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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 ‘Soft Cover Book Printing’ Category

Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

Monday, April 29th, 2019

A print brokering client of mine is a husband and wife publishing team. Usually they print one or two new titles a year, mostly books of poetry, fiction, and essays. I’ve written about them in these PIE Blog articles before. They both appreciate the finer points of a physical print book, so all of their projects include French flaps (extensions on the front and back covers that are folded inward toward the inside front and back covers). They also have soft-touch laminated covers (a coating that gives a nice rubberized feel to the matte cover), a press score running parallel to the spine, and faux deckled edges on the text block (actually a “rough front” trim).

This client team appreciates quality.

Another way they show this commitment to quality is to initially print 50 or 75 copies of a “galley” proof of each print book (prior to the final run with the French flaps and such). The galleys go to “readers,” who review the books and make suggestions, which can then be incorporated into the final print books.

The Pricing (and Then the Revised Pricing) for the Print Books

Just recently, I requested pricing for 75 copies of each book and provided this to my clients as a benchmark prior to the actual design and layout of the books. Keep in mind that these are 5.5” x 8.5” format, perfect bound books: relatively standard, with standard 70# offset text paper inside and 12pt. covers. The text blocks are black ink only without bleeds. The covers are 4-color process with bleeds.

After I provided my clients with their pricing for the three galley books, their book designers (a different designer for the text and the covers) produced the book art files. In all three cases, the page counts increased significantly (upwards of 100 pages in one instance), and the press runs dropped from 75 readers’ copies to 50 readers’ copies.

I collected this new information, revised the specification sheets, and went back to the book printer’s sales rep for revised estimates. When the prices arrived, the sales rep and I were both surprised by how much the prices had jumped. In fact, the unit costs were almost double those of the first estimate.

Why Did the Prices Go Up So Much?

After the initial shock, this is what I did. I took one of the three book estimates and analyzed the pricing. I multiplied the initial press run (75 copies) by the number of pages (256 pages) and came up with 19,200 pages total. Then I multiplied the revised press run (50 copies) by the the revised page count (382 pages) and came up with almost the same number of pages (19,100 total book pages printed).

This was a bit of a happy accident, because it showed that even though the book was much longer, the total amount of digital press work needed would be about the same. Almost exactly, actually.

Then I compared the initial price ($462.00) to the revised price ($727.00), and determined that the first estimate for 75 copies would cost $.024 per page while the revised price based on the lower press run and higher page count would be $.038 per page.

At this point I asked the sales rep to have his estimating department explain the discrepancy (to his credit, the sales rep had initially called me and offered to do this). We agreed that we wanted to know whether the pricing was accurate (or a mistake). And, if it was accurate, why was it so much more than the initial bid? All of this would occur before I went back to my client with the revised pricing.

Possible Answers

Here are some possible reasons that the increased cost per page might not be either an accident or an unreasonable charge:

