Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The problem with paper

Another lesson in self-publishing – only for those who are interested in the minutiae of printing.

When I first started thinking about the book I wanted to produce, I knew the cover was important – image, design, layout, colour, whether the finish was matt or glossy. (Matt! It had to be matt!)

What I didn’t realise was how difficult it would be to choose the paper the text would be printed on. I had some books on the shelf I wanted to match, and the rep for the printer (in the south of England -  in other words – off my map) sent me some examples of books that they had printed. I could not adequately compare the two. He sent me some paper samples. The rep told me to choose the weight and type of paper – e.g. Muncken 80gsm. He didn’t mention the colour. If you look at the paperback novels on your shelf, you’ll see there are very few – if any – with white pages. Most of them are ivory, cream or off-white. When I got my approval copy for the short print run (the pre-release review copies) the pages were bright white, and I realised I had forgotten to specify – not bright white!

Once that was sorted, and they’d been reminded (on pain of death) that I had ordered a matt cover, I was delighted with the 50 pre-release copies that arrived.

I told the printer’s rep I wanted the same paper for the long run. I thought I had it sussed, but when they arrived the paper felt completely different. It was thick and stiff and white (the colour had not been specified on the rep’s estimate and was not picked up by me with my exploding brain).

I was gutted. If you have a copy of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, you will see it looks and feels professionally produced: it feels like a quality “product.” But it is not exactly as I wanted. I wanted off-white paper and I wanted the paper to match the paper in my pre-release copies, which was floppier.

I rang the rep. He was puzzled. He said the paper used in the long run and the short run were the same. In order to convince him I had to send him a book in the post so he could compare the two. He was still puzzled. After investigation, he told me that the long run and the short run were printed in different premises (which I knew) and that they were printed using different processes. The long run is done by litho, and the paper comes on rolls. This means that one run had the short grain of the paper going across the page and the other run had the short grain going down the page. Even though the paper was exactly the same weight, the grain going one way means the paper feels stiff, and when it goes the other way it feels floppy. If you have got this far in the story, you may have noticed I have become imprecise. I cannot now remember which orientation of the short grain makes it stiff. I do know it’s the litho-printing on rolls of paper that does it. Even the rep – a very experienced and knowledgeable man - did not realise the different processes made such a huge difference. I learned something. He learned something.

If the book becomes a runaway best seller and I need to get more printed, I shall have to choose the paper again, because if I want more than 1500 printing at a decent price, I will have to have them done on the litho-presses. So I will need a different weight of paper – lighter. Oh me, oh my.


Anonymous said...

*Interesting* explanation... As far as I knew, paper hasn't got a grain as such. The pulp distribution is actually quite random.

Was your short run print done on a digital printer? If so, the non ink versions tend to heat the paper which effectively 'irons' the paper making it flatter and thinner.

This got explained to me by a printer when I was choosing paper for some business cards once.

Sue Hepworth said...

Yes, I believe the short run was printed digitally. Maybe you're right, then.