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New Cover Design Choices: An Introduction to Affordable Special Effects

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Both in stores and online, book-cover design has an important effect on sales. Covers convey the first impression of a book, and they create emotion and desire, often with the help of special effects such as lamination, foil stamping, or embossing and unusual materials.


Keying In on Costs


Unfortunately, most special effects require a significant upfront investment in make-ready or setup. Large publishers that order big printings can spread the upfront costs out over many units, making them insignificant book by book. Smaller publishers usually can’t. But there’s an affordable way for smaller houses to produce similarly striking covers—by taking advantage of what we call in-line special effects, such as specialized inks, varnishes, and coatings, which have minimal make-ready or setup costs.


Specialty cover printers are now able to achieve many special effects during the normal printing process. Instead of dies, special orders, and separate equipment, we use standard plates and the specific ink, varnish, or coating chosen, which can reduce costs by as much as 90 percent for print runs of less than 10,000 copies. The facts that the special effects are created on the fastest piece of equipment in the process (the press), and that creating them requires only a small amount of material, contribute to lowering costs.


A Brief Intro to Options


Several different types of ink, varnish, and coating special effects are available for use during the printing process. Although many of them are relatively new to book publishers, they have been applied for years in high-end packaging. Examples include Hexachrome®, integrated metallics, pearlescence, interference, color shifting, glitter, and flake.


Inks and varnishes, which are less expensive and allow for more detail and subtlety, are typically applied in the ink fountains of the press. Coatings, which offer the most variety and intensity, are applied with specialized coaters at the end.


Here are some details to help you decide which will be best for you:




If your cover artwork uses bright colors or has a tremendous amount of detail, Hexachrome may be a good and relatively inexpensive choice. It’s ideal for use with solid bright colors, neon-color fall scenes, tropical fish, etc. This six-color production process uses native RGB files (red, green, and blue, which are typically seen in photography and monitors) as well as process (CMYK) colors plus green and orange. Developed by Pantone™ and licensed to selected printers, it brings integrated color reproductions closer to continuous tone (photographic) reproductions. With its large color gamut it can match 90 percent of PMS colors—double the number for traditional four-color process. It’s also great for eliminating additional costs when you are using more than two PMS colors.


Integrated Metallics


By incorporating a specialized silver, designers can create metallic designs and highlights, along with thousands of PMS metallic colors. One plate and one extra ink can make a world of difference for only a few pennies a cover. While this is not an exact replacement for foil stamping, it eliminates the die and extra process. Today, many magazine companies apply this technique on their covers.




If you are looking for a different way to complement metallic inks, pearl might be something to consider. Pearl is a silver-white based coating that generates a milky gloss effect. While it isn’t always applicable, it can be dramatic when used on book cover copy. Other industries use it on products like automobiles, cell phones, and electronic equipment.


Interference and Color Shifting


To create dramatic changes in color as people walk past books on the shelves, you can use the processes known as interference and color shifting. Interference creates a kind of on/off effect. Color shifting involves actually having printing shift from one color to another along a spectrum. For example, green might shift to purple or gold to orange. Familiar in the automotive industry, it was originally used for high-end custom auto paint jobs.


Glitter and Flake


Both the sparkling shimmer effect of glitter and the differentiation of colors that characterizes the flake finish can create dramatic effects.


Choosing the Right Effect


With a multitude of choices, it may be difficult to decide which effects to choose, but it gets easier if you keep two key principles in mind:


Use the artwork to determine the effect and not vice versa. It’s much easier to find an effect to meet your needs than to find artwork that optimizes one particular effect.

Know who your audience is and what you want to achieve. Some special effects produce subtle accents; some create eye-catching drama.


When you realize how wide your special-effects choices are, you should be able to choose a process that will enhance your book’s appeal on virtual or actual shelves, no matter what the competition’s covers look like.


Jeff Burg is marketing manager at Visual Systems, Inc.—a manufacturer of book components, overhead transparencies, and ancillary products for educational and supplemental publishers—with responsibility for its Book Components, Digital Services, and Marketing divisions. For more information about these types of effects, call 414/464-8333, visit www.visualsystemsinc.com, or contact Jeff at jeffburg@vsimail.com.


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