Monday, April 16, 2007

DIY Publishing: Makeready

When we started this blog, I intended to write more about the publishing process than I have. If you have any questions about the process of starting your own press let me know. If you have questions about the printing process specifically, it’s a point of pride that I be able to answer them. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does. Demystifying the printing process is something I think will help DIY publishers, because once you know what it takes to print a book, doing it yourself doesn’t seem so hard.

Today’s topic: Makeready

Let’s say you get a quote from at printer for 500 books and 1,000 books. Let’s say the printer comes back to you and says they’ll print 500 books for $1,500 and 1,000 books for $2,000. Why does it cost relatively so little to print the extra 500 books?

One huge reason for the difference is the concept of “makeready.” Makeready is all the time and steps a printer takes to get the job set up and running. This includes getting the correct paper and printing plates on the press. Once that’s done, the pressman will start running the press, but the initial copies are waste (particularly on color jobs like book covers).

The reason is that when the paper starts running through the press and ink is applied, it takes time for the pressman to adjust ink levels to match the proof that the client (you) have approved. These “makeready” copies aren’t counted as part of your order. You typically never see them, but they are factored into the printer’s cost of doing business.

Once the ink levels are up and the order is being printed, the quantity is a small cost for the printer. The presses run so quickly that it could take only minutes to print an extra 500 copies. The bulk of the cost is incurred by the printer up front, during makeready, and, except for paper costs, not so much during the actual printing.

The concept of makeready has a number of consequences for DIY publishers. For example, you can design a print job to run on your printer’s particular presses so you optimize factors like makeready. Or you can design a print job and then find the printer with the best equipment for that job. Not all presses run the same jobs equally, and not all printers are created equal.

The reason I thought about makereadies is because you rarely see the copies, but a printer my employer uses to print brochures recently sent us some with our regular job order. He probably did it by accident because makeready copies are generally unusable. They often look washed out, streaky and non-vibrant. For book publishers, this is mostly an issue with color covers, but even the black and white body of your books should have strong, crisp ink coverage.


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