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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 ‘Hardcover Book Printing’ Category

Book Printing: A Bold and Unusual Print Book Design

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Since my fiancee and I do art therapy work with the autistic, among our other gigs, we’re always looking for new art projects, and the best way to get new ideas is to page through print books of paintings and collages by the masters. So in our travels to the local thrift stores, we always keep our eyes open for good art books.

This past week we found one that also showcases stellar print book design, in addition to its fine arts content.

The Reclining Nude As Art

This is a book containing nothing but paintings of reclining nudes by all the master artists through the centuries. Entitled Reclining Nude, by Lidia Guibert Ferrara, at 8.75” x 12” this is already an interesting size, taller than usual for its width. Although this does not exactly match the “A” sizes common in Europe, it is still different enough from common US print book sizes to give this case-bound book a somewhat European feel.

Even before you get to the content, the physical design of the book is intriguing. First of all, the book has both a printed cover (a printed press sheet laminated to the binder’s boards) and a dust jacket. The book cover image is a duotone of a reclining nude printed in a metallic blue and black. (It is actually a “fake duotone,” since the metallic blue is a solid color and only the black printing plate is a halftone.)

Unlike most books, Reclining Nude has no writing on the front cover, although the title, author, and publisher are noted on the spine. This allows for the reader’s total focus on the image. This approach continues throughout the print book; that is, once the writer has presented the subject matter in the introduction, the following book pages have no text, except for artists’ names in small type next to the folios.

Even with no explanatory text, you can actually learn a lot from the sequence of nudes and their styles, ranging from the French Romantic approach of Delacroix to the surrealism of Magritte to Picasso’s Cubism and Wesselmann’s Pop Art. Only when you get to the very end of the book do you see the list of illustrations, noting the title of each piece, dimensions, medium, and location of the work. But as you turn the pages, you still learn the differences in the schools of art, their approach to brushwork, composition, line, and color. Even without descriptions and analyses–on a pre-verbal level—you understand the elements of design and the history of art as they work together in a creative response to the reclining nude.

Printing Decisions Within the Book

From a commercial printing supplier’s perspective, here are some things to consider. The paper stock is 100# text, a smooth, dull sheet that is a very bright, blue-white shade. Then, to highlight the images, the printer has spot gloss varnished the photos of the oil and acrylic paintings.

To return to the cover presentation, there is a dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound cover. The dust jacket repeats the photo on the front case-bound cover (with the same positioning and cropping of the image). However, it is printed in the four process colors rather than as a duotone. The book title (which does appear on the dust jacket) is printed in the same metallic blue ink as was used for the background of the hardback book covers. This creates an interesting visual link, based on both the hue of the ink and its metallic sheen. I think it also creates an interesting effect to have only a small amount of metallic blue for the dust jacket title and then a large amount of metallic blue on the actual laminated covers.

An Oblong Book Format

One thing that sets this book apart from most other books is its orientation. It is oblong, but then again it’s not. When you open the book, all reclining nudes are horizontal. However, instead of being a horizontal print book with two paintings side by side, it is formatted like a calendar. The images are above one another. You have to turn the book on its side. (It is still bound on the longer dimension, though, unlike a true oblong book).

With the book in front of you and the book cover closed, you have a “portrait” format with the title set in letterspaced, all-caps text, with the first line (“RECLINING”) just above and just touching the second line (“NUDE”). (Ingres’ Odalisque is the background art.) But as a harbinger of the interior design of the print book, the author’s name, reversed out of the dark background, is rotated counterclockwise 180 degrees to be at a right angle to the book’s title. When you open the book, you have to turn it around so the even numbered pages are above the odd numbered pages (as I noted, just like a calendar).

Oddly enough, this presentation works perfectly, because the book is entirely about the experience of the art rather than an analysis of the art.

As a final note, the title page is the only two-page spread in the print book. However, unlike all of the other images of the reclining nude, which require a horizontal format for their presentation, the double-page image on the title-page, while still a reclining nude, fits nicely in a vertical format, albeit at twice the size of the other images in the text. This large size and double-page presentation work well as an introduction to more than a hundred pages of fine art prints.

