Printer’s proofs

26 June 2010

Now your book is really at the starting line. The PDF book files delivered from your publisher have been transformed into a print-ready format in the printer’s pre-press department; printing is just minutes away. Ready, set, … .

Well, no, wait a moment. As mentioned in my last post, specimen proofs must first be printed off and sent to your publisher for approval. These allow publishing staff to check that text pages are ordered correctly, cover colours match, etc. Only after the approval of these printer’s proofs can the actual printing of your book proceed.

No author involvement

This proofing process is one that you will not be involved in – unless, that is, yours is an art book or similar highly illustrated work where fidelity of reproduction is paramount; here it might be appropriate for authors with their superior knowledge of the subject to be consulted.

Appearance

Just what these printer’s proofs look like depends on the type of printing intended and the type of equipment the printer uses. If it is a digital, print-on-demand job, then what the publisher is likely to receive is a printed copy of the book, i.e. looking exactly like all subsequent copies would look like.

However, if it is a traditional lithographic printing job, then – unless these proofs are machine proofs (more about them below) – the printer’s proofs received will be quite different and look nothing like the final printed book. The book pages may be in loose-leaf form or – more likely – gathered in signatures (in which case the proofs take the form of a bundle of booklets). Such page proofs may be called blues/blueprints, diazos, ozalids and Vandykes, depending on the technology that produced them.

In all cases, however, because these proofs are printed on something like an ink-jet printer (with all sorts of compromises being made with regard to colour, resolution, etc.), the proof print is only indicative – something to check that nothing has been imposed upside down or out of sequence, for instance. Even the cover proof tends to be printed using an ink-jet printer or similar but usually the quality is good enough to flag up any major problems.

Machine proofs

Although none of these conventional printer’s proofs match exactly what the final printed copies will look like, a ‘perfect’ proof is possible but not cheap; to get this requires a machine proof, i.e. a proof printed off the actual printing press that later the book will be printed on (and not just printed off; the press needs to be set up first – quite a rigmarole for a single proof copy). As you might guess, then, this printing of a single copy is an expensive proposition that few publishers contemplate investing in. (Again, it is the high-quality art book that may need this sort of proofing.)

Publisher feedback

If it’s anything like usual, the printer’s proofs for your book will arrive by courier at the door of your production editor and s/he will have only a short time to check these. The printing presses are not actually throbbing there, waiting to start on your book (no, there’s dozens of other jobs to be done, with presses often running 24 hours a day). But there is an air of urgency and no doubt your production editor will be praying for a clean sheet, no errors.

In your case, everything is fine; the proofs are approved and the printer gets the go-ahead to print. Now, finally, all systems are ‘go’. Time to descend into Hell’s Kitchen.

(Post #6 of the Printing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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Image problems

2 February 2010

Perhaps I embarrassed you in my earlier post about unhelpful formatting. Sorry, I was actually trying to be (er) helpful.

But it is not only your text that must be delivered in a suitable format; so, too, must any illustrations. I briefly touched on this issue earlier with the cover design but essentially your image files must be usable – both readable and, for bit-mapped (rasterized) images, of a sufficient resolution (at least 300 dpi in its final dimensions).

If you are delivering any vector-based images, these of course can be scaled without problem (resolution is not the issue here). However, to avoid any readability problems for the typesetter, make sure that these images are in EPS format rather than the proprietary format for the software you use (most likely Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw), especially since these programs can save files in EPS format.

Image readability/suitability is something that most likely your production editor will check as a matter of routine but you will not want to make a last-minute confession to her about the key illustration in your book being unusable (it is so grainy, it looks as if it were made with Lego blocks).

Such horror pictures cannot be fixed (well, not satisfactorily). Neither your editor nor the typesetter is a magician; they cannot fix everything. More to the point, they have better things to do with their time.

As such, if you have images in need of a bit of time, love and care (and you cannot provide this yourself), then I suggest you find yourself a technically savvy friend to optimize your images to the highest quality before you deliver them to your publisher.

(Post #14 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)