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Production Basics for
New Publishers
By Steven L. Webber

 Background and Basics

Printing and publishing require versatile skills to sustain success and quality in an environment of relentless change. Associations, as publishers, frequently find themselves competing with commercial publishers and larger associations for skilled staff to meet the graphic communication need of their membership. It is important to develop skills to edit and communicate vital ideas and information to both the membership and the marketplace. Technical experience and expertise must be cultivated and evaluated, along with the evolving methods and sources, in an ongoing effort to disseminate ideas and information effectively. These are not rudimentary skills. Editorial skills are elusive even though English and communication majors have been graduating for decades. Printing and publishing skills have traditionally been acquired by a variety of experiences over many years.

Graphic communication and/or editorial skills are honed by working on a variety of projects, gaining valuable production experience with each. The foundation of this experience has customarily been the printer, and other vendors worked with on each project. Successful projects frequently are returned to the same suppliers because of their familiarity to all involved. Specialized printing processes have changed during the past several decades, altering the path by which these communication skills evolve.

Competition for proficient editors and graphic-communication professionals has increased, and computer technologies, now used in the printing and graphic arts industry, have transformed production methods. This evolution has not slowed, nor is it expected to slow soon.

Prior to offset printing, full-service printers relied on skilled craftsman, often unionized, to form type characters from a mixture of molten lead and tin using Linotype or Monotype casters. This "hot-metal" composition printed by direct impact to the paper in the letterpress printing process. The emerging offset printing technology presented a challenging task for these full-service printers and an opportunity for entrepreneurs to specialize as either typesetters or printers. The introduction of phototypesetting, or cold type, threatened unions and the typesetting craft that had evolved over the previous 75 years.

Offset printing provided a faster, and often less expensive, printing process. Composition and illustration costs plummeted as metal engravings were no longer required to produce photographs and charts. Typewritten copy and hand lettering could be reproduced economically using the offset printing process. The new technology spawned short-run magazines with designed-in white space to grab the reader's attention. Scholarly and scientific journals continued to be published by letterpress, but offset printing catalyzed the publishing process and brought change.

New income opportunities emerged. Advertising became less expensive to produce and made specialty magazines and journals attractive to commercial and fortunate association publishers. An infusion of pharmaceutical advertising forced many 7 x 10 trim medical journals to change to an 8 1/2 x 11 trim size in order to accommodate disclosure information the Food and Drug Administration required to accompany product advertisements.
Established printers discovered that a significant investment in new technology was required to compete with a growing number of specialist printers. The competition nearly destroyed union composition, as the established methods and most of the equipment used in the craft were made obsolete. The changes in technology continued to escalate with the introduction of personal computers and Postscript technology in the middle and late 1980s. The continually evolving methods are still confusing the graphic arts and publishing industries.

Many printers emphasize sales, frequently without regard to how well a client is served or how effectively the mission of the company, if known, is pursued. A competitive environment and the cost of new technology to remain competitive tempt management to overlook the importance of experience and the level of responsibility provided by professional representation. Everyone involved with graphic communications needs a basic understanding about printing.

There are different kinds of printers. A publication printer specializes in the printing of journals, magazines, and books or monographs. Two distinctions between printing periodicals and books are quality and schedule. Periodical printers tend to be the more schedule-conscious because of the repetition of getting each issue completed daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Although schedules are important, book printers usually focus on higher, or more consistent, overall quality. Book printers, however, may be subject to greater peaks and valleys in their production schedules. Large printers often produce both books and periodicals, but many will respond truthfully when asked which type of publication, and length of press run, they produce the best.

Commercial printers frequently evolve from stationery, lettershop, and quick printers, and they often have less specialized equipment. Costs estimates from commercial printers often are tricky to predict. Many have several good clients for whom they do a variety of work, but, because of the individuality of their business and equipment, variables exist and quality can be erratic.

Commercial printers seem to print more catalogs and direct-mail pieces, although they will do periodicals and books as well as other types of printing. Frequently they do not have complete bindery and distribution capabilities. Their schedules may be less consistent than those of publication printers, in part because they must subcontract for perfect binding (AKA adhesive binding) and mailing and distribution services.

