Book Printing: Be Aware of Paper Substitution
Saturday, March 24th, 2012
I recently solicited bids for 3,000 copies of a 600-page casebound print book. The estimates I received ranged widely from about $12,500 to $22,500.
I had specified the text paper as Finch Opaque because I like the sheet’s whiteness, brightness, and opacity. Also, in prior years this hardcover print book had been produced on Finch, and I wanted to maintain the year-to-year consistency.
The Paper Specifications for Finch
These are the specific qualities I like about Finch:
Opacity: 93 (This refers to the show-through from the front of a printed sheet to the back of the sheet. Higher numbers are better. Opacity is the light-stopping quality of paper. It keeps a photo on the back of a press sheet from being visible while you’re reading the text on the front of the sheet.) Brightness: 96 (Brightness is not the same as whiteness. It refers to the amount of light reflected back by the paper stock. Out of 100, 96 is quite good, particularly when you consider that a #5 groundwood sheet used for an automotive parts catalog would be about 72 bright.) Whiteness: blue-white shade (Blue-white actually appears brighter than its specification would suggest. Neutral white or yellow white are the two other options. A blue-white press sheet is also referred to as cool white, while a yellow-white paper is considered warm-white. Blue-white paper increases the perceived contrast between the paper and the images, and text, on the page.)PPI: 426 (PPI, or pages per inch, refers to the thickness of the custom printing paper. If a particular paper stock is 500 PPI, the individual sheets are thinner than paper with a 426 PPI. If you check Finch’s website, you will see that 60# Finch Opaque Smooth is 500 PPI, while Finch Opaque Vellum—a rougher sheet—is 426 PPI. For an annually produced book such as my client’s index, producing a book of comparable thickness from year to year is important. Subscribers might resist paying the same amount for a thinner print book.)
The Custom Printing Vendors’ Prices
One book printer provided an extremely attractive price, about $1,500 less than the vendor that had produced the prior year’s version of my client’s casebound book.
To make sure the price was accurate, I carefully compared the book printer’s specifications to those I had submitted for the estimate. Everything matched except for the paper specification. This printer had substituted another press sheet without disclosing the name of the paper. However, the PPI specification (435 in this case) clearly indicated that the paper was not Finch (otherwise, it would have been 426 PPI).
I asked the custom printing vendor about the paper and was told it was Husky (a Domtar product). I am familiar with Husky, Lynx, and Cougar (all made by Domtar) and know they are good uncoated printing sheets. Therefore, I was still excited about the price savings. But I didn’t stop there. I checked the specifications for Husky:
The Paper Specifications for Husky
Whiteness: blue-white shade
Comparing "Apples to Apples"
In comparing the prices of one book printer to the other (I was down to two printers at this point), I could not make an "apples to apples" comparison due to the differences in the paper. As you can see by the numbers, Husky is very close to Finch, but Finch is a brighter sheet as well as a slightly thicker sheet. Since I thought my client (and my client’s subscribers) would see a difference in the final printed book, I asked the vendor with the lower price to bid the book on Finch.
I was surprised when the pricing jumped more than $9,000. The book printer acknowledged that Finch is an exceptional sheet and yet not their house paper stock. Therefore, this custom printing vendor would need to buy the paper for my client, and there would be a minimum order, hence the $9,000+ upcharge.
My next step was to approach the book printer that had produced the prior year’s version of my client’s casebound book. I asked if there would be a price savings if the print book were produced on Husky.
(At this point I want to also make it clear that I had already vetted both book printers. The first had a proven track record from the prior two years. The second vendor came with a superior recommendation from an associate of mine.)
When I received the updated pricing from the vendor that had produced the prior year’s book, I was surprised. The cost would be exactly the same if the book were printed on either Finch or Husky.
The Final Analysis
This is what I can infer from the information provided by both book printers.
The prior year’s printer, which had initially bid the book on Finch, buys Finch paper as a house sheet. That is, the printer keeps a ready supply of this stock for the greater percentage of its jobs. Therefore with its economy of scale, the printer can negotiate superior pricing for Finch paper.
The low-bid vendor, which had bid the book on Husky, buys Husky as a house sheet. It is of a slightly lower quality than Finch based on the specifications, and this explains the lower price.
The prior year’s vendor came up with the same price for Husky as for Finch because it would have needed to buy the Husky paper stock for my client (individually, with a minimum order) just as the other printer would have done for the Finch stock. This actually raised the price of the custom-ordered Husky above that of the superior house sheet, Finch.
How You Can Apply This Information
Don’t assume all printers have bid on the same specifications. Read all bids carefully and ask questions if you find a discrepancy between your specs and their printer’s specs.
If you do not need a specific press sheet, ask about the printer’s "house sheet." Or ask about paper substitutions if the final price seems high.
Don’t assume that all printers use the same house sheet.
When in doubt, request paper samples (both printed and unprinted) and a paper dummy (to show the overall look and thickness of the book).