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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 With Online Printing Companies: Subliminal Design Elements

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

A dear friend and I recently had a misunderstanding based on the imprecise nature of Internet communications. Fortunately he called me on the phone, we reconnected, and everything was good. We had both been trying to be respectful and kind through our emails, but the inability of email to reflect tone and nuance of speech had hindered our communications.

“The medium is the message”

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian educator and philosopher, coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” By this he meant that the form of a message influences how the audience perceives the message.

The brightly back-lit computer screen can give undue harshness to the words in an email or on a website. In addition, unlike other venues on the Internet, email carries with it no aural information. You can’t hear anything. When you speak with someone face to face, you have the visual cues (the person’s body language, their carriage). You have the sound and inflection of their voice. And you have the words themselves. In an email you have only the words. From a straightforward email without these cues, one might infer a tone of sarcasm or an overly formal and distancing tone—even if none were present—because you can’t see the person or hear his or her voice.

How can we apply this to book printing?

We have been talking in previous posts about the message carried through such additions to a perfect-bound book as French flaps, cream stock, and a deckled edge (or rough-front trim). If the medium is the message, these components of the books my clients produce send a message. Perhaps it is a subliminal message, but it is a powerful message nevertheless. My clients want their readers to relax, relish the tactile experience of reading a print book (as opposed to an e-book), and immerse themselves in the story. The paper, the extra flaps, and the other elements introduced by the online printing company lend an air of luxury to the experience of reading fiction and poetry, a leisure activity for which many people no longer have the time.

If the medium is the message, it behooves the book designer to consider how the book will be perceived. After all, a book, like an email, is a communications device. The goal is to communicate something of value to the reader, and, in addition to the content of the book, its form will either amplify or detract from this message.

What elements can influence the reader’s perception?

Here is a short list. I’m sure you can think of more elements:

  • The paper on which the book printer has printed the book.
  • The binding method: whether the book printer has bound the book with a hard or soft cover.
  • The choice of typeface. Is it a classic serif face or a bold and definitive sans serif face?
  • The leading (space between the lines). Does this make it easier or harder to read?
  • Margins: Are they ample or tight?
  • Paragraph length: Does the text feel heavy and dense, or do the shifts from paragraph to paragraph make reading comfortable?
  • The imagery on the cover of the book and the tone it conveys.
  • The coating the online printing company has added to the book covers. A gloss finish can give an air of harshness, while a dull film laminate can provide a more soothing first impression.
  • Even a hinge score (the folding line running parallel to the spine) can give a sense of precision and quality to the custom book printer’s work, while making the reading experience a little bit easier.

Granted, you may not want every reading experience to be pleasurable. You may want to challenge the reader to think and act differently. If so, your design and production choices should reflect this goal as well.

Marshall McLuhan was right. Book printers and designers should take note. When you design and print a book, be mindful of the subliminal cues offered by the physical elements of the book. This is one thing that sets a print book apart from an Internet page. It may not speak in words and sounds, but it does communicate volumes.

Your custom book printer can help you make the design and production choices that will touch your readers in subtle but powerful ways.

Book Printing Case Study Update: Hardcover/Softcover Split-Run Error

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Online Printing Services

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entry about a client of mine whose online book printer had transposed the number of hardcover copies and the number of softcover copies of a book he was producing for her. I just learned the outcome, and I wanted to share this with you.

To recap:

Upon learning of the error, the book printer had stepped up immediately and offered to make my client whole. He had offered her three options:

  • Accept the printing as is, but pay for the additional case-bound books at the lower cost of the perfect-bound books.
  • Cut off the hardcover cases, print new soft covers, and rebind the books with the new covers.
  • Reprint the additional 800 softcover books.

My client chose option #3. She decided to have the softcover books reprinted (only the copies that should have been softcover in the first place) at the online printing company’s expense, as he had offered.

This is why I think my client made a prudent decision:

Custom printing is an imprecise art and science. Cutting and trimming operations in particular can magnify errors. If the original book blocks had been the least bit off of “true” once the covers had been removed, the retrimming process could have made an imperceptible error into a visible one. The text margins may not have aligned exactly with the cover trim. Or, what had been an adequate face margin might have become an uncomfortably tight one. And it is possible that the trimming of the books might not have been of the same quality throughout the run.

