buying a 28” x 40” press sheet on which to lay out and print the signatures of the book, he could use a 25” x 38” sheet. For 10,000 copies this would save approximately $1,300.00, and for 11,000 copies it would save approximately $1,500.00.

The Details of the Savings

The custom printing supplier explained to me that the goal would be to position the pages of the book signature on the press sheet to allow for an 1/8” grind off for the spine. By grinding the spine edge of the stacked signatures in a perfect-bound book, the printer can give a little more surface area into which the binding glue can seep, holding the print book together better as the reader opens and closes the book repeatedly over the years.

In short, moving the column of type in the print book slightly toward the gutter allows the printer to lay out the pages of a signature on a press sheet more efficiently, leaving enough room for this “grind-off” while placing the same number of book pages on a smaller sized press sheet. This is efficient planning.

What We Can Learn from This

  1. The greater the level of trust you can develop with your book printer, the more he will perceive you as a partner (and vice versa). Therefore, when he knows you have a particular budget to meet, he can research various ways to save you money. Whether this means suggesting a different paper stock (the same printer suggested Soporset as an alternative to Finch for my client’s textbook, although my client did not like the roughness of its surface and decided to stay with the Finch stock), or adjusting the imposition of the print job to use the paper more efficiently, if you have developed a relationship of trust with your printer, he will make suggestions to help you.
  2. The higher the page count and the longer the press run of your print book, the more paper you will use. This is obvious. What is not as obvious is that a small adjustment that can save a small amount per page can provide a sizable savings over the course of a long press run. The potential savings of $1,300.00 to $1,500.00 that the book printer offered my client was due to the large amount of paper consumed during print production. A shorter book with a smaller press run would not have saved anywhere near as much money with this simple design change.
  3. A small change can make a big difference. My client would not need to change the trim size of the 6” x 9” book at all, just the placement of art on the page (i.e., the print book margins). The moral is that you should always ask the printer if your particular design yields the most efficient use of the press sheet. Remember that each printer will have different equipment (potentially different sized presses that accept different sized press sheets), so the answer may differ from vendor to vendor.


My Client’s Final Decision

People have different motives and different goals. I was surprised to learn that my client wanted the book to match the prior year’s version more than she wanted to save $1,300.00 to $1,500.00.

Actually, I can understand and respect her decision. Even 1/8” might be problematic if the text were to fall too close to the gutter. In this case, my client was concerned that some of the 11,000 readers might be uncomfortable with the smaller gutter margin. For her, quality and consistency with prior years’ versions trumped a price savings. (If you’re selling custom printing, it is important to understand the client’s goals. If you’re designing a print book and buying printing, it’s important to understand your boss’ and your reader’s goals.)

Book Printing: Compromising to Gain a Price Advantage

Monday, June 11th, 2012

They say that everything is negotiable. As a commercial printing broker, I would agree, but I would also add that sometimes negotiating involves compromise. If the three variables are quality, cost, and schedule, it stands to reason that you may choose to compromise on one of these to attain the others.

Case Study: The Backstory

I recently negotiated a contract for a short book printing run for a client. The requested press run was 500 copies of a 202-page “zine,” a perfect-bound book with a 5.5” x 8.5” trim size. The cover would be 4-color (4/0), and the text would be black only.

When I learned that the book would be a “zine,” I did some online research. I wanted to get an idea of what kind of “look” my client might want.

Wikkipedia defines zine as “a small circulation publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier.” Furthermore, Wikkipedia notes that “topics covered are broad, including fanfiction, politics, art and design, ephemera, personal journals, social theory, [and] single topic obsession.”

From the online description, and from samples I had seen, I sensed that a zine should look “edgy” and “raw.” So I suggested an uncoated cover and text stock to my client for a softer, more environmentally conscious feel. I specified a 100# Finch Opaque cover as an alternative to the more common 10pt C1S. I also specified 60# Finch Opaque text for the interior, and asked for hard-copy proofs.

Sending Out Bid Requests and Vetting Estimates

I chose three custom printing vendors with appropriate press equipment. I chose companies based on my prior working relationships with them. Pricing fell into a range from $3,500.00 to $4,000.00, expensive for 500 copies, but since the commercial printing suppliers would produce the print books via offset lithography, I was not surprised. In addition, the bids were reasonably consistent from vendor to vendor. (This is always a good sign that the specs have been accurate, and that the vendors have considered all specs in computing their estimates.)

Based on the short press run, I asked about digital printing as an option to lower the overall cost. One of the printers has an HP Indigo. Another has a Canon digital press. Neither could do the job economically on their digital equipment due to the length of the run (202 pages of text multiplied by 500 copies or 101,000 pages).

The Third Custom Printing Vendor Offered Digital Output at a Sweet Price.

The third printer is huge. It’s actually an organization, not an individual vendor in a single building. It has various shops all over the country and one in Mexico. I go to this printer for good pricing and high quality, knowing that they have access to pretty much all printing and finishing equipment in existence.

The third printer offered to produce the job via offset lithography. Their pricing fell in line with the other vendors. However, this printer also offered a digital printing option for approximately $1,000.00.

