When we have finished our work, we are faced with the dilemma of seeking the shelter of a conventional publishing house or self-publishing. In the second case, although there is the option of co-publishing (a publisher takes care of all the editorial work in exchange for the author paying for part of it), it is good for the author to have all the information about printing a book.
In short, whatever the publishing system, the author also has a lot to say about the choice of the type of printing his or her work will have.
How to print a book
Now that we have decided to publish on our own, one big question stops us in our tracks: how to print a book.
In previous articles, we have already mentioned that the process of publishing a book consists of multiple phases. If we take into account all the actions that are carried out from its creation, not only in its edition, the path that a book follows is as follows:
1. Writing a book itself (obviously).
2. Literary report (optional, but recommended).
3.1. Proofreading and copy-editing (highly recommended; indeed, compulsory).
3.3. Cover design.
4. Sales and distribution.
5. Dissemination and editorial marketing.
Steps before printing a work
So, in this whole process, where does the production of the physical book come into play? Making a book means defining what its measurements will be, how many pages it will have, what paper is the most suitable for the product in question, what cover it will have?
In short, it means preparing it for printing. Or, to put it another way, making a series of very important decisions that will affect the final result and that must be clear, at the very least, before starting the layout of the text.
1. Layout: think before you act
When you are finishing writing your work or you have it ready to be edited, you are sure to look at the different types of books in your home or in the shops while you think about what you would like yours to be like. Although personal tastes will be present, this decision will be determined mainly by the type of manuscript you have written.
It is not the same to edit a novel, a book of poetry, a book of photography, a short story or a comic book. Likewise, everything changes if you want to publish it in paperback, i.e. the soft cover used for paperbacks, or hardback (hard cover). You will have to consider what is most worthwhile for you.
Tip 1: The layout phase is very important, but before starting with it, we recommend that you have a good proofreading done by professionals. There is no point in doing a good layout when the text causes horror and headaches when you try to read it. If you are going to go all the way with your manuscript, make an effort in every step you take.
Going back to the layout, keep in mind that it is what is going to condition both the printing and the journey you take afterwards. For example, once the layout is finished, you can’t change the measurements; you would have to redo the whole job.
So be clear about the measurements you want to print a book with before you start the layout. Furthermore, depending on the size or paper you choose, the production costs, as well as the subsequent sales costs, will be higher or lower.
2. Most commonly used sizes in book printing
Now that you know what shape your book is going to be, you must give it a name and a surname. That is to say, you need to know what its specific measurements will be. Although there are several formats and variations as you can imagine, some common models in this industry are:
210mm x 297mm (DIN A4). I’m sure you know it: it is the size of the usual paper sheets. It is usually reserved for magazines or similar, such as graphic publications. Imagine reading a novel in this size; too big and impractical, right?
148mm x 210mm (A5). This is the usual standard for narrative books because of its convenience, quality and price. It’s about half the size of a sheet of paper (visualise the typical notepad) and is the best value for money on the market today, which is why it’s so widely used.
150mm x 210mm. Here it is, we have arrived at the well-known pocket book. The biggest advantage of this size is that it can be used for almost any kind of writing.
216mm × 297mm. This size is commonly used to produce manuals or similar booklets. Like DIN A4, it is too large for narrative.
170mm × 235mm. As you can see, it is close to the size of A5, so it might also fit what you are looking for in your novel or story. It is, of course, larger and also more expensive, but don’t let that put you off. If you want to give your book a different and seductive touch that adds more quality, these sizes are ideal. Mostly used for special editions.
190mm × 190mm. This square format is used for some children’s books, calendars or other specific printing.
The larger the number accompanying the letter, the smaller the paper size. Series B is also used for books and is made up of intermediate sizes of A. Series C, on the other hand, is intended for envelopes and bags.
Types of printing: offset vs. digital
Depending on the number of copies to be printed and the size of the book, the printing system will be one or the other. This, in turn, will affect the final price. For example, between 1,500 and 2,000 copies, digital printing is used.
Book printing can be carried out using two methods: inkjet or laser. Its main characteristic is the use of custom-made paper instead of paper drums (typical of offset printing), which allows a better use of paper and lowers costs. In addition, in this type of printing, it is not necessary to manufacture plates or matrices, so costs are reduced.
It is also very useful when there is a high volume of work, as there is no need to wait for the ink to dry. Read more about Print on Demand (POD) in this article.
Printing a book in offset is intended for the production of a large number of copies. The definition and quality obtained are higher than in other types of printing, and costs can be reduced depending on the size of the book.
Thus, if we are working with an A5 and few copies, digital printing will be ideal. On the other hand, the key to making a paperback book economical lies in offset printing.
Remember that digital printing uses made-to-measure paper and an A5 is larger than the paperback format, so with laser printing you would have to make cuts in the paper and the price would increase.
Tip 2: The paper book is still more preferred by readers than the e-book. Take advantage of this and prepare a high-impact fetish edition. If you don’t have financial problems, you can even order a hardcover. Your readers won’t be able to resist.
3. The body of the book
You’ve probably wondered more than once why the pages of some books have a yellowish tinge while others are gleaming white. Well, this does not depend on the whim of the publisher or that the printer only works with one type of paper.
In other words, the choice of one or the other is not the result of an arbitrary decision. The cost you are willing to assume, the print run and the type of book you are going to print are the real reasons that will lead you to choose one paper or another.