What You Can Learn From This Book

I have heard this meme in different ways: “Form follows function.” (Louis Sullivan) “The medium is the message.” (Marshall McLuhan). When it comes to print book design, you’re working with a physical object, a multi-page product with a certain number of pages in a certain orientation at a particular size. It is physical in that you have to open the book and turn the pages to experience the content.

When designing a print book, it’s wise to consider the subject matter and its presentation when you determine the size (8.5” x 11”, larger, smaller, or perhaps square), the format (upright vs. oblong), and even on which side the binding should be. These physical choices need to reflect the content of the book and also the author’s approach to this content.

Unlike many case-bound books, which have only a cloth cover and a title affixed using hot foil stamping equipment, this format benefited from the designer’s creative approach to both the book cover and the dust jacket. When you’re designing a book, think about how you want to present the dust jacket, the cover, the title page, the introduction, the divider pages, and then the text pages. Develop all of these in concert so they will be congruent in tone and appearance (so they will flow from one to the next). Together, all of these parts of a print book give structure and organization to the reader’s experience. They make it easier for him or her to understand how the author connects one part to another.

In fact you could say that all of this structural information must be resolved successfully first, before the layout of the text pages (and the content of the book) can be easily understood and absorbed by the reader.

Finally, let this structure grow organically from the subject matter, as it did in this book, Reclining Nude. If you let the subject matter inform your graphic design decisions and your custom printing choices (type of binding, paper selection, paper trim size, and such), this will give the reader a sense of “rightness” in the presentation of the book’s content, as well as an understanding of where to start the reading experience, where to go next, and how then to progress throughout the print book.

Book Printing: Complexities of the Invoice

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I recently checked a preliminary invoice from one of the larger printers I work with. It was to be sent to a client of mine for a case-bound print book. Since the invoice did not match the estimate exactly, I drafted an email to my client to explain the discrepancies so she would not be surprised when she received the final bill.

Here’s a Summary of the Specifications for the Print Book

The job was a 640-page, 8-1/2” x 10-7/8” case-bound textbook, printed black-only inside on 60# Finch Opaque stock. It had a press run of 1,000 copies. The custom printing job also included a dust jacket printed in four non-metallic color(s) by the sheet-fed offset process on an 80# enamel text sheet with a lay-flat gloss lamination applied to the outside only.

Signatures were gathered with end sheets, adhesive bound, and trimmed square on three sides. Cases were made over .098 board with Arrestox B materials and stamping foil measuring approximately 30 square inches. Dies were billed as additional. Books were cased-in round, loose back with head and foot bands, wrapped in preprinted jackets, and packed in 275# single-wall RSC cartons.

Prices were quoted as FOB printer’s plant.

Here’s a Synopsis of the Bid I Had Initially Sent to My Client

1,000 copies
$13,201.00: base price
$955.00: estimated freight

Here’s a Synopsis of my Client’s Invoice (Which the Printer Sent Me for Approval)

1,242 copies
$13,201.00: base price
$901.65: actual freight
$1,035.00: authors alterations (69 pages)
$1,873.52 for 242 overs

Why I Explained the Bill to my Client

First of all, I believe that successful commercial printing sales and successful print buying require trust. I wanted to make sure my client understood the cost overrun. After all, for many commercial jobs the custom printing vendor does not charge for overs. In addition, if the printer is local to the client, the cost of freight may be included in the overall price.

That said, I have found that in most cases book printers do charge separately for freight and also charge for overs. Fortunately, both of these issues were noted in the initial bid and in the boilerplate contract my client had signed with the book printer. Nevertheless, I wanted to avoid any surprises.

Freight Costs Explained

As per the contract, prices had been quoted as “FOB printer’s plant.” That is, the prices did not include freight, and the ownership and responsibility for the books transferred to my client at the book printer’s loading dock (not at my client’s office, the delivery point). The printer had arranged for a freight carrier and had provided an estimated cost of $955.00. Fortunately, the actual cost as noted in the book printer’s invoice was $901.65, a lower amount than quoted. The printer had paid the freight company and therefore needed reimbursement from my client.

