How Does Book Printing Work?

Before the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, every book in existence needed to be scribed. It wasn’t until the 20th century that books have become widely accessible to the public. This is because, during this time, offset lithography, or offset printing, enabled faster and more cost-effective mass production of books.

So, how exactly does book printing work? To the everyday person, this question may be puzzling. UnitedGMG created this step by step guide to book printing to give you an inside look on how book printing works.

1. Design

This is the first stage of book printing and is very important – after all, the design stage is where you create the blueprint of how every element of your book will be brought to life. During this stage, the author will work with the editor and printer to determine the overall design concept, as well as:

  • page size and style
  • typeface size and style
  • the type and weight of paper for the text and cover
  • use of color
  • representation of visuals/illustrations in the text, if needed
  • cover art/illustrations

2. Typesetting

The next step in the book printing process is typesetting. The typesetting process will go as follows:

  • First, if the copy has not been digitalized onto a computer, the text must be typed into the computer by a typesetter
  • Then, the manuscript must be converted into the proper font and size.
  • Once it’s thoroughly proofread for accuracy, the book is ready for the next step.

3. Pages and Mechanical

After thorough proofreading and editing, pages, also known as lasers, are created in the following order:

  • The precise layout of the typeset pages is printed on standard typing paper.
  • The pages are proofread by the publisher
  • Once edited, the typesetter creates a mechanical of the typeset pages, printing the text onto high-quality paper that is acceptable for filming, the next stage of the process.

4. Filming

During the filming process of book printing, printers will adhere to the following steps:

  • The mechanical is photographed in order to create page negatives, showing the opposite of what the final result will print.
  • The vendor will check the negatives to ensure no errors appear on the negatives

Printed words are created in one shade of black. Photographs, however, can consist of many different shades. Printers convert the shades into black and white dots, resulting in a converted photo also known as a halftone. An additional negative is created for each color of ink used in the book. If a book consists of colored photos, four negatives are typically produced for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. As a result, books printed with more than one color tend to have a costlier production cost.

5. Stripping

For the stripping process, printers will do the following:

  • The negatives will be stripped, or taped, into the intended place on a flat, which is a large sheet.
  • Each flat, which holds 32 or 64 pages, are examined to make sure that all of the text and pictures are in alignment with each other. However, book pages are not lined up in the order that they will be in the final product. In fact, some pages may even be upside down. This is because the finished product will require the pages to be folded several times. Once folded, the alignment during the stripping process will end up being configured into the intended order.

6. Blueprints

The blueprinting process helps ensure that the book printing is going well at this point into the process. To do this, printers:

  • Create a proof of each flat by flashing an ultraviolet light through the negatives. This exposes the images and text from the flat onto a light-sensitive paper called blueprints.
  • The publisher will then proofread the blueprints.
  • If a mistake is found, the page with the error will be rephotographed and re-stripped

7. Platemaking

The next step of the book printing process is platemaking, which consists of these few steps:

  • Once each blueprint is approved, the printer will take a photo of each flat and the negatives will be melded onto a plate, which is a thin sheet of aluminum.
  • Plate sections that are filled with text or pictures are coated with a chemical that attracts ink. This will allow the text and illustrations to print on the press later on.

8. Printing

During this stage, the plates are brought to the press. Books that are being printed in only one color will only need to pass through the press once. However, if the book is being printing in more than one color, the plates will need to pass through an extra time per color.

9. Binding

Binding is the last step of the book printing process and starts once the sheets are dry after printing. The binding process is usually automated and includes:

  • Folding and collating the flats into 32 or 64 page sections.
  • Folding pages are bounded in the correct order
  • Sewing together the signatures, gluing the spine, and trimming the edges (This depends on whether the book is paperback or hard back and the size of the book).
  • Placing the book in a cover
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Custom Book Printing with United GMG

As it shows, book printing is an extensive process with many steps – each needing to be done accurately and with care. To learn more about book printing or for more information before starting your next project, contact our printing experts at United GMG. We have over 80 years of printing and use state-of-the-art equipment to bring your book to reality and exceed your expectations.