Before you press ‘Print’

How to approach a printers and what you need to know

You’d like printed, physical copies of your book, leaflet, postcard or wedding invites… and you know you need to find a printer. But where do you start?

Who are you going to use?

I’d suggest searching for printers in your area. The closer they are to you, the quicker you’ll receive the product and the smaller the postage fee (hopefully.) A small local printer may offer to cast a glance over your work before pressing print. It’s an extra pair of eyes looking out for spelling and grammatical errors – it’s worth it.

Quote me

The next question is ‘how much is this going to cost me?’ and to work this out you need to tell the printers exactly what you want. Quotes are usually free and will be emailed to you. So shop around. Read it through, make sure it’s exactly what you want.

  • What size do you want? Double sided? How many pages? It’s not enough to say ‘A4’, ‘Postcard’ or even ‘standard business card size’ because in the UK, some printers use ‘international’ sizes, ‘UK’ sizes, or ‘American’ standard. Work out what you want to the millimetre, and it will save you disappointment later.
  • Do you want proofs? Proofs are a draft version of your project, made before saying ‘okay’ to 300 copies… and realising there’s a mistake. As this will be a one-off job, you will be charged for proofs. Looking at your project on paper rather than on a screen, feeling the weight of it – this is often an invaluable experience.
  • You will need to give the printers up-to-date contact details, often your phone number and an email address. They may also ask for an organisation name, in case you decide to continue using them. They’ll know they’ve worked for you before.
  • How many do you want? The more you order, the cheaper they will be per copy. For example 200 flyers might cost £150, but 400 may only be £200. In order to make the most out of their paper, printers sometimes only print in certain batches. For example, ‘We only print 40, 80, 100, 150 postcards.’ So if you wanted 85, you’ll need to decide between 80 (and deal with having 5 less) or 100 (and having 15 spare.)
  • What kind of paper do you want? Gloss? Matte? 150 gsm? ‘Gsm’ (grams per square metre) is a measurment of how thick the paper is. A ‘normal’ sheet of A4 printer paper is about 90gsm, card is 350gsm. You may also be offered a choice of recycled paper. Remember to ask what colour the recycled paper is. Cream? Brown? Textured? This will affect your design, especially the appearance of ‘white’ areas.
  • How many colours does your design have? Is it black and white? Full colour? One colour? Full colour involves a design with all of the four colours ‘CMYK’ (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key) or three colour ‘RGB’ (Red, Green and Blue) more than one colour, whereas ‘one colour/monochrome’ is similar to black and white, except that you may be using a series of reds, and ‘blank’ areas which are white. In some cases, your printing may be a little cheaper.
    • Make sure your images have a high pixel resolution known as ‘high res’. It is essential that your images have a high PPI (nothing to do with insurance, but pixels per inch.) It’s generally accepted that images of 300 ppi will print well, but below that, they may be pixelated when printed… ending up looking like this:

      You can see the tiny image of Shakespeare? That is because it is smaller. Images with less than 300 PPI may be okay to use, because they are small.

    • You’ll need to have a deadline in mind, at least two months early (in case they’re busy.) Projects will be booked in advance, even if the document to be printed isn’t finished yet. Book your spot and don’t take ‘It’s okay, June is a quiet month’ as an answer. Make sure you have a ‘print date’.
    • Do you have a design, or only the words you want to become a book/flyer/invitation? Ask your printer if they know any typesetters or graphic designers. Lots of printers have typesetting services, or could recommend someone.
  • Special effects, embossing, etc… There are hundreds of things you can do with printing. Each one will make your book more expensive.

A note on book binding

The two most common bindings are:

Perfect bound – The book is printed, folded and glued together at the spine. This is the cheapest option of binding, commonly known as ‘paperbacks’ as opposed to ‘Hardback’ thick cardboard covered books.

For perfect bound books, you will need a spine allowance for the cover. How deep your spine is depends on how many pages your book has, and which thickness of paper you choose. Often, typesetters and designers will put off designing a cover until they know this measurement, as it may mean fiddling around with their designs.

Spiral bound – A series of holes is punched into the inner margin of all printed pages and threaded together with a column of wire. It is particularly useful for working textbooks, as the covered can be folded back on themselves to allow the reader to hold to book with one hand.

Ready to phone up?

Remember, don’t be nervous. Printers do this all the time, and even if your job feels unique to you, chances are they’ve printed several like it in the past week.

No question is a stupid question. Queries will affect the final product, ask anything you like to make your they are finishing your product as you wanted.

What you need from them:

  • A name and contact details. Make sure you make a note of the name of the person who picks up the phone, and any details they give you. Email address etc. They will probably send you an email with the details of the conversation, just to make sure. Ask for a direct phone number – in case of emergencies.
  • A print deadline – when the product will ‘go to print’, when you need to send them the files and how long you have to introduce amendments. You may decide you want to change spellings or details of design before your project is printed, make sure you have a final deadline.
  • Portal details. The more detailed the design, the larger the file. Printers often have an online ‘portal’ where files can be uploaded, downloaded and edited. Comments and ideas can be exchanged between you and the printer. You may be given a set of personal log in details. Write them down.
  • What do you need to supply? Most printers (I’ve not met one that doesn’t) prefer a ‘print ready pdf’. If you don’t know how to turn image files into a pdf or have software that can do this, the printer may ask for a small fee to convert your files. What makes the pdf print ready, rather than a normal pdf? The pdf format allows images and designs to be printed exactly as they are intended to be. Print ready pdfs also have a ‘bleed’ – a white border around the edge of the design which allows excess ink to ‘bleed’ onto it, which will be removed later. Some printers like a 3mm bleed, others 5mm. Best to ask them what they would prefer.

So, I’ve rung them and asked for a quote, what can I expect to turn up in my inbox? Here’s an example of a quote for a book I had printed. Names and numbers have been removed (except the prices, correct as 2013).

Dear Ms. XXXX

Revised price

Referance number:1234

Anthology XXXX – 4pp+204pp text

We thank you for your enquiry for the above and have pleasure in submitting our quotation as follows:

From pdf supplied submit soft proof.
Print 4pp cover in 4 colour process to 1 side only.
Matt laminate outer cover.
Print 204pp text in 1 colour throughout.
Fold & gather text, draw on cover and perfect bind to finished size
230 x 155 mm.
Pack to suit and deliver to 1 UK address.

Material: Cover 300gsm Condat Digital Silk
Text 100gsm Premium Smooth Offset

300 – £2,120.00

Prices do not include VAT.

Authors corrections will be charged extra. Please note our terms and conditions which are available at: ….XXX…
We hope you will find this quotation acceptable.

Yours sincerely

X Smith

I hope this article has explained this process in a way you can understand. If you still have questions, and you’d like to ask me, feel free to leave a comment in the box below, and I’ll get back to you.


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