Book Printing Tips

Read these 38 Book Printing Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Self Publishing tips and hundreds of other topics.

Book Printing Tips has been rated 3.3 out of 5 based on 1730 ratings and 5 user reviews.
What is page imposition?

An Imposing Story

Page imposition is a system used by printers to save paper when printing. Printing pages in the way that we read them (one page at a time) would be quite wasteful. Instead, book printers print pages in sets of 16 or 32 (or 4 or 8). However, instead of using readers' spreads (with pages 2 and 3 together), they use printers' spreads, so that when the pages are folded, cut and collated they form a conventional book layout.

If you are printing a book or booklet yourself, it is useful to know how this works. Printers' spreads start with the first and last pages together and end with the middle pages together. For a 16 page booklet, the printers' spreads would be 16+1, 2+15, 14+3, 4+13, 12+5, 6+11, 10+7, 8+9. The pairs add up to the number of pages in the booklet plus 1. In addition, the odd number is always on the right. If this seems daunting, an Internet search will reveal several software programs that will help with page imposition for your self published book.

If you ask your local book printer, they may have European paper sizes in stock. Although it's not widely advertised these are available in North America too, and they may be a smart choice if you want to sell your book abroad.

What are ISO press sheet sizes?

ISO Paper

With the exception of the US, Canada and Mexico, most countries in the world use ISO paper sizes, which is a symmetrical metric format. There are two sets of paper sizing that are intended for newspaper, magazine and book printing. These are the RA sizes (for printing without bleeds) and the SRA sizes (for printing with bleeds. The sizes (in millimeters) are as follows:

RA sizes

  • RA0 860 x 1220
  • RA1 610 x 860
  • RA2 430 x 610
  • RA3 305 x 430
  • RA4 215 x 305
SRA sizes

  • SRA0 900 x 1280
  • SRA1 640 x 900
  • SRA2 450 x 640
  • SRA3 320 x 450
  • SRA4 225 x 320

How should I prepare my files for book printing?

Preparing For Book Printing

The less a self publishing company has to do for you, the more you will save on printing your book. This is one good reason to create PDFs of your book yourself. PDF stands for Portable Document Format, a technology pioneered by Adobe which puts a user friendly face on postscript printing files. The advantage of creating a print-ready PDF is that you can see exactly how your book will look and no-one can change it.

There are several options for creating PDFs, though not all of them produce the high quality PDFs required by printers. Adobe Acrobat is the market leader in PDF creation, but it is quite expensive. However, there are a number of free solutions, which you can find by searching for 'PDF creator' on the Internet. Make sure that the free creators do not include a watermark or other advertisement in your finished PDF file. You will also need to ensure that your PDF creator allows you to include high resolution images (300 dpi) where these are required.

How many books should I print?

A Matter Of Choice

The number of books you should print depends on several factors. One consideration is the printing process used. Offset printing is uneconomical at quantities below 1,000, so if you are using this printing technology, then it is sensible to print that number at least. It may even be worth printing the industry average of 3,000. This means each book will cost about $1.39 to print.

Digital printing is more economical for short runs, so you can print in multiples of 100 depending on how many you think you might sell. The amount of promotion you will do or the number of sales you have got through pre-publishing promotion will also give you a guide to how many books you might expect to sell. It is best to be realistic about how many books you will sell and how much marketing and promotion you will do.

What sizes are modern paperback books?

Does Book Size Matter?

Paperback book sizes vary slightly, depending on where they are printed. In North America mass market paperbacks are 4 1/4 x 7 inches while trade paperbacks are 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. In other parts of the world, paperback books are either A format (6 7/8 x 4 1/4 inches), B format (8 x 5 1/4 inches) or C format ( 8 3/4 x 5 5/8 inches).

How should I choose a book printing company?

Book Printing Choices

There are a number of factors the self publisher must look at when deciding on the right self publishing option. One of the key choices is which book printing company to go with. Some factors to consider include:

  • The print quality required - this will determine whether you choose a digital printer, print on demand company or a book printer with a traditional offset press. This choice will also be determined by the relative cost of those options.
  • The location of the book printer - this may be particularly important for your first self published book. One advantage for choosing a local printer using the traditional offset technology is that you can drop in, inspect the printing and collect the books yourself, saving a small fortune in shipping costs.