  1. Due to the short press run, these three books will be printed digitally, as opposed to by offset lithography. This is true even though the text block of the example discussed above (one of three books) is almost 400 pages. In spite of this book length, the press run is only 50 copies for initial reader review.
  2. Offset commercial printing requires a huge amount of make-ready: that is, preparatory work to get the printing, binding, and any other operations in print book manufacturing ready. For each process, the make-ready precedes the actual run. It contributes to the overall cost, but since offset printing runs are usually very long (perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 copies or more rather than 50 copies), this larger amount of money attributable to make-ready can be spread across the 5,000; 10,000; or even 100,000 copies of the press run. In fact, the longer the run, the less each copy costs, and the less impact the make-ready charges have on the cost of each print book.
  3. In contrast to offset printing, digital printing has relatively little make-ready. But it still has some. The prepress operators and pressmen still have to set up each individual step in the process: everything from producing the digital proofs (if they are printed on an inkjet or laser device) to printing the actual run of pages to all binding, trimming, and packing operations.
  4. This make-ready expense is increased if multiple finishing operations are necessary (anything that follows putting ink or toner on paper). In addition, there is the spoilage that occurs during these extra steps. For instance, after the pages have been printed, the books need to be perfect bound. And to complete all manufacturing processes with a total run of exactly 50 books, more text blocks and covers must be produced to allow for spoilage (in this case, books damaged during the perfect binding process). The same potential for spoilage exists during all printing and finishing operations, and addressing this inevitability (by initially starting with enough copies to accommodate the loss) drives up the overall print book manufacturing cost.
  5. In my client’s case, the page count for each of the three print book titles went up, but the press runs dropped from 75 copies to 50 copies. What this means is that the cost of make-ready (time spent setting up all pre-press, press, and post press operations) and spoilage (books damaged during production) is above and beyond the cost of the actual 50-copy press run (referred to as “make-ready” vs. “press run” on some estimates).
  6. In my client’s case, this cost of preparation or make-ready will now be spread over 50 books, whereas this cost initially (on the first book production estimate) was to be spread over 75 books. When you compare this process to a 10,000 copy press run (or more) of an offset printed book, you can see that a much greater portion of the make-ready cost gets allocated to the unit cost of each of the 50 copies (produced digitally) vs. each of the 5,000; 10,000; or 100,000 offset-printed copies.
  7. This is a hypothesis (albeit a legitimate, potential reason for the increased cost). Plus, the books will be significantly longer than initially expected.
  8. That said, the only way to know for sure is to have all three revised estimates re-checked, which is what the print sales rep has offered to do.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. The initial human response to something like this is disbelief and possibly anger. But that’s not productive, so if this happens to you, just ask for a check of all specs and pricing and an explanation of the increased unit cost. After all, your printer is a business partner, not an adversary.
  2. The more additional operations you must do (prepare files in prepress; print the job; fold, trim, and bind the job; etc.), the more money will go into make-ready. If you need die cutting as well, or foil stamping, this make-ready portion of the job will increase even more.
  3. The more steps in the process, the more spoilage will occur (and the more copies will be needed to compensate for this spoilage). Some processes, like perfect binding, may also cause more spoilage than others.
  4. When in doubt, ask your printer to break down your cost by “make-ready” and “cost per run.”
  5. Without printing more copies than you actually need, requesting a higher (vs. lower) print run will reduce the cost per unit of the make-ready portion of the total expense.

Book Printing: Don’t Blindly Trust Delivery Paperwork

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Part of being a good print buyer is being a proficient sleuth when it’s necessary. When something seems confusing or goes wrong, or when you just can’t get the answer you need, it pays to do your own research. Not all responses to your questions, however confident in their tone, will be accurate—no matter how well intentioned.

The Setting of the Delivery Snafu

A client of mine just had 5,000 6” x 9” perfect-bound books printed. They are government textbooks, and all but 100 copies were slated for delivery to the fulfillment house. Boxed in cartons of 20 print books each, the total run comprised 250 boxes. The fulfillment house needed to receive 245 boxes, and my client’s office needed to receive 5 boxes (the aforementioned 100 books).

To ensure accurate delivery, my client went out to the fulfillment house and counted the copies noted on the pallet flags (paper notations on the wrapped skids of cartoned print books). The total added up to 250 boxes of 20 copies each.

Unfortunately, this didn’t make sense, since the total would have left no boxes for my client’s office. So I called the book printer.

The printing sales rep at the book printer did some research and told me the truck had left the plant with both deliveries (my client’s office copies and the fulfillment house’s copies). According to the delivery manifest, the five-box delivery at the client’s office had occurred, and then the 245-box delivery at the fulfillment house had occurred shortly thereafter. If the pallet description of the boxed books said there were 250 boxes, this meant there were 100 overs (100 more copies than requested by my client)—and the printer said my client could have them free of charge.

Not Quite Enough Information

This offer sounded good, but I didn’t like the lack of certainty. I trusted the sales rep completely, but I wasn’t absolutely sure had had been given accurate information by his delivery people. Moreover, holding more copies of the books than needed at the fulfillment house might incur an extra charge. Either the fulfillment house would need to store them (for a fee) or deliver them to my client (for a fee). My client had ordered the total she needed for the end-users. More copies could be a nuisance.

So I called my client and asked whether the office copies had been delivered. She hadn’t been to the office yet, so she wasn’t absolutely sure. Then again, her boss had said he liked the books. To me that meant they had been delivered (or her boss wouldn’t have been able to review a copy). My client agreed. So I called the book printer’s customer service rep.

The customer service rep had done some digging. Apparently, the five cartons of books had been removed from the wrapped skids. Five boxes had been removed, but the pallet flags had not been altered, so they still noted a 250-box delivery. Moreover, there was no notation of overage anywhere.

With all of this information, I approached my client:

  1. For the 5,000-copy press run, a total of 250 boxes (20 books x 250 boxes = 5,000 books) had been produced and delivered (according to the delivery manifest).
  2. No printer paperwork mentioned any overs.
  3. According to my client, a delivery had been made to her office (of how many boxes, we weren’t certain).
  4. The CSR had found written evidence that five boxes had been removed from the total and delivered to the client’s office, even if this had not been noted on the wrapped skids of books that arrived at the fulfillment house.

