Glossary of Printing Terms

Before I came to work for Edwards Brothers Malloy, I had no experience in the printing industry.  As such, there were a lot of things I had to learn about the process of manufacturing books.  I must confess that I’m still learning and I assume that it’s the same feeling many small publishers and authors must have when navigating the book printing process.  We have done previous posts on the definitions of printing terms and there are some more that are quirky and in no way descriptive of the processes or concepts that they are meant to identify.

Kerning:  The process of manipulating the spacing among characters to achieve a visually pleasing result.  This is an especially funny term when we could just call it spacing.

Basis weight:  This term refers to paper and (in the U.S. and Canada) it is the weight in pounds of a ream of paper (500 sheets) cut to a standard size.  It can also be referred to as ream weight or substance weight.  So, when you hear that a particular paper is say, 50 pound white; this means that 500 sheets of that paper cut to a standard size weighs 50 pounds.

Blurb:  This refers to some kind of description or commentary of book content or an author and is typically positioned on a book jacket.

Signature:  A grouping of pages that have been printed and folded but not yet bound.  Every book has multiple signatures that go together to make the completed book.

C1S and C2S:  These are abbreviations for coated one side and coated two sides.

CMYK:  This is an abbreviation for the primary colors cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black).  These are the four process colors used to create all other colors in the printing process.

Coated paper:  This term refers to paper that has a coating made from clay and/or other substances.  It is applied to improve reflectivity and ink holdout.  Paper manufacturers make coated paper in four major categories which are gloss, dull, cast and matte.

Coverage:  The extent to which ink covers the surface of paper or other substrate.  This can be expressed as light, medium or heavy.

Creep:  This is a phenomenon in printing where the pages of a book (most noticeable in soft cover books) extend past the edge of the cover.  It is also referred to as feathering and sometimes web growth.

Crop Marks:  These are lines near the edges of images that indicate portions that should be reproduced.  They are also referred to as cut or tic marks.

DPI:  An acronym for dots per square inch.  This is a measure of output resolution as it relates to monitors on computer screens, printed images and image setters.

Drill:  As it relates to printing, this term refers to holes that are drilled in a book.  Most commonly this happens with workbooks and other similar media that may be purposed for three ring binders.

Dull finish:  This refers to a coating applied to paper (typically covers of books) that is flat and not glossy.  It is a little smoother than a matte finish and is also sometimes called velour, velvet or suede finish.

Groundwood paper:  This is a type of paper like newsprint or other inexpensive substrate made from pulp created when wood chips are ground up mechanically as opposed to being broken down chemically.

House sheet:  This refers to paper kept in stock by a printer.  House sheets are usually suitable for a variety of different printing applications.  These papers are also sometimes called floor sheets.

Inkjet printing:  This refers to a method of printing where droplets of ink are sprayed through computer controlled nozzles.

These are only some of hundreds of terms used in the printing and publishing industries.  Sometimes they are well suited for the processes or objects that they are meant to describe and sometimes not.  Is there any printing or publishing terms that are confusing to you?

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The Brighter The Whiter

paper shadeMuch like the printing industry, paper producers have their own set of lingo that can be confusing.  Choosing the right type of paper is important to the physical look and feel of your book.  It must also compliment other characteristics such as the text, graphics or images and even the genre of your writing.  The paper manufacturing process has become highly sophisticated and there are a number of terms used to describe the aesthetics of paper.  Some of these are known as whiteness, brightness, opacity and shade.

Defining the Terms

Paper Shade

As the term is used in the industry, paper shade refers to a measurement of the color of paper.  A universally accepted color shade model is used to determine paper shade.  This is known as the CIELAB model or CIE L*a*b*.  Not only is this model used to determine paper shade but other industries rely on it as well.  Of all the visual characteristics of paper, shade most closely corresponds with how we see paper in the real world.  In book printing and publishing, it is also one of the most important factors for how other elements of a book are perceived.  For instance many books use a true white or cream white shade in order to be more visually appealing to readers and cause less strain on the eyes.  The colors of text and graphics in a book also influence the shade of paper that should be used.  For example warmer colors may call for a more neutral white paper that will work to enhance these elements.  Shade may play an important role for trade books such as novels where readers will spend a significant amount of time looking at the pages.  A shade that is easy on the eyes will work better to bring out the text.