Cost of Author’s Alterations

If a client catches a printer’s error in a proof or an F&G (folded and gathered, printed but unbound, signature), the printer absorbs the cost. However, if the client finds an error (in the content, for instance) that he or she had not caught prior to submission, the client pays the cost.

My client had changed and then resubmitted 69 pages of the 650-page book. For labor incurred, the printer had charged $1,035.00.

In some cases, this can be a volatile issue. For instance, if the client had unknowingly prepared the files in error (formatting, type color, extraneous marks, type omissions—the list is endless), he or she might be inclined to blame the book printer without understanding that he or she had actually made the mistake. Conversely, a client may request a change that a printer inadvertently overlooks. (To be realistic, human error does creep into complex processes such as prepress and printing.) If the printer makes the error, then the printer absorbs the cost.

In cases in which responsibility might be unclear, it is important to have prior laser proofs, digital proofs from the printer, emails, and F&G’s to help determine the point at which the error had been introduced.

Policy for Overs/Unders

As per the contract, the printer can charge for 10 percent overs, or up to 250 copies on anything below a 2,500-copy press run. The printer had estimated a $12.201 unit cost for 250 overs but had only printed 242 overs and had billed them at a reduced rate of $7.74 per unit.

Printers do not produce extra copies to make extra money. In the course of all the printing and finishing operations required to produce a book, copies get damaged. Perhaps one is spoiled on the trimmer and another gets damaged during case binding. In order to ensure a final delivery of as close to 1,000 copies as possible, the book printer had to be able to produce up to 250 extra copies to allow for potential spoilage.

For short runs, like a 1,000-copy case-bound book, the usual percentage (10 percent overs or unders) may not be enough to prevent coming up short. Hence, this printer has a rule that 250 copies will be the acceptable overage up to a press run of 2,500 copies. Thereafter, the 10 percent overs (or unders) rule applies.

One thing to keep in mind that the printer does deliver all overs, so you’re not paying for anything you don’t actually receive.

What Can We Learn from This?

All of these items are noted either in the estimate or in the boilerplate contract from the printer. They adhere to industry standard customs (Printing Industry of America). Therefore, it’s important for you to familiarize yourself with standard industry practice, read the contract carefully, and ask your printer to review with you such issues as overage, freight, and author’s alterations.

In fact, it’s quite reasonable, if you find an error in the proof, to ask what it would cost to fix it. Depending on the cost, you may opt to leave the error in the book. For instance, let’s say you found an error in the F&G’s–not the digital proofs–that would require reprinting a complete signature to repair. If the error is insignificant but would cost $2,000.00 to remedy, you might forgo the change.

Book Printing: Self-Publishing in Print Is Still Alive

Monday, June 25th, 2012

I read a PrintWeek article today that bears out my experience as a commercial printing broker selling book printing (and other custom printing services). The article is called “From Blog to Book: the Art of Self-Publishing,” and it was written by Jenny Roper (

Over the last several months I have helped five new clients who are publishing print books of poetry, fiction, and photography. I had thought these clients would prefer the lower prices of online vendors such as Lulu and CreateSapce, but I was mistaken.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe online self-publishing venues serve an important purpose. In fact, I love the idea that people of modest means who write can distribute their work in this way. We don’t all have to be John Grisham to get our work out there.

That said, I had expected most people to choose the lower prices and limited hand-holding of the online self-publishers.

But in the case of my five new clients, I am seeing a desire in certain clients for the personalized service of a printer, or custom printing broker. An organization with only an online presence may give you a good deal, but they will not send a representative to your house to show you paper samples, discuss various binding options, or show you how spot gloss varnish on a book cover can contrast with spot dull varnish in subtle and artistic ways.

The Print Week Magazine Article

Back to the article. Jenny Roper notes that “we are now in an age of feverish self-publishing.” People want to make their voices heard.

The article goes on to say that some book subjects lend themselves more than others to physical print books. She includes poetry, novels, and photo books, and says that computer books lend themselves more to the ebook format. (I would think that technology and business tomes don’t require a tactile—or emotional—component but do require the immediate upgradeability of content for which ebooks are ideal.)