Therefore, the greater probability was that:

The driver had left the printer with 250 boxes on skids. He had broken out five boxes upon his arrival at my client’s office and had neglected to note this on the skids. Then he had driven to the fulfillment warehouse and had delivered 245 boxes of books. And there were no overs.

How You Can Use This Information

  1. A number of people were involved in this state of confusion. Each had only a piece of the total picture of what had happened. Only when all of their respective stories were compiled did the most likely explanation appear.
  2. So in your own print buying work, when something seems amiss or confusing, the best thing you can do is gather information from as many people as possible. Start with the sales rep and the customer service rep. Have them check all delivery manifests. Have them also check for any miscellaneous scribbled notes left in haste by any truck drivers.
  3. All of this points to the value of a long-standing, mutually supportive partnership between the client and the vendor. In your own work, a book printer with whom you have forged a partnership will be more likely to take the time to help remedy a problem. Someone new might just become defensive. A partner will work with you to resolve the difficulty to your satisfaction.
  4. Remember that just because something has been written down, it is not necessarily accurate. It may also be incomplete. However, it’s still useful to review delivery manifests (or any other kind of work order, should your particular problem not be related to delivery).
  5. Remember that printing involves many steps (scheduling, prepress, printing, finishing, cartoning, and delivery, just to name just a handful), and these steps involve many people. People are fallible. Some print jobs will invariably have problems. If you realize this, you will be less likely to approach the printer from a position of blame and more likely to approach the issue along with your printer with an eye towards its successful resolution.

Book Printing: Finessing the Weight/Thickness of a Book

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

One of my current clients used to work for me back in the ’90s, when I was an art director. She is a shrewd print buyer and very knowledgeable about commercial printing. So I was a bit amused and pleased to hear from her today about a print book I’m brokering for her.

The perfect-bound, 6” x 9” print project was 320 pages last year, but it has grown to 424 pages this year. She would like it to “feel” like last year’s print book. She doesn’t want it to be perceived as being a third longer.

Why Might This Be So?

I didn’t really ask her, since she’s the client and my goal is to please her.

My client asked for the width of the spine of the prior year’s book (which had been printed on 70# Finch Opaque stock) compared to the width of the spine for the new page count if this year’s book were printed on either 60# Finch Opaque or 50# Finch Opaque. My client also wanted a mock-up (also called a paper dummy) produced on both 50# and 60# Finch to see how the two options would feel in her hand.

After forwarding this information to the book printer, I thought about why my client might want to make this change. This is what I came up with:

  1. The books are sold to clients annually. Some readers might take issue with paying the same amount for a longer or shorter book if they are used to getting a certain length book each year.
  2. The books reflect a certain amount of scholarship. Some people might perceive the thicker book as being more thorough than the thinner, particularly since the yearly editions contain the same number of articles.
  3. Or, and this would be the most practical reason, the print books are shipped to clients, and lightening the overall weight of the book will save money in shipping costs.

Of course, these are just speculations. However, if you yourself ever wind up in a similar position as a book printing buyer, you may want to consider these issues as well.

What Were the Differences?

This is what I heard back from the book printer:

  1. Last year’s book (320 pages printed on 70# stock) was .812 inches thick (the text only).
  2. This year’s book (424 pages) if printed on 60# stock would be .954 inches thick (the text only).
  3. This year’s book (424 pages) if printed on 50# stock would be .848 inches thick (the text only).

The printer pointed out that, either way, this year’s print book will be thicker than last year’s. He went on to say that he would lean toward the 60# stock due to its improved opacity, and he also pointed out that 60# text block (text with no cover) would be only 1/8th of an inch thicker than last year’s text block.

Why Request the Mock-Ups?

So the take-away from this exercise is that at this book length, even a third more pages would only increase the thickness of the book by 1/8 of an inch.

However, 1/8 of an inch is merely a concept, a mental image. I applaud my client’s practical side in wanting to see and feel a paper dummy of both a 50# and a 60# Finch Opaque press sheet. The final decision will be based on the heft of the book plus on how the pages feel in the hand at their various thicknesses.

Fortunately, this printer can make the mock-ups in house. Not all printers can do this. If you need a mock-up or paper dummy, in some cases your printer will request one from his paper merchant or from the paper mill, and this might take a little time. Therefore, it’s always wise to ask for a mock-up (of a book, a brochure, or any other project you want to get the “feel” of) early in the process.

