Where Did You Get Your Books Printed?


Some of the most common questions I get are in regards to printing. So I figured, perhaps it’s time to collect the answers in one spot for easy reference. If you’re curious about my advice on printing books, I hope you find this article useful!

Question: How do I pick between P.O.D. or Large-run?

The first step is to determine exactly what you want, why, and what you can handle. Ask yourself:
1. For what purpose do I want to print these books?
2. How much capital and storage space do I have to put towards printing?
3. What is my top priority: quality, speed, unit profit, total cost?

For What Purpose? For many people, they don’t really want to make their book into a business. I’ve known people that wanted to print their book for personal reasons, and others that wanted to use it as a sample to send to large publishers. For others, they don’t have the storage space or cash required to do a large-run printing of a book. In that case, consider Print-On-Demand services. There are lots of articles on who to consider for this task. Here are two:

Webcomic Alliance Article: “Battle of the Self-Publishing Services”
Paper Wings Podcast Article: “How Do I Pick The Print-On-Demand Publisher That Is Right For My Comic?”

How much capital and storage space? In this age of crowd funding gaining capital is not as insurmountable a task as it was in the past, but that doesn’t make it easy. Running a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign is not a guarantee that you will have the cash needed to make your book. Most large-run printers require a minimum of 1000 books. Most quotes I’ve seen ranged from $4,000-$8,000 for a run that small. Yes, that’s right, SMALL. 1000 is not much in the printing world. Even if it does fill up a large portion of your basement. If you’re curious about the amount of space you might need, take a look some time at my book-move-in video. That’s how much space 3,000 books take. That’s two volumes of LeyLines. I think we can find room for one more run, and then we’re going to have to start thinking about renting storage space. Are you ready for that kind of cost? Think carefully!

What are your priorities? How you define your priorities will have a large impact what type of printing you’ll want to do. I’d break down quality, speed, and unit profit between P.O.D. and large-runs this way, although there’s some variation from one company to another:

Quality: **
Speed: ***
Unit profit: *
Total cost: *

Quality: ***
Speed: *
Unit profit: **
Total cost: ***

P.O.D. printers are fast, in many cases, less than a month turn-around. If you find a good operation the quality can be decent, but you will have little control in the look and feel of the outcome. In almost every case it will cost you a lot PER BOOK (although not in total), which means either having a tiny profit on each book or charging a prohibitive cost. Large-run printers, on the other hand, you have a lot more control over the look and feel of your book, which means you can get a high quality product. Since you’re printing in bulk, the costs are often low per unit, but high over-all. And the speed…well, in most cases you are looking at months and months of time before your book makes it to you. Especially if you’re working with a Chinese Printer…but we’ll get to that later.

Question: I want to do a large run. Who do I choose?

There are lots of options and lots of research ahead of you! I’d start by considering all of them, but here’s some things to consider as you look into different companies (and different countries):

Chinese printers typically have high quality and low costs. Particularly for a full color book, they’re hard to beat. You do need to factor in 4-6 weeks for shipping, and if your total costs are over $2,000 you’ll need to hire a custom’s broker ($250-$500) to get the books into the country. Depending on WHEN you print, you’ll also need to factor in a month delay if you’re ordering around Chinese New Year (late Jan/early Feb). I would give yourself a MINIMUM of 6 months to get a book printed. Will it necessarily take that long? No. I’ve heard turn-around of 6 weeks in some cases. However, that’s if everything, absolutely EVERYTHING goes right. That you get the proof, it’s perfect, and everything is sunshine and roses. So far I’ve printed 2 books, and I’ve yet to have everything go 100% right. So I give myself 6 months between when I start the process, and when I absolutely must have the books. If you want to live a little more on the edge, more power to you. I’ll be here in my bunker. Made of time. And contingency plans.

All the printers listed below have a US presence, and will act as the liaison between you and the printers in China. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll escape translation problems and culture clashes, which can take a lot of time to get sorted out. Still, if you have the time and patience to figure everything out, the rewards can be considerable. Here’s a few to get you started, but this is hardly an exhaustive list. Research!

1. Active Media (This is the company I use)
2. Regent
3. CrossBlue
4. Print Ninja

If you’re located in the US and wish to stay state-side, you’ll have to pay a higher price for the same quality. However, you cut out the middle-man translation problems that crop up working with a Chinese printer, and have very little shipping challenges because you can avoid dealing with customs. One US printer I’ve heard good things about is Bookmasters, Inc.

The big name for many years in printing for graphic novels was TransContinental. While they weren’t competitive for my full-color books, if you’re looking for a black and white story, they might be a great third option to research.

How do I vet their quality for myself?

Best way I’ve found is to buy books that used their services, and ask other creators who they chose. Here’s some books to look at to start with. The bonus is that all of these books are pretty dang great, and you’ll be supporting an independent creator AND getting valuable information. Hard to beat that combo, right?

Lackadaisy Volume 1 (Active Media)
The Phoenix Requiem (Active Media)
LeyLines, Vol 1 & 2 (Active Media)
reMIND (Regent)
Daisy Kutter (CrossBlue)
Shadow Binders (Print Ninja)
Spacetrawler Book TWO, but not book one…but get book one anyway because it Spacetrawler is DA BEST (Bookmasters, Inc)

Question: Augh! I am overwhelmed! Where do I start?

