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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: Compromising to Gain a Price Advantage

Monday, June 11th, 2012

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

Case Study: The Backstory

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

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

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

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

Sending Out Bid Requests and Vetting Estimates

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

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

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

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

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

That said, there were stipulations:

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

Why the Stipulations?

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

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

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

What We Learn from This Experience?

In your own print buying work,

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

The key word is flexibility.

Book Printing: Consider Both Design Goals and Custom Printing Costs

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

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

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

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

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

The Goals for the Family Tree

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

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

From a Book Printer’s Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a Designer’s Perspective

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

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

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

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

Book Printing Case Study: How to Approach a New Job

Friday, March 30th, 2012

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

The Binding and Format of the Notebook

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

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

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

Choosing the Paper Stock

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

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

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

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

How the Files Will Be Supplied to the Printer

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

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

What can you learn from this?

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

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Book Printer Resolves Lamination Debacle

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

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

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

The Cover Film Laminate Did Not Adhere Properly

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

Potential Solutions to the Lamination Problem

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

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

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

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

The Details: What The Printer Actually Did

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

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

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

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

The Final Books: An Analysis

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

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

One Last Request to Protect the Books

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

A Point of Information from the Book Printer

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

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

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

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

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

Book Printing: Attending to Details in Cover Design and Production

Monday, March 5th, 2012

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

Printing Gold Ink on the Cover

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

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

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

Laminating the Cover

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

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

Adding French Flaps

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

Specifying Paper Grain Direction

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

Allowing for the Imprecise Nature of Presswork and Folding

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

Keeping the Inside of the Spine Free of Ink and Coating

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

Reviewing the Cover Template

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

Commercial Printers: The Right Proof at the Right Time

Monday, February 27th, 2012

There are a lot of proofing options. Clearly. You have inkjet, laser, press proofs, and on-screen soft proofs. Which do you use and when?

Proofing Options: Choosing Color Fidelity vs. Speed

I like to think of the four proofing methods as a set of complementary tools. Each has attributes the others don’t. The first variable to consider is your need for color fidelity.

A screen proof, virtual proof, or PDF proof is the least faithful to the color on press. Even though a computer monitor can be calibrated to match an offset press, the image on screen is composed of red, blue, and green light, while the color on press consists of various percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. When mixed, red, blue, and green light create white. In contrast, CMYK inks mixed in equal amounts yield black. So, in general, I’d advise against matching color from monitor to press.

That said, soft proofs are great for checking the completeness of a page (confirming that all elements are present), the margin, trim, folios, etc. And they show up immediately since your commercial printer sends them over the Internet. The same cannot be said for hard-copy proofs, which depend on FedEx, the mail, or a courier for transport.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, high-resolution inkjet proofs have the greatest color fidelity. You can easily identify them since most will come to you on thick, gloss stock. With a loupe, you will see that images are made up of tiny spots of color, unlike the traditional rosettes of halftone dots, which you’ll see with a loupe on an offset printed piece.

These proofs are almost continuous tone in appearance. They are fingerprinted to the commercial printer’s press, so they are just about as color faithful as you can get. They are expensive, but if they keep you from making a mistake in color, you can consider the expense to be more of an investment. Choose these for photos, advertising proofs, and the like.

Laser proofs are good for checking copy position and completeness. You can see where all design elements will fall on a page. These low-res proofs are called “position proofs,” in contrast to the ink jet proofs, which are called “contract proofs” (because they are a contract between your custom printing vendor and you, committing the commercial printer to match the color on press).

Press proofs (which are either a separate press run of your job to yield a small number of “test” copies, or an actual press inspection you attend while the live job prints) are completely color faithful. This is true “WYSIWIG” (what you see is what you get). You can tweak color on press if you attend a press inspection. However, any major color changes will require new printing plates (which will add to the cost of the job).

Putting All the Proofs Together: A Case Study

Here’s a case study of a book I designed. This explanation will show when to use which kind of proofs.

The Job Specifications

The book had a four-color cover with ads on the inside front, inside back, and back covers. After the cover came the four-color front matter (44 pages of ads and client photos), and then a two-color directory (a listing of companies with company descriptions, contact names, and phone and web information).

The Selection of Proofs

I received an inkjet proof of the cover and front matter. Both were produced on thick, gloss stock, with pages taped together into four-page signatures. The color was created with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inkjet inks. The proof was to be considered a “contract proof” (and it was, in fact, color faithful).

