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Printer Checklist & Shipping Questions to Ask

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by Peter Goodman, Stone Bridge Press, and Dave Peattie, Whereabouts Press

When requesting an estimate from a printer, here is the information to provide in order to get a detailed and accurate quotation:

  • Trim size
  • Quantity
  • Page count
  • Delivery destination(s)
  • Project title (It may be safer to use the author’s last name as a project title, as book titles may change over the course of production.)


Type of paper?

You can specify weight, shade, opacity, coating (uncoated, matte, glossy), preferred PPI (pages per inch), etc., and other features. If you don’t know the technical terms or specifications, explain what you are looking for (e.g., “paper must have high opacity because there is a lot of line art with heavy black coverage”). Asian printers use different units for measuring paper weights but are familiar with US standards. If you do specify brands or finishes, always use the phrase “or equivalent” so that the printer knows to choose the best-matching paper from its regular suppliers and is not compelled to make special orders of special brands, which can be much more expensive than “house stock.”

Does paper need to be recycled or certifiedfor sustainability?

Some things to consider when it comes to sustainable printing: recycled paper; FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification; and TCF (totally chlorine free, which also means a lot less water is used).

Print black, black +one or more colors, or four-color process?

Printers may request that color be prepared according to strict specifications in order to ensure that the colors reproduce correctly on the particular paper and press being used. Details can get technical, and if you are not comfortable doing the work yourself, you may have to hire a graphic designer or ask the printer to process your photos and return the digital images to you for placement. Either of these will add costs to the project.

Color throughout or just in one or two signatures? Will there be bleeds or close registration?

“Bleed” refers to areas where the artwork extends over the edge of the trimmed page. Some trim sizes will be more expensive if you need them to bleed, because the paper needs to be larger to accommodate the bleed (usually 1/8” over the edge on each side). “Close registration” refers to two or more colors that need to be very precisely aligned. This may increase the price because the job will be run more slowly to insure alignment and quality control.

Will you provide PDFs or application files for output? Proofing: Do you want hard copy proofs or are digital (“soft”) proofs that you view on screen acceptable?

For both one-color and multicolor printing, you can request soft proofs plus one or two hard-copy signatures instead of getting hard-copy proofs for the entire job. This will save you money and also assure you that the output quality is acceptable.


In general, unless a particular feature is crucial to your job (such as a cookbook, where, for example, you want a water-resistant cover and a lay-flat binding), it is probably best to keep your first estimate simple and price the other options later.

Type of binding: perfect bound, case, printed case, case with dust jacket, spiral, Otabind, French flaps?

Printers often outsource components and binding jobs. It is fair to ask a printer if they are doing the whole job in-house and, if not, what company is producing the other parts of the job. There are many types of binding, some related to function (must lay flat when open, for example), some more decorative.

Will the printed case or dust jacket be one-color, two-color, or four-color process? Will you use a fifth color? What kind of cover lamination? Matte or gloss?

There are film as well as coated laminations, and also “spot” laminations where a gloss or matte sheen is applied to only certain areas.

Do you want any special treatments on the cover or jacket, like embossing or spot gloss?

Printers can send you samples of covers they have done with these special treatments, which are used to enhance the design. They are not necessarily very expensive, but you may need some special design expertise in order to implement them.

Will you provide PDFs or application files for output? If casebound, what kind of cloth?

There are many options for the “cloth” (not usually cloth these days) related to quality, color, and texture. You can also have three-piece covers, where the spine area has a different finish from front and back, stiff but flexible bindings (such as for hiking guides). The underlying “boards” that create the case are usually a standard material and not specified by the publisher.

If casebound, what kind of endsheets?

The printer should have a sample of endsheets to choose from. These vary greatly according to grade, color, texture, etc. Not specifying an endsheet will usually result in the printer choosing plain white.

If casebound, do you want headbands and footbands?

Ask the printer what colors and designs are available.

If casebound, do you want foil stamping on the spine? On the front panel of case?

Ask the printer what colors are available.

If casebound, round or squareback? For dustjackets, specify the width of the flap.

The printer will provide you a digital template to use to make sure all your type on front, spine, and flap is in the right location.

Proofing: Do you want hard copy proofs or are digital (“soft”) proofs that you view on screen acceptable?

Shipping Questions to Ask
  1. What is the estimated turnaround time for this job?
    1. If the job is going to be printed overseas, be sure to allow plenty of time for moving the cargo the extra distance, as well as hold-ups at the port due to security and work stoppages.
  2. Is there a size or weight limit on cartons?
  3. Do you want a minimum strength test of cartons?
  4. Should the printer include a top liner in cartons to prevent box knife damage when opening?
  5. Should the books be shrinkwrapped? Separately or “conveniently”?
  6. Where should the books be sent and how should they get there: UPS? FedEx? Truck? Will you use your account or the printer’s account for freight billing? What is the printer’s estimate for freight costs?
  7. Is there a charge for drop shipping to separate addresses?
  8. Do you want to see approval copies before the job is shipped out? If so, how should the approval copies be sent to you?
    1. If time is running short, you can also request “f&g’s” (the entire printed but unbound book consisting of folded and gathered signatures, with an empty case and flat dust jacket or printed cover) instead of waiting for binding to complete.
  9. What are the printer’s payment terms?
  10. If the books are being printed overseas, do you want the printer to arrange door-to-door delivery, or will you handle all the freight arrangements, customs?
  11. Do you want the printer to break out all the costs into separate line items?
  12. Do you want the printer to create an epub and mobi file from your output files?
  13. Do you want the printer to handle fulfillment and warehousing?

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