Publishing As a Communications Process
The wide variety of printing companies is equal to the assortment of publishers and the spectrum of publishing. The distinction between printing and publishing has caused confusion. The simplest difference is this: the publisher pays the printing bills. Printing is a service publishers buy to produce books, journals, brochures, flyers, etc. Publishers include nonprofit associations and societies, commercial or for-profit publishers, and vanity or individual publishers. Publishers of promotional pieces encompass all businesses and organizations, including printers, who frequently publish self-promotion and advertising projects that they pay for themselves, which is why the above distinction between printing and publishing works.

Association publishers provide a service to all--or a major segment--of their membership or their members' markets. For example, medical, scientific, and educational research organizations often produce scholarly journals to serve their academic members, who typically rely on the doctrine of publish or perish. Similarly, the clinical or practical members of the same organization may receive a magazine or newsletter informing them about meetings and legislative matters affecting the association or its market.

The type of information a publisher provides depends on the needs of the customer or market served. How various market segments are accommodated is influenced by the budget and sources of funds available to pay for the products published. When the printer is paid, what is the source of the money? Does it come from member dues; from authors, through the author's employer or grant in the form of page charges; by subscriptions from members and other readers; or from advertisers? Frequently the money comes from a combination of all of these. There may, however, be exposure to tax liability if too much revenue comes from the sale of advertising, which is considered by the IRS as unrelated business income. Books and monographs are frequently self-supporting, but there is always a risk of failure to recover sufficient revenue to cover the cost. Managing this risk is the key to successful publishing. Remember that if sufficient potential income exists within an association's membership or the member's market, there is usually a commercial publisher willing to take advantage of it.

When an association publisher recognizes that the need or market for a project exists, the source of the information to be published, and the importance of the information to the intended market must be determined. First-stage production involves converting the information to be published into composition, or typeset material. The origins of text material vary; will editorial text be developed from volunteer or paid sources? Once generated, will the material be modified or edited and by whom? Will it be rekeyed, or will the keystrokes from the author be preserved and manipulated by staff, freelance, or an outside vendor? Is it easier and less costly, in both time and money, to have the printer, or other vendor, typeset, proof, and make all corrections before printing? If association staff is making these decisions, who is being relied on for help and advice?

A good source of advice is the printer selected to produce the project. The printer should know the best way to achieve the desired result using the equipment within his production facilities. The printer should also want the publisher's staff to create products that meet the goals for publishing. If the finished project does not meet the desired goal, was the wrong vendor chosen, or was the project poorly planned?

Budgets play an important role in every publishing program. There are fewer sources of funding, and the sources available are more discriminating than they may have been previously. But reliance on the low bid is rarely the best situation, since cost and value are not the same. Experience and motivation are precious essentials. In a competitive market it is important to consider all potential resources.

Halftones, design, process color, and stripping make up a sizable percentage of many projects with press runs of fewer than 15,000 copies. Color separations can be a valuable, albeit expensive, addition to any publishing project. The highest quality color separations are generally produced from color transparencies. However, separating individual transparencies, assembling them on a page, and printing them in the same press form, or signature, with advertising and other pages containing process color subjects can affect the finished quality and may make production costs prohibitive.

Separating positive color prints in position can save hundreds of dollars in separation and stripping cost without sacrificing the final printed quality for many projects. For example, the next time snapshots from a meeting or conference are to be published, position the actual color photographs on an 11 x 17 (two- page) spread with an overlay mask for type legends and use solid blocks to create windows for the photos. The mask will serve to knock out the fine color screen pattern between the photos and, in addition to reducing the color separation cost by having three or four subjects on a page, the page is stripped into the printer's flat as a single process color subject instead of as three or four subjects at a cost of $40 or more each.

Printing and Manufacturing

Paper, a critical element in any printing project, is usually not an exorbitant percentage of cost for projects of fewer than 10,000 copies. A heavier or higher quality paper is frequently a good investment if it helps to accomplish a desired goal. Publications that contain 32 pages or less can frequently mail third class for the minimum piece rate charge if printed using an 8 1/2 x 11 trim on 60-lb paper. Coated paper (matte, dull, or gloss) will produce brighter colors than those printed on offset or other uncoated paper. The longer the press run and the greater the number of pages produced, the more paper adds to cost. Rely on the printer for suggestions for the paper to be used. Frequently a printer's sources of supply are comparable to other brands with similar sheets available. Ask your printer for printed samples from the paper distributor before making a final decision.

Designers who specify recycled, special finish, or specially colored paper frequently underestimate the availability problems and production methods, especially if they do not know the press run or how the project is to be printed. Printers rarely produce a publication, booklet, or covers in four-page signatures, making the position of pages in the finished product very different from the location of the pages on the press sheet while the job is printing. Designers who fail to consider how a project will be manufactured can create increased expense or a poor-quality product.