What About the Opacity?

Now this is where I was worried. I knew that there would be no “show-through” (of the ink on one side of the page when reading the opposite side of the page) in a book printed on 70# Opaque Finch paper.

This particular annual book includes lots of screens, some solid ink coverage (in small areas), and lots of photos. It’s a good candidate for having problems with show-through. That said, like the book printer I felt that the 60# Finch Opaque stock (“opaque” to minimize show-through) would be just about as thin as you could comfortably choose for such a book. The printer and I both thought that the 50# stock (even if it were Finch Opaque) might just be a little too transparent.

(Since I was curious, I looked it up online. I found 93 opaque—on a scale of 100–for the 50# stock vs. 95 opaque for the 60# stock vs. 96 opaque for 70# stock. I’ll stand by my advice that my client choose 60# Finch Opaque.)

We’ll see how my client feels when she sees the paper dummies.

Book Printing: Polybag Scuffing Problems in the Mail

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

For the past few years I have been designing, laying out, and brokering the printing of a non-profit educational foundation directory. For the most part, the process has gone like clockwork. It’s good money, and I enjoy working with the organization.

This year, when the job was complete and I had just submitted my invoice, I received an email and attached photographs showing damage to the polybags in which sample copies of the book had been mailed. Ouch.

Other than that, the book was great. My client was happy. However, polybags with little holes and tears didn’t showcase the design of the book in the best light. I agreed heartily. So I called the printer and asked some questions.

Specifics of the Book Printing Job

Let’s step back a bit. The directory in question was a 216-page, 8.5” x 11”, perfect-bound book inserted along with a promotional letter into 1.3 mil polybags and then mailed. The book covers had been UV coated for protection.

My client had sent several copies of the book to other employees in order to see exactly what subscribers would receive in the mail.

The six photos I received (which were incredibly helpful, both in terms of what I learned and in what I could easily communicate to the book printing vendor) showed various levels of damage. Four of the photos showed damage to the polybag material, one showed a damaged label attached to the polybag material, and one showed actual book cover damage through the plastic in which the cover of the book was either torn or the ink had been scraped off.

Solutions (Alternate Polybag Material)

In addition to sending the photos to the printer, I asked about using thicker plastic for next year’s polybags and also about other options for cover coatings for next year’s book.

The commercial printing sales rep researched the plastic material and came back to me with an option. Although 1.3 mil plastic is standard for such a job, the book printer could provide 1.5 mil plastic for next year’s mailing of the directory. He would also provide samples to my client as we got closer to the next version of the book.

On a side note, the sales rep did note that the extent of the scuffing of the polybag material and the book cover suggested heavy treatment during mailing. In other words, this was unusual. He did not think this problem was widespread.

Solutions (Alternate Cover Coatings)

The printer’s sales rep also offered suggestions about the coating applied to the cover of the directory. In this case the book covers had been UV coated. This had been applied at the printer’s shop. A thicker coating could have been applied—lay-flat laminate or liquid laminate—but this would have required subcontracting this part of the job and would therefore have added time to the schedule. It would have also increased the cost by approximately $600 to $800 (or about $.30 to $.50 a book).

(One thing you might want to consider in your own print buying work is that different commercial printing and book printing vendors have different equipment. Another printer might have had in-house laminating capabilities. However, I’m satisfied enough with the overall skill and responsiveness of this printer after three years’ of producing this book that I would not change vendors for that reason alone. But if you’re looking for a new printer for a job and you want to add a cover lamination, it may pay to ask about the printer’s in-house capabilities.)

I asked the printer’s rep about other cover coatings, just to be sure. He mentioned varnish, aqueous, UV, and laminate in the order of durability, from least durable to most durable. (I also knew that in addition to being the least durable, varnish can also yellow over time or even change the color of the ink below the cover coating.)

No Discount Requested

I believed the printer’s comments about rough handling by the Post Office. For one thing, we had developed a relationship of trust over a number of years’ worth of book printing work. In addition, I had not heard from my client in years past that any problems such as these had occurred. Finally, my client had made it clear that he only wanted to improve the process for the following year. He was very satisfied with the end product. He did not hold the printer responsible for the damage (particularly since only the polybagging—and one book cover–had been damaged). My client also trusted the printer’s word (and this speaks highly for the value of long-term relationships with custom printing vendors).

