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Printing a Book? Here's a Checklist of the Specifications your Printer will Need

Saddle-Stitched and Perfect Bound Books

Books, like all printing projects, are made-to-order. This is because each book project is unique and created for a particular purpose. Your printer refers to the unique characteristics of your book project as Specifications or "Specs".

Below is a checklist of the specs your printer will need to know in order to accurately quote and produce your book. This checklist applies to books, booklets, manuals, catalogs, directories, and all other multi-page bound documents.

Providing clear specs helps to ensure you get exactly what you want. But don't worry if you are unsure about something, just provide the specs as best you can and your printer will follow up with any questions or recommendations.

Book Printing Checklist of Specifications

[ ] Dimensions

The dimensions refer to the width and height of the book in its finished form (also known as the trim size). To help avoid miscommunication, it is preferred that you give the width dimension first and then the height dimension. For example, a book with a portrait orientation may be 8.5" W x 11" H or 6" W x 9" H, whereas a book with a landscape orientation may be 11" W x 8.5" H or 9" W x 6" H.

Though most books can be printed in just about any size you choose, bear in mind that all commercial 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. If cost is a concern, designing your book's page size to conform to one of your printer's standard page sizes will optimize the production of your book and keep the price as low as possible.

[ ] Quantity Required

How many books do you need? If you haven't yet pinned down an exact quantity, you might consider requesting various quantities for comparison purposes. For example, it is quite common to ask a printer to quote on multiple quantities, such as 200-250-300 or 500-1000-2500.

In addition to establishing the paper requirements, the quantity of books helps your printer determine the type of printing press best suited for producing your project. For example, if you only need 200 or 300 copies of your book, you will generally achieve a lower unit cost by printing the books on a Digital printing press. 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 more, Offset printing becomes the more economical 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. This is particularly true for an initial run of books where there is no history, or if there is a chance the book's content might change. It is always best to take a conservative approach to the order size until a book's usage pattern has been established.

[ ] Page Count

The Page Count refers to the number of pages in a book. This sounds ridiculously simple, but it can easily be miscommunicated. In fact, the page count is probably one of the most miscommunicated specifications of a book. The confusion stems from the fact that what a book printer calls a page might not always be what the average person calls a page.

For example, open up a book and flip through it. As the sheets flip by, notice that each sheet has two sides. Your printer refers to each side of these sheets as a separate page. So to a book printer, every sheet within the book represents two pages. However, those new to book printing often refer to each sheet within the book as one page.

Even if a sheet in the book is blank on one side, or is blank on both sides, your printer will count it as two pages. Thus, there will always be twice as many pages as there are sheets within a book. This is true whether the book is perfect bound, saddle-stitched, spiral bound, or any other style of book.

So when you request a quote on a book project, make sure you and your printer agree on the proper page count. Otherwise the price quote will not be accurate. Just remember that each side of the sheets within a book counts as one page: e.g. 100 sheets = 200 pages.

Also, it is probably safest not to include the cover in the book's page count unless the cover's specifications 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

The bindery method refers to how the cover and pages will be joined together. Popular binding methods include the following…

a) Perfect Binding: the pages and cover are bound together at the spine with a strong, yet flexible, thermal glue. The other three sides of the book are trimmed to give them clean "perfect" edges.

b) Saddle-Stitch Binding: the pages and cover are folded and nested together, then joined at the spine with wire staples. The staples pass through the spine's folded crease from the outside and are clinched between the centermost pages.

c) Spiral Coil Binding: the pages and cover are joined at the spine with a durable plastic coil. The coil is inserted and twisted through small holes punched along the spinal edge of the book's cover and pages.

d) Wire-O Binding: joined pairs of wire loops are inserted through holes that have been punched near the spine of the book's cover and pages. The loops are then crimped until they close into a perfect circle.

e) Ringed Binders: this binding method uses metal rings that open and close to secure printed content within a rigid binder cover (such as the popular 3-ring binder configuration)

In many cases, the page count of the book will help determine which binding method to use. For example, an 8-page book could be saddle-stitched but not perfect bound. Likewise, a 120-page book could be perfect bound but not saddle-stitched. Spiral coil, wire-o, and ring binding would work for either the 8-page or 120-page book. If in doubt, your printer can help you determine which binding style is best suited for your particular application.

[ ] Paper Type and Thickness

The paper characteristics you select for the book's cover and pages - such as the texture, thickness, and sheen level - largely depend on two factors. The first factor is the intended appearance of the book. For example, a book made with a heavy, lustrous cover provides a higher image of quality than its thinner, duller counterpart. If your book is a company history or a sales catalog promoting high-end products, logically the paper choice should properly reflect a premium image. If the book is an operation manual that will only be seen by workers within your firm, the paper can be more basic.

The second factor is how durable you want your book to be. If your book is a directory that is printed infrequently, you should consider using heavy paper, possibly with a protective finish such as a UV coating or laminate. This will help the book survive in circulation until the next printing. However, if your book is a magazine or other periodical printed rather often - like monthly or quarterly - then the paper thickness and coating durability can generally be reduced, if you so choose. Also, if you plan to distribute the books through the mail or via a package delivery service, thinner paper will generally save on shipping costs.

[ ] Color and Placement of Ink

Will your book be produced with full-color pages and a full-color cover? Or will some of the elements, such as the interior pages, be printed in black ink?

Another important piece of information your printer will need to know is if the pages and/or cover will be printed on both sides or just one side. Generally, pages printed with dark or heavy ink coverage on both sides will need to be made from thicker paper stock in order to prevent any ink from showing through to the other side.

It will also help to let your printer know if any ink coverage extends all the way to the edge of the paper (called a Bleed). Depending on the project, an ink bleed sometimes costs a little more because it requires printing on a larger sheet of paper and then trimming the paper down to the desired size.

[ ] Finishing and Delivery Info

Are there any finishing operations you want the printer to perform, such as laminating, perforating, 3-hole drilling, shrink-wrapping, or other special requirements? Also, the printer will ultimately need to know the requested date of delivery and where the order is to be delivered.

Formax can produce books in just about any size, color, or binding style you may need. We'd be happy to quote on your next book project or answer any additional questions you may have about book printing. Give us a call at 866-367-6221 or use one of the easy contact forms at the bottom of this page. We look forward to assisting with your next book project!

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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