Reasons to Self-Publish a Print Book

Jenny Roper notes that people self-publish for a number of reasons:

  1. Some people start with ebooks to gauge the interest in a piece of fiction or nonfiction (it’s cheaper than print) and then roll out a print version if the interest is high (because people still seem to want print books, interestingly enough).
  2. Others write blog posts and eventually either collect them into a print book format or someone else collects their posts and publishes them in print.
  3. Still others want control over the distribution, pricing, proceeds, and rights for their book. Roper notes that this “inevitably involves a print element as well as an online one.”
  4. As noted above, self-published books focusing on art, photography, and cooking lend themselves to print books in large part due to the higher resolution of print images when compared to 72dpi on-screen images.
  5. Self-publishers often choose print books for volumes of local or personal history. According to the article, books of memoirs seem to be printed first rather than published first as ebooks. This is counter-intuitive, since ebooks cost less to produce, store, and distribute (and self-publishers are bearing the cost themselves). However, for a product that focuses on “a culmination of a lifetime’s expectation and many years’ work,” people often choose to produce a print book first. To them, there’s something about having a permanent item they can hold in their hands, even if the book will be read by only their friends and family members. It’s more “personal,” as Roper notes.

Back to My Print Brokering, and to Print Sales in General

My experience bears this out in spades. I have five clients who have paid slightly (or a lot) more to publish their life’s work in print, and they have been a delight to work with. Furthermore, most of them know each other.

Printers should keep alert. A little hand-holding in the arena of self-publishing goes a long way. In fact, printers who can offer such ancillary services as editing, design, marketing, storage, distribution, and procurement of ISBN numbers, in addition to custom printing, will have an edge in this niche market.

What Can We Learn from This?

Print books are not dead. At worst, they are becoming more specialized. Certain people still prefer print on paper for certain items. Most of their reasons focus on its personal, tangible, tactile, and unchangeable nature.

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: 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).

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.

Book Printing and Commercial Printing: Overage and Underage

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Printing trade custom allows offset printing companies to deliver up to 10 percent more, or 10 percent fewer, copies of a job. The commercial printer or book printer can then apply this surcharge (or discount) to your invoice for the actual number delivered. The key word here is “actual.” This is not an arbitrary number. The printer can only charge for what he hands off to the customer.

The reason for this is that printing and finishing operations destroy a certain percentage of the copies in the process. This waste is called spoilage.

What Is Spoilage?

There are many different manufacturing activities within the production process. For instance, one side of a press sheet is printed, then the other side is printed after the first dries. Once the presswork is complete, the printed press sheets are transferred to post-press for trimming, folding, collating, stitching, etc. Ink-jet addressing and other lettershop activities may follow. In the course of each production task, printed sheets are wasted. To eventually hand off to the client a completed press run of 50,000 copies of a publication, for instance, a commercial printer or book printer must start with many more copies, assuming that a certain number will be destroyed in each step of the manufacturing process.

Overs/Unders Are Negotiable, to a Point

Prior to the estimate, overage/underage is negotiable. Some clients do not accept overs. In those cases, the printer increases his base pricing to cover the materials and the potential for loss. So overage is then factored into the cost.

Overs/unders are billed at the marginal cost (i.e., the average cost less the cost of make-ready). Some printers call this the “run cost.” Therefore, the unit cost of overs is usually rather low. It is, however, a potential cost and should therefore be disclosed to the buyer.

You can request “not less than” a certain number of copies as well. However, to guarantee that you will receive not less than this number of copies, the printer can provide (and charge for) up to double the usual amount: i.e., twenty percent overage. In this case, the commercial printer or book printer makes sure that far more copies than needed are produced to ensure that not even 10 copies fewer than the requested limit are handed to the client.

Some printers do not charge for overs. Usually this would be the case for a commercial printer–not a book printer–since the materials cost of books is higher than for commercial work. (In contrast to book printing, commercial printing would include brochures, posters, and other work not composed of multi-page press signatures.)