One Final Suggestion (Padded Envelopes)

The printer made one final suggestion, which might increase the price a bit. He suggested including the printed directory and the accompanying promotional letter in an addressed padded envelope. He said this would be the safest mode of transport, providing the greatest protection for the print book.

Custom Printing: Addressing Problem Photos

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

I may have mentioned this before. I’m brokering the custom printing for a job with problematic photos. They’re from World War II. The job is a short-run book, but this is really irrelevant because the information I’m sharing here can be used for any commercial printing job involving photos: a brochure, a book, a calendar, anything.

The Problems with the Photos

I like to call my approach “triage.” It’s a medical term. In this case, it means identifying each photo’s problems and making a decision as to whether to use the photo or find a better one.

There are approximately 1,000 photos from which the designer can select images for this book. They fall into categories (given my “triage” approach). Some are photos of people, some are of objects (World War II trains, buildings and such), and some are of documents (passports, letters, and so forth).

  1. Many of the photos of people and buildings have dark shadows and blown-out highlights (i.e., bright white or heavy black with few levels of gray).
  2. Many of the scanned photos of people and things have patterns in the background: either a disintegration of the emulsion of the photo or a reproduction of the pattern or weave of the paper on which the photographic print had been produced.
  3. A number of photos of documents have the pattern of the document within the photo (the background of the passports, for instance). This may cause undesirable moire patterns when the printer applies halftone screening to the images. Folds within the paper documents are unsightly as well.
  4. A number of photos are of military insignia from World War II. Their backgrounds can be irrelevant or distracting.

These are just some of the flaws.

The Solutions I have Proposed

Here’s how I have encouraged the author, commercial printing vendor, and designer to proceed:

  1. I have suggested a cream uncoated stock for the custom printing job. The cream color of the paper will tone down (or minimize) the contrast between the darkest blacks in the image and the brightest whites. It will also give an archival look to the images (a little like a duotone, with the paper being one color and the black toner being the other color. (This is a short-run book, so it will be produced on an HP Indigo digital press.) The reduced contrast combined with the roughness and porosity of the uncoated paper will further minimize the visible flaws in the photos. (One way to grasp this approach would be to consider its opposite. Producing the print book on a bright white gloss coated press sheet would greatly magnify the flaws. The printing substrate’s gloss and brightness, and the contrast between the image and the substrate, would draw the reader’s eye toward all surface imperfections in the photos.)
  2. I have arranged for the commercial printing supplier to produce several samples of the photos on the printing stock that will be used (80# Finch Vanilla text). We will therefore see exactly what the photos will look like printed in the Indigo toner (IndiChrome inks) using the exact press sheet (a benefit of a digital job rather than an offset print job).
  3. I will ask the printer to analyze the photos the designer submits to determine the optimum image highlight and shadow for the chosen text paper and the printing technology (perhaps a range between a 7 percent halftone dot for highlights and a 93 percent halftone dot for shadows). The printer can also comment on the gamma of the images (midtones and overall lightness of the image). Using these targets, the designer will be able to prepare photos that will be neither too light nor too dark.
  4. I suggested that the designer slightly blur (gaussian blur in Photoshop) the documents with patterned backgrounds and then sharpen them (unsharp masking in Photoshop). This should minimize the chance for conflict between the image background patterns and the halftone dot patterns. We can also ask for Indigo proofs of problematic photos on the Finch Vanilla text stock.
  5. For the stippling on the photos (the degraded photo emulsion), the designer can use the clone tool (in Photoshop) to minimize the flaws. Reproducing (cloning) the undamaged parts of the image over the damaged areas may in some cases make problematic photos usable. (The goal will be to identify images that can be repaired quickly. Those that cannot should be replaced.)
  6. Levels or curves (in Photoshop) can be used to reduce the contrast in those photos with an overabundance of either black, or white, pixels.
  7. Military insignia can be silhouetted to remove cluttered or irrelevant backgrounds.
  8. When in doubt, the designer can choose a replacement photo.
  9. The designer can make a decision about a photo and then insert it into the book design for review. The author can see how the photo will be used and then decide whether it’s worth the expense (in some cases) of applying lots of Photoshop repair time to the particular image.

These are just some thoughts and approaches, but they should minimize the flaws while giving the print book an archival look. And here, really, is the crux of the matter. The author wants the antique photos from World War II to look like they’re from World War II. He wants an archival look. Therefore, some flaws will not only be tolerable, but actually relevant, to the overall look of the finished print book. The images shouldn’t look like they were shot in the year 2012.