Each copy of the book my client planned to send to her subscribers would, essentially, have been an advertisement for her company. Would she really want to risk sending out a problematic copy and tarnishing her company’s reputation as a book publisher? Her clients were paying a premium for each book.

I think my client chose the best option. The online printing service would produce the 800 books from start to finish, rather than altering the erroneously bound books. Interestingly enough, a colleague of mine noted that my client had lost a few weeks in the completion of the job due to the book printer’s error. She asked whether my client should not only have requested a reprint of the 800 books but also a discount for the late delivery.

I’m a great believer in compromise and in treating one’s printing companies as partners. The book printer had stepped up immediately and offered to reprint the problematic books. That showed good faith. Rather than asking for an additional discount, above and beyond the reprint, I think my client chose to foster the future working relationship with the custom printing vendor by compromising. She accepted the late delivery of the 800 books. That was her compromise. The book printer chose to incur a substantial extra cost by reprinting the 800 books at his expense. That was his compromise. Both parties can now feel secure working together on future projects.

As an extra point, I do want to say that removing book covers and adding new ones does have its place. I personally have seen it done successfully by another local book printer.

Speed vs. Perfection

In making the decision of whether to remove and replace the covers or whether to reprint the problematic books, I think the key is the following question: What level of quality do you need for this job? Not all jobs need to be of showcase quality. For example, an industrial parts catalog that needs to be distributed immediately might be a perfect candidate for removing and replacing the covers. In this case speed trumps perfection in binding. My client, on the other hand, was selling a reference book for a high price, and this required quality over speed.

Custom printing is a process with multiple steps, and things do go wrong from time to time. How the business printing service makes things right is what distinguishes true quality.

Book Printing Case Study for Hardcover/Softcover Split Run: Oops!

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Like anyone else, printing companies make mistakes. After all, custom printing is a process with multiple steps. It is not a commodity.

I received a call today from a consulting client whose book printer had accidentally reversed the number of soft-cover and hard-cover copies of a textbook pressrun. My client had requested 1,500 case-bound copies of the book and 2,300 perfect-bound copies, but the business printing vendor had mistakenly printed 2,300 case-bound books and 1,500 perfect-bound books.

Keep in mind that the case-bound books sell for a premium, and marketing research (and orders to date) suggest that more perfect-bound copies of these particular books will be ordered than case-bound copies.

So my client really did need the extra 800 softcover books. Fortunately, the book printer was most apologetic and wanted to make things right.

My client came to me with three options and asked my opinion. The options were:

  1. Accept the printing as is, but only pay the book printer for what was originally ordered. In other words, pay for the additional case-bound books at the lower cost of the perfect-bound books, reducing the overall manufacturing costs.
  2. Have the business printing vendor retrieve the extra case-bound books from my client, cut off the cases, print new soft covers, rebind the books with the new covers, and ship the books back to my client within three weeks, all at the printer’s expense.
  3. Have the printing company go back on press and print the additional softcover books. Then have the printer retrieve the additional case-bound books from my client for repulping.

This was my response:

  • Since the cases would be cut off in option #2, the remaining “book blocks” (or gathered signatures) would need to be slightly trimmed down (on the head, foot, and face margins). For this to work and not look like a mistake, there would need to be sufficient margins in the books to allow for the retrimming process. In addition, if the retrimming were inaccurate in any way, the text blocks might not be evenly (or squarely) cut all the way around.
  • If she chose this option, I suggested that my client have the book printer check all retrimmed copies for accuracy, and that she herself spot check the books when delivered. I also encouraged my client to stipulate that if the results of the printer’s tearing off the covers, rebinding, and retrimming were unacceptable, she would ask the book printer to go back on press and reprint the books.
  • I ruled out option #1, since my client needed all the books in order to fulfill current and expected book orders from clients.
  • I noted that the best option for my client would be #3. After all, the books would be created from start to finish, not altered. I suggested that if my client chose option #3, her position of compromise with the printer (and all negotiations go better when both parties compromise) could be the lateness of these copies. She would accept their being late for delivery to her customers if the printer would be willing to absorb the cost of reprinting the affected copies.

We’ll see what she chooses.

Custom printing is a process with multiple steps, and things do go wrong from time to time for all printing companies. It is the measure of a reputable business printing service (the kind with which you will want to work through such difficulties) that the printer will want to make things right. Such a vendor, whether a book printer, catalog printer, or whatever kind of printer, is worth holding onto.


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