The printing of your book is one of the areas that you do not want to skimp on; this will determine the look and feel of your book.
High-quality printing has always been available for larger print runs, but because most self-publishers only print a few hundred copies this high-quality printing was usually beyond reach for them. The reason is that basically two different printing methods are available: one that is more economical for higher print quantities and one for lower quantities. Up until recently, the method for printing lower quantities (often called ‘short-run printing’) was noticeably poorer in quality.
Offset printing is an industrial endeavour. You’ve probably seen those huge presses in the movies, usually printing newspapers. That’s what offset printing is like. Webs of paper travel through the large presses (known as ‘web presses’). First the pages are printed, then folded and trimmed, and then bound and attached to the cover on a binder. It’s a large, interesting, impressive process. Because it operates on such a large scale, offset printing is only economical for larger print runs, usually of quantities over 700 or 1000 copies.
Digital printing has in fact been around for years, but until recently the quality wasn’t great. Five or six years ago I could easily tell a digitally printed book from an offset book from three metres away. The tones in the images were uneven, the image resolution was poor, the paper was low quality, the cover was dull. I have a few books on my shelf from a number of years ago for which I have a digitally printed edition and an offset version, and the differences are stark.
One of the biggest issues was the binding. We’ve all had the experience of a book that seems to be bound ‘tightly’. You feel like it’s trying to snap shut all the time – it’s actually an effort to hold it open. Get distracted for a second and the book shuts and you lose your place. Digital printing used to have real problems getting this right. Not any more. These days telling the difference between digitally and offset printed books is much more difficult.
Along with these improvements, with the advances in technology and growth in popularity short-run prices have come down dramatically. This improvement in print quality and affordability is one of the key drivers of the huge growth in self-publishing in recent years (along with ebooks). It’s possible to print 100 copies of a book that you can be proud of, rather than it looking like a poor substitute for a ‘properly published’ book.
Print On Demand
You have probably heard of print on demand, known in the industry simply as ‘POD’. This is the extreme end of digital printing, allowing you to have single copies of your book printed, to a quality you will be more than happy with. The book is printed only when it’s ordered by a bookstore or on a website. The printer will print, bind and mail out the book within a few days of the order. The customer will have no idea the book was only printed when they ordered it.
If you set up with a print on demand service, you can print one copy, 100, 500, or as many as you need. You can order books yourself and have them delivered to your door. A number of small publishers use this exclusively as their printing and distribution method.