Type of paper: colour and texture
Currently, we can classify paper into:
Offset type printing paper.
White colour, smooth texture. Cheaper, but not recommended for intense and long readings. Best reserved for text books, popularisation, illustrations or any non-narrative analogue. For reading for hours, white is too uncomfortable, especially when there is a lot of light. In addition, it is inevitable to relate it to the pages, so it produces an appearance of lower quality, if it had been done with the printer at home.
Bone printing paper.
Paper with a yellowish colour and a rough feel that is used in the production of novels. It allows the eyes to rest and, although it is more expensive, it gives the sophisticated touch that the previous one lacks. Not recommended for books with pictures.
Coated or glossy paper (colour printing)
For quality prints such as illustrations, comics, children’s albums or any book that requires colour printing.
Depending on the grammage of the paper, the final cost will be higher or lower: more grammage, more expensive. Although this price will also depend on the size of the book, as it is not the same to produce a story as an encyclopaedia.
Although there are different weights, the two most important and common are 80 gsm and 90 gsm. It may seem that these 10 gsm differences are a trifle; in fact, the eyes cannot appreciate them. However, when it comes to printing, you should opt for 90 gsm, as it will provide more opacity and consistency than 80 gsm.
The cost variation between one and the other is as small as their distance in grams, but they are recommended for printing books with many pages.
A third grammage to consider is 115 gsm, mainly used for printing that requires a higher opacity and where inks and colours, such as illustrations, must be taken into account.
4. What does a cover need?
The cover is perhaps the most headache-inducing part of the book. Not only is a good cover design enough, it also needs to be treated separately when it comes to printing. In keeping with tradition, the final cost of the book, and therefore the future selling price, will be affected by the type of cover you choose. When printing a cover, the following aspects must be taken into account.
Book printing with lamination
Depending on the result we want to achieve, our cover can be glossy, matt, laminated or unlaminated. Basically, the choice of one finish or another, i.e. the effect, will depend on the cover we have and not so much on our tastes. It is not the same whether it is composed of a photograph, an illustration, letters on a coloured background, etc.
The most common finish. As its name suggests, it covers the cover with a transparent sheet with a glossy finish. It is recommended for covers where the main element is an extremely striking and seductive photo.
Printing with matt lamination:
As above, but with a matt lamination without gloss. In this way, the book is kept protected and at the same time a more subtle effect is achieved.
Printing books without lamination:
There is no plastic layer to protect the cover, so the printing cost is lower. However, realise that an unplasticised cover is easily damaged, sensitive to stains, tears and erosion.
The whole cover or only some elements of the cover go through a spray varnishing process. Plus point: the impact of glossy laminate is achieved. Point against: it is much more expensive.
Should I put flaps?
If your book is going to include a short biography, a short text addressed to the reader, a photo of you, collections from the publisher or some other relevant information, flaps can be added to the cover. They may seem like a dispensable decorative element, but they improve the presence and strength of the book.
Like the other extras we have talked about (glossy cover, paper weight, etc.), flaps increase the printing costs. But we repeat: don’t take a step back, there are costs that are worth it.
The most important flaps are the short ones (50mm) and the right ones (70mm). The first type is recommended for books with less than 200 pages. The latter are used for longer publications and can be used as page markers.
The ideal grammage for a cover
Like the inside pages, the cover has a specific weight that differentiates it from the rest of the book. And here, once again, it is the case: the higher the grammage, the higher the cost. We are going to highlight two types of grammage as far as the cover is concerned.
300 gsm graphic card: the most recommended. Its price is very economical, the finish is majestic and, as far as the printing process is concerned, it is ideal for satin and laminated.
220-240 gsm graphic cardboard: another of the most widely used versions on the market. There is not so much difference with 300 gsm and it is cheaper, although the book loses some solidity.
Hardcover. As you can imagine, making a book in hardback has higher costs. These are derived from the production process, since, once the paper has been printed, the cardboard has to be lined manually. You have probably thought about printing your book in hardcover, as it would be more consistent, elegant and ideal. But think carefully before you take the plunge.
Printing a book in B&W or in colour
Nowadays, the price difference between printing in black and white or in colour is practically non-existent thanks to digital printing. So don’t be afraid to give your cover the treatment it deserves.
Tip 3: as a matter of cost-benefit ratio, the A5 size with a grammage of 80 gsm on bond paper is the most widely used and cheapest option.
5. The most commonly used types of binding for books
We could not finish this article on book printing without talking about the thing that binds the body and the shell of a book: the binding. There are many types, but the two bindings that interest us most in the publishing sector are the sewn binding and the glued or milled paperback (PUR).
The sewn method consists of perforating the sheets to join the central part of the book (body) to the spine with thread and needle. It is more laborious and therefore more expensive; it is not recommended for books of less than 700 pages. In paperback binding, the body of the book is taken to mill (cut) the spine and then glued with a strong glue to the cover.
It is cheaper than paperback, but it is also weaker and can crack relatively easily.
Conclusions about printing a book
You can see that printing a book involves making a number of very important decisions both for the production and for your pocket. Think first about what you would like your book to look like in terms of text type, size and finish. Then readjust your decisions according to the number of copies you want to print and the budget you have.
Now you have all the information you need about book printing, according to the quality and price standards of the publishing market.