That said, there were stipulations:

  1. The cover would be 10pt C1S. There was no option for 100# Finch Opaque Cover.
  2. The text would be of a slightly lesser quality: an offset sheet (not opaque). It would be 50# Thor Plus Offset rather than 60# Finch Opaque.
  3. The book would be 208 pages, not 202, since this printer’s digital press works with 8-page signatures.
  4. The proof could not be hard-copy. It would be a soft-proof (on-screen PDF image).
  5. The cover coating would be UV coating, not varnish.

Why the Stipulations?

This custom printing supplier could do anything for a price. However, to provide the $1,000.00 estimate that severely undercut everyone else’s price, this printer had to avoid special order paper stocks (hence the 10pt. C1S cover rather than the 100# Finch Cover, and the 50# Thor offset rather than the Finch Opaque text sheet).

The printer also had to use the available equipment. That is, the particular printing plant through which this printing organization could offer such low prices could not run 100# text in their digital press, and their in-house capabilities excluded cover varnish but included UV cover coating (which actually would have been glossier and more durable than the varnish, so I was happy and didn’t argue).

I requested printed samples, which both I and my client reviewed and thought were quite good. My client chose this option due to the price. I chose to include this commercial printing vendor in the bidding process due to its stellar past record of providing quality work for my clients. Therefore, my client and I chose to accept the limitations to meet the budget.

What We Learn from This Experience?

In your own print buying work,

  1. Consider large commercial printing organizations as well as small local printers. They have the economy of scale and in some cases can therefore be extremely cost-effective.
  2. But get samples and develop a relationship with the printer over time. It’s easy to get lost at a big printer.
  3. Consider compromising. Be willing to adjust your specifications to get a better price.
  4. Realize that different specifications are not necessarily worse specifications. Thor Plus 50# text is a bulky sheet. It mics to 440 ppi (pages per inch). Finch 60# Opaque mics to 426 ppi. Therefore, the thickness of a 208-page book printed on Finch would be .49” and the same book printed on Thor Plus would be .47”–just slightly thinner.

The key word is flexibility.

Book Printing: Consider Both Design Goals and Custom Printing Costs

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

A client of mine is producing a family history print book. We’re not absolutely sure yet whether it will be long enough to warrant perfect binding—or even case binding—or whether the press run will require digital or offset printing.

That said, my client wants the book to be first class in design and primarily for family and friends. So at this point I’m guessing that it will be an 8.5” x 11” format, 100 to 200 pages (based on the number of photos and the amount of text), and case-bound in a limited edition on table-top case-binding equipment. I would assume at this point that the interior of the book would be digitally printed on an HP Indigo (or similar press) due to the short run (presumably less than 500 copies if the book is for friends and family), and the 4-color imagery in the text of the book.

Regardless of the method of producing the book, it will need to include one or more images reflecting two branches of a large family tree.

I was just called upon to offer advice regarding both custom printing and design issues, and I wanted to share them with readers who might face similar challenges.

The Goals for the Family Tree

A family tree includes a lot of information, and to be useful this information must be readable. Moreover, in this particular case the family tree will include two smaller trees: one for the mother’s side of the family and one for the father’s.

I spoke with a book printer to discuss options. He suggested the following:

From a Book Printer’s Perspective

  1. My client could print the two segments of the family tree on two consecutive pages within the book. If artwork on the two pages needs to cross over and align perfectly, these could be the two center-spread pages of a signature in a perfect-bound or case-bound book, or the center spread of the book if the text winds up being short enough for saddle stitching.

    Or, my client could print the mother’s family tree on a page preceding her chapter of the book, and the father’s family tree on the page preceding his. (Either way, there would be no additional custom printing charge. The pages for the family tree would just be part of the text.)

  2. My client could print the two segments of the family tree on the inside front and inside back covers of the print book. If the book were saddle stitched or perfect bound, this would be no problem, and if my client choses to produce a case-bound book, the segments of the family tree could be printed on the endsheets of the book.

    For either a saddle-stitched or perfect-bound book, there might be no extra charge, or only a minimal charge, depending on how the covers are printed. More specifically, some larger presses can print both sides of the press sheet simultaneously. In this case, depending on how many inking units the press has and how the covers are imposed (set up on the press sheet), the additional cost might be only for ink, wash-ups, and plates.

    On the other hand, if the covers must be printed once for the exterior front and back covers, and an additional time for the interior front and back covers, this option might add hundreds of dollars to the cost of the job. The same would be true if the job is case bound, since an additional press run would be needed for the endsheets, which might otherwise be blank.

  3. As a third alternative, my client could add an over-sized sheet (11″ x 17″ folded to 8.5″ x 11″) between signatures within the book (called a “tip-on”). This would work whether the book is saddle stitched, perfect bound, or case bound.

    If the print book is saddle stitched, the fold-out would need to be placed in the “high-folio” side (the back of the book) and open out to the right (placing it in the low-folio side is an option, but since it is more difficult, it would cost more). Basically, an 8.5” x 11” book page would be on one side of the staples (the front half of the book), and the larger, two-page fold-out would be on the other side of the staples (the back half of the book). The fold-out would be folded in just shy of the trim so the cutting knives won’t chop through the fold when they trim the book.