The biggest question in negotiating overs is whether you will use the copies if you get them. If so, accept the extra copies, pay for them, and be happy for the surplus. If not, request revised pricing, but be aware that the surcharge will be factored into the new price in order to protect the printer from economic loss.

Here are a two “rules” that expand upon this trade custom:

  1. Less overage/underage can be expected for longer runs. Another way to say this is that by their very nature, longer runs tend to be more accurate, with the necessary allowance for spoilage being a smaller percentage of the entire run. For instance, you might expect 3 percent overage within a 100,000-copy press run.
  2. You can negotiate overage/underage limits with your printer. A printer I once worked with agreed to charge for only 2.5 percent overage/underage. However, this was for a weekly magazine. The printer and client also had a contract and had been working together closely for about ten years.

More Latitude for Digital On-Demand Book Printing

That said, there is somewhat more latitude with a digital press. In many cases the digital equipment incorporates finishing technology right into the press, or at least into an attachment to the press. When this is the case, there is a little more control over the final number of copies.

Of course, if the finishing requirements cannot be performed within the digital press, that’s a different matter. Larger sized pieces or jobs with multiple folds may need to be finished outside of the digital press on traditional folding and trimming equipment. In this case, finished press sheets produced by the digital printing equipment must be brought into the post-press department for binding, trimming, etc., and spoilage will increase.

Discuss Overs/Unders at the Bidding Stage of the Job

In all cases, it’s best to discuss overage/underage with your commercial printer or book printer early in the process. Your options are as follows:

  1. No underage, in which case you can be billed for up to 20 percent overs.
  2. Customary 10 percent overs or 10 percent unders.
  3. No overage or underage, in which case the printer will provide a higher price that covers him against loss, since the printer cannot know what will actually occur during the printing and finishing process.

Book Printing: Offset vs. On-Demand Digital; Local vs. China

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

I have two custom printing clients who are bucking the trends. They are self publishing books, but they want me to hook them up with offset printing companies. They have chosen not to self-publish with online, on-demand printing companies. They do not want to send their custom printing jobs to vendors in China. They want actual ink on paper, printed locally.

Here are some of the reasons this particular niche market exists.

The Clients Want a Certain Level of Quality Available in Offset Printing.

These are all art books of one sort or another. One is a book of photos and quotes. Two others are poetry and fiction. In all cases the authors want very high production values and are willing to pay for them. The perfect bound literary works will have French flaps (cover flaps that fold back in toward the book, in order to give the impression of a dust jacket) and deckled edges on the paper.

The photo book is a coffee-table book produced to showcase the work of a local photographer. The authors want to encourage readers to experience the full tactile range of the books (the feel and smell of the paper, the sound of the binding when the books are opened, and so forth).

Offset custom printing lends itself to this level of quality. Digital on-demand book printing can come close to offset in image quality, but a photographer or other artist would be able to see the unevenness of the digital toner compared to the offset ink.

Longer Works (More Pages) with Longer Press Runs Lend Themselves to Offset Printing.

All of the books in question exceed 200 pages in length. Photo books that can be purchased online cost about $20 to $30 each, which for a short run is not bad at all (you can buy 50 for $1,000 to $1,500). However, this pricing usually includes 20 or so pages, with each additional page costing a premium (perhaps an additional 80 cents to $1.00). For even a single digital copy of a 200-page book, the extra page rate would drive the unit price close to the $200 mark. For a 20-page photo book, the price is right. For a longer book, like my client’s photo book or the two literary works, digital on-demand book printing is not cost effective.

In addition, the press runs are much longer for the two literary books and the photo book. All three clients want 500 to 1,000 books. If their books were short, with a press run of 10, 20,100, or even 200 copies, the on-line, on-demand book printing vendors’ prices might be attractive. But for longer press runs, it’s much cheaper—on a per-book rate—to go with offset custom printing. Even with case binding, a ribbon place-holder, and process color throughout, the unit cost for the photo books came in at just under $13 per copy including freight. Again, this was due to the longer press run.

For a digital job, each unit costs the same. For an offset job, a lot of money goes into makeready, but the longer the run after the initial set-up, the less each book costs.

The Clients Wanted Access to the Printers, So Vendors in China Were Not an Option.

