Just like all the other aspects of publishing, the book printing process has its fair share of esoteric terms too. Here are just some you may encounter.
When paper manufacturers started mixing bleach into wood pulp and water to create white paper, they were dooming the materials that would use that paper. Lignin, a chemical compound within wood, interacted with the bleach to create hydrochloric acid, which slowly but surely turned the paper yellow and brittle as it aged. But thanks to a 1930 report by American chemist and librarian William Barrow, and the calls for standardization by some publishers and authors, much of today’s commercially produced paper is acid-free and can weather 200 to 300 years—seven to ten times more than the lifespan of acidic paper.
Considered to be the most expensive and most durable type of binding, case binding allows a book to lay flat and involves several steps to protect against heavy usage:
- A cover is made out of durable cardboard or lightweight wood and covered with cloth, leather, or vinyl, then set aside;
- The book pages are arranged in order, and the signatures are sewn or stitched together to form one block;
- The book block is trimmed down to the desired dimensions; and
- Glue is applied to the book block’s spine, followed by a strip of fabric, and the hardcover case is finally wrapped around the book block.
Digital printing works by electronically transferring the digital files to be printed to the press, which then applies ink directly to the paper in a single go. It has been synonymous with print-on-demand because of its low setup expenses, speed (no printing plates needed), and convenience of not having to print a huge number of copies at once for you to recoup your investment. However, each book would cost more and have lower quality than if it were made using offset printing.
Majority of the cost of offset printing is owed to the creation of new printing plates for each print job. These metal plates are used to transfer ink onto a rubber sheet, which is then rolled onto paper. But after the costly setup, offset costs you less as you print more books. It also produces high-quality prints and allows for bigger trim sizes.
Paper weight refers to the thickness, or “caliper,” of paper stock, and can be measured with three units:
- Grams per square meter (GSM): an exact measure of the thickness or weight of paper; used across all paper types
- Point (pt.): typically used to measure cardstock paper; one point is equal to 0.001 inches
- Pound (lb.): the weight of 500 “parent sheets” of a particular paper type
Perfect binding covers are made from heavy cardstock paper which is often laminated or coated to provide more durability. The cover and pages are then glued together with super strong glue.
Trim size refers to the dimensions of a book’s pages (in width × height) after a very large sheet of paper has been folded and trimmed. In the US, industry standards are usually based on the book type:
- Hardcover books range from 6” × 9” to 8.5” × 11”
- Trade paperback books range from 5.5” × 8.5” to 6” × 9”
- Mass-market paperback books tend to be around 4.25” × 6.87”
By genre, these are the common sizes: