Production: Explaining the quote form

Morning all, all morning. It’s Thursday (or at least it is when I’m writing this, your mileage may vary), and we have a question that’s been put to us in the comments by Cos.

Cos would like to know what we mean by CPUK standard. Which prompted me to have a look at the quote form and realise that it could use some explanatory notes. So here’re some explanatory notes.

(I initially had a look at the back end of the form to see if I could find the areas that were causing people to get confused and abandon the form so I could do some in depth explanation. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.19.04

I’m gonna be honest – there’s not a lot I can help with there…)

This form is super long. Do I really have to fill the whole thing in?

You do not! It would be helpful if you did, because it would give us 99% of the info we’re going to need throughout the process, but if you don’t have answers to some of the questions that is fine and we will not judge you. There are bits that we need to be able to make a start on a quote, and those are helpfully marked with little red asterisks, but we’ve kept them to an absolute minimum.

If you’re really just looking for a very informal introductory discussion you can always use the quick contact form instead. All that asks for is a name and an email address…

When you say “how many sides are there in your comic” what exactly do you mean?

Quite a lot of people get themselves tied up in knots about this, assuming that it’s asking for something cleverer than it is. We’re not asking for your planned up sheet count (e.g: 9 sheets – 36 sides) or how many pages (e.g: 4 pages – 8 sides). That’s all a bit varsity level. What we need to know is: if you count the outside front cover as 1, the inside front cover as 2, and so forth in that manner, what number do you end up with when you get to the outside back cover? This might seem obvious, but a non-trivial number of people have been tripped up by it, supplying 32 sided comics that had been quoted as 16 sides because they assumed that they only needed to count leaves.

Standard printer’s jargon doesn’t help you here, because, for example, “32pp inc cover” translates to “32 sides including the cover”, whereas it’s not unreasonable to expect “pp” to mean “pages” and to include front and back printing as standard. Unfortunately that’s a long enough standing convention that we’re not going to have much luck shifting it!

Also worth noting here the bit that says “including the covers”. All printers have a different way of handling covers when processing a quote. Some will assume that your stated page count is just the interior pages and whack a 4pp cover on top, others (like us) will assume that your stated page count includes the covers. Always best to have a thorough check of your spec when you get a quote and make sure that the total number of sides listed tallies with the number of sides in your artwork.

Why does my page count have to divide by 4?

Believe it or not this isn’t just some capricious printer nonsense aimed at bumping your page count and charging you more. It’s to do with bindings. Let’s have a picture:

So that’s an A5 comic book, which is built out of 4pp spreads (or, to put it another way, double sided A4 sheets folded in half and stapled in the middle). You can probably see the issue with putting in an extra 2 sides here – the staples would have nowhere to fix the extra loose sheet and it’d fall out and misery would ensue. It’s a similar deal with odd numbers of pages – you can’t have a 35pp comic because that would mean that one of the pages would need to be printed on one side and NOT HAVE ANOTHER SIDE. I’m reliably informed that that breaks the laws of physics, which we don’t think is an ok thing to do.

When you’re working out your page count for printing you need to factor in every side that’s in the book, not just those with comic content – the press isn’t fussed about whether the artwork it’s printing is an ad and therefore not technically part of the content, nor does it care much if there’s a blank page in there to make up the page count. When you’re selling your comic you might well want to advertise it as “22pp of great content” and skip the “(plus a couple of ads…)” bit, but for the print end there’s no need to be coy like that.

Is there a difference between mono and greyscale?

Nope. Not to a press, anyway. As far as the press is concerned greyscale is an instruction to a) only draw ink from one well (as opposed to four for full colour printing or 5-8 for full colour with special inks like pantones) and b) apply it at the specified percentage level (0-100%, where 0% = “no ink here, please Ms. Press” and 100% = “soak that bit of the paper until it can be soaked no more”). As long as there are only shades of grey in your artwork you can confidently print mono (and save some money, which is nice).

Can I have a mixture of colour and mono pages? Will that save me money?

Yes! And maybe! We don’t list this as an option, because it’s all a bit complex for an initial quote – you can always put it in the “Other” box at the bottom of the page if you like. Whether this will save you any money or not will depend on the distribution and amount of colour pages, so we’ll need to know that to work out the quote accurately. As a rule of thumb, if fewer than half the pages are black and white you’re probably going to find that the money you save separating them out is less than the money you spend on hand-collating them afterwards. Let us know what you’re looking for and we’ll work out the cheapest option for you.

Argh! Paper finishes! I don’t know!

Not to worry. Lots of people find this bit off-putting, especially if they’ve never printed anything before. We’ll guide you through this; it’s going to be ok.

There are three broad options for paper finishes: gloss, silk, and uncoated. Each offers its own advantages and drawbacks, and we’ll alert you to these as we go. For interior pages we tend to recommend either a silk (which is coated, but low sheen) or an uncoated (which is no sheen and has a slight texture to it) rather than a gloss (which is coated and high sheen). As a general rule, if you’re printing litho we’ll steer you in the direction of silk and if you’re printing digital we’ll nudge you towards uncoated. This is based on previous experience – uncoated generally feels nicer, but on litho printing the paper soaks up a lot more ink than digi, resulting in either a much darker print or a flattening out of colour, neither of which is ideal.

As for covers, you’ll need to think about whether you want a thick card cover (the old “small press standard”), a thinner cover that gives the books a bit of protection without looking totally out of balance with the interior pages (the “CPUK standard”), or a self cover – where the cover is printed on the same paper as the internal pages (this suits short comics and reduces production costs, but lacks durability for transit between cons). You’ll also want to consider whether you want a laminate on the cover (answers: if it’s perfect bound – yes, if it’s saddle stitched, but has a large page count – probably yes, if it’s got a lot of dark ink coverage – probably yes, otherwise – nah…) and if so whether you’d prefer a matt or gloss laminate. As with the interior pages, we’ll quote you on what we think will work best, and if there are several candidates we’ll quote them all with a quick summary of the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Don’t worry too much about the paper finishes. This is the most technical aspect of the quote, so it’s fine to leave it to us to guide you. If you don’t find the explanations illuminating just ask and we’ll find a way to clarify for you!