    Depending on the page count and press run, this can add $600, $700, or more, for make-ready and the book press run.

From a Designer’s Perspective

I thought about these options as a designer as well as a print broker to see whether the respective goals might be in conflict. These were my observations and my suggestions to the client:

  1. Seeing both the mother’s and father’s side of the family tree side by side would show a connection between the two sides of the family.
  2. But this would require a larger than normal page size to allow for readable text.
  3. Therefore, the ideal option would unfortunately also be the most expensive (the fold-out).
  4. Placing the two halves of the family tree side by side on facing pages would work, too. However, a fold-out treatment will be more dramatic, giving prominence to the design and type on the fold-out page.

At this point it is early in the process. We’ll see what my client will choose. I’m sure it will depend on the size and format of the print book, its budget, and my client’s design and editorial goals for the family history. These may all affect both the printing technology (digital or offset) and the binding options (traditional long-run binding or short-run table-top binding).

But this does illustrate the need to coordinate the physical requirements of the custom printing process with both the desired look and functionality of a job and the amount of money available for its design and production. And, as always, it’s wise to involve the book printer early in the design process.

Book Printing Case Study: How to Approach a New Job

Friday, March 30th, 2012

A client recently came to me with a print book proposal. She wants to create a notebook for American soldiers deployed abroad. She came to me for advice, perhaps some design work, and connections to commercial printers. I thought several aspects of the job might interest readers of this blog.

The Binding and Format of the Notebook

My client’s goal is to produce a notebook in which service personnel can write notes and collect various kinds of memorabilia. It will have a Wire-O binding, a pocket on the back inside cover, and an elastic closure surrounding the book and allowing users to secure any inserts so they don’t fall out.

How might you approach this information, if you are producing a similar print book?

  1. Consider that mechanical bindings, such as Wire-O, spiral, and GBC, will allow your book to open easily and lie flat on a table. (Ota-Bind, or lay flat adhesive binding, can do this as well.)
  2. A pocket added to the front or back cover of the book will allow readers to collect related materials, whether articles or photos. However, you need to consider the shape of the pocket (4” horizontal—for instance–attached at the bottom and outside edge, or a diagonal or curved pocket, or a vertical pocket).
  3. You will also need to consider whether to include a “build” for the pocket. This is a thickening of the pocket by adding extra paper all around the edge of the pocket in order to allow for the insertion of more papers, photos, and such. Keep in mind that a build pocket can be crushed more easily than a flat pocket. In addition, you should expect to pay extra (up to $500) for the die for such a pocket. That said, ask your book printer about using a pre-existing die, if you’re flexible as to the dimensions of the pocket.

Choosing the Paper Stock

I had initially suggested synthetic paper to my client, since it is so durable and tear resistant. I thought the service men and women would appreciate a notebook that would accept rough treatment. Synthetic paper accepts abuse. You can even put it under water. However, when I learned that my client wanted the service personnel to be able to write in the book, I changed my views. Instead I suggested a thick, matte coated sheet and a thicker than usual cover stock.

(Apparently, upon further research, I have seen claims that some synthetic paper can be written on. I’ll withhold judgment for now, but I’ll also do more checking before encouraging my client to choose one paper over another.)

How might you approach paper selection, if you are doing a similar project?

  1. If you plan to write on the paper stock, consider an uncoated sheet. A matte coated stock would be a good second choice. Writing on a gloss sheet is inconvenient at best. The ink smears off if you don’t press down hard enough to break through the paper coating. Dull coated stock is very smooth as well. If you want to write on paper, it really needs a bit of “tooth” or texture.
  2. Paper thickness is a consideration if you want a durable product. Assuming that most (or at least many) paperback books use 10 pt. cover stock, you might want to specify 12 pt. instead (or thicker). If you’re used to specifying 60# or 70# text and you want a thicker sheet for the book pages, consider 80# or even 100# text. Keep in mind, though, that the thicker sheet will yield a larger and heavier book. On the Internet, research the thickness of your chosen paper (PPI, or pages per inch) when you have determined the page count of your book. This will tell you exactly how thick your book will be. If your custom printing vendor will be mailing the book, its weight may be an issue.
  3. If you have any doubts at all, have the book printer request a paper dummy from the paper merchant. You will see immediately how much the print book will weigh, how thick it will be, and how the cover and text pages will feel if you specify a thicker paper stock.

How the Files Will Be Supplied to the Printer

My client has produced a prototype of the book in Photoshop. I am a bit concerned, and I have suggested that the text pages be recreated in InDesign. The collages that comprise the visual imagery of the book will be fine, since they can be placed in picture boxes in an InDesign book file. The resolution of the photo collages will be acceptable as long as they are 300 dpi. The text within the images should be fine as well, for two reasons. The text is part of a collage and hence artistic in nature. It is also large type, and at 300 dpi it should not show any pixellation.