Can I efficiently add color print to my text?

Adding Text Color to your Trade Book

The most cost effective self published book uses only one color text in the book printing. Adding color to your text will kill the unit cost of your book unless you print thousands of copies. Printing cost is made of two items: setup and run.

The setup on an offset printing press is high (compared to a digital printing press), but the running rate is low. This "setup" is fixed and is amortized over the number of copies printed. A $5000 setup spread out over 1000 copies is significantly higher than if you spread it out over 10,000 copies or 50,000. Most books that you see in the store with two- or four- color text print significantly high quantities (which you are probably not going to do).

What are the strengths of digital printing?

Digital Advantages

A digital printing press can take the digital files from your computer and go right to print. In the case of book text type, it's hard to tell the difference between the different types of equipment. The main difference comes in the reproduction of halftones (pictures).

  • The Xerox product looks like a "Xerox" copy (because it is). While many people are getting used to the "toner" look, most still consider it an inferior product compared to offset printing.
  • The Océ Professional System offers "Copy-Press Technology" (which is a cross between the offset printing process and the copying process). Although this relatively new process utilizes toner rather than ink, the toner does not sit on top of the paper as it does in the copying process. The toner is "pressed" or absorbed into the paper much like the offset printing press does with ink. The end result of this process is a black image quality similar to offset. When halftones and screen tints are reproduced, the quality is generally closer to that of offset although the line screens should not exceed 120 lines per inch.
  • The Scitex process is different in another way. While it is a digital press printer, it uses ink and not toner in manufacturing books. There is a distinct difference in appearance of halftones printed on the Scitex vs. those done on the Xerox or Océ, it's debatable whether it's any closer to offset halftone reproduction.

*Océ does cost a little bit more than other digital book printer processes.

What weight of paper do I need for book printing?

Paper Weights Explained

North America and Europe use different systems for estimating paper weight. The North American system goes back to medieval Europe and uses the weight in pounds of a ream (500 sheets) of a particular size of paper to give a basis weight. Typical weights for book printing paper are:

  • Book - 30 to 100 pounds
  • Text - 70 -80 pounds
  • Cover - 60-100 pounds
The European system is based on grams per square meter (gsm). A typical photocopier or laser printing paper will be 80gsm. Paper for printing most books will be upwards of 110 gsm, while cover stock will be heavier at 140 gsm plus. Cover stock in both regions is usually available in coated and uncoated varieties.

What are European trim sizes for book printing?

Looking Trim

Trim sizes for book printing in the UK and Europe are different to those used in the United States. Common European trim sizes include (sizes in millimeters):

  • Metric Crown quarto (189 x 246)
  • Metric Crown octavo (123 x 186)
  • Metric Large Crown quarto (201 x 258)
  • Metric Large Crown octavo (129 x 198)
  • Metric Demy quarto (219 x 276 )
  • Metric Demy octavo (156 x 234)
Metric paperback trim sizes are A format (111 x 178) and B format (129 x 198).

What sizes are modern paperback books?

Does Book Size Matter?

Paperback book sizes vary slightly, depending on where they are printed. In North America mass market paperbacks are 4 1/4 x 7 inches while trade paperbacks are 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. In other parts of the world, paperback books are either A format (6 7/8 x 4 1/4 inches), B format (8 x 5 1/4 inches) or C format ( 8 3/4 x 5 5/8 inches).

Can I print my galleys digitally?

Digital Printing Galleys

There's another advantage to digital printing: You can use it for very short print runs, and so, if you want professional looking galleys to send to reviewers, you can print them digitally quickly and easily. Even if you don't print your entire book digitally, your galleys will look better and more professional if you print them digitally.

*Book printing is one of your most important expenses, and you don't want to send out anything to reviewers that might take away from the strength of your book itself.

Can I print color pictures in my book cost effectively?

Text Color for your Self Published Book

Although the prepress costs have fallen dramatically in the last decade or so, four-color process book printing is still expensive from any book printer. Printing a full-color 16-page signature in a 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 book will cost you about $1,000 for film and proofs and another $1,000 or so for the plates and printing.

If you're only printing 500 books, that's a unit cost of $4 per book just for the 16-page color signature. Using a standard markup of five or six times the production cost to find the retail price, you would have to add an additional $24 per book to make the numbers work out profitably.

