Five Things You Need to Understand About Book Printing, Part 2

15 10 2010


If your have been told to send an RFQ to 20 printers, you are wasting your time and will be more confused than you ever dreamed.  It is recommended that you narrow the number of printers down to 3-5.  Understand that printers have many different types of presses and each of those presses is designed for certain trim sizes and run lengths.  Choose the right printer/equipment/specifications for your project; below is a quick guide to the types of decisions you will need to make.

Printing type:

*Digital printing is designed for runs of 1-1000 copies depending on the page count.  Digital equipment is either roll stock or sheets, when a roll is used, the speed of printing is faster (this is okay for longer runs, text only, not so hot for quality).  Also, if you have halftones, roll printing is not recommended if you expect high quality reproduction or color.

*Offset:  The three types of printing are Non-heat set (roll), heat set (roll), highest quality Sheetfed; see below for a discussion of each type.

Non-heat set, web:  Ink is applied to paper, perfs and folds down into signatures.

(pros)  Efficient pricing for runs over 1000

(cons)  Ink is wet when sigs are folded, some offsetting may occur (ink on the facing page) and ink may appear slightly grey, however the quality is acceptable.

Heat set, web:  Ink is applied to paper, paper goes through a dryer, then it perfs and folds down into signatures.

(pros)  Efficient pricing for runs over 1000.  Ink density of black is good, providing a sharper/crisper image (photo) and type.

(cons)  When ink is introduced to paper, moisture goes into the paper causing it to expand.  When the paper proceeds through the dryer, the moisture is removed which causes to paper to contract.  This process can sometimes create what is called “web growth”.  That means that if, after the book has been trimmed, it is exposed to moisture, the paper can once again expand leaving the text exposed slightly beyond the cover.  Of course, we aren’t too concerned about humidity in the desert; however, you have to consider where the book is being printed.  Does the climate there tend to be humid, did the delivery truck pass thru any areas where it was raining, etc.  This is not a huge concern, however I believe it is important for you to understand the possibility of web growth.

Sheetfed:  Highest quality of printing.  (Most covers are printed by this method).

(pros) Control of ink density, color matches, high quality photo reproduction.

(cons)  Cost efficient for runs over quantities of 500 (depending on page count). Prices tend to be higher for this method of printing, however, if you shop carefully, some printers are able to print at prices comparable to web.  This is the first choice for coffee table books.

PAPERS:  Printers have different “house” stocks, so ask for a recommendation, which can save you money.  You should check paper weights, opacity and bulk (ppi), etc.  Note that if you choose a special order stock, there may be a lead time of 2 or more weeks.  If you choose a special order stock, please make sure to sign your quote and get it to the printer prior to submitting your files in order to keep your schedule on track.  Quotes are normally good for 30 days only to allow for changes in paper pricing.

BINDING:  Standard bindings are saddle stitch, perfect bound and case bound.

(case bound: round back, flat back, adhesive or smythe sewn, this method of binding as well as optional bindings will require additional manufacturing time)

Optional:  Wire-O, Spiral Wire, Plasti-coil, Otabind, Semi-concealed Wire-O, etc.

(optional bindings can be quite expensive)

(Prices for embossing and foil stamping are based on the image area).

COATINGS:  Varnish, Aqueous, UV and lay flat film lamination.

  • Ask your printer for recommendation on choices that fit your budget.  Every time you consider a binding choice, ask yourself:  “is this binding going to realistically affect the sale of my book or am I cutting in to my profit margin?”  Sometimes it is better to start out basic and improve the features of your design when the book has proven saleable and you have the additional dollars in your budget.  Remember, you should be working with design professionals while preparing your book; it is not the printer’s job to make design recommendations after the files have been submitted.

This is a brief overview of the printing process, so please:

  • Ask for more details from your printing professional.
  • Ask about their best trim sizes and run lengths.
  • Ask if you can request reprint pricing on your original RFQ.
  • Ask if they are printing in 16 or 32 page signatures (some presses do run 24 and 48 page sigs).  Best rule of thumb, design your book to be equally divisible by 16, again, please talk to the printer before sending an RFQ to make sure they are a good fit for your project.  Choosing a printer should never be based on pricing alone; consider the level of customer service you will receive, are they known for good quality, meeting deadlines, good customer interaction, willingness to make suggestions to save you money and are they giving you the same treatment that their large Publishers are receiving.