That said, text for the non-image areas of the book would be better prepared in InDesign, since the type will then render at the highest resolution of the commercial printer’s imagesetter or platesetter.

What can you learn from this?

  1. Create images in a bitmap editor like Photoshop, and do your page design with page-composition software. It is possible to do single page documents in Photoshop, or even Illustrator, but for multi-page documents in which text needs to be crisp and precise, InDesign is the preferred software package.
  2. If you have collages in your book incorporating text and images, do these in Photoshop. Use the vector type layers for the text to maintain its high resolution. Do keep in mind, though, that the file may need to be flattened (all the layers merged into the background layer) before rasterizing the file for the book printer’s imagesetter or platesetter.

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Book Printing: Be Aware of Paper Substitution

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

I recently solicited bids for 3,000 copies of a 600-page casebound print book. The estimates I received ranged widely from about $12,500 to $22,500.

I had specified the text paper as Finch Opaque because I like the sheet’s whiteness, brightness, and opacity. Also, in prior years this hardcover print book had been produced on Finch, and I wanted to maintain the year-to-year consistency.

The Paper Specifications for Finch

These are the specific qualities I like about Finch:

  1. Opacity: 93 (This refers to the show-through from the front of a printed sheet to the back of the sheet. Higher numbers are better. Opacity is the light-stopping quality of paper. It keeps a photo on the back of a press sheet from being visible while you’re reading the text on the front of the sheet.)
  2. Brightness: 96 (Brightness is not the same as whiteness. It refers to the amount of light reflected back by the paper stock. Out of 100, 96 is quite good, particularly when you consider that a #5 groundwood sheet used for an automotive parts catalog would be about 72 bright.)
  3. Whiteness: blue-white shade (Blue-white actually appears brighter than its specification would suggest. Neutral white or yellow white are the two other options. A blue-white press sheet is also referred to as cool white, while a yellow-white paper is considered warm-white. Blue-white paper increases the perceived contrast between the paper and the images, and text, on the page.)
  4. PPI: 426 (PPI, or pages per inch, refers to the thickness of the custom printing paper. If a particular paper stock is 500 PPI, the individual sheets are thinner than paper with a 426 PPI. If you check Finch’s website, you will see that 60# Finch Opaque Smooth is 500 PPI, while Finch Opaque Vellum—a rougher sheet—is 426 PPI. For an annually produced book such as my client’s index, producing a book of comparable thickness from year to year is important. Subscribers might resist paying the same amount for a thinner print book.)

The Custom Printing Vendors’ Prices

One book printer provided an extremely attractive price, about $1,500 less than the vendor that had produced the prior year’s version of my client’s casebound book.

To make sure the price was accurate, I carefully compared the book printer’s specifications to those I had submitted for the estimate. Everything matched except for the paper specification. This printer had substituted another press sheet without disclosing the name of the paper. However, the PPI specification (435 in this case) clearly indicated that the paper was not Finch (otherwise, it would have been 426 PPI).

I asked the custom printing vendor about the paper and was told it was Husky (a Domtar product). I am familiar with Husky, Lynx, and Cougar (all made by Domtar) and know they are good uncoated printing sheets. Therefore, I was still excited about the price savings. But I didn’t stop there. I checked the specifications for Husky:

The Paper Specifications for Husky

  1. Opacity: 93
  2. Brightness: 94
  3. Whiteness: blue-white shade
  4. PPI: 435

Comparing “Apples to Apples”

In comparing the prices of one book printer to the other (I was down to two printers at this point), I could not make an “apples to apples” comparison due to the differences in the paper. As you can see by the numbers, Husky is very close to Finch, but Finch is a brighter sheet as well as a slightly thicker sheet. Since I thought my client (and my client’s subscribers) would see a difference in the final printed book, I asked the vendor with the lower price to bid the book on Finch.

I was surprised when the pricing jumped more than $9,000. The book printer acknowledged that Finch is an exceptional sheet and yet not their house paper stock. Therefore, this custom printing vendor would need to buy the paper for my client, and there would be a minimum order, hence the $9,000+ upcharge.

My next step was to approach the book printer that had produced the prior year’s version of my client’s casebound book. I asked if there would be a price savings if the print book were produced on Husky.

(At this point I want to also make it clear that I had already vetted both book printers. The first had a proven track record from the prior two years. The second vendor came with a superior recommendation from an associate of mine.)

When I received the updated pricing from the vendor that had produced the prior year’s book, I was surprised. The cost would be exactly the same if the book were printed on either Finch or Husky.

The Final Analysis

This is what I can infer from the information provided by both book printers.

  1. The prior year’s printer, which had initially bid the book on Finch, buys Finch paper as a house sheet. That is, the printer keeps a ready supply of this stock for the greater percentage of its jobs. Therefore with its economy of scale, the printer can negotiate superior pricing for Finch paper.
  2. The low-bid vendor, which had bid the book on Husky, buys Husky as a house sheet. It is of a slightly lower quality than Finch based on the specifications, and this explains the lower price.
  3. The prior year’s vendor came up with the same price for Husky as for Finch because it would have needed to buy the Husky paper stock for my client (individually, with a minimum order) just as the other printer would have done for the Finch stock. This actually raised the price of the custom-ordered Husky above that of the superior house sheet, Finch.