Many book printers in China can do an outstanding job of producing full-color, case-bound books for a low price, even those with longer press runs and higher page counts. That said, some buyers want to be able to sit down with a book printer’s representative (or in my case a broker) and discuss all the options: the paper, the binding, and all the other intricacies and nuances of the job.

Printing companies half a world away may do a great job. But what happens if they don’t? These clients with the photo book and literary works wanted to know that if something went wrong with their custom printing jobs–the binding, the schedule, or the delivery–someone local would address and remedy the problem(s).

Book Printing Case Study: Getting Bids for a Coffee-Table Photo Book

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Normally I can get coffee table book printing costs for my print brokering clients rather quickly and easily. I work with printing companies of every sort (printing services that specialize in books, large-format banners, marketing collateral, etc.). But a unique project came to me recently that posed challenges, a small book of photographs. The photographer had solicited pricing from various on demand book printing suppliers she had found on the Internet and had opted instead for higher quality and a lower unit price.

Specifications for the book printing run

My client wants to print a 6” x 6” case-bound book, 200 pages in length, with process color throughout, in a press run of 500, 750, or 1000 copies. The cover will be printed and will have no dust jacket. The text will be printed on a silk-coated text sheet. My client also wants a “ribbon placeholder” (like you see in Bibles and appointment books). This is a coffee-table book requiring the highest production values.

Focusing only on book printing suppliers

For coffee table book printing costs estimates, I chose eight book printers that I had worked with at one time or another. I only approached book printers, since I knew they would be proficient in the case-binding component of the job, and since I knew they would provide the most competitive pricing (i.e., they would be cheaper than commercial printing services).

I compared my short list of printing companies to a list of book printers across the United States that I had found online. To be safe, I just used the list to jog my memory. I only approached book printing vendors I had worked with before and trusted completely.

Surprised by the response to the bid requests

To my surprise, five of the eight book printing suppliers “no-bid” the job due to the process color usage throughout the text. The majority of book printers either produced black-text-only books or primarily black-text-books with process color inserts (one or only a few signatures printed in color with the balance of the text pages in black ink or black and a PMS color).

One of the three printing companies that did provide a bid, planned to produce the job in Mexico to remain competitive, and stipulated a thinner text sheet than I had requested. This book printing vendor also could not add headbands and footbands to the book, but could add the ribbon placeholder (by hand, which would be expensive). All changes to the specs were suggested by the printer to keep the pricing competitive (i.e., this is what their Mexico plant could handle, and this printing plant was their best bet for the job).

The two other printing companies bid on the specs exactly as presented. However, their prices were twice what I had expected. Here’s why:

  • Process color throughout is very expensive.
  • It’s more expensive to print a press sheet and laminate it to chipboard than case bind a book in fabric and then add a printed dust cover.
  • The ribbon placeholder would be hand-work, which is always more expensive than an automated procedure.
  • The endsheets of the book would be printed (heavy ink coverage), which costs more than adding unprinted (white or tinted) endsheets.

I was actually surprised to find that, for one custom printing vendor, the makeready estimate alone exceeded the cost of makeready for a 700-page, black-only-text, case-bound book they had just printed for another client of mine—by 50 percent–due to the specs noted above.

A few printing options for my client

I received two suggestions from printing companies that approached the job in a different manner. One printer bid the job in a 5” x 5” format (rather than 6” x 6”) on uncoated Finch Fine paper. This printer’s price was a little over half the high bid (granted, based on slightly different specs).

A few printing companies that had “no-bid” the job actually came back to me with suggestions. One offered to print the job on a web-fed inkjet press. A different printer suggested a sheetfed digital press based on electrophotographic technology (i.e., color xerox). In both cases, I said I would need to see outstanding printed samples.

Finally, a printer that had “no-bid” the job came back to me with a price for a perfect-bound version, instead of a case-bound version. The total cost of the perfect-bound option, even with color throughout, would be less than a third of the high bid for a case-bound option.