What is the difference between a book printer and a book publisher?

Publishing And Printing

A book publisher is someone who deals in intellectual property. As a self-publisher, you handle the promotion and marketing of the material you write and you own the copyright. These are areas that would be handled by publishers in the trade publishing route. In contrast, a book printer is in charge of using technology (and ink) to take your words and putting them onto paper to create a book. New forms of printing and publishing, such as print on demand, mean that the division between these roles has become blurred.

If you are publishing and printing your own book, try to get hold of a Pantone swatch book. This will make it easy to choose the colors you want to use on your pages. Beware, though: printers guard these like gold dust as they are quite expensive.

Should I use POD for my book?

The POD Publishing Myth

Print on Demand (POD) has been around since the days of Ben Franklin. The publisher "demands" and the printer "prints." The only thing that has changed is the turnaround time and cost. Don't be taken in by printing "POD" and all the hype that surrounds it. It's about quality, quantity, and price, and POD may not be the most cost effective way to print your book.

*Most of the time, using traditional book printing services are your best bet.

Is the paper's grain important in the finished book?

Watch the Paper Grain

When you think about book printing, you probably don't think about the paper's grain you will be printing on, but your printer should. If they print using the wrong paper grain, it can eventually sabotage your book. The paper grain should to run parallel to the book's binding edge so the pages will open naturally. If the grain goes the other way, (against the bind), the book will stay open. Readers will have to crack the spine or lay the book flat to keep it from snapping shut. This will eventually break the spine, and then the pages can loosen and get lost.

*If your book printer doesn't know what paper grain is, you should look for another, more knowledgeable printer.

Can full-color children's books be printed digitally in low quantities?

Printing Color Text on a Digital Printing Press

The full color digital printing presses have come to the point that full and four color printing is now possible (but not very cost effective in multiple page formats). Digital book covers have been printed successfully for quite some time. The $1/cover is very cost effective compared to a $750+ makeready on an offset printing press.

The problem comes when printing text. That same $1 applies except for say a 32-page children's book. You essentially have the equivalent of 9 covers or $9 unit cost. This is fine for advance copies or digital book proofs but far too expensive for production copies.

*It is better to look for traditional book printers and binders when you are working on a tight budget.

How many books should I print?

Print Quantity and Selling

The press is hot, but can you sell all those books? Not counting books used for promotion, you shouldn't print a single book more than you can sell. If your book size is any of the following sizes, you can get instant printing prices:

  • 4-1/4 x 7
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/2
  • 6 x 9
  • 7 x 10
  • 8-1/2 x 11

Quantities for books 5-1/2 x 8-1/2, 6 x 9, and 8-1/2 x 11 start as low as a hundred. The mass market size (4-1/4 x 7) starts at 1,000. Only you know what your budget is and how it fits on your overall book marketing plan. It's a good idea to get prices on 100, 500, 1,000 or more and then think it through.

Remember, the larger the quantity, the lower the unit cost. But what good is the lowest unit cost if most of the books stay stacked up in the garage? When you are analyzing your unit cost, keep in mind you have to offer large book distributors like roughly a 60% discount off the retail price for them to carry your book.

How can I test halftones reproduced on a digital press?

Halftone Reproduction

Be cautious trying to print halftones (pictures) in the text of a book that is being printed on a digital printing press. The quality is just not there yet, (no matter what the salesman says).

*To see side-by-side comparisons, pick up a copy of "Publishing Basics - A Guide for the Small Press and Independent Self-Publisher." This is a great guide for short run book printers, too.

What are the economics of printing illustrated children's books?

Printing For Kids

Book printing for children's books is quite expensive compared to trade paperbacks. Children's books have to be illustrated in full color and you need to print thousands of them to make it economical. Some experts suggest that a self-published illustrated book will cost $10 per book through digital printing and $4 per book through offset printing. Large publishers pay around 50 cents a book for their illustrated children's books. This is because the average retail price of an illustrated children's book is less than $5. Children's books are usually sold through a distributor which adds to the cost.

What is POD?


POD (Print on Demand) digital printing machines are a new innovation in digital printing. These machines can print multiple books at a time, and use a direct-to-image (disk to drum) electrostatic process with a blended toner that reproduces photographs well.

*POD is extremely cost effective. Before you print your book, check with your book printing company to see if they have this new, cheaper technology.

