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Book Production: Know Your Cost Options Before You Print a Book

Planning to Print some Books? Follow these 5 Simple Rules to Save Money

When planning a book project, knowing all your options upfront helps you make better decisions and stay within budget.

It is particularly important to know how the features of a book will affect its printing cost.

As a book printer, I'd like to share five general rules that will save you money when printing books. These rules apply whether you are planning to print 2,000 books for a business (like catalogs or manuals) or are having 200 books produced for personal use (like a family history book or biography).

Rule #1 - a Standard Size will cost less than a Custom Size

All book printers have certain page sizes they offer as standard sizes. These standard sizes are determined by the type of production equipment used by the printer. Designing your page size to conform to one of your printer's standard page sizes will optimize the production of your book and keep the cost as low as possible.

Conversely, a book designed with non-standard page dimensions may not match well with any of your printer's presses. As a result, the production run would be inefficient and have a poor paper yield. The excess paper becomes waste and can add quite substantially to the cost of a book project.

Knowing which page sizes your printer can produce most economically is good to know before starting on the layout of your book. I'm not trying to discourage creativity or unique design, but sometimes tweaking your page dimensions by as little as 1/2" could result in huge cost savings.

Rule #2 - Black Ink will cost less than Color

The majority of the time, it is more cost-effective to print in black ink than it is to print in color. This is why so many books limit the use of color to the outside cover and print all of the interior pages in black ink. Basically, if the book contains mostly text, its pages should be printed in black ink to save money.

That said, color is still recommended for any books that are promotional in nature, such as product catalogs. Full color is also a necessity for books that require high visual appeal, such as photography books or cookbooks. But, if there is no real benefit to printing the pages in color, black and grayscale printing is by far the most economical way to go.

Rule #3 - Lighter weight pages will cost less than Heavier pages

Of course, I am not recommending you create your book's pages from the thinnest paper available. But when considering a particular type of paper for your book, a lighter weight version of the same type of paper will generally cost less than its heavier counterpart. The cost savings won't be as substantial as Rules 1 and 2, but it's still worth considering.

For example, if all your book's pages are to be printed in black ink only, you should weigh the cost advantages of printing on 50# uncoated offset versus 60# uncoated offset. Similarly, if you are printing your pages in full color, you should weigh the cost difference between 80# gloss text and 100# gloss text.

If using a lighter stock doesn't affect the appearance and image you have in mind for your book, then it might be the better choice. Also, if your book has a lot of pages, a lighter paper stock could help save on overall shipping and distribution costs.

Rule #4 - a Soft Cover will cost less than a Hard Cover

Any book that can be produced with a hard cover can also be produced with a soft cover. That's why the soft cover binding method is immensely popular - because it is more affordable to produce than the same book with a hard cover. This is because the construction of a soft cover book uses less materials and production steps than a hard cover book.

Hard cover binding can offer long-term durability and prestige, but soft cover binding is by far the more prevalent choice for printed books. In addition to having lower production costs than hard cover books, soft cover books offer quicker turnaround times and more widespread availability.

Rule #5 - a Larger Order will cost less per book than a Smaller Order

For printing very short runs, like 200 or 300 books, digital printing offers a lower unit cost than offset printing. This is because a digital printing press has minimal set-up costs associated with a production run. An offset press, on the other hand, has higher set-up costs which cannot be efficiently distributed across a small production run.

However, as the order quantity increases, to say 500 or 1,000 books, offset printing becomes the more cost-effective production method. Even though the set-up cost of offset printing is higher, a larger order allows this cost to be distributed across more books. And once an offset press is running, the actual cost of applying ink to paper is substantially less than a digital press.

Incidentally, just because the unit cost of a book decreases as the order quantity increases, it is still wise to consider which run size is optimal for your specific situation. A lower unit cost is great, but not if you're ordering more books than you'll ultimately need.

Get Your Printer Involved Early in the Process!

If cost is a factor in your book project, I recommend consulting with your printer early in the creation process to discuss your plans and specifications. A few minutes spent with your printer at the beginning could translate to big savings at the end. By the way, Formax is always happy to answer your questions and discuss ways to save money on book printing.

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 book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing, plus 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 866-367-6221. Keith and Formax have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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