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Adjusting the Color of Paper

I was faced with an interesting challenge with a book I'm producing for a client. The book is a personal history, and the writer wanted the overall look to be old and archival. I suggested an off-white press sheet, perhaps a vanilla uncoated stock. He liked the idea.

However, since my client wanted to print a family tree on the inside front covers, the cover stock would need to be C2S, which is coated on two sides. The usual stock in this situation would be a coated white bristol board.

Normally that would not be a problem, since the ink on the front cover would coat the entire sheet and therefore minimize any contrast between the white cover and the off-white (or yellowish) interior stock.

In the case of my client's book, however, the interior covers would only include the black line art of the family tree, leaving the background the color of the white paper. This would certainly look odd adjacent to the yellowish, or off-white, text stock.

What's the solution?

I suggested a tinted varnish in addition to the black ink for the family tree. Adding a little pigment to the varnish and flooding the interior covers of the book would bring the overall color of the bristol press sheet more in line with the vanilla hue of the uncoated text pages. (For specification purposes, this would yield a 4-color exterior cover over a 2-color interior cover: black plus tinted varnish. Of course my client could then add a laminate to coat the exterior covers.)

Another option would be to either “paint” (printer jargon for an even ink coat) the interior of the covers with a light solid PMS color and then print the black ink of the family tree on top or coat the interior covers with a screen or tint of a color. Ultimately the decision will rest with the author and book designer. (In terms of cost and specifications, this would also yield a 4-color exterior cover over a 2-color interior cover: black plus one PMS.)

The only requirements would be two additional press units. If the job is being printed on a six- or eight-color press (particularly if it is a perfecting press that can print both sides of the sheet at once), the upcharge should only be in the hundreds of dollars (probably $200.00 to $500.00 depending on the press run).

Can You Smyth Sew a Paperbound Book?

My client asked if the book could be Smyth sewn. This is a technique usually seen in casebound books in which the signatures are sewn together with thread before being bound. It strengthens the book considerably.

You may have seen the thread in art books. It's particularly useful for expensive books that will take a lot of use and abuse. The thread loops around each signature like the laces on a football, holding the press signatures together.

On a digital book, this would not be an option. Pages usually come off the press either as single pages (front and back) or four-page signatures, depending on the size of the pages and the size of the press sheet. In this case, there really is nothing for the Smyth sewing stitch to hold onto. Therefore, the hot-melt glue of perfect binding is necessary to hold the pages together and attach them to the paper cover.

However, I have seen Smyth sewing used in paper covered museum books. The signatures were stitched together and then glued into the case (as with normal notch or burst perfect binding). The vendors I approached with this request did not offer this service on their perfect bound books, but I'm sure I would be able to locate a subcontractor for this service should my client want this kind of binding.

Oblong vs. Standard Page Format

My client wants a book that will stand out from the crowd. I suggested a 9” x 12” format rather than an 8.5” x 11” format for a few reasons. The book will have heft. It will be slightly larger than comparable books, and this format will also provide room for the design elements of the text: the numerous (almost a thousand) photos, captions, and text. It will also allow for generous white space to break up the dense material and provide relief to the reader's eye. It may even allow a comfortable margin for a three-column layout (two equal-width columns plus a scholar's margin on the outside face trim).

The book designer suggested an oblong format with an 11” x 8.5” trim as an alternative to the 9” x 12” standard (upright) format. It would, she and I thought, cost less than the 9” x 12” format, which had already increased the unit cost by approximately 15 percent over the cost of an 8.5” x 11” book.

I asked the printer about this option. He said it would actually raise the price above the cost of the 9” x 12” book. Here's why.

An oblong book (wide and squat rather than tall and narrow) would sit on the press sheet differently from a standard format book. Instead of having a 17” x 11” width for a two-page spread, an oblong book spread would be 22” wide but only 8.5” tall.

From a design standpoint this would be ideal, providing two wide interior margins and a generous scholar's margin on the face trim. However, a printer could not get sixteen pages (eight pages on each side of the press sheet: i.e., a normal signature) on a press sheet even without bleeds (it would need to be at least a 44” wide press sheet). With fewer pages fitting on a press sheet, the printer would need to print more signatures to produce the book. More signatures would equal more press runs, which would raise the cost for printing the book. So we dropped this idea and went back to the 8.5” x 11” or 9” x 12” standard, upright format.

As you can see, in your own print design work it pays to envision how a book can be broken down into signatures, and how a signature will fit on a press sheet with the least waste. What looks like a good idea from a design point of view might drive the price of a print job through the roof.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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