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Professional printing
I have yet to have a large enough print order to justify paying to have books printed by a printer. Printing is different from copying in a number of ways, in the types of paper possible, the amount of color, the margins, but mainly in the minimum number of books that must be printed. I’ve seen a range of prices, but most seem to end up costing around $250-$350 for 200 books. This price includes everything to have a set of 200 books handed to you which is great, but the price is the issue. It’s not an option to ask a printer to just print 50 books, part of the cost of printing is the set up work, so minimum orders are usually 200 books or more.


Most printers work fine with a PDF file or a publisher file and require up to a week to complete the printing.


Professional copying
With a bit of negotiation, any of the main copy stores can do as many parts of the production and assembly process as you’re willing to pay for. Copying is like printing in the types of paper that are possible, so high gloss paper isn’t an option, but anything you can print on yourself can work for copying, and often the better copy machines can handle even glossier papers. The best price I’ve seen so far from a copy center was $1.15 to copy, cut, and assemble books with a minimum order of 50 books. The price/book went up with fewer books being printed, mainly because the cutting cost gets distributed across fewer books. To get this price I had to talk for a while with the manager, showing how small the color images were and how little text there was.
Copy centers require a master copy of each page and usually can complete the work in 1-2 days.


Self-Printing


Step 1: Materials
The quality of the books depends in part on the quality of the paper used for printing. While any paper can work, three paper features are important. Brightness is measured in a scale from 1-100, with higher numbers meaning brighter white papers. I tend to use the brightest paper I can find, usually in the 90’s.  Weight refers to the thickness and density of the paper, 16 being typical lightweight copy paper, 20 and 24 feeling significantly thicker, more durable and better at double sided copying, and weights in the 30-40 range working well for cover sheets. I like to use a single sheet of legal size (8.5” x 14”) 40 lb. for the cover and 24 lb. for the interior pages. Glossiness, the last paper attribute is the most critical. I don’t know of any numeric scale that describes the range of glossiness, but the critical issue here is that glossier paper, paper that is coated, is much better at double side printing such that pictures and text on one side of the page don’t show through and interfere with pictures and text on the other. The problem, however, is that inkjet printers don’t tend to print very well on extremely glossy papers. The trick is to find a balance, the glossiest paper where your inkjet printer still prints clear images and text.


Step 2: Printer
A nice part of this system is how inexpensive extremely high quality, fast printers have become. And given the nature of how inkjet printers print, double sided printing is not a requirement. More often than not I do not use double sided printing when I print books. It is faster and easier if I’m printing anywhere from 5-50 books to print each side and then simply put the pages with two sides back into the paper tray and print the second side that way. I have always bought HP printers and currently have a few of the most recent HP multi-function inkjet printers available at Costco or any office supply store for under $200. While it is possible to refill ink cartridges, I have yet to have good luck doing so. I’m all ears if anyone can give some reliable information about how to do it in a way that doesn’t mess up the printer, looks good for printing and ends up being significantly cheaper. As far as I know, pretty much every printer on the market can handle legal size paper. So there are no special requirements at all for the printer.


Step 3: Production
The easiest way to print is from a PDF. If you have a double sided printer, to print a single book, all you have to do is tell it to print double sided, have a single sheet of cover paper followed by two sheets of your normal page paper, and the printer will take care of the rest. To assemble your book, jump down to step 4, assembling books.


If you’re not using a double sided printer or want to produce the books more quickly and with fewer jammed pages, I print the pages individually. A typical book has three or four pieces of paper, which, when folded turns into a cover and either four or six internal pages. The cover page is usually blank on the inside and includes the copyright information on the back cover, and is often a heavier weight, a card stock or the equivalent. If I’m assembling 20 books, I’ll first print 20 covers. These need only be printed on a single side. PDF files have been generated such that the book layout information is already taken into account. Page 1 is 14” and includes both the front and back covers. Page 2 is blank and is the back side of page 1, which means it doesn’t need to be printed. Load the printer with paper for the cover and tell the printer to print 20 copies of page 1. Set those aside.


For the remaining internal pages, I print them one at a time, 20 copies each – 20 copies of page 3 and 20 copies of page 5 (and 20 copies of page 7 if it’s a twelve page book). After printing each of the sets of 20, I set them aside. After each of the internal pages have been printed on a single side, I re-load the 20 page 3’s into the paper tray, making sure they are arranged so that when the printer pulls the paper, it will print the second side on the correct side and in the correct orientation. In order to check how your printer prints, write the words bottom left on the bottom left hand corner of the top page in the paper tray. Print a single page. When that page comes out of the printer, it will let you know if the printer prints on the top of the paper in the tray or the bottom and how it feeds the paper. If I’m having a hard time using that system, you can also simply print a test page of one side, load it into the paper tray and double check that the printing comes out as desired. Once you’re clear on how to load the paper in the paper tray, load the 20 copies of page 3 into the tray and then print 20 copies of page 4. Follow the same plan for any remaining internal pages.


Step 4: Assembling the books
Two pieces of equipment help create the best quality books – an offset stapler (which can be bought at any office supply store) and some way of cutting paper. The offset stapler allows books to be stapled along the fold and some cutting system is needed to trim the paper to 14” x 5”. If I am printing a large number of books, I will print all the pages and then take them to a copy center to have them cut them (usually costing under $10). Schools often have table paper cutters with those big arms, as long as one is careful, those work fine. So far I haven’t been able to get the paper cut ahead of time and have my printer work with 14” x 5” paper. It seems like it should be possible, but so far I haven’t been able to do it.


For a single book, place the cover on the bottom (picture side down) then place page 3 (page 3 facing down) and then page 5. Fold the book in half length wise (i.e. fold it so that the page is now 7” x 8.5”). Double check that the pages are in the correct order. Pages 3 and 5 can be flipped if/as needed. I tend to be a bit anal when it comes to folding, I like to have a perfectly square, smooth corner for folding so I can line up all three pages and make sure they are perfectly square for the fold. I use something plastic to press down the fold (rather than my finger) both to get a tight fold and to make sure I don’t smear any ink. I prefer to cut the paper after the book is folded, but it can go either way. Once the pages are folded and the paper is cut, I use the offset stapler to put three staples along the fold, and that’s it.