What we learn from the eight vendors

  • Printing process color throughout a book is very expensive. Not all book printing vendors will do such a job. Most are used to producing only color inserts.
  • Hand-work (the ribbon placeholder) is expensive.
  • Printing heavy-coverage ink on book endsheets is expensive.
  • Headbands and footbands seem to be best for longer books (more pages).
  • Laminating a printed cover sheet to chipboard is expensive. In some cases it’s cheaper to cloth bind the book and add an extra printed dust cover.
  • It’s wise to ask the printer what technology is more economical based on the page count and press run: digital or offset.
  • This is not an exact science. The printing companies made changes to the specifications based on their own equipment (size and format of their presses) in an attempt to do the work in-house and keep their prices low. You may approach other printing companies and have a completely different experience than I did.
  • Ask a lot of printing companies to bid on your job, and keep your specifications fluid as long as possible. You may have to change certain specifications to keep within budget.
  • Finally, keep looking. There may be a printer out there that can do your “exotic” job for a good price.

A final stroke of good fortune

The printer with the highest price just contacted me today, as I was finishing this article. His plant had looked at the job again. Instead of printing the book on a 40” press (28” x 40” press sheet), they could print the job on a 51” press (38” x 51” press sheet). This would allow for larger signatures (more pages per signature and hence fewer signatures, fewer press runs, fewer plates, fewer wash-ups, etc.). They would drop their cost by almost half.

So now my client has a number of options.

Book Printing: Nothing Shows Printing Companies What You Want Better Than a Sample

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I met a potential new client at an art opening this weekend. We discussed an upcoming book printing run. She wants to produce a 5” x 5” case-bound book of her photographs. I started thinking about how to approach this new job prior to our upcoming meeting to determine how I might be most helpful. First off, I asked her to start collecting book printing samples that she likes, with formats, sizes, and materials she thinks most closely reflect the nature of her photography. Nothing communicates a client’s goals for a new project like a physical printed sample. Printing companies can understand and reproduce what they can see. If you’re designing a book and are faced with a similar situation, consider these sources for sample books.

From Used Bookstores

The best reasons to start your search for samples at a used bookstore are the low cost of the books and their wide variety. You can afford to collect a number of different samples, odd formats, unique materials, and bindings that are out of the ordinary. Used bookstores often have books in their stacks from the last twenty to thirty years, so the different book printing design trends will be evident in their manufacturing and style.

From Paper Merchants

Paper merchants (intermediaries who broker papers from a number of paper mills) can get unique samples for you for free. Their job is to interest you in a specific paper, so you will encourage your custom printing vendor to buy the paper for your job from them. Not only do paper merchants have access to promotional pieces showcasing the best design work on various press sheets, but they often have extensive knowledge of custom printing technologies, paper options, bindery methods, etc.

From Business Printing Vendors and Binderies

Printers have access to the same paper merchants (and samples) that you do. However, they can also provide samples of custom printing jobs they themselves have produced. And they have direct knowledge through personal experience of the benefits and pitfalls of various materials and processes. Don’t forget specialty printers such as letterpress vendors. It even behooves you to request samples directly from binderies, since they will know more about this aspect of book manufacturing than even the printers.

From Paper Shows

Design trade groups such as AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) present periodic trade shows. Custom printing vendors, paper merchants, binderies, letterpress shops, and other related suppliers attend these shows and bring samples of their best business printing work. It’s worth the nominal fee to attend the show and peruse the vendor floor, going from booth to booth and collecting samples of what you like.

What to Look for

  • Binding methods (perfect binding, saddle-stitching, side-stitching, and mechanical bindings such as plastic coil, plastic comb, etc.)
  • Shape (upright, oblong, square)
  • Size (from ultra small to ultra large)
  • Cover material (fabric, leather, paper, even wood)
  • Cover diecuts, embossing, or materials such as photos inset into, or glued onto, the cover of the book
  • Interior paper (thickness, color, texture)

This list is just a start. If you take some time to visit a used bookstore, visit with your paper merchant or custom printing vendor, or attend a paper show, you will start to develop a “swipe file,” which will help you get ideas for your next book project and also communicate these ideas to your client, your boss, and your business printing service. Nothing communicates your intent like a book printing sample.


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