How You Can Apply This Information

  1. Don’t assume all printers have bid on the same specifications. Read all bids carefully and ask questions if you find a discrepancy between your specs and their printer’s specs.
  2. If you do not need a specific press sheet, ask about the printer’s “house sheet.” Or ask about paper substitutions if the final price seems high.
  3. Don’t assume that all printers use the same house sheet.
  4. When in doubt, request paper samples (both printed and unprinted) and a paper dummy (to show the overall look and thickness of the book).

Book Printer Resolves Lamination Debacle

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

When you’re a print buyer, nothing is better than a book printer willing to step up and make things right when a job goes South.

I received an email from a print brokering client recently. I was attending a baby shower when I read the dreaded words: “The lamination on the initial 50 sample copies is coming up off the cover stock, and the job must be reprinted.” I had visions of depleting my retirement savings to make things right as I called my client. The job was a large one, a photo book (professional quality photos of flowers) with a press run of 1,000 copies.

The Cover Film Laminate Did Not Adhere Properly

It seemed that the dull film laminate was not properly adhering to the hinge score (the vertical fold that runs parallel to the spine), causing intermittent air pockets between the lamination film and the cover stock, and peeling up off the edges of the book as well. To make matters worse, the book was a very small format (6” x 6”), and the cover had a heavy coverage black background. So the flaw was more obvious than it might otherwise have been. It was bad enough, in fact, to render the book unsalable. After all, this was an art book. It had to be perfect to justify its sales price.

Potential Solutions to the Lamination Problem

I discussed possible solutions with the printer. Then I discussed them with my client. The first option was to tear off the covers, reprint them, and rebind the book with the new covers. Unfortunately, in most cases this necessitates retrimming the book, which makes the book smaller. For a photo book such as my client’s, the balance of white space and images was crucial to the design. My client refused the option of a cover replacement and requested a complete reprint and rebinding at the expense of the book printer.

My Discussion with the Printer, and the Printer’s Suggestion

Before I asked the book printer to reprint the entire press run at his expense, I drafted a detailed email describing the problem and explaining why the client would not be satisfied with a replacement of the covers and a retrimming of the book, thus making it smaller. I supplemented my written information with a number of photos illustrating the problems.

The book printer took responsibility for the inadequate dull film lamination, and proposed a solution. He would carefully tear off the covers (a hand-work operation that would be done to all 1,000 copies). New covers would be printed, and the book printer would perfect bind these to the coverless book blocks. The book printer would then trim only the covers, and not the text. If the client was not satisfied with an initial 50 samples, the printer would reprint the entire book. I worked out a schedule with the printer. My client accepted the proposal and waited to see the results.

The Details: What The Printer Actually Did

The custom printing vendor reprinted 1,000 covers and sent them out to be dull film laminated. Then he sent the book blocks out to be perfect bound to the covers. To give my client a few options, the printer produced a deep hinge score in a few covers with his folding equipment prior to sending them to be perfect bound to the book blocks. He also had the perfect binder produce a sample with a shallow hinge score, and one with no score at all. Then the book printer sent my client samples of the three binding options for her to review.

To complete the job, the printer trimmed the cover right up to the text pages without trimming into the text pages themselves (as would normally be the case). To the credit of the printer, this reflects very precise trimming. Instead of using his three-knife trimming equipment to simultaneously effect a face trim, head trim, and foot trim (i.e., all but the bind edge), he used a single-knife guillotine cutter. He cut each side individually in three passes for each book.

Of course, compared to the time it would have taken to bind new covers and trim them on a three-knife trimmer, the procedure actually took a huge amount of time. Although it was not hand work, it still had to be done slowly and precisely to avoid damaging (cutting into) the text pages of my client’s book.

Therefore, I went back to my client to devise a mutually acceptable schedule. She needed books fast. She had numerous preliminary book sales and nothing to send her clients. However, she didn’t need all 1,000 books at once. In fact, she agreed to accept an initial shipment of 100 books. This would fulfill the first orders. It would also give the printer a reasonable amount of time to continue binding the balance of books. I didn’t want the book printer to rush or risk making mistakes. I only wanted a steady stream of books coming from the printer to my client, as she needed them.

The Final Books: An Analysis

I noticed a few things when I met with my client to review the sample books:

  1. My client pointed out that the dull film laminate seemed darker than in the original press run. I looked closely and realized that the film appeared darker because it had been bonded to the black paper stock of the cover far more securely than in the first run. This was a high-quality film lamination job. My client was very pleased.
  2. The covers extended a barely perceptible amount over the text pages of the book. To me it actually looked intentional, although I presumed that this had been done to avoid trimming the book block text pages. My client was very happy. So I asked the printer to proceed, and we negotiated a schedule for rebinding the balance of the books.

One Last Request to Protect the Books

I made one final request. I asked the printer to pack the books more carefully than usual since a few copies of the original press run had been damaged in transit.