Paper Whiteness

The whiteness of paper is defined as a measurement of light reflectance.  All wavelengths of light are included in this measurement.  In a nutshell, there are many different kinds of white.  Like shade, whiteness is closely related to our visual perception of the color of paper.  Sometimes these variations in whiteness are subtle.  For instance two pieces of paper that fall at different ends of the spectrum on the CIE whiteness index may appear white by themselves however when juxtaposed; their variations are revealed.  The CIE index assigns a numerical value between 0 and 100 to sheets of paper.  The International Commission on Illumination (or CIE) developed the index and it is the most widely used for measuring whiteness of paper in the world.  It relies on a standard for illumination (D65) which closely resembles natural daylight.


The type of light paper is viewed under can affect how it looks to the human eye.  Other elements such as optical brightening agents (OBAs) used in paper production can also affect the whiteness of paper.  For instance when these agents are applied to a dull sheet, the paper will look brighter in natural light and dull in artificial light.  When there are little to no OBA’s applied to a sheet, the paper will look brighter in artificial lighting when compared to its counterpart with larger amounts of OBA’s.  In terms of book manufacturing, it is important to view proofs of a book as well as any paper samples under different lighting conditions to ensure your other elements (i.e. text, graphics and images) are represented in the best possible way.  The whiteness index is meant to be a guide and no matter what it says, perception of color may vary from person to person and from environment to environment.

Paper Brightness

Like whiteness, paper brightness is measured on a scale from 0-100.  It is also a measurement of the amount of light reflected from paper however it is focused on a narrow wavelength of blue light as opposed to all wavelengths in the spectrum for whiteness measurements.  The higher the number on the brightness scale, the more light a particular sheet reflects.  Brightness is just one part of the equation when determining the visual aspects of paper.  Two sheets with identical brightness can look drastically different because shade and whiteness are not taken into account.

In general, there are two measurement systems that are widely used for determining paper brightness.  One (used in North America) is the TAPPI scale.  The other (used primarily in other parts of the world) is the ISO system.  Some papers can have a rating higher than 100 on the brightness scale.  This is due to optical brightening agents present in the paper.  When these are applied, the paper can actually reflect more light than is coming from the source.  An easy way to remember this is the brighter, the whiter.  In practical application, if you had a book that featured a historical theme, you may want to go with an offwhite sheet with a lower brightness rating to evoke the feeling of a historical document or something that is old.  In contrast, a title with content that is modern would lend itself better to a sheet with a higher brightness rating.

Paper Opacity

Opacity refers to the show-through or opaqueness of paper.  Some sheets may appear to be thinner than others.  Papers with lower opacity tend to let text and images show through more than papers with higher opacity.  Opacity is expressed as a percentage in paper.  For example, paper with 98% opacity means that 98% of light is not allowed to pass through the paper.  For books that have many photos,  graphics or a lot of ink coverage in general, papers with higher opacity are ideal.

When it comes to choosing the paper for a book, it really comes down to personal preference.  Authors, designers, publishers and others involved in the process for making a book may have very specific reasons for choosing one type or grade of paper over another and there really is no right or wrong answer.  Knowing the different characteristics of paper and how they influence the content of a book will help guide you to making the right choice.


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Verifying the Correct Color Space of Your One and Two-Color PDF Files

CMYKColor in a PDF file intended to print one or two-color has become the number one barrier to efficiently moving files from pre-flight into production.  When a printer encounters this problem, production grinds to a halt.  Valuable time is spent determining whether or not files must be redone.  By communicating the following information to your text file builders who can follow these instructions to verify the correct color space prior to submitting files to your printer, publishers and content creators can avoid these hiccups.

There are primarily two reasons why a PDF designed to print in one or two-color may inadvertently include additional colors.

Category #1:

Color elements such as RGB, CMYK or even Pantone have been created or placed in the native Quark or InDesign document.  For a design meant to have two colors, there may have been colors other than the two intended added to the file.


When we receive and process one-color PDF files that fall into this category, gray scaling will take place.  Inferior gray conversions are fairly infrequent however, when they exist, they are subtle and hard to catch.  Removing the color from your one-color native files can help you avoid this problem.  If you choose to send your printer PDF files containing color elements and you want them gray scaled, keep in mind that you may have to accept your printer’s RIP default grayscale conversion.  Letting your printer know ahead of time how you would like your documents gray scaled can save time in the production process.


