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Folded and Gathered Book Signatures: One Final Check

I'm always a bit hesitant to order F&Gs when I'm producing a book, since it's an extra step. It slows things down a bit, and it may even cost more for delivery—but in so many cases this decision has saved time and money.

First of all, what are F&Gs? F&Gs are folded and gathered signatures plus the cover of a perfect bound or casebound book. At this point the book has been completely printed, so this is not an editing step. Rather, it is a press proof. You just don't review this proof at the printer's shop.

F&Gs are reviewed just prior to the binding of the book. What this means is that if you find something horrible that has to be fixed, your printer only has to reprint one signature. He doesn't have to rip off the covers of the bound books, reprint and replace a signature, and then rebind and retrim the books.

On one hand, this saves time and money for your printer, but in the long run it also saves time for you, and it yields a better looking book, since retrimming a book that has had its cover removed and replaced makes the book smaller than intended. In some cases this isn't a problem. In others, it can throw off the balance of the design. Or it can chop through folios or make the edge of the printed page come uncomfortably close to printed matter.

I just reviewed F&Gs for a nonprofit directory that I designed and that I update yearly. In looking through the printed signatures I noticed that a smudge of black ink crossed a paid ad. When I spoke with my client, he noted that this was an important advertising client who had paid a lot for this advertisement. So, in this case, having requested an F&G of the book had clearly paid off. The printer then reviewed all printed signatures to determine the extent of this problem.

(One or two copies would have been a problem but not a catastrophe. However, a smudge of ink on all ads in the press run would have necessitated a reprint. It would have held up binding the book slightly, but the advertising client would have been happy and more likely to advertise in following years' directories. In this particular situation, the printer found evidence that the problem extended through the press run and therefore reprinted that one signature free of charge.)

Therefore, you may very well want to ask your printer for an F&G when you're designing a book. If you do (and you may need to describe it, since not all printers provide these as a regular practice), here are some ideas for what to check. Again, this isn't an editorial or design check. This is strictly a check of printing and folding. (That said, it's still cheaper—albeit extremely expensive—if a glaring error jumps out at you—to pay to have one signature reprinted, even if it is for an editorial correction.)

And one last thing: You may request a “confirming” F&G or an “approval” F&G. If you choose an approval F&G, your printer will halt production until you approve the F&G. If you request a confirming F&G, the proof is just for your convenience. Production will proceed while you're reviewing the pages. To be really safe, consider requesting an approval F&G. Always let your printer know you will need this step before the book production begins (at the estimating stage). He can then work this step into the overall schedule for your book.

Your printer should not charge you extra for an F&G. After all, once printing and folding have been done, your printer has numerous F&Gs ready to bind. All he has to do is send you one. However, the shipping will most probably be on your tab. And it's well worth it.

Here's a list of what to check. You may even want to add to this list. And I'd suggest that you make multiple passes through your F&G to check these items. Don't expect to catch everything in one pass through the book:

  1. Check the ads. If your book is a directory and includes ads, make sure there are no streaks of ink through them. Check the color of the ads as well. Make sure your advertisers are going to be happy. They pay for your book production.
  2. Is the book printed on the right paper (or papers, if you're using different paper for different sections of the book)?
  3. Check page alignment. This is a folding and trimming issue, not a printing issue, but if the pages don't align (within a reasonable margin of error, like plus or minus 1/16”, or 1/8” total), bring this to the attention of your customer service representative.
  4. Make sure all pages are present and in the correct order. Check the folios.
  5. Make sure the ink laydown is even throughout the book. Look for streaks or light areas in the photos and type.
  6. Make sure the overall density of the type is good: not too dark and not too light.
  7. Check the trapping and register where ink colors touch (i.e., where they “abut”).
  8. Check the overall color of the photos, duotones, and halftones. Compare them to your digital proof. (Don't rely on memory.)
  9. If your book includes any areas of type reversed out of solid colors, make sure the letterforms don't fill in. Printing too much ink on a page can make reverse type fill in. Check area screens and gradations to make sure they're even and not over inked or under inked.
  10. Make sure there is no slurring or scumming. That is, if you see any streaks or tails of ink at the end of the type letterforms, bring this to the attention of your customer service representative.
  11. Look for excessive hickies. These look like little white donuts on the solids or halftones. Dust gets trapped on the plate and blocks the ink laydown. Hickies usually come and go throughout the printing process, but if there are excessive hickies, bring this to your customer service rep's attention.
  12. Check the alignment of the spine on the folds. (That is, does the type rest equidistant from the front and back covers?).


[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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