The printing process, just like the kind of printer, will influence budget and design considerations. For example, a web printer may use either heat-set or non-heat-set equipment, typically in either full webs (+/-35 inch) or half or miniwebs (+/-17 1/2 inch). Projects may also be influenced by the number of roll stands (webs) available, how many printing units (2, 4, 5, 8, etc.) are used, and how the printed web(s) will be folded. Will the finished project be a magazine, digest, book, or newspaper? What are the positions for any color pages and what kind of paper is wanted? Newsprint and uncoated paper are printed on non-heat-set webs. A heat-set web press can print matte, dull, and gloss coated paper as well as newsprint and uncoated paper. Web stock is usually available in 28-lb to 100-lb weights, depending on quality, finish, bulk, and width of the rolls.

Sheet-fed printing, by definition, uses sheets of paper instead of webs to deliver the paper to the printing unit (see Fig. 1). There are roll sheeters in use by many printers, but the press prints only one sheet of paper at a time instead of from a continuous roll as used by web presses. Sheets of varying sizes may be used and they may be passed through the same press repeatedly to produce multicolor projects. Folding is done as a separate process after printing, along with scoring, perforating, and binding.

Sheet-fed printing relies on oxidation and absorption for the ink to dry prior to finishing. For very heavy ink coverage and special coatings, some presses--both web and sheet-fed--incorporate infrared, ultraviolet, and other dryers, but in sheet-fed printing a project usually sits until dry before the next step in production can take place.

Sheet-fed presses usually print on one side of a sheet of paper at a time, although perfecting presses (Fig. 2), which print both sides of the sheet of paper simultaneously (like web presses), are frequently used for single and two color projects on offset paper and when ink coverage is not really heavy. Frequently process color is printed as a work-and-turn press form so that both sides of a project can print on each side of a single sheet of paper to save make-ready and plates on a small multi-color printing job. If more than one half of a sheet will need to be printed in color, the job is typically run "sheet-wise," printing each side of the sheet separately, since additional make-ready and plates are required.

Figure 1. 
In a typical offset press, ink is rolled onto the plate cylinder, which "offsets" the image to the blanket. The paper passes between the blanket and the impression cylinder to ensure the best image reproduction. 
Figure 2. 
Most web, and some sheet-fed, presses use the blanket to blanket perfecting configuration shown. The image is "offset" from the plate cylinders to the blanket cylinders, which use the second blanket cylinder as an impression cylinder.

 Figure 3.
The two most common methods for binding publications are briefly described.

Papers used for sheet-fed printing usually are 50-lb weight or higher, since individual sheets are gripped by the printing press and pulled through the press. Lighter-weight quality sheets can be printed on some presses but they often have poor opacity or may wrinkle and float, making it necessary for the press to be run at a slower speed.

Web presses normally print and fold simultaneously, so paper begins at one end of the press as a blank roll of paper and is converted into folded signatures at the other end. The most commonly used web presses will cut off the web at a fixed measurement, making the width of the paper roll a determining factor in the number of pages printed in a signature. Heat-set webs print, dry, and fold using gas or other dryers and ink with a higher varnish content or other additive to dry the printed project before it enters the folder. The speed of printing, number of printing units, and the type and size of the drying units determine how much ink coverage can be printed on any web. Heat-set webs are frequently used for publications containing color text or advertisements with press runs over 10,000 copies. Non-heat-set (newspaper) presses fold before the ink is completely dry, which may not be as good as the quality of heat-set presses, and printed material may smear for some time after printing.

Folding and Binding
Heat-set web and sheet-fed printing are normally used for booklets, journals, magazines, and books. Multiple-page projects use folders to turn printed sheets and webs into folded signatures of pages to be bound into the finished project. These signatures typically contain 8, 16, or 32 pages, although 4-, 6-, 12-, and 24-page signatures may also be used. Saddle binding is a finishing method whereby several of these folded sheets (signatures) drop on a binding line with half of the pages on either side. Most saddle binders have 6 8 stations, or "pockets." Miniweb printers frequently have saddle binding lines of 14 or 16 stations because of the smaller yield, typically 8 pages from each web.

Saddle stitching causes each printed form to be divided in half. If a 16-page form of 4 colors is printed, 8 pages will be in the front and 8 pages will be in the back of the completed book. The first form on the binder is in the center and the last form is the cover (Fig. 3).

