Production printers

Subject: Production printers
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 2010 10:59:15 +0200

I suspect that printing bulk quantities of complex technical manuals
such as the several thousand in this query every six months will
quickly be almost nonexistent. At present, I would probably distribute
a pdf file of the manual to customers, and have a POD publisher ready
to produce and send them one at some realistic cost if they want it.
That has the added benefit in the case of products used
internatioally, in that POD houses can be engaged to be more local to
those customers, so that fulfillment is easier, cheaper, and faster.

This also makes keepng the manuals updated with ongoing changes
simpler. Storage, handling, and mailing a 200 page manual, too, is a
costly affair.

As for selecting a printer--there are variables to consider,
especially for a short run situation--and two thousand copies is
definitely a short run in printing terms. In fact, a large part of the
costs involved will be for the initial setup of the job--you may be
quite surprised to find that printing an entire year's run at the same
time will be so much cheaper than redoing it in six months that your
original plan goes quicly by the wayside--unless, of course, it is
likely that there must be changes within that six-month window.

You may also want to use a printer with a large format press--one that
can print many pages in a single pass. This cuts down on the number of
plates and the complexity of setup. Many local printers have
relatively small presses, so a 200 page book involves many different
impressions because it may involve many fewer pages per impression.
Some printers set up to print mapes, for example, may be able to knock
out a book like this with a lower actual setup cost than your local
job printer can.

You should understand that printing is at bottom a manufacturing
process, and a printing plant is set up to be optimized for a
particular kind of job or jobs. Many printers can do other things, of
course, but they quickly become far less economical than those things
they are set up to do efficiently.

Some years ago, I was involved in a project to do a fairly simple
book--the art was all line art, and all in black and white for the
interior with a color cover. We had the color cover printed in one
place, and we found a small web offset house in a small town in West
Texas to do the interior. That press was used to print a weekly
newspaper or two, and they filled in with job printing during the
interim periods. Thus, their prices were extraordinarily low--while
finding a web press to do a book in those days was extremely difficult
in the larger cities. Once the interior matter was printed, folded,
and cut, it was joined with the color covers and bound--in that case,
perfect binding done at the printer.

You should give the project some thought, too, as to the type of
binding you desire. Too often, this is a neglected issue--yet a highly
technical manual that will be used on site is awkward as a perfect
bound piece--constantly balancing it and trying to keep your place
while working with a computer system is not a particularly pleasant
experience, as I am sure you know. Thus, it may be worthwhile to
consider a wire binding that can open and stay flat without
work-arounds in such a case.

Also, if you must have color illustrations, that will also make a
difference as to the production printer you use. Do they have a
two-color, four-color, six-color, or other press? Sheet fed or web?
These all enter into the calculation.

You might even be better off to engage a print broker. These people
make their living by directing print jobs to the printers best able to
handle them in the most efficient and timely manner.

There are also firms that do both printing and fulfillment--they will
print the manuals, store them, and send them to customers. Some fo
these houses will also package software including all media as well as
the manuals and distribute that--with your own return address labels,
so their role in the process can be quite invisible to the customer.
Some fulfillment shops, too, have special arrangements to farm out the
printing at favorable terms, while they focus on packaging, storage,
and sending the finished product to customers for you. Here, too, a
good print broker can help greatly.

Sorry I don't have specific firms to suggest. For one thing, I have
been away from that part of the business for a few years now. For
another, I would have to know far more about the job to make concrete


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