Short-run Book Printing: Ways to Cut Costs

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

On this custom printing job, we’re trimming the book costs to the bone. A print brokering client of mine is producing a family history from the Second World War. He needs to keep costs down since he will be paying the bill himself. However, it’s his legacy. Therefore, the book has to look really good.

Questioning Book Trim Sizes

For this 352-page book with an ultra-short press run of 50, 100, or 200 copies, we have looked at offset and digital commercial printing from various vendors. Offset would be ideal due to the superior quality of the print. In fact, regardless of how we produce the text, printing the cover via offset lithography will be essential in order to maintain the level of quality my client requires.

In the various estimates I have received, I have seen about a $2,500.00 premium (for all press run options) to print the 9” x 12” size rather than the 8.5” x 11” format. Although the larger book would give a more dramatic feel to the printed product, and although it would provide more space for a more ornate interior design, it would be expensive.

Other vendors’ prices reflect a smaller cost difference between the two sizes, but the $2,500 price difference noted above comes from the vendor with the lowest overall bid. So this may be a good place to cut. Therefore, I have asked my client to consider the 8.5” x 11” size over the larger format.

Questioning the French Flaps

My client also wanted French flaps, the flaps that fold back into the front and back covers giving the illusion of a dust cover on a paperback book. It’s very high style. I included them on a book for the Chilean Embassy once. Picture 3.5” flaps extending from the face margin of the front and back covers. Once folded in, they give an extra front and back panel on which to include author biographies, supplemental material, or whatever else the author wants.

However, they’re expensive. The commercial printing vendor with the low bid would charge about $700.00 for French flaps on any of the three press runs. Therefore, I’ve asked my client to consider their value to him.

Considering Cover Coatings

I initially specified a lay-flat dull film laminate to be applied to the front and back covers. These offer a crisp appearance and ultimate protection for the books. However, the coating is applied by an additional vendor, a subcontractor. The low bid vendor can apply a dull UV coating with his own equipment, saving approximately $200.00 to $500.00 for all press run options. I’ve asked my client to consider this.

Considering the Digital Option

Another print vendor with an HP Indigo can offer a digital 9” x 12” book with French flaps for approximately $2,300.00 less than the low bid offset printer can produce an 8.5” x 11” offset-printed book with French flaps. This would be true for 100 books but not for 200 books.

There will be a lot of photos, so this is not necessarily the best answer. The Indigo is the highest quality digital printer I’ve seen. The liquid toners provide superb color. But for this job all that’s needed is black and white. However, the photos are from World War II. They’re not great. They need to be exceptionally well reproduced. Fortunately the digital commercial printing vendor has also included in his price an 80# Finch Vanilla Text stock, which is slightly thicker than the paper included in the low-bid offset printer’s estimate.

I’m going to want to see samples of similar print books from this vendor, but I’ve asked my client to keep an open mind. Fortunately, only the interior pages would be printed digitally. The cover would be offset printed, and the pricing would include French flaps.

The All-Digital Option

I have tried to steer my client away from only printing an electronic book to be read on a tablet. I think that especially for a family history, a physical print book he and his family members can hold in their hands would be treasured. After all, the focus of the book will be on the photos. So having a two-page spread of 9” x 12” pages (i.e., a 18” x 12” canvas, if you will), would be impressive.

That said, it wouldn’t hurt to distill the InDesign book file into a screen-ready (as opposed to press-ready) PDF. Perhaps the design could be slightly altered as well to optimize this version for reading on a tablet. The good news is that burning the file to CD or DVD (even commercially, in order to yield 50, 100, or 200 copies) would not be very expensive.

If my client were to print (either digitally or via offset lithography) a small to medium inventory of physical print books and also burn PDFs of the book to CD or DVD, he could sell the CDs or DVDs for a small amount and make a profit that could help offset the cost of the physical book printing run.

I’ve also asked my client to consider this option, and, just in case, I have an offset printer waiting in the wings who duplicates CDs and DVDs in addition to putting ink and toner on paper.

What You Can Learn from This Experience

Here are some rules of thumb to take away from this case study:

  1. Consider the trim size when designing a book. The number of book pages that can be laid out on a press sheet will significantly affect the final cost.
  2. Any aspect of production that can be done in-house by your printer, rather than jobbed out to a subcontractor, will save you money. This includes binding methods and cover coating methods.
  3. “Bells and whistles” such as French flaps, embossing, die cutting, and such, improve the overall look of a book. However, their absence does not necessarily reduce the aesthetic value of your project. Consider whether they are really necessary. Omitting them can save you money.
  4. Look closely at the press run and page count when determining whether to choose an offset or digital press. Offset is still superior, but for many jobs digital printing would be fine. Don’t pay for what you can’t see. But be sure to check out samples closely under good light.
  5. In choosing between a print version only or an electronic version only, why settle for one or the other? Consider saving money by doing slightly shorter runs of both.
  6. These rules of thumb pertain to other jobs than just book printing.

