Book Printing: What Info does a Printer need to Quote accurately?

Virtually all printing projects are made-to-order. This is because each printed piece is unique and created for a particular purpose. The purpose of the piece determines its characteristics. Your printer refers to the unique characteristics of your project as Specifications or “Specs”. These Specs are what your printer needs to know in order to accurately quote and print your project.

Each type of printing project requires its own set of Specs. That is why your printer needs different information to quote on a business card or postcard than he needs to quote on a multi-page document such as a book. Since books are a little more involved than most printing projects, I thought they would be a good example to use while explaining printing Specs. Below are the Specs your printer would need before he could accurately quote and produce a book. This information also applies to other multi-page documents such as catalogs, manuals, directories, etc.

Quantity – How many books do you need? If you haven’t pinned the exact quantity down yet it is not uncommon for a print buyer to request various quantities for comparison purposes. For example, you may ask your printer to quote on quantities of 250, 500 and 750. One way of keeping your order quantities as low as possible is to find a printer who can print your books “on demand”. This allows you to have your books printed in smaller batches as you need them. For more information about this option, see our article “Printing Lingo: What does “Print On Demand” mean?”

Size – What is the finished size of the book? To help avoid miscommunication, it is preferred that you give the width dimension first and then the height dimension. For example, 8.5”x 11” or 5.5” x 8.5”. For more information about size considerations, see our article “Want to Save Money on Printing? Paper Size Matters”

Page Count – This sounds simple but it can easily be miscommunicated.  For example, open up a book and take hold of a single page. Let’s say you grab page 21…but, on the reverse side is page 22. So are you holding one page or two? To your printer, you are holding two pages. So when relaying the page count, make sure you and your printer understand each other. Also, it is probably safest not to include the cover in the book’s page count unless the cover’s Specs are identical to the interior pages (called a Self Cover book). It is generally better to list the Specs for the book’s cover separately to avoid confusion.

Bindery Method – This refers to how you want the cover and pages bound together. Some popular book binding methods include Saddle Stitching, Perfect Bound, Spiral Coil Bound and 3-Ring. For an overview of these common bindery methods, see our article “Buying Basics: Printed Books for Business”

Paper Thickness and Type – If the books are to be mailed, thinner paper can generally save on mailing costs. But thicker paper helps create an aura of quality. Also, you don’t want any page content showing through from one side to the other so dark or heavy ink coverage might require thicker paper. Thicker paper also adds some durability so it is common to make the cover thicker than the interior pages. Regarding the type of paper to select, smooth white paper stock is sort of the default so let your printer know if you are after a certain texture or other effect. Also, paper may be ordered precoated on one or both sides to give it some sheen and durability. This precoating is applied at the paper mill where your printer orders the paper and is already on the paper before ink is applied.

Ink – Is the piece to be produced using 4-color process (full color), one or two spot ink colors, only black ink or a combination? Is the cover printed in color but the interior pages are not? Do you want to use a specific PMS Spot color (aka match ink)? Also, depending on the project, your printer may ask if the cover or any of the interior pages Bleed, which means the ink extends all the way to the edge of the paper. If unsure about Bleeds, see our article “Printing Lingo: What does “Bleed” mean?”

Coating – Clear coatings are often applied over the ink on printed pieces to protect them from scuffs and abrasions. Coatings are recommended for books that will be handled frequently. In addition to protection, gloss coatings enhance the appearance of the ink by giving it more sheen, which in turn helps make colors appear more vivid. For these reasons, the cover of a book or catalog is often coated with a clear UV or Aqueous coating. If the interior pages contain color photographs such as in a product catalog, they might receive coating as well. Otherwise, interior pages are generally not coated.

Finishing and Delivery – Are there any special operations you want the printer to perform, such as 3-hole drilling, shrinkwrapping or other packaging requirements? Also, the printer will need to know the requested date of delivery and also where the order is to be delivered.

Here is an example of actual Specs for a book we printed a few weeks ago –  it is written in a sort of industry shorthand but it contains all the elements we mentioned:

  • 5.5 x 8.5
  • cover: 4/4 with Bleed, C1S on 10pt. UV coating
  • text: 96 pages all black on 50# white or similar
  • perfect bound
  • 12,000 qty
  • deliver to 63044, need by 1/22 or earlier

Below, I have listed these same book Specs and added some explanations in blue. Don’t worry if anything sounds too technical because you can always just relay the Specs to your printer using normal words.

  • 5.5 x 8.5 (the finished Size)
  • cover: 4/4 with Bleed, C1S on 10pt. UV coating (this line refers to the Specs for the book’s cover: 4/4 means the Ink is 4-color process on the outside and on the inside of the cover. The ink on the cover bleeds. C1S means the paper stock has been precoated on 1-side and since this is a book’s cover it almost always refers to the side facing outward. The Paper Thickness for the cover stock is to be 10pt thick. Cover stock, aka card stock, is generally measured in points. A point, or pt, is equal to 1/1000ths of an inch. Hence, 10pt paper is .010” thick. UV coating refers to a popular and durable clear coating that dries quickly when the printer exposes it to Ultraviolet light)
  • text: 96 pages all black on 50# white or similar (this line refers to the book’s interior pages: the Page Count is 96. All pages are to be printed in black ink. The paper thickness/type is 50# white or similar. The # designation refers to lbs and is not the same as the point designation used for the cover stock. The # refers to the paper’s weight per 500 sheets. In this case, 500 sheets of this paper in its raw sheet size weighs 50 lbs.)
  • perfect bound (the Bindery method. In this method the pages and cover are glued together at the spine with a strong flexible glue, then the other three sides of the book are trimmed to give them sharp clean edges. This method yields a square spine which can generally be printed upon. The paperback books commonly found in bookstores are good examples of perfect binding).
  • 12,000 qty (the Quantity of books needed)
  • deliver to 63044, need by 1/22 or earlier (zip code where the order is to be sent and the requested date of delivery)

Hopefully the above information provides you with a good overview of the Specs a printer needs in order to quote and produce your book project. If you have any additional questions about book printing or any other type of printing project, just give us a call. We’re here to help and make printing easier for you.

Take care!  Keith

About the Author

Keith Beaty is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include full-color printing, all types of softcover books, laminated printing, plus fulfillment and mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Keith is always happy to help. He can be reached at 314-434-5500 or 866-367-6221. Keith and Formax have been providing worry-free printing and related services for over 30 years.

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