[Edit: Those with corrections to make and experiences to share, please feel free to add to this post in the comments section for future readers to see!]
I’ve gotten 3 books printed now; I said I would write a little something after my first book but I kept delaying it in hopes that my subsequent experiences will contribute to the post. It was originally going to be a largely review for MCRL printing which I used to print Carciphona 1, but I ended up trying to eliminate the middleman and the costs that came with it by looking for overseas printing companies on my own, so now it’s a combination of review for the company and advice I may have. Remember that I am still a total noob at this, I only know what I needed to know and some of these may not even be correct or smart, so please use this post as a stepping stone rather than as is! But hopefully this will give noobs like myself an idea of the skeleton of the process and a direction of approach.
1a. The company: Keep looking until you find the right solution for you.
At first I knew nothing about printing, but thanks to the help of Negshin, I understood the basics, and she found me various companies to consult, including MCRL. The thing about doing something the first time is you have to be willing to invest the time, effort and possibly costs to find the solution that suits you perfectly rather than settling with what is alright, especially if it is something you intend to continue doing in the future. I used to be very lazy with that and almost settled with a company that would have cost me twice the production costs to print because it was the only one that looked good within my vicinity. Thankfully Negshin beat some senses into me and we continued looking. Every time we come across some place better, we say great! Now find some place even better until we exhaust all available possibilities. That’s what the market exists for.
I looked for mostly local places in order to save shipping costs by picking it up myself, and places in the USA because USA’s market is always bigger and cheaper than Canada and might be worth it. I ended up submitting quote requests to like 10 places and MCRL was the one with the cheapest price. Before I sometimes feel bad asking for quotes from places I am almost sure I won’t use; sometimes they even call back/write back to follow up and I have to tell them I found some place better. If you don’t feel this, great! If you do, suck it up and after a while you’ll get used to it.
1b. The company: Don’t feel bad to ask for service. Do everything to make sure they can do your job before committing.
I ended up choosing MCRL because it was cheap, it looked professional and it has an office near my home. The next on my list was to make sure they can make what I want to make and they know the answers to everything I don’t know about printing. Even though I’m printing a very VERY short run compared to what their other jobs might be like, a few thousand dollars is a huge deal to me and I should treat it as such. While it is a highly valued courtesy nowadays to google and look up answers before asking, when it comes to things like this, you should always double-check afterwards by asking your printer. They won’t ever say something like “that is the first result on google, did you even look first?” because you pay them for their service, it is their job to get your project printed even if you don’t know what a computer is.
I made an appointment to go see their sample products. The owner, Mankit, was a nice guy; I saw many of MCRL’s previous works in various sizes, formats, materials and purposes. He had some books with professional looking art, as well as amateur books, which gave me peace of mind that the only difference between the books are the artists’ input, not the company’s treatment. I was impressed by their quality as well and I was honestly really excited to think that this is what my book would be like. It felt like an extraneous visit afterwards but really, it beats wondering about what I should expect for the next month and a half.
1c. The company: If you don’t know what you want, know what you don’t want.
As I mentioned, I knew nothing about offset printing procedures, standards, let alone any paper/coating that I should ask for or want. So instead I brought a few manga books that I owned, in combination with books that Mankit had shown me and asked him to tell me what papers I should use. I had concerns about pages bleeding onto the back and thickness concerns from shipping (my final book was about as thick as it can be to qualify as a letter, and it was only a few grams underweight). While it was probably an easy choice for someone experienced, if you’re as clueless as I am, do not feel like you have to suddenly be a print guru to have a book printed; show them what suits your purpose and if they know what they’re doing, they should know what kind of paper you’re looking for. I initially estimated an 80lb paper, but he suggested 70 which I agreed to, and in the end it happened to be perfect. Any thinner the paper would’ve bled, and any thicker the book would have been overweight and too thick.
This was all taken care of for me by MCRL so I didn’t actually really learn about different paper effects because I didn’t have to. I had to for my art book, and I found this handy paper weight chart (for when you actually need to use a different measurement if you find a printer in a different country) as well as this general glossary off the top of google for reference. I feel the weight chart is only meaningful after you’ve thoroughly familiarized yourself with one kind of paper by getting a project printed on it, and then comparing the rest with it. Otherwise there is little you can decipher from staring or holding sheets of blank paper and trying to imagine ink on it.
2a. The file: Format
What you submit to a printer is typically a multipaged PDF. Although so far I’ve put together all my books in Photoshop, I wouldn’t recommend doing this because most of the vital settings are difficult to spot/change in photoshop. InDesign I believe is the standard program for this task.
If you are creating a book where your artwork cuts off at the edge (no border frame around the page), aka full bleed page, you must create a file that is bigger than the actual size of your book. You should ask your printer what their bleed size is (usually it is 1/8 inch in North America, or 3mm in countries that use the metric system, which means a 5″x7″ book will need pages that are 5.25″x7.25″ in size), and create your file in that size from the start. If you enlarge it later, pixelation may occur.
Printing a book is just like printing art prints; your file should be around 300 DPI if it is in colour. Lower is fine and higher is not always better. Again, ask your printer what they would recommend; 90% of the time you will not be surprised by their answer, but there’s never a need to take the 10% risk if it only takes 2 seconds to ask. If possible, the more vectors the merrier since pixelation is only a bitmap problem. And unless impossible, you should always embed your type/lettering as vector outlines. Most people wouldn’t care to notice, but that one graphic designer or type fiend may actually be able to tell rasterized text and be put off by it. Your little extra effort will always be appreciated.
