If you ever get the chance to visit a printing press, do it. I’ve had the privilege to visit two of them. The first was Standard Publishing’s printing press in Cincinnati. Their plant is quite large and they do a wide variety of printing, everything from books to curriculum to Star Wars coloring books.
The other plant was Bethany Press International in Bloomington, MN. During my years with Bethany House Publishers I visited this plant many times since their building is about 100 yards from the back door of the publishing house! I watched them move from the old “film” method of processing to a completely digital technology.
The beauty of watching the books being printed is partly the fascination of cool machines, but also an insight into all of the incredible details that go into the manufacturing process.
What most people don’t understand is that there are certain book jacket treatments that make a book “feel” or “look” special. The standard lamination is what we are used to seeing because it is the most inexpensive process. That is the “glossy” lamination on the majority of books.
Some books get a “matte” finish – which gives a tactile feel to the cover, almost a rough, yet smooth, touch. This adds a cost to every book printed. This has become more common over the years.
Next is the “spot gloss” finish. This is where they start with the “matte” finish above, but using the gloss lamination on specific spots on the cover. They might laminate just the letters in the author’s name, or the face of the character on the jacket design, or maybe just the title. Again this is an additional cost for every book printed.
Last is the “embossing” or “stamping” process where they created a metal plate that stamps an imprint on every jacket. So instead of a flat cover, each book has embossed, or raised, letters or symbols. This can be expensive because the publisher must first create the metal stamp (a few hundred dollars just for the plate). Then, after the cover is printed, each jacket must be run through the process a second time to stamp the imprint into the paper. This is very labor intensive and a lot of spoilage can happen if the imprint starts to miss its mark. We’ve all seen a few books that got past the inspectors where the stamp doesn’t fit the design by being off by as little as a sixteenth of an inch.
And then some really special books get a gold foil that is also applied to the cover, before the embossing process.
Why am I telling you all this boring stuff? Because the following YouTube video is a four minute video of the printing process of the new Dan Brown novel, The Lost Symbol. You get to go behind the scenes into the printing company and see it at work. This book will have a first printing of 5,000,000 copies and will be released on September 15, 2009. In this video you will see all of the above cover treatments applied to the manufacturing of this book. Realize they must use more than one printer to fill this five million copy order. At the stated rate of 30,000 books per hour a press must run for over 167 hours (nearly seven full days) to print that many books!