A Point of Information from the Book Printer

The printer raised an interesting point. Very heavy ink coverage (i.e., rich black builds) will continue to give off gas for a number of days as the ink dries. If the lamination has not been applied with enough heat or pressure, that gas will look for the weakest point to escape, such as a hinge score or trim edge of the book.

What Really Happened, and What Can We Learn from This?

I’m not sure anyone knows exactly why this happened. I’ve yet to work with a printer over a number of years without a major problem occurring. The ones I continue to work with are those who correct the problems that arise. Printing is not a commodity. It is an art and a craft with multiple processes that can and often do go wrong.

In the case of this book, the dull film laminate material may have been faulty. Or perhaps its application. The small size of the book may have contributed to the cover coating bubbling up when scored and perfect bound. And the heavy ink coverage may have given off gas as it dried, forcing the laminate to lift off the paper stock. Unfortunately this was not caught before the books had been sent out to the client. Or maybe it even occurred during the shipping of the books to the client (if the gas escaping from the heavy coverage ink had caused the problem during the drying process).

But the bottom line was that the book printer made the job right, and the client was far more than satisfied. Not only has she already sold books to clients pleased to see her beautiful photographs, but she also has many friends who want to produce books of their own. I’ll bet you already know where I’m taking the custom printing work.

Book Printing: Attending to Details in Cover Design and Production

Monday, March 5th, 2012

I’m brokering the print production for a perfect bound book with a unique cover. It has images and type on both the outside and inside covers, as well as French flaps. Therefore, the design and production of the cover reflects a number of concerns for both graphic artists and production managers.

Printing Gold Ink on the Cover

In addition to the process colors—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—the cover designer has used a match gold ink for the perfect-bound cover. Process color builds can simulate a lot of different colors, but they cannot simulate metallics. The closest 4-color custom printing can come is a yellowish brown. Gold ink actually includes flecks of metal in the liquid suspension of ink, and it is this metal that gives the ink its sheen.

Since nothing can be printed over the gold ink, other than the film lamination, the cover designer will need to add an extra Photoshop spot color channel with knock outs and standard trapping for anything that would touch the gold ink.

It is my understanding that the cover designer has created the art file in Photoshop rather than InDesign. Therefore, he will distill the Photoshop file as a press-quality PDF prior to uploading it to the book printer. Although the more recent versions of Photoshop can preserve the high resolution of vector type layers (allowing the platesetting software to determine the final resolution of the type during the rasterization process), the book printer may ask the designer to flatten the Photoshop file (merge the various layers, including the type layer) to avoid choking the RIP (overpowering the software that turns the PostScript curves and arcs of the type into a matrix of dots for the platesetter). All images will need to be 300 dpi or higher, and small type may suffer slightly compared to type produced in InDesign.

Laminating the Cover

Gold ink needs to shine to be considered gold and not brown or yellow. I had initially suggested a dull film laminate as a cover coating to distinguish the print book from its peers (fewer books seem to have dull coating than gloss, and any difference stands out on bookstore shelves).

Nevertheless, I was advised by the book printer to choose a gloss film laminate instead of a dull laminate, since the dull coating would subdue the gold ink and rob it of its sheen. Point taken, and a good lesson.

Adding French Flaps

The print book will have French Flaps, also known as a “double gatefold” cover. The 3.5” flaps will fold inward and give the impression of a dust jacket on a hardcover book. They will also add 3.5” of space in front of each interior cover for author photos and promotional text.

Specifying Paper Grain Direction

Paper grain direction will be parallel to the spine. That is, the direction of the majority of fibers in the cover paper (which are similar in appearance to grains of rice) will match the vertical backbone of the book. This will allow the pages to easily open and lie flat without becoming wavy. Were the grain to lie perpendicular to the direction of the spine, the print book would be harder to open, and the paper might be wavy or rippled.

Allowing for the Imprecise Nature of Presswork and Folding

No custom printing operation is perfect. Acceptable tolerance for cover printing, folding, and trimming is plus or minus 1/16” from side to side (1/8” total) and plus or minus 1/8” up and down (1/4” total). Therefore, while designing the book, the graphic artist must not position any graphic element too close to the trim margins or the fold of the spine, or imprecise folding and trimming could cut off either type or another element of the cover art.

Keeping the Inside of the Spine Free of Ink and Coating

Unlike many covers, in the case of this particular book, the inside front and back covers will be printed as well as the outside front and back covers. The important point is that no ink or coating is allowed on the backbone area (the inside spine of the book between the front and back interior covers). This is because the glue used to bind the print book and attach the cover to the gathered signatures must adhere to the fibers in the backbone area, and ink or a coating would lessen the strength of the glue bond, leading to the pages either falling out or being easily pulled out of the binding glue. To be safe, the book printer also requests 3/16” of clearance on either side of the interior backbone for any ink or coating.