For the directory pages, I received a color laser proof (printed on both sides of the sheet—unlike the inkjet proofs—and bound into 16-page signatures plus one 4-page signature). With a loupe I could see a dot pattern (but not a rosette) showing that the PMS color had been simulated with CMYK toners on a laser printer. The proof did not show an actual PMS color (the directory portion of the book was to be a two-color print job) since proofing devices can only simulate match colors with process color builds.

The color was way off, but since I had specified a match color (PMS 2607) plus black ink, I knew that the proof color didn’t matter. I just needed to check the color breaks (confirm that all elements were noted either in color, or black, as appropriate) and the position and completeness of the copy. On press, the commercial printer would add pre-mixed PMS 2607 ink to one press unit, regardless of how the proof colors looked.

There were errors in the front matter. Four ads that had been surrounded with rule lines when I submitted the InDesign file no longer had rules around them. All color work, on the other hand, was completely color-faithful. So I asked the commercial printer to put the rule lines back into the file.

(We were working with InDesign files for the front matter and cover, due to their complexity, and a press-ready PDF for the directory, since it was simple text on the page. Therefore, I asked the printer to make the corrections to the front matter himself. For any changes to the directory, I would have just sent the custom printing supplier a new press-ready PDF.)

Since the commercial printer would be adjusting the InDesign file by adding rule lines around the ads, I needed to see proofs. I wanted to make sure nothing else happened to the files. All of the other changes had to do with alignment of pages (related to trimming of the proof rather than positioning of the art on the page). I didn’t need to see proofs of these pages.

Since I had approved the color in the first set of proofs, and since time was of the essence, I requested PDF proofs of only the affected pages (not the entire front matter section). This way, the commercial printer would be responsible for the accuracy of all pages other than the four new PDF pages I had requested.

Once the inkjet, laser, and PDF proofs had been approved, any further proofing would have required a press check. Since the job only required “pleasing color” and not “critical color,” I decided not to request a press check.

In addition, since an approved inkjet proof is a “contract proof,” the commercial printer was contractually bound to match the color, content, trim, margins, etc., of the inkjet proof of the front matter of the book. If a problem had occurred, it would have been the commercial printer’s responsibility to correct it.

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

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

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

Consider the Choice of Cover Coating

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Request F&G’s and Check Cover Press Sheets

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

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

The Problem

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

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

The Solution

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

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

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

The Lesson

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

Book Printing: Why not Choose Both a Print and an Electronic Version?

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

I recently received an interesting (and yet also quite appropriate for the times) request from a client for whom I had just completed the design and art file production for a print book. She asked for a PDF of the book optimized for tablet computers.

Why do I consider this appropriate? Because of the trend toward digital books. But it was also interesting because my client will be offering her readers two options, a print book version and a “virtual” version. In the process, I expect that she will attract many more readers.

The Technical Considerations

Dimensions: The print book had been a 6” x 6” volume, yet the particular digital readers for which my client wanted to optimize the reading experience had more of a “portrait” orientation (taller rather than than wider or square). Therefore, I saved the InDesign file under a new name and changed the page size to 8.5” x 11” (“portrait,” as opposed to “landscape,” orientation).

Page Design: The print book had a photo on all left-hand pages and a memorable quotation on all right-hand pages. Since the vertical orientation chosen for tablet computers would lend itself to more of a “calendar” design, with the image above and the text below, I moved in this direction. I also made a mock-up of the front matter: title page, copyright page, introduction, dedication, etc., working to keep the look of the screen version consistent with that of the print book version. And I mocked-up three photo/quote pages (horizontal image, vertical image, and square image, all with their respective quotes) to see how everything would fit on the new 8.5” x 11” page size.

Type size: I enlarged the type and the photos to take advantage of the larger format (8.5” x 11” rather than 6” x 6”) and also to provide a more readable product. After all, reading text on a back-lit screen is harder on the eyes than reading ink on paper in a commercial printing job.

Images: My client and I discussed the preferred format for the images. While TIFFs had been appropriate for the print book version, the screen version would be a small PDF file. There was no reason not to use JPEGs of the photos to keep the overall file size down. Moreover, instead of including 300 dpi images within the CMYK color space, the images for the screen version could be 72 dpi RGB photos (sRGB, actually). We chose these specs for a few reasons.

  1. RGB has a wider gamut than CMYK. That is, the RGB color space includes more colors than CMYK, and the only reason to use the CMYK color space is in preparation for printing on offset or digital equipment. Monitors create color with red, green, and blue light; offset and digital presses create color with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink.
  2. The images could be of significantly lower resolution than print images (72 dpi rather than 300 dpi) and still be clear on screen.
  3. And due to their compression, JPEG images would be much smaller than TIFF images, yielding a much smaller PDF file for the tablet or e-reader.

