Color printing needs to pop! Image © Jain Lemos.

Moving along in my Ultimate Guide to Producing Photography Books, this post will review the process of hiring a printer. If this is your first book or you don’t have a printer in mind, one of the easiest ways to start is to look at the printing quality and manufacturing other books. Earlier I confessed that I have acquired about 500 large format books over the years so I have a great representation of printers hailing from Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy, Canada and the USA.

Toppan is one of the top conventional color lifestyle book printers. They are a Japanese company using Asian printers. They are almost always my first choice for documentary books, primarily because I have a long relationship with them and can count on the job being done right the first time. That’s not to say I haven’t had problems on projects printed by Toppan, but they are very quick to take ownership of their mistakes and rectify them. For other printer recommendations, I can provide you with a short list if needed. Even if you have a printer in mind, it’s important to get one or two more competitive bids for each title.

Everything you do with a printer will be run through a single point of contact. I think hiring a printer is equally based on finding one with the ability to achieve the results I want and the sales rep assigned to my project. I want a caring, patient rep who feels like a partner. They have to convey to the printer what I’m looking for and tell me why something I think I want is a poor decision, offering better alternatives.

Here’s how to do it: Telephone the printer directly or call their nearest representative office and explain the project in brief (a large format 4-color book printing about 5,000 copies). When you’re assigned a rep, chat with them for a bit, asking questions about their background, their company’s capabilities and how to go about getting a quotation. All this is to give you a feeling for how they communicate. If you are put off by anything they say or if pressure tactics are used, don’t feel obligated to continue. If a rep says you’ll receive a deep discount if you sign this week that is ridiculous. I’ve also encountered reps with a very poor command of the English language. Don’t be shy about asking for another rep who can better understand your language.

When you find a rep who is encouraging and helpful, submit the printing specs from the sheet you’ve prepared. Let them know you need their quotation by a specific date and time. This is to see how they meet their first deadline. Simultaneously, ask for a package of recent similar printing projects, which they should offer to send to you at their cost within a week. Examine that package carefully because it’s going to tell you how much they value their work and your potential business.

Printing quotes are complicated and it’s important to review them slowly. Quotes are sectioned as follows:

Project Description: This includes the title, editions, extent, trim size, special casings, cartons and orientation.
Materials: A description of the paper types and weights of the text pages, endpapers, jacket, casing and cartons.
Printing Specifications: Details the number of inks (4c, 1c) for each type of page and describes spot varnishes, foil stamping, embossing, debossing and laminates.
Finishing/Binding: Tells how the book will be bound and cased, sewn or glued, bands, ribbon pulls, tip-in pages, inserts and shrinkwrapping.
Packing: The number of bundles, types of cartons and size of pallets.
Origin: This is usually CTP (print ready), which means computer-to-plate printing. There are still film-to-plate options and there is considerable debate about what is superior. Ask to have the name and model of the printer included in the contract. Do some homework on this!
Printing Prices: A list of costs for each edition and quantity.
Shipping Charges: Freight costs are spelled out here, for example: via ocean freight to Los Angeles 90028, with duty, insurance, pallet jack and liftgate. Make sure you understand all of the freight term acronyms (FOB and CIF) and ask about Customs clearance.
Proofing: Charges for digital proofs and/or wet proofs.
Dates: The mechanical due date, date ready for shipping and the delivery date to your warehouse.
Terms and Remittance Info: Typically 50% down with balance due on printing (at press) with payment by wire transfer (EFT) or certified check.
Extra Costs/Comments: If you’ve asked for quotes on alternate materials, blads or postcards they’ll be listed here. The small print stuff can include notes about peak season shipping rates, overs and unders at 10%, and disclaimers about rates and prices that are are subject to change.

Yeah, it’s a lot to digest! There are no dumb questions when it comes to printing lingo. And that’s why your rep is so important to your experience. I recommend telling them right up front that you are getting quotes from other printers and explain exactly who they are up against. If they want to win your business you will see how they go about handling themselves. When you sign the contract and send off your deposit you want to feel confident in your decision and that will only happen if you and your printer are in sync and honest with each other from the start.

Next up is Part 14: Finding Design Concepts. Meanwhile, brush up on the difference between digital and offset printing from Insight180’s art director Bethany Howell.

Producing Documentary Books: Assigning and Structuring Photography
Producing Documentary Books: Finding Design Concepts