Book Printing: Things to Consider When Checking a Proof

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

A book printing client of mine reviewed the hard-copy proofs of her job today, and a few issues came up that I thought you might find interesting and instructive. She found four pages that needed simple text edits and one correction on the back cover of the print book.

My client also noted a comment from the book printer that four of the graphics were of lower resolution and might be objectionable when printed (i.e., visibly pixelated).

Who Makes the Corrections, the Book Printer or the Client?

Let’s start with the first issue: the text corrections. My client asked whether the printer or the designer should make the corrections. That is, which would be the more economical and expedient choice.

I said that the designer should make the corrections in InDesign and then only upload those specific pages as press-ready PDF files, under a revised name to make it clear that these were corrected files. I told my client that this particular printer preferred to receive uneditable PDF files (rather than editable, native InDesign files). Therefore, this particular book printer wanted the client make all corrections himself/herself and then submit corrected PDFs.

I also noted that other printers I have worked with preferred to receive native InDesign files instead of PDFs, just so they could make changes themselves if necessary. (So such preferences do vary from printer to printer.)

For the sake of time, accuracy, control over the process, and in deference to the book printer’s preference, I asked my client to have her designer make the corrections and resubmit the files.

What About the Pixellated Graphics? What Are the Rules?

It appeared that the designer had saved bitmapped graphics (black and white only, with no shades of gray) as 300 dpi bitmapped TIFFs. Normally one would save a photograph (grayscale image with tones, not just black and white) as a 300 dpi image, but one would save line art (black and white only) as a 600-1200 dpi image. Using such a low resolution as 300 dpi risked having visible pixels (known as pixelation) in the image, and this is what the offset printer had flagged.

In most cases I would have asked the designer to resubmit those particular print book pages with higher resolution images. However, these were hand drawn images made to resemble woodcuts. They were supposed to be rough. Moreover, this particular print book will be produced on Sebago Antique Vellum stock, which has a pronounced texture. Rough paper is more forgiving of minor flaws within the art and type than a gloss coated press sheet. I believed that with all the peaks and valleys of the rough paper surface, the slightly jagged simulated woodcut images would not be a problem.

Finally and more importantly, the client liked the proof “as is.” So I confirmed with the printer that once the book had been printed, the images would not be more jagged than they were in the proof. Then I asked my client to approve the digital proofs. As they say, the customer is always right.

That said, if you are a designer, I would still advise you to save photographic (grayscale) images in a resolution of twice the printer’s line screen (300 dpi if your printer uses a 150 lpi halftone screen). And I would encourage you to save any bitmapped images (black and white only, with no levels of gray) as “digital line art” at 1200 dpi.

“Confirming-Only” F&Gs or “Approval” F&Gs

After my client’s designer has uploaded revised print-ready PDF files for the pages with “Authors’ Alterations,” the next step will be for my client to review PDF proofs of these pages (as provided by the printer). This is almost instantaneous on-screen proofing, and it will not require any hard proofs to travel to and from my client (i.e., this last approval step will not compromise the schedule).

After my client has approved the revised proofs, the book printer will print all signatures of the book. He will then send a collection of the stacked (but not bound or trimmed) signatures plus cover to my client for review. However, the printer will not wait for my client’s approval before completing the binding process. Therefore, these F&Gs (folded and gathered print book signatures) are known as “confirming-only” F&Gs.

My client could have requested “approval” F&Gs. In this case, the book printer would have taken the book out of production to wait for client approval of the F&Gs. This would have added at least five days to the production schedule (based on the printer’s current workload).

Since F&Gs only reflect printing problems (i.e., any problems would be the printer’s responsibility, and there would be nothing visible in the F&Gs that would not have been visible in my client’s hard-copy proof), I advised my client to accept “confirming-only” F&Gs in this case.

I stressed that printing problems such as scumming, slurring, or any other defects in the application of ink to paper would be the printer’s responsibility (he had a contractual obligation to match the proof exactly). In addition, any problems that would be visible in the F&Gs would probably come and go during the course of the press run (i.e., they would not be problematic throughout the entire press run).