Choice of the Digital Book File Format

My client requested a screen-optimized PDF as the final file format for the virtual book to be distributed to readers. She did this for two reasons:

  1. A PDF would be static: fixed and unchangeable. Every reader would see the same version. This would allow for consistency between the print book and the screen version. In addition, any anomalies from e-reader to e-reader would not cause any problems in the formatting of the text and images, the position of text and images within the file, or the typefaces. Everything would be consistent.
  2. PDFs capture the nuances of book design in ways that e-pub and other e-book formats cannot. They allow for multi-column layout and a host of other design choices. My client wanted the design grid structure, typefaces, spacing, etc., to be congruent with the print book, and a PDF would ensure that this would be the case.

The Implications for Print Books

This case study points out an interesting fact. The question does not have to be whether print books will cease to exist, but rather how to grow one’s reader base and facilitate and optimize the reading experience through multiple channels (print, screen, perhaps even audio).

My client will have more, rather than fewer, potential readers by providing physical print books to those who request them and a screen version at a lower price to those who choose this option. Who knows? Some readers might even buy both.

The Espresso Book Printing Machine Revisited

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

First of all, I misspoke.

A PIE Blog reader just brought to my attention that the price Politics and Prose charges for a single print book produced on Opus, their Espresso book printing machine, is not, as I had noted, $8.00 for 200 pages plus $2.00 for every additional hundred or fewer pages. This is just for “public domain” titles.

Public domain refers to works for which the copyright has expired, such as the works of Shakespeare. Such works are available to the general public for use without regard to ownership.

Politics and Prose goes on to say in another part of its description of Opus that custom titles one might upload to their Espresso book printing machine incur other charges. While these charges are quite reasonable, they point toward the variety of skills, techniques, and arenas of knowledge involved in print book publishing.

Here’s a list:

  1. Art Production and Art File Review: Politics and Prose will review the art files and PDFs for your print book. This assumes that you have hired a graphic artist to create a design and lay out the book, then distill the document into a press-ready PDF. Politics and Prose will provide design services if you so desire. The process of book design alone encompasses skills in layout, photo manipulation, illustration, type usage, color usage, art production within InDesign or Quark, prepress knowledge related to distilling press-ready PDFs, and an overall awareness of custom printing paper specification and book printing and binding.
  2. Copyright: Politics and Prose will provide a copyright page, if requested. This ties into the whole area of copyright, or intellectual property rights management, which is an aspect of common law that bears study and perhaps even advice from counsel. Information is readily available, but one’s rights and responsibilities shouldn’t be taken lightly. One should familiarize oneself with the laws and make informed decisions.
  3. ISBN: These numeric codes reflect a print book’s edition and publisher, plus qualities such as trim size, page count, and binding. Booksellers and libraries identify print books by their ISBNs. I’m not absolutely sure whether Politics and Prose addresses the issue of ISBNs, but this is a realm of expertise that must be considered.
  4. Promotion: Politics and Prose will put your books on their shelves and display them on their website. If your books sell, the bookstore will take a 20 percent commission. This is very reasonable given the amount many other self-publishing venues will take. That said, you might want to promote your print book yourself. You may want to send out press releases, postcards, or promotional bookmarks. You may want to hold a book launch. Your goal will be to generate buzz, to make it known to potential buyers that your book is available and to get them to want it. Public relations, promotion, marketing–in most for-profit businesses, these comprise one or more discrete departments. There are many skills to acquire, many choices to be made, to effectively promote your book.
  5. Distribution: My guess is that output from the Espresso book printing machine goes to the bookshelf, it is sold, and you get your portion of the proceeds. But there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. In most cases you would print and store the books, pay someone to warehouse them, keep track of how many you have, and collect and send them out as needed to those who submit book orders. Warehousing, inventory control, and and order fulfillment in most businesses also comprise an entire business department. Fortunately, at Politics and Prose you produce a book, it goes on the shelf, and someone buys it. Then Politics and Prose prints another copy (or a few more). That said, it’s still useful to understand the process of storage and distribution. After all, what if you want to give a handful of books as a gift or a donation to charity. How would you do so? Or what if you become a popular author and you want to sell your book at multiple bookstores. What distribution rights do you have?

