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Working with Offset Printers

January 20, 2016

Tags: offset printing

This guest post is by Robin Brooks, a book designer who not only does beautiful book and website design but also explains clearly the practical aspects of working with an offset printer. She shared the following tips on the Association of Personal Historians listserv; they were so helpful I asked permission to post them here. Generally you won't use an offset printer unless you are printing at least 500 copies of a book. Then I always hire a book designer for reasons Robin's post makes clear.

Working with Offset Printers
by Robin Brooks
http://www.thebeautyofbooks.com

Nowadays, many of us use short-run or POD digital printers, but there is still absolutely a place for offset, especially for a commercial book — a book marketed and sold out in the world — and/or one with a high potential of sales or give-aways in the private/institutional sector.

I wanted to share with you a few points about working with offset printers that might be helpful:

1. It is so important to plan your project ahead of time to prevent problems in production later on. After you have chosen a printer, the very first thing to do is to contact that printer and find out what their file requirements are. Don’t wait for them to offer their help. Ask them upfront for what their specifications are.

Your book needs to be designed according to these requirements. If you do it right the first time, it will be much easier on everyone down the road and less expensive. This pertains to file formats, halftone adjustments, fonts, trim sizes, bleeds, and more.

Often you have to talk to someone other than your customer rep to get the real answers. This is your book designer’s responsibility. Once he or she has those answers, they can be put into place, rather than the printer’s production department having to fix things at the last moment.

This is especially important over the holiday rush. Printers are at their most stressed out at this time, and there is a greater possibility of error. If you know in advance that your client’s book needs to be ready for the holidays, make sure you get your files to the printer no later than early November. AND be sure you have done your homework way before that so you know everything you need to know about preparing your files for this particular printer.

2. Offset printing has within it something called “overs and unders.” This is a foreign concept to those accustomed to printing only digitally. With digital printing, exactly the right number of copies can be printed and then the press can be stopped.

For offset, this is not the case. A printing press needs time to get the ink “up” correctly. For the first several copies, the press is not yet up to the correct ink coverage. Adjustments need to be made before the page looks right. In order to allow for these adjustments, to make sure you get close to the number of books you ordered, too many or possibly too few “good” books are printed, depending on “spoilage.” About 5–10% more books than ordered must be printed to allow for press and bindery errors. If these “overs” are not spoiled, printers offer them to the customer at a discount price. “Unders” are usually deducted from your final invoice.

Because of this, it’s important that you have in place a method by which each and every book will be checked for binding and/or printing errors. Your printer may have a policy in which they are responsible for checking each book. Ask about this. If they don’t, have someone in place who has the time to painstakingly go through each and every one of those 500 or 1000 or more books to check for errors. OR, talk to the printer. If they don’t already do this, perhaps they can offer this for an additional fee.

3. Book printers highly recommend working with experienced book designers who understand the specifics and peculiarities of book design. Graphic designers without book design experience can “over-design” a book. This can prove to be expensive and sometimes even impossible to print.

We all choose vendors based on their quotes. Printers select their customers through pricing. If you don’t know what you’re talking about when you ask for a quote, the printer will get the idea that you’ll be a “high maintenance” customer and up their price. When you work with an experienced book designer who knows the specific area of book printing, you’ll see payback in the end because the printer feels confident he’ll be dealing with files that are correct to his specifications.

4. After the files have gone to the printer, it is imperative to always, always ORDER A PAPER PROOF EACH TIME ANY CHANGE IS MADE. It does not matter how slight that change is. Without a paper proof, you cannot know what your final book will look like, or if the printer has made some kind of mistake.

When that tiny change is made, even though the change may only be affecting one single page, the entire file is a new file and things can go wrong.
Also, for me, I find it far easier to spot an error with paper pages before me than when looking at a PDF proof on my computer. Errors can happen even after seeing a PDF proof. (This is actually true for digital printing as well!)

I hope this has been helpful!

— Robin Brooks, http://www.thebeautyofbooks.com