A Self-Publisher’s Guide to the Book Printing Process

A self-publishers guide  to the book printing process

It’s tempting to believe that printers just upload files to the book making machine and books pop out the other end. Good printers make it seem that easy but it really isn’t. In actuality, the printing process is often multi-faceted and potentially complex. This is especially true for people who have never been through the process first hand because when something is complicated, it can be hard to understand.

Submitting Files for Printing

letter press book printingA lot of writers generate their work in a variety of different programs that don’t always compute with the workflow of many printers. For example just submitting a Word document to a printer is not going to fly. You see printers need files to have the proper resolution and other types of settings configured in order for them to print right on the presses that they have.

A printer’s pre-press department can make small changes if need be but for the most part, they don’t have the time to make all formatting changes that might be necessary. Many printers need files to be ready to go. Otherwise things get backed up and the whole process grinds to a halt. Changes may also affect the way a book looks in the end and those changes may need to be run by the author which also takes time.

Authors should make sure their files are properly formatted before they submit them to a printer. Joel Friedlander has some excellent templates available at bookdesigntemplates.com that can help you get your manuscript in the right format for submission to your printer. Depending on who you are submitting your files to, having them in the right format can make a big difference in timing. The configuration of files will differ from printer to printer but here are some general guidelines you can follow:

For Offset Printing (Non-digital printing presses)

  • Colors and images should be in CMYK
  • Appropriately specify PMS colors
  • On sides of a book that will be trimmed, you should allow for a 0.125 (one eighth of an inch) bleed
  • Your document should be the same size as the final trim size of your book

For books printed on a digital press (typically if you are printing smaller quantities like 500 and below)

  • Digital images (photographs) should be in RGB
  • Colors should be in CMYK
  • Pantone colors should still be specified and printers will try and match them as closely as possible
  • Images should be at least 300dpi
  • 0.125in (one eighth) should be allowed for bleed and document size should reflect the final trim size just like for offset printing

Choosing Paper and Cover

Used Paper RollsGetting the right paper for your book can be a crucial decision. There are many different weights, coatings and environmental designations for paper. The type of paper you pick can affect the cost of making your books, how images and colors appear, and influence the overall quality. In general, if you are looking to save money, coated papers tend to be more costly than un-coated paper.

For example ground wood paper tends to be one of the less expensive forms but can appear very low-quality. This is the kind of paper you see in children’s coloring books. Conversely, heavy weight coated papers are typically seen in higher-end hard cover books that feature lots of images and large pages. Some higher-end text books are a good example of those that use coated papers. These are higher quality stocks and tend to be more durable and easier on the eyes.

If your book has lots of graphics and photographs, it’s better to go with coated papers. If it’s mostly text, you’re safe going with something uncoated and lighter weight. Of course you should always consult your printer for the best possible paper to use for your particular job and budget.

Digital, Offset and Number of Copies

timson web pressFor first time authors it can be difficult to understand the book manufacturing process. Making books is a complicated process and it can be challenging to make only a small quantity. For many decades traditional offset printing was used to serve large publishing customers who ordered books in bulk. That practice is still in existence however a growing number of smaller publishers and individual authors are requesting small quantities of books (something that large book manufacturers are getting better at doing).

If you are ordering a large quantity of books, offset is probably going to be the most economical option (for quantities greater than 1,500-2,000 books). Many digital presses these days however can still handle quantities in that range. For quantities smaller than that, digital is the way to go. Most likely a book manufacturer will make the choice for you and with advances in digital printing technology, it can be hard to tell the difference between something printed on an offset press and a book made on a digital printing press.

Regardless of how your books are made, it’s important to understand the differences among the printing technologies and equipment involved.

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