Reviewing the Cover Template

Fortunately the book printer has provided a cover template based on the number of pages and the particular text paper chosen for this book. Using the thickness of the text stock (in this case 55# Sebago Antique Text, which is 360 ppi, or pages per inch), the book printer has calculated a spine thickness of 1.11” (400 pages at 360 ppi). The template the printer has drawn includes the precise size of the spine and front and back covers, as well as notations of bleeds and the permitted live area for type. A cover template like this is invaluable, offering the designer a roadmap of sorts, showing exactly where to place design elements and where to avoid placing them.

Print Buyers: Anticipate Production Problems to Avoid Them in Printing Process

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

They say that timing is everything, and in print buying this is especially true. It is essential to think ahead and plan for all contingencies. Here are two diverse case studies to illustrate my point.

Consider the Choice of Cover Coating

One of my print brokering clients is producing a client directory. Last year the printer coated the cover with a film laminate to protect the print book and provide a gloss sheen. This year my client wants to coat the covers again but is not sure whether to request film laminate or UV coating. Here are their requirements:


  1. The coating process cannot slow down the production of the print book, since it is behind schedule.
  2. The coating should minimize fingerprinting of the directory.
  3. The overall look should be congruent with last year’s directory.
  4. The cost of the coating is less of an issue.


For starters, the book printer is different this year. It’s understandable that this vendor owns slightly different equipment and therefore offers different in-house capabilities. This book printer can apply UV coating in-house. However, applying film laminate or liquid laminate would require subcontracting this part of the job.

It would take three days to complete this outsourced work. Granted, the book printer could produce the covers and send them out to be coated while he completed the text pages of the print book. Thus, this process would not necessarily add production time to the overall schedule.

The cost for 2,100 books is approximately $350.00 for UV coating and $650.00 for film lamination. Based on my client’s requirements, this cost alone would not determine the choice of coating materials, but it is a benefit (and logical) that the in-house procedure costs a bit less. More importantly, it is also under the control of the custom printing vendor. He does not need to depend on anyone outside his printing plant.

Since the coating needs to minimize fingerprinting, the gloss UV option is appropriate. Being less reflective than gloss film lamination, UV coating will show less fingerprinting. I asked the book printer about dull film laminate and dull UV coating and was told that either of them would show fingerprinting more than the gloss options.

Fortunately, the cover design this year has a white background, while last year’s cover background was black. Heavy black ink coverage paired with a gloss film laminate actually increases fingerprinting problems.

The client ultimately chose UV coating performed in-house under the control of the book printer. UV coating cures immediately under UV light, thus eliminating drying time.

Request F&G’s and Check Cover Press Sheets

Another client of mine is a professional photographer. She is producing a coffee-table book of photos of flowers paired with famous quotations. The print book needs to be of the highest quality. To be safe, I suggested that she request an F&G of the book (folded and gathered signatures handed off for approval prior to binding—essentially a press proof). If one signature had printing problems, that signature alone could be reprinted without needing to tear off the covers, reprint a signature, then rebind and retrim the book (smaller than the initial version and potentially less attractive).

This F&G review would benefit the client (who would see actual ink on paper, a version more faithful to the final job than any inkjet proof could be). It would also benefit the book printer. (If the client caught an error for which the custom printing vendor had been responsible, it would take less time and fewer materials to correct the problem.)

The Problem

There was a big error. A page was printed upside down. On the front of a page (the recto, even-numbered, or right-hand page) the folio (page number) was at the bottom of the page. On the back of the same leaf (the verso, odd-numbered, or left-hand page) the folio was at the top of the page. This error would have occurred during imposition (the prepress process of laying out the pages on a printing plate such that once the press sheet has been printed and folded, the pages will be in the right order–as clearly they were not).

Without question, it was a printer error (and therefore the custom printing vendor’s responsibility to correct). To add to the problem, the printer had not included a copy of the print book cover along with the F&G, and at the time I learned of this, my client was 18 hours away from leaving town for a week’s photo shoot.

The Solution

The client had lost a little confidence in the book printer due to the misprinted signature. She planned to drive to the printing plant (a four-hour round trip) the day before her week-long trip to see a cover press sheet. Otherwise, she thought she would spend the entire upcoming photo shoot worrying about the job. She really didn’t need this stress.

So I arranged for a courier to pick up a press sheet at the custom printing plant and deliver it to my client’s house the afternoon prior to her trip.

I also asked the book printer to reprint the signature with the inverted page and maintain the same color control as in the first printing (using automated color presets from the first printing). My client saw the cover sheet when it arrived. She loved the printing. She agreed to release the book to the printer to reprint the problematic signature and bind the job.

The Lesson

Don’t assume that problems won’t occur, even with the best of book printers or commercial printers. Requesting an F&G helps both you and your printer if problems arise. Even if the error is your responsibility and you need to pay for a reprinted signature, it will cost a little less and provide a better product, which won’t need to be re-trimmed to a smaller size.

Digital On-Demand Book Printing: Short-Run Case Binding

Monday, February 6th, 2012

A printer I work with sent me a case bound, digital on-demand book printing sample his company had produced. I am impressed.

My client needs to print and bind 100 copies of a case bound accounting textbook, a press run that would probably be close to the make-ready (set-up) waste for the larger, assembly-line perfect binding equipment that most book printers use.

