There are basically 2 methods of printing available to
digital and offset. The method to be used is generally determined by
the number of copies to be printed at any one time.
Most books are still printed using the offset printing method.
It is a technique whereby ink is spread on a metal plate with etched
images, then transferred to an intermediary surface such as a rubber
blanket, and finally applied to paper by pressing the paper against the
intermediary surface. Equipment and set-up costs are relatively high,
but the actual book printing cost is quite low. It generally takes 4 to
6 weeks to print books using the offset process.
The quality of halftone images (photos) and
illustrations produced on
an offset press are a little better than those produced on a digital press, but
the difference in quality of typed text will not be noticed by most
readers. The selection of paper for cover and inside is much greater
with offset press printing. Minor changes at the blue line proofing
stage are relatively inexpensive, but changes once the metal plates are
produced can be quite costly. All proofing should be done before files
go to the printer.
Printing fewer than 500 books on an offset press is
considered economically unfeasible; usually 1000 is considered a
minimum print run. Cost per book goes down dramatically as quantities
beyond 1000 are printed.
Books printed in full color require much higher setup
four plates are required instead of one as in black only printing of
inside pages. Economic feasibility begins with larger print runs (over
3000 or so). Many publishers choose to print full color books in Asia
where printing costs have been lower (there are, however, some
disadvantages to doing this).
A publisher should choose an offset printer who
specializes in printing
High volume, high speed digital printing became available to book
publishers in the late 1990s with the introduction of the Hewllet
Packard Docutek printer. Since then HP and other manufacturers have
made substantial improvements in quality and speed. The technology is
similar to that of a high quality photocopier that receives its output
information from a digital computer file rather than from a scanned
hard copy original. Digital printing is often referred to as
print-on-demand and sometimes confused with publish-on-demand.
Digital printing, or print-on-demand, enables books to be printed in
small quantities, and even one at a time, literally “on demand”. The
digital printer’s procedures are:
Full color covers are of a very high quality and often
indistinguishable from those printed on an offset press. The quality of
greyscale (black and white) photos in the book are improving, but still
not up to the standards of offset press.
The cost of full color printing of inside pages is quite
high and in
most cases raises the printing cost to such an extent as to make the
cost of the book well beyond what can be expected as a retail price.
Color printing should be considered if only a few pages are to be in
color, or only a few books are to be produced.
Paper selection is usually limited, but special orders
may be accepted.
A publisher should be careful to choose a digital
printing shop with
experience in producing books—most rely on other digital printing
applications for the majority of their business.
Publishers (including self-publishers) find digital
appropriate for the following applications:
If an offset print run of a book has run its course
and all the books
have been sold, a publisher may find it uneconomical to print another
batch of 1000 books. Although the cost per book of digital books will
be higher than the cost per book of a batch of 1000 offset printed
books, the publisher will be able to fulfill small orders and continue
to keep the book in print without a large up-front expenditure.
A publisher of a new book may want to print a small
number of books
to test the market and test their own ability to market the book.
A publisher/author may want to print a few books to
friends and peers for critique with the aim of possibly making changes
before printing a large run.
Books sent to media reviewers often have the words
Copy” printed on the bottom of the front cover. Reviewers like this
special treatment and may look more favourably at the book.
Publishers who have little expectation of ever
requiring more than
500 or so books printed can print a few at a time as required without
the high up-front cost of batch offset printing.
File submission requirements may be beyond your capabilities, so you
may need to get help from a book designer, since re-submission charges
can get quite costly. Some digital printing companies offer some
services in addition to simply printing, such as fulfillment,
advertising and distribution.