When a printer receives two-color files that fall into this category it is not uncommon for them to ask you to make appropriate changes and re-save your files as a PDF.  Many printers will re-work your files for you (including Edwards Brothers Malloy) however be sure and let them know that you wish to do so.  Otherwise you may be surprised down the road or forced to accept the printer’s default options.

Category #2:

The method used to save native files to PDF can cause correctly built one or two-color elements to “save” in the RGB or CMYK color space.  To avoid problems like these, you should save your files using your printer’s RIP-ready file guidelines.  Many printers have specific recommendations depending on how their workflow is designed.  For example when customers send files to our prepress department, we recommend saving text documents using our Saving text documents to RIP-ready files guidelines.

Another common misconception is that widely used programs like Microsoft Word will save black only files as black.  This is not the case and should not be relied upon.  PDF files made from PC MS Word will always “save” in the RGB color space and the PDF file will always have to be gray scaled before plates can be made.  This is true for any printer that you may send native Word files to.  Remember that if you do not gray scale a file yourself, be prepared to except your printer’s default settings and be sure to discuss this with them before moving forward.

Two Color Files

The same problems that occur with one-color files can also occur with two-color text files. In addition to RGB and CMYK color space issues mentioned above, two color files have the added complexity of requiring the second color to be consistently identified throughout the file. An example of this problem would be to identify Pantone 250 multiple ways in the same file: as Pantone 250 CVU and/or Pantone 250C, in addition to Pantone 250.  In this example, the logic within Prinergy (software used in our workflow) would identify CVU and C as the ‘same’ and all of the Pantone 250 elements would end up on the same plate.  However, to avoid potential problems, whenever possible, this sort of complexity should be removed from your files.

The following are instructions for using Acrobat Pro 7* to check your PDF files intended to print one or two-color.  This method of file checking is the most reliable way of identifying inappropriate colors in a PDF file.  Note that the screen shot below is from Acrobat Pro 7.  These tools are available using Acrobat Pro 6 and 8 also.  Slightly different screens and instructions will apply.  These tools are not available using standard Acrobat or Acrobat Reader.

Using Acrobat Pro 7 launch your PDF file:

  • In the “Advanced” tab select “Output Preview”
  • In “Simulation Profile” choose “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2”
  • In “Preview” choose “Separations”
  • In “Separations” deselect “Black” (or the single Pantone color intended) from the list of plates
  • If text is two-color, deselect both colors that are to print (see note “For two-color files”)
  • Carefully cursor through each entire page in your PDF document.  If the PDF is correctly built as a one or two-color file, this view of your pages will show them all as being blank.  If in this view, you see an element on a page, it is because that element has an inappropriate color designation.

Color Space in Adobe 7

If you ever have questions about how to build your files for correct submission to Edwards Brothers Malloy, you can always contact a customer service representative for help.  They have years of knowledge related to file preparation and can help make the process very smooth.


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Refurbishing a Four Color Printing Press

A Concrete pad was laid for the new four color printing press

Here you can see a concrete pad that was laid for the new four color printing press to be installed on.

Assembling a printing press is no easy task.  A couple of months ago, the company purchased a 4-color press so that we could begin offering 4-color text printing to our customers.  The process is much more involved than one would think.


While the press undergoes a rigorous cleaning process, there is a lot of preparation that needs to be done to get ready for its arrival.  A huge concrete slab had to be poured in the floor where the new press will sit.  Many of the presses that we have utilize both electricity and natural gas to do their job.  Luckily the electrical work that was already in place was sufficient to run the new press.

The Press

Clean cylinders of four color printing press

A shot of the interior of our new four color printing press after it has been cleaned using a dry ice method.

The sheetfed press itself is a monster.  Weighing in at more than 65,000 pounds, it will take two semi-trucks to deliver.  Although the press is pre-owned, it has been completely refurbished.  The entire assembly was dismantled and cleaned using a dry ice method.  It got a fresh coat of paint and new insignia.  Upon its arrival in Ann Arbor this coming January, a crew of two to three workers will spend about three weeks assembling and calibrating the press so that it can be put into service.  Although a printing press has millions of parts, there are 4 to 5 basic assemblies that will be joined together.  After assembly is complete, the press with paper loaded on it will weigh approximately 65,000 pounds.

Interior of 4 color press

Here you can see buildup of grime and ink that was revealed once the press was disassembled.

Interior of four color printing press

After a thorough cleaning using a dry ice method, the machine is restored to showroom condition.

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