Keep in mind that not all commercial printing companies even have such machinery on-site. Many custom printing vendors that produce a selection of print books along with brochures and other collateral will send out both perfect-bound (softcover) and case bound (hardcover) print books to dedicated binderies that bind books for numerous printers (i.e., these binderies subcontract their services to the print shops). After all, bindery equipment is expensive. It would sit idle much of the time in a commercial printing company, whereas it might be in constant use at a custom book printer. (It actually all depends on the printer. Most printers will at least have perfect binding equipment, but a large number will not have their own case binding equipment.)

That said, until recently case binding was an expensive, time consuming procedure. It was messy, and there was a lot of spoilage in the process. It was a good option for an upscale product if you wanted 1,000 copies, but not if you needed 100, like my client.

The Physical Product

So this is what I received: A case bound print book with a paper cover. The cover seems to be a matte sheet with a slight coating. It does not have quite the quality look of fabric cover material, but it looks like a trade hardback that might cost $25.00.

The sample has thick endsheets and flyleaves, and even headbands and footbands (the bits of colored fabric at the bind edge of the book, covering the ends of the gathered-paper signatures).

The title is (presumably) digitally printed on the spine, instead of being foil stamped. (In a traditional case bound book run, the foil stamping die alone would cost approximately $500.00. Foil stamping works with heat and pressure, and uses a metal die to stamp out the foil and attach it to the cover fabric.)

When I open the sample short-run case bound book, I don’t see the stitching of longer-run, Smyth sewn hardcover books. My guess is that the printed book signatures are stacked, their edges are ground, and adhesive is applied to glue the book blocks into the cases (i.e., just like perfect-binding, but using a hard cover rather than a paper cover).

But overall, the product is quite good. As I noted before, it looks like a trade hardcover from a bookseller: not a coffee-table book, but quite usable. And you can make five or 100, without the set-up costs of traditional case binding equipment and without needing to hand bind each copy.

The Limitations of Short-Run Case Binding Depend on the Specific Print Shop

In order to keep costs down, this particular custom book printer sets certain limitations (i.e., the company purchased specific on-demand book binding equipment that could not perform all case binding activities).

  1. The paper comprising the casing can be a matte coated sheet or an uncoated sheet glued to the binder boards.
  2. The case material cannot be cloth.
  3. You can digitally print on the front and/or back cover and the spine, but you cannot foil stamp the title on the front or spine.
  4. You cannot add a placeholder ribbon (which would be handwork) or any other inserts.

These are fair and reasonable limits for this kind of short-run product, particularly one of this quality: with a curved spine, turned edge cover material on the outside and endsheets on the inside covers, plus the traditional rounded and indented (or crimped) spine.

Other Options from Other Vendors

Another on-demand case binding system developed by Xerox is called “ChannelBind.” This system uses a metal spine that can be crimped to securely hold up to 300 sheets. This particular on-demand case binding option can create linen, paper, and leather covered books. ChannelBind books also can be made using printed press sheets glued over the binder boards.

According to on-line information about ChannelBind, suppliers can also employ foil stamping, screen printing, offset or digital printing, die-cut windows, tip-ins, and embossing and debossing to ChannelBind books. Some vendors will add dust jackets as well.

I’ve also read about one patented case binding system that allows you to create a book block that includes adhesive strips and then lay it into a pre-made case using a pressure sensitive adhesive (sort of a peel-and-stick option).

So the most complete answer is that it all depends on the particular table-top case binding system in use. The vendor that sent me the sample books bought one system with certain limitations, presumably to keep costs down for clients. Other book printers will have other on-demand case binding equipment with other capabilities.

The best thing you can do is discuss your particular job with your print vendor, or with a number of print vendors.

What Are People Doing With These Books?

I have seen local vendors offering hardcover children’s books on a “one-off” basis, with the child’s name inserted in the text prior to digital printing.

I have also seen photo books in regional big-box stores and warehouse stores. For $13.00 to $60.00, depending on the finished size of the book, you can buy what is ostensibly a case bound photo album. Expensive for one copy, but only a fraction of what it would cost to set up the traditional long-run binding equipment. If you buy a few copies as special, memorable gifts, the cost isn’t that bad.

The Technical Implications

  1. These machines allow you to produce a few, or many, hardcover books with little or no waste (unlike the larger machines that take a long time to set up, that are therefore only suited to longer runs, and that have a comparatively high spoilage rate in the make-ready process).
  2. The cost is attainable, even reasonable given the product.
  3. Some custom book printers allow for high-quality sewing of printed signatures (not my vendor, though).
  4. Sizes range from small books (approximately 4” x 4”) to large books (approximately 12” x 14”).
  5. There is no need to buy standardized, pre-made covers, when you can personalize each cover.

The Deeper Implications

  1. You can produce a case bound version of a public domain title or an out-of-print book. You don’t have to settle for a paperbound version.
  2. You can print and sell your own book that you wrote (granted, this doesn’t address the issues of editing, design, promotion, storage, and distribution—just binding).
  3. At is most extreme level, this means anyone can produce a case bound book. Of course, not all books will be well-written and worth reading.

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