How can I find a good printer?

Shopping for a Printer

Once you have your book ready to go, you need to find a printer. Don't rush the process, however, because going with the wrong self publishing book company can lead to unnecessary costs and problems. Shop around and do research on companies.

When you find some that you like, ask for quotes (prices for printing). It is also a good idea to ask for samples of similar previous work that the companies have done. Now, compare and contrast and choose a company with which you feel the most comfortable.

What is a book's signature?

The Book's Signature

The signature of a book is not its autograph, but how the pages are folded and then cut during printing. Fold a piece of paper into eighths, then cut off the top, right, and bottom folded sides, which leaves the left outer fold. That is a signature.

When a book printing company prints your book, they print onto a large piece of film or paper with several individual pages. When this large sheet is folded, the pages fall in order. Since these signatures must have an equal number of pages divisible by 16 (except for digital, 4 is OK for digital).

What is a Cameron Belt Press?

The Cameron Belt Press

Cheap isn't always good! Clearly, there are many options for the self publishing printing of your book. One type is a kind of press called the Cameron Belt Press. Large publishers may use this type of press to print cheap, mass-market paperbacks.

*Cameron Belt Press is the cheapest form of printing, and is not recommended for self publishing printing at all.

Do I need to pick a standard trim size for my book?

Standard Trim Sizes

Different is great but not necessarily in book printing. Printing presses use trim sizes that are more ideal than others. There are no press "stretchers." If the press' optimal size is 9 inches, you can't stretch it to 9 1/2. If you insist on 9 1/2, the printer will have twice the amount of printing which will raise your unit cost.

If you want to be different but fully optimize the printing press, visit and use the web "Trim Size Guide" to analyze your books' length, width, and number of colors as to how well it fits offset web printing equipment. Keep in mind that this is best for quantities above 7500 copies. This is true for just about any book printer.

What is a four-color process for manufacturing books?

Color Printing

How many Colors!? A four-color book cover design is normally not four flat colors. The term “four-color book printing” refers to black and the three process colors of CYMK:

  • Cyan (blue)
  • Yellow
  • Magenta (red)

From these four colors printed in screens of dots (one on top of the other) you can make almost any color in the spectrum. Anytime you see a "full-color" photograph printed in a book or magazine, it's a four-color process. Anytime a book cover design looks like it has more than two colors, it's probably a four-color book cover design.

The next time you notice a blurry picture in a color newspaper, take a closer look and you'll see how the process works. The picture is blurry because the press was "out of register" (perhaps the cyan ink didn't drop precisely on top of the yellow ink). Sometimes the register is so bad you can actually see the different color dots.

Should I get proofs?

Get Proof

So, you found a self publishing book company and you're ready to go. Not so fast! Before a printer prints your books, be sure that they provide proofs (printed test runs). Once you are provided with proofs, go through them CAREFULLY. Make sure that you look for any printer's errors (anything that was not in your original copy)—you will not have to pay to correct these.

However, if you find errors that were in your original file you will probably have to pay to have them corrected as they are your error and not the printer's (although some printers do dive an allotment of freebies). In any case, be sure that you examine each and every page of your proofs in great detail to ensure the production of the best possible books.

Would using 20 pound bond paper for my text save me money?

Using 20 Pound Paper

Do not use 20 pound paper for your self published book, and this is why. The poundage of text paper in the United States is determined by the weight of 500 sheets measuring 25 x 38 inches. That measurement of area is called the “basis size”. Five hundred sheets of 50 pound text paper measuring 25 x 38 weigh 50 pounds. Five hundred sheets of 60 pound text paper measuring 25 x 38 weigh 60 pounds, and so on. The weight of bond paper, used mostly in copy shops, is calculated using a different basis size—17 x 22 inches. Five hundred sheets of 20 pound bond measuring 17 x 22 weigh 20 pounds. Five hundred sheets of 24 pound bond measuring 17 x 22 weigh 24 pounds, and so on.

If you do the math to compare the two different systems of weight measurement, guess what you find out? The 20 pound bond is the same as 50 pound offset, and 24 pound bond is the same as 60 pound offset. Why two different basis sizes for text and bond paper were established, I don't know but that is how it works in every book printing company.

Should I use a digital printer with experience?