My client needed the books fast. I told her that “confirming-only” vs. “approval” F&Gs came down to a trade-off between time and absolute accuracy. My client agreed with my assessment and requested “confirming-only” F&Gs.

In your own work, if you are a graphic designer, you may want to consider both of these options when requesting F&Gs as one final review prior to book binding.

Book Printing: Thinking Creatively to Meet a Budget

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I wrote a blog entry a while ago about a print book consisting of about fifteen diecut pages of various sizes attached by an “O” ring, the kind used in printed 3 ring binders. The total run was to be 5,000 copies spread over three separate mailings (a few pages sent out with each mailing that the reader could add to the “O” ring).

The pricing came in at approximately three times the budget (approximately $21,000). Here’s what my client and I are doing to bring the cost and available funds more in line with one another.

Background of the Custom Printing Job

The initial estimate included about $4,000 in foil stamping costs. Fortunately the commercial printing vendor had broken out this cost, which I found very helpful. The printer also had noted that the total cost included about $3,000 for paper and $1,000 for the binder “O” rings. Again, this was quite helpful. Finally, he said that putting all elements of the booklet on the same paper stock would save money. After all, having two different paper stocks (interior pages vs. covers) would require elements to be laid out on two press configurations for two separate press runs.

To put my thoughts in order, I created a spreadsheet listing all the elements of the job. I separated out custom printing, die cutting, assembly, envelopes, and mailshop. I wanted to be able to focus on each line item, whittling away the cost as I could.

Changes in the Paper Coating

First we dropped the idea of foil stamping or laminating, and instead chose to go in the opposite direction. We chose an uncoated sheet with a “tooth,” a rough-surfaced paper called Finch Vellum. Not laminating or foil stamping (and thus creating a more subtle and understated look) would save a lot of money.

My client did not want to have all elements of the print book produced on one thickness of paper. She liked the idea of incorporating both covers and interior pages into the book design, as well as a few, heavier-stock short pages. I agreed. It was better to spend money on this component of the job than compromise the print book design.

Mailshop Changes

My client is a freelance designer. Her client, the end-user, offered to do the mailshop work in-house to save money (in-house mailshop would be spread over all in-house departments and would therefore not directly affect the budget for this job). This removed $6,000 ($2000 x 3 mailings) from the total.

In addition, my client’s client (the originator of the job) elected to do only one mailing instead of three.

Format and Press Run Changes

Since there would only be one mailing, some of the otherwise redundant information (elements of the print book that would be sent out in the second and third mailing as well as the first) could be eliminated. It was therefore possible to reduce fifteen book pages to ten book pages.

(Let’s go through the math: 5,000 copies x 15 pages = 75,000 pages total. In contrast, a 10-page booklet would be 50,000 pages. Furthermore, the end-client cleaned the mailing list and reduced the press run to 4,500 copies: i.e., 5,000 more pages eliminated from the total.)

Reducing the amount of paper for the custom printing job (from 75,000 to 45,000 pages) is significant. Although I don’t have final pricing yet, I know that the paper cost (and cost for press time) will drop well below the initially quoted price.

Reducing the number of book pages might also allow more pages to be imposed on a press sheet (maybe yielding fewer press runs). This savings could add up (even if we will be printing two runs: one on the 130# cover stock and one on 80# cover stock).

Breaking the Job into Component Parts / Finding New Vendors Through the Printing Industry Exchange

To reduce costs, I brought in a smaller printer to bid only on the envelopes.

Since the print book would be bound with a looseleaf binder “O” ring through a drill hole, we chose a tear-proof synthetic envelope. The printer advised against printing directly on the envelope. (He said the synthetic envelope fabric might move during the commercial printing process and compromise the image on the paper.) So we agreed on a small custom label press run.

The mailshop work that the end-user (my client’s client) would do would include stuffing the envelopes, affixing the mailing labels (already printed digitally with the variable data address information by the smaller printer), and mailing the job.

(In your own print buying work, you might want to break the job into component parts–book printing and custom binding, printed envelopes and/or custom labels for envelopes, mailshop, etc.–and list the separate components of the job on the Printing Industry Exchange website. Once you have selected your custom printing suppliers, you can then coordinate their various activities yourself to save money.)

Final Outcome: TBD

At this point, my client (the designer) and I have reduced the overall price from about $21,000 to about $12,000. Fortunately my client’s client (the end-user) has also committed more funding to the project since it is a membership effort (an investment in future cash flow). We’ll see what happens. I’m waiting for revised pricing.

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: 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.


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