This Is Nothing New

The same sort of thing happened when typesetting, paste-up, and prepress (assembly of negatives onto goldenrod sheets at printers and prepress houses in preparation for platemaking) were folded up into the Macintosh. Multiple disciplines pursued by skilled professionals collapsed into a single machine, and it became conventional wisdom that anyone with a computer could produce a publication. Only gradually did it become evident that the process encompassed multiple disciplines that had to be mastered.

I’m sure Politics and Prose does a great job for a reasonable price. I personally like the idea that independent authors can get their books printed and distributed when they might otherwise not have had this opportunity.

I even understand the criticism that not every one of the explosion of book titles will be worth reading, that the democratization of publishing will have its down side. Perhaps we need “curators” to help steer interested parties toward better book purchases.

But I do like the idea that more people will publish and more people will read.

While it may look like Opus is a giant vending machine, that you can insert a few dollars and a bound book will drop into the hopper a few minutes later ready to hand off to a willing buyer, just is not the case. It’s more complex and nuanced than that, and it bears thought, reflection, and study.

A Print Book-Making Machine for a Washington, DC, Bookseller

Monday, January 16th, 2012

An independent bookstore in Washington, DC, called Politics and Prose has installed a new book-making machine (Espresso Book Machine) that poses a number of profound implications for print books. This machine can produce a paperback book of between 40 and 800 pages, in a multiplicity of sizes up to 8” x 10.5”, with most print books ready in four to ten minutes, for a cost of $8.00 for 200 pages plus $2.00 for every additional hundred—or fewer–pages.

This remarkable machine is called the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) — it is a print on demand (POD) machine that prints, collates, covers, and binds a single book in a few minutes. Politics and Prose has nicknamed their machine “Opus.”

What Are the Implications?

I do not know how many machines like this exist in the country or the world at this point in time, but given the specifications of the custom printing product (of quality equal to the perfect-bound books already on the bookstore shelves), I think this may provide an alternative to both mass-produced print books written by established authors and e-books, which provide content without the physical experience of reading a book.

These are my thoughts:

Access to Out-of-Print Books

The Espresso Book Machine (nicknamed Opus by Politics & Prose) allows customers to access millions of out-of-print books and produce attractive, durable, and affordable physical copies. For the most part, due to the cost of shelf space (overall expenses involved in running a bookstore divided by the square footage of the bookshelves), booksellers need to purchase and sell products that will move. If more people want to read Stephen King than Plato, there will be more copies of the former in a bookstore than the latter. In fact, in most cases, out-of-print books may be unavailable altogether. With a machine like Opus, this can change. People can buy what they want to read, not just what’s popular. And with such a reasonable price-point (comparable to other books in the store), these books will be within reach for most people.

A Venue for Independent Publishers

Due to the bookseller’s need to fill shelf space with popular material that will sell, a few sought-after writers can command a premium for their work while most authors have few options. (Of course this is changing with the advent of e-books, and for a similar reason. (E-books are cheap to produce because their production consumes no raw materials, requires no warehousing, and incurs no delivery costs.)

What Opus will do for small publishers and individual authors is allow them to find a buyer and then individually produce a copy of their book for that buyer. An author can produce one copy or a hundred copies, and as long as the sale price exceeds the production cost, the writer can distribute his or her work and make a profit. There’s no need for a huge up-front expense to produce a long print run or to warehouse their inventory.

What this means beyond the practical business terms outlined above is that readers will have access to independent authors, and independent authors will have access to readers.

The Experience of Physical Books

As one who appreciates the physical experience of reading a print book (the smell, feel, and sound of the paper; the interesting variants of binding technology; the nuances of paper color, embossing, debossing, and gloss and matte paper coatings), I’m happy to know there are alternatives to e-books. I think others may appreciate print books for similar reasons. And this machine (as well as other similar machines that I expect will show up across the country) offers this option at an affordable price.

The Specifics of the Process

Essentially, Opus works like a digital, on-demand book printing press. You either download a PDF of an out-of-print book, or you upload a PDF of your own custom printing job. A black and white laser printer produces the text pages on 8.5” x 11” paper, while an inkjet printer produces the cover on 11” x 17” stock. The machine perfect-binds the pages into the cover with cool-bind glue, and then knife blades trim the book to size (anything from 4.5” x 5” to 8” x 10.5”).

While none of this technology is new, given the plethora of inkjet and laser printers in commercial printing shops (everything from a Docutech to an HP Indigo), what’s new is the venue. You normally wouldn’t enter a commercial printing shop to order one or five copies of a book. Yet with a machine such as Opus in the book shop you visit to relax, you might just spend a little to produce your own book.


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