Questions to ask your book printer

We can get into all kinds of other issues about preferred file format, setup and costs, corrections, and shipping options. For now I want to just consider the issues involved in the production of the physical copies.

When you are looking to have your books produced by a book printer there are a number of things to consider. A few, but not all, of the important questions are: 1) What range of copies are they set up for? 2) How it is going to be printed? 3) Interior paper selection? 4) Cover stock selection? 5) What is recommended for a protective coating?

Each is important in how a book is produced to guarantee quality, durability, consistency, and presentation as well as cost. If you have selected POD for your book production, your selection of materials may be limited, and the consistency and quality control are pretty much up to whoever is running the machine that day.

There is no one printer that is going to be all things to all people, every one of them has a specialty range and equipment setup that works for them. When you contact printers experienced in book manufacture here are some of the things you want to find out.

What quantities work best for their setup and operation? A large nationally known operation may work in the 5000-25000 range with a web press and consider a short run 2500 copies. A regional or local offset printer may work in the 800-3000 range using an offset press. A digital printer may offer quantities as low as 20 on upwards to 600 in a single run. For example, Gray Dog Press is considered to be a short run digital printer. POD printers may offer that single copy or very short runs to 25-50 but they will be expensive compared to other options. Basically, a long run printer is not going to want to do a run of 200 books and a POD printer is probably not your best choice for more than a couple dozen copies.

What technology do you use for printing books? The answers will be along the lines of ink-jet, laser, digital, offset and web press or a combination of two or three. Laser and digital are generally used for POD or short run production. Offset press is usually for runs over 800-1000 and web press for 3000 copies or more. However, new advances have production ink-jet printers pulling the paper from large rolls. This relatively new technology generally falls into the long run category.

What do you recommend or use for interior book stock? Not all papers are compatible with binding books properly. Things to consider are color, surface texture, grain direction, and weight. White and natural are the most common. White papers on the low end of the quality spectrum will most likely have a slight gray cast when compared to better quality, bright white papers. An 84 bright will show gray when compared to a 96 bright. Some papers are considered to be 102 bright, or more. These will start to take on a slight blue tone when compared to a 96 bright paper. Natural stocks can run from a very light off-white natural tone to a heavy cream color.

Some papers available to printers in one section of the country may not be readily available to printers in another area. Fortunately, most fall into a fairly common range so a given brand here may look identical to one elsewhere. Common book stock weights available can be dependent on the type of printing technology used. Web press will usually use a lighter stock in the 55#-60# range. The rest are running as sheet-fed and will usually be 60#-70#, 60# being most common. Recommendations by the printer will usually fall into a combination of what’s available, what works on the equipment both for printing and binding, and what is most cost effective.

Grain direction should run parallel to the spine for both the interior and the cover. This provides flexibility for the papers and helps to create a stronger bond with the adhesive. If the grain is perpendicular to the spine then, the cover especially, will be stiff and work against the adhesive binding weakening it shortening the life of the book.

At Gray Dog Press, for example, we have two white stocks in 60# and two natural stocks one as 60# the other as 70# that make up 95% of everything we print. All are grain oriented, print well for black and color applications, and have excellent binding characteristics. Other weights, colors, brands are available but since we buy so much of what we consider our “house stock” other selections can add 30% or more to the cost of a given book.

What do you recommend or use for cover stock? Important considerations for cover stocks are grain direction and compatibility with the binding adhesive. The weights can run from 65# to 100# with 80# being fairly common. You may hear the term C1S, meaning coated on one side and referred to as 10 point or 12 point. A 10 point C1S is roughly equivalent to an 80# digital cover.

A coated stock is commonly used in many applications especially with an offset press since the ink does not absorb beyond the surface as significantly as other stocks. With a digital print, depending on whether or not it is a digital offset or digital color laser, a C1S cover stock may not be necessary especially if a protective finish coating is used.

What protective coatings are available? Coating the cover is highly recommended it adds strength and durability to the cover. At Gray Dog Press we prefer to use either a gloss or matte laminate. We tried UV coatings be were not satisfied with the results we found. Since UV coating is used, and recommended, by a number of printers, it could be a combination of things that gave us less than optimum results. When we ran a number of tests with covers having light or just a little color it worked fine. But, we saw cracking when the color was significant or dark along the spine.

Since it is recommended you use a C1S when applying a UV coating, if the color build is high or the coating on the cover stock is not scored just right the potential for cracking is very high. Plus a thin coating can wear quickly and not provide long term protection. A good quality laminate is usually 1.2 mil to 1.5 mil thick and will resolve the problem.

Again these are not the only things to ask but are those questions that have the new author wondering what one option over the other means. I hope this has given clarity to some of those questions. If you want to know more, please ask.