2b. The file: CMYK
Regardless of how you make the files, your final PDF colour profile must be in CMYK. Here is an explanation by my friend Finni who actually understands the hows and whys and is the person I learned most of this from. In photoshop, this can be done by going to Image > Mode > CMYK, or by Edit > Convert to Profile. Failure to do so may result in your printing coming out with strange botches of colours in places, and it’s a problem that is more serious than most people can imagine. I actually have an example of this because I thought I created my art book pdf in CMYK but I didn’t. Many people ask me whether or not it is necessary to paint in CMYK; Finni’s answer is yes, my answer is no. It depends on your preferences. You just have to accept that your colours will change during a colour conversion, and keep in mind certain colours cannot be printed, such as those painfully bright saturated colours that make your pictures glow on the screen. I am personally not that anal about my colours; I don’t calibrate my monitors and I am used to seeing like 5-10 different versions of my pictures across different screens and through different printers; but if colour accuracy is very important to you (nothing wrong with that, in fact I believe something is wrong with me) then it is best that you work in CMYK from the start.
Finally, If you paint darkly, ESPECIALLY if you’re like me where you use a lot of dark and desaturated colours, you will want to lighten your pictures quite a bit before putting it into your book. In my case, my files worry me every time I print them because they are just so light after the adjustments, but I know it’s necessary because I’ve had multiple runs before where my dark colours were indistinguishable in print. This is due to what Finni talked about in the link above. I check K levels now when preparing print files by opening colour picker in Photoshop, then holding my mouse and dragging my pointer all over the screen to see if there are any K that are higher than 60 or 70 in my shading. Additionally, coating and lamination on the printed book will sometimes add to the darkness of the image and make the problem worse.
2c. The file: Other concerns
Some very practical concerns apply to the page count, size and content of your book and are often neglected. Think hard and always ask your printer for opinions, because seemingly simple quirks can sometimes make you weep and regret like no tomorrow and being an annoying (respectful, but annoying) customer is better than being a scared and sorry customer. Here are some examples:
- I would have made my art book a hard cover one, but it would exceed the 500g limit Canada Post has and force me to ship it as a parcel and charge even higher shipping costs than I do now, discouraging even more people from buying the book.
- Same thing with the page count of Carciphona making it too thick to qualify as a letter to send.
- I made my art book cover predominantly white; coincidentally the new company I used handled ink drying poorly, so a number of my books had colour smudges and specks on them that would have otherwise gone unnoticed had it been a colourful detailed cover illustration.
- I had planned to use a fold-in cover to create the effect of a dust jacket without having one, but my printer informed me that something like that, when piled to ship, will make the actual cover crease under the weight of all the books stacked on top of it. I would not have known that had we not demanded the printer to actually communicate with us, because before that they just did whatever we told them to do, neglecting to tell us even glaring mistakes that they see just because they’re not asked to.
MCRL’s service included one proof (ie a sample copy of your book), with additional ones available at an extra charge. The point of a proof is to make sure your pages are in order and you are using the right paper and right type of printing on each page. Getting your book in the correct order is not as straight forward as you think with digital printers spitting pages out of it in order. Depending on what kind of binding you get, pages may have to be organized by an actual person onto a sheet, then cut/folded into the correct booklets before glued together into a book. This is why despite having the correct order pdf, I still had many page order mistakes in Carciphona 2 (not printed through MCRL) because my pages were not all numbered, and every page looks the same to them because they are just a mess of panels.
The proof is usually handmade from regular printers so if you think the quality is crap, don’t worry; the final product’s quality will be higher unless there is something awfully wrong with your printing company.
Random note: in the case of a right to left manga, I got asked this several times and I questioned my solution at first because it seemed silly, but there is no printing orientation setting. If you want a backwards book, order the pages backwards in your pdf file.
4. Get the books!
In the case of MCRL, because they print overseas and they use shipping by sea, the turnaround was 4-5 weeks. The actual printing time for such a short run as 500-1000 books is just a few days in a not-busy season, so if you get books printed somewhere local, I imagine you would expect a turnaround of about a week. You should definitely check your books upon receiving them, eg. number of books, any corner damages overall from delivery, and check at least several books from each box to see if there are any defects in general. Errors, smudges, cleanliness and binding quality are some things I would check, and if you find glaring mistakes that are present in all books (and not in the proof) or unacceptable quality (eg bad gluing), definitely don’t be afraid to either ask for compensation or demand a rerun. Whether or not you’ll get it, I can’t say, but 50% chance is better than 0% chance. However it is generally common to have isolated factory defects in all mass produced products as long as the occurrence is very low.
5. Selling the books
Because this is not really a marketing tutorial, I’ll be brief. Since local printing takes such little time, most people have taken the preorder route to take orders before printing the actual book. This helps you gauge how many books you should print and makes sure you don’t have enough books leftover in your home to create furniture with, or have people throwing money at you and you don’t have books to sell them. But most importantly, especially if you sell well, this helps you pack, ship and take care of all orders in a fraction of the time.
Some people like to use paypal buttons, some people like to use kickstarter, some people like to have manual orders, but right now I love using storenvy for this purpose because their checkout process makes it impossible for someone to enter the wrong information or choose the wrong shipping options, and the spreadsheet they generate is ridiculously easy to manage once downloaded for shipping labels.
For packing supplies, I recommend Uline. Their stuff is cheap but sometimes their shipping takes the appeal away. They actually have a customer pickup option and I saved about $100 in shipping once by doing that; just remember that gas and time is actually money so don’t do something like drive to another city to their warehouse haha.
And that’s all I can think of for now! There are a lot more aspects to actual publishing than this ranging from decision making to career moves, but this post is solely for those whose immediate concern is to set the compass straight for getting books printed for the first time. Hopefully someone who is as confused as I once was will benefit from this. Work hard and good luck! ‘u’b