Perfect (adhesive) binding is normally used for publications containing more than 100 pages or if more items (signatures, cards, and advertising inserts) to bind into publication than can be saddle-stitched economically. Signatures are folded, but instead of containing pages from the front and back of the publication they are sequential 1 16, 17 32, etc., depending on the size of the press form or signature.

Color distribution on perfect-bound publications is also in sequence, so a color signature can be followed by additional color signatures as needed by the layout of the book rather than being forced into a front/back position like saddle-stitched products. Perfect binding is also used if there are many supplied advertising inserts and bind-in cards since, with planning, they can frequently be economically positioned by printed advertisements or other items of interest. Publications with fewer than 80 pages usually provide too little bulk for most perfect-binders and they make a printed spine difficult to position properly. Perfect binding lines have more pockets, frequently 12, 24, and even 30 stations or more, allowing large publications to be assembled. Because of the expense in the automated binding process of a binder, either saddle or perfect, the number of pages a publication contains usually determines the binding process.

Publications, books, and monographs can be case-bound (hard cover) or paperbound (soft cover). In Smythe-sewing, books are typically gathered on a line similar to a perfect binder. When the signatures are collated the signatures are sewn to each other and then sewn to end papers, which, after reinforcing, are glued into cloth-covered cases made of hard fiberboard--hence the term hard cover or case bound. End papers hold the book in the case with the sewing thread or notches of glue holding the individual pages of the book together.

Specialty bindings include comb binding, hole drilling or punching, and Wire-o or spiral binding, which are processed similarly. After the printed and folded signatures are gathered, they are punched or drilled and then wrapped or fastened together. Because of the manual processes and cost of the fasteners (plastic combs, ring binders, or spiral wires) these methods are typically used for special purpose and short-run projects. The binding material is not affected substantially by mass production savings and can add 75 cents or more to the cost of each copy bound, increasing cost proportionately.

Mailing and Distribution
Domestic distribution is usually handled by the United States Postal Service using first, second, or third class mail. Because of postage increases significant savings are not realized by mailing more pieces. Postage frequently can be a larger percentage of publication cost than typesetting, paper, and printing. Postage for second and third class mail is billed on a per-piece rate and a cumulative pound rate. A small newsletter or folder can be mailed First Class for 29 cents for the first ounce and 23 cents for each additional ounce, up to a total of 12 ounces, when priority matter begins. By using bar codes, carrier presorts, and 9-digit zip codes additional economies can be realized.
The use of the second-class mail rate is limited to periodicals mailing at least four times a year. Traditionally this has been the rate of choice for association publishers. The deterioration of service, reporting requirements, and regulations associated with second-class mail have made third class mail nearly as attractive for smaller publications. Both classes use a per-piece rate along with a cumulative pound rate. Recent incentives to use 9-digit zip codes and bar-coded addresses have caused a lot of confusion to part-time mailers. When the automated mail technology is complete, zip code sorting and bar coding will be the best bets for distribution economies. However, mail rates are not expected to come down.

Foreign mail was traditionally sent as surface printed matter. Long distribution delay, high costs, and problems with foreign subscription fulfillment have resulted in international surface air lift (ISAL) and similar services from KLM and a number of other vendors that may be cost effective alternatives when distribution and fulfillment expense is considered. These services airlift periodicals to European and Asian subscribers to reduce the delays normally associated with surface mail. These methods allow commingling by mailers and specialists who provide services to publishers at reduced rates that individual mailers may not be able to receive. There are also agents in foreign countries who are providing contract subscription fulfillment services for publishers who prefer to avoid the costs and headaches of dealing with growing numbers of foreign subscribers in the growing global marketplace.

Steven L. Webber has over 25 years experience with the publishing and printing of association publications. Working with large and small associations and publishers throughout the United States, Mexico, and Puerto Rico and representing a variety of printing companies have provided Steve with a unique insight to many of the problems facing association publishers. Frequently savings of 20% or more can be achieved with a simple publication evaluation. His company, WC Associates, is an independent consultancy providing objective review, analysis, and recommendations to client organizations as well as outsource services. Commercial publishing versus self-publishing and unrelated business income are areas of specialty. 
WC Associates 
117 East Susquehanna Avenue 
Towson, Maryland 21286-5215 
Telephone 410 296-8957 Fax 410 828-0546
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