If this is your first time interacting with a printer, I’d start by contacting each of them and asking for paper samples. Almost all of them will provide this to you for free, or at least direct you to a book that they think is a good example of their work. Ask if they have any house paper, as sometimes this is cheaper than a specialty paper. This is helpful not only as a way to figure out what their quality is, but also to start getting you used to the industry’s lingo. You’ll learn about paper weights, finish, cover and text papers, etc. The way they respond to your requests will also give you a taste of how they are to work with. How do they treat you as a customer? Remember, you’ll be interacting with these people for probably 6 months while you work out all the kinks in printing your book. Building a rapport is key.

Question: Okay, I have paper samples…now what?

Figure out exactly what you want your book to be like. Number of books? Size? Bleed? Determine where the trim, safe zone, margins are. What paper weight? Type? Finish? Interior, exterior? Color? How many pages is it? Some companies need it to be a multiple of 4, others of 8, others of 16. If you’re not sure about something, just ask them. Don’t be ashamed to admit you’re a little new, and would like their advice. Hence why rapport is always going to be key between you and them. Once you have all that info figured out, get a quote. That will help you figure out how much funding you need.

Question: Funding?

There’s a lot of discussion about Kickstarter and other forms of funding out there. Here’s a video I made to get you started. And another. And a podcast. And an hour-long panel on the subject. That is just the tip of the ice berg. There are LOTS of resources on this subject right now.

Question: What else can I expect?

Once you have picked a printer, gotten a quote, and secured funding, you’ll need to put together the book into a PDF. Most companies use InDesign for this process. Dawn of the WA has made a very handy set of tutorials on this subject. Check them out here:
InDesign 101 – Part 1
InDesign 101 – Part 2

Once you’ve got your files sent off, I highly recommend getting a proof. Some companies will give you one automatically (Active Media does this) while others will charge you for it. Be sure to check the fine print and ask questions about this during the quote phase!! Getting a proof is KEY. You will be shocked at the things you can miss until you have a proof copy in your hands. Don’t wait until you have 1,000+ in your basement to realize something in your files or your order was horribly, horribly wrong.

Final thoughts?

There is no right or wrong way to publish — find a method and a company that works best for you and what you need. Just be clear and firm. It’s a frustrating business, but there are few things more satisfying than holding a book in your hands.

If there’s anything I haven’t covered here, please feel free to drop me a line and I’ll update this accordingly. I’m not an expert. I’ve only made 2 books, going on 3, but I’m getting better each time around and I’ve already learned a lot. Mostly by making many, many mistakes. Hopefully I can help you avoid some of the slip-ups I’ve made. 🙂

Robin Childs is addicted to storytelling, with specialties in world-building, character crafting, and language making. You can find the results of her sprawling storytelling pursuits at LeyLinesComic.com! Or drop a line on Twitter at RobinofLeyLines.

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  1. Good run-down, Robin!

    A few points to add…

    – That “Unit Profit” marker is always a tough one when it comes to off-set printing. (POD is easy.) It’s always the first 1000 books that cost the most. Every book printed AFTER that is only marginally more expensive…so your print run sizes really matter here. Of course, if you can only sell 1,000 books, it doesn’t make sense to print 3,000…I don’t care how cheap each book gets at that run size.

    – Transcontinental in Canada can actually be your least expensive printing option… that is, of course, if your print run is large enough. ComixTribe sourced a 31,500 copy print run with 5 vendors last year, including Korean and Chinese printers, and for that project, Transcon came out far and away the cheapest (and fastest.) At that size run, the cost of shipping from Asia outweighed savings from cheaper printing, I believe. Of course, most indies won’t be looking at runs that size right away, but it just goes to show, it never hurts to get a bunch of quotes.

    • Thank you for the added info! It’s good to know where the break-down starts to change when it comes to pricing in relation to size. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to put that knowledge into practice with larger run sizes!

    • Transcon was cheaper because they probably used their web-fed press for that size of a run.

      They’re great to use if you need a large run of floppies and limited bindery work. Once you start getting into the hardcover, custom covers and emboss/foil/heat stamping, you end up shooting the costs through the roof.

  2. Great article I am hoping to publish my first printed book this year and am still researching printing. I’ve already made up my mind that I want to keep it printed in the US where I live even though the cost will be a bit higher.

    • Best of luck! If you’re staying state-side, I’d definitely recommend taking a look at Bookmasters, Inc. I’ve heard some good things about a place called 360 Printing (I think that’s the name) but I’ve had 0 interactions with them personally and as such they’re not on the list. Still might be worth checking!

  3. I’ve published 2 books through Createspace but I’m looking to do more. Are there any Print on Demand companies in China that you’d recommend? I’ve found 1 or 2, but you never know if they’re scammers or what kind of service they’d provide. So I was wondering if you know of a place. I know it takes forever for them to be delivered to the U.S.,But I’d like to find a cost effective place where I’m able to order like 10 or 20 copies for now, and then a larger order later. I look forward to your response!

    • In most cases doing print-on-demand in China would be counter productive if you’re looking to cut costs, because even if you could get the price of your books down, you’re still going to have to pay for international shipping. Offset printing for large batches is generally the only way to get your per-unit cost down, but then you’re looking at storing 100s or 1000s of books. I’m afraid I’ve not found a print-on-demand option that allows small runs at low cost. The trade-off for the speed and ease of storage is cost and sometimes quality, which is generally the case for every industry. Cheap, Fast, and Quality work are available, but you may only choose two at a time.

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