Use a Traditional Printer who Uses Digital Technology

When you are looking for your book printing quote for digital printing, try to find a printer who has experience printing books in the traditional way, and has made the move to digital technology. Chances are they will have better binding equipment, and will know more about the overall craft of printing books.

*Many brand new digital printing services do not have the highest quality machines or the knowledge to make your book the best it can be.

Is POD printing cost effective?

POD Printing is Expensive

When comparing types of printing and book printing services, POD publishing may seem very cost effective (since you only print a book when it is ordered). However, POD publishing is extremely expensive. A traditional softcover book might cost about $2 to print, but a similar POD book could cost between $5 and $15. Publishers would have to mark the book up quite a lot to make up for this cost of printing.

Can I use a local printer to print my book?

Why Not Deal With a Local Printer?

There are over 50,000 printers in the US. (probably 40,000 of these printers can print a book). However, there are only about 100 printers classified as "book printers." The difference between the 100 and the 40,000 is that a book printer is much more efficient at producing a book than a commercial printer who can print books. It boils down to price. Sure it's nice to be able to work with local book printing company but the price difference is usually substantial (often 20 to 40 percent more). In today's tight market, you can't afford to spend any more than is absolutely necessary on printing.

What type of book proof is sent to book reviewers?

Bound Galleys

*Bound galleys are an important step in the publishing process. If you are confused about what they are or how they are used, look at the bulleted list below for clarification.

  • The galleys usually come from the printer
  • They are the final proofing copy before the book goes to final press
  • They are generally used to send to book reviewers although
  • They can also be used as advance sales samples

Is digital printing really that popular?

Digital Printing is the Wave of the Future

Book printing services and experts expect that fully one-third of all books will be digitally printed in five years. Most industry experts do not see this trend coming from large publishers, but from small, self publishers who can afford to print and market their books on their own. Digital printing makes sense for small publishers, and it seems that more digital book printing services will be available in the future, giving the self publisher even more choices. Hopefully that will drive the cost down, too.

What is the downside of digital printing?

Digital Printing Weaknesses

There is no real quantity discount when it comes to digital printing presses. Your unit cost stays more or less the same no matter what quantity you print. That's great if you want a small number of copies, but not so great if you want several thousand copies.

*Digital printing is generally more expensive than offset in quantities over 400, so it pays to shop for a digital printer.

When is it good to print on a sheetfed press?

Sheetfed Printing

If the printer you are considering using tells you they will print your book on a sheet fed printing press, watch out! The traditional sheetfed press has little use in today's book manufacturing. I can almost guarantee that if your self published book is being printed on a sheetfed offset press you are paying more than you should. Compare your book printing quotes.

Sheetfeeding used to fill the gap between short-run sheetfed and web. That is no longer true because newer web presses are efficient right down to around 500 copies (where the short-run digital printing presses leave off). The only reason to use a sheetfed press to print a single trade book is if you have selected a trim size that does not fit the web press or if you are printing an art or photography book using fine screen halftones on coated paper.

Can I run a short run color book cost effectively?

Digital Color Printing

Short run digital technology for black and white digital book printing has been around for quite some time now. The original “docutech” technology was designed for one purpose: to produce short run black and white books economically. On the other hand, while there have been digital color presses on the market for some time now, their original intent was more of a commercial nature like ad sheets, postcards, etc. and not for digital book printers.

The “per impression” cost is OK for single sheet items, but it is very cost restrictive for multi-page items like books. Digital presses are now in widespread use for printing book covers but a cover is a single sheet item. Eventually you will probably be able to run short run color books economically, but not yet.

Is a second printing of my book any cheaper?

Reprinting a Book

If your self published book sells out, first of all, CONGRATULATIONS! Now you may want to reprint it and sell more. This will not necessarily be cheaper than the first go-round. The publisher gets what was traditionally the reprint price on the first printing because of technology advances.

Is POD color printing available?

Color PQN

The future holds promise of cheaper publishing costs. POD color technology is not here yet, but most people think it will be available soon. The technology will allow children's books, large-format books, and just about any type of self publishing printing to be printed in low quantities POD, rather than before the publisher really knows how they will sell.

*It seems that in the future, most books will be printed this way, and it will save publishers both time and money.

Not finding the advice and tips you need on this Self Publishing Tip Site? Request a Tip Now!

Guru Spotlight
William Pirraglia