Cover Printing

Full Color Printing

Cover design is such an art today that as a publisher you probably don’t need to understand much of the process. Your designer should be as comfortable at the end of a press as in front of their Mac.

Offset printing requires a printing plate for each color. A 2 color press can print 2 colors each time a sheet goes through it. Most covers today are printed 4 color process, which is generally considered full color. The four inks used to print full color are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (aka CMYK color).

Unfortunately your cover was designed on a computer whose monitor reproduces color as Red, Green, and Blue (also known as RGB color).

The only reason this matters is that the RGB colors transmitted through your monitor can’t be duplicated by the reflective colors of CMYK.

Your designer should be aware of which colors simply don’t translate on press.

For your part, most monitors and design programs allow the user to calibrate their monitor so that the designer, the publisher and the printer are all looking at the same colors on their monitor. Ask your designer what to set your monitor at (for instance “sRGB Color Profile”).

If you want your 6 color Epson inkjet to accurately proof the cover, buy the really expensive printer that can be calibrated. If it can’t be calibrated don’t waste paper printing it out unless you’re checking the spelling or the spine width.

Many very good designers still use “flat colors” to design covers. Flat colors are colors that are mixed on the press bench, put in the ink fountain and printed. Process printing relies on building color layer by layer, flat colors are laid down one time through the press.

Flat Colors

Flat colors are universally specified by the Pantone Matching System (PMS), usually with a number like PMS 320 (a blue) or Rhodamine Red (usually a pigment mixed with other colors). Every printer in the world has a PMS Color Guide that has the mixing formula in it and ensured that the color swatch your designer showed you is the same color that the pressman is mixing to match.

Your designer probably has a color guide to share, but if not they aren’t incredibly expensive: around $100. By the way, the letter in front of the PMS number is either “C” for a sample shown on coated paper or “U” for a sample shown on uncoated paper. Your printer doesn’t need those letters to mix your ink, but if they’re printing your cover on a coated paper and you (or your designer gave a “U*****”, a savvy rep may call you to point out that there’s no way to match the look of the number you specified unless you want to reconsider the cover paper you wanted.

Also available as flat colors are fluorescent and metallic inks. Since the printer can’t mix these they are bought by the can and used on press that way. Many publishers have tried for unusual effects by using these special inks on non-coated cover stock. You really won’t get much bang for your buck doing this. The PMS book doesn’t even bother to show chip samples of them on uncoated stock. To really get the full effect of these inks they need to be printed on a coated paper.

Proof, Proof, Proof

The key to having the cover you want is to proof, proof, proof. Don’t cut your time short while proofing. Never look at a proof and just approve it without spending some time just looking at it. Sure, check the spelling, make sure your tiny logo is somewhat recognizable on the spine, the ISBN number and price are clear and readable, and the colors appear just as you expected.

Your first proof will be generated by your designer. Your designer shouldn’t have a lot of ego invested at this point so an honest discussion about what works for you and what doesn’t is in order. This is the time to ask a lot of questions because the adjustments are relatively inexpensive at this point. If the sky is the wrong blue or the type isn’t similar to the font you envisioned, fix it now.

When your files are submitted to the printer, not much generally happens until the final approved proof from your designer arrives. Why? Because if there are any loose ends, spine adjustment, bleeds to build, etc. their cover artist needs to know exactly what you’re expecting. Even then most printers won’t proceed until they generate a final proof for their pressman to use.

Again, a quick glance won’t shortchanges the value of the proof and the inspection it deserves. If you have any doubts involve the designer. “Why is this like this?” isn’t a dumb question, especially if your designer doesn’t know either.

Your cover proof will usually be a Matchprint or Chromalin. Both are very accurate for CMYK printing. The Chromalin offers the option of adding a flat color to the proofing process but at some expense.

If you made radical changes to your printer’s proof, they may insist on another round of proofing. I know I would. Proofing is not the time to worry about schedule because the cover sells a lot of books and meeting a small deadline may mean living with a problematic cover that you’re unhappy with.

Remember your approved printer’s proof is the ONLY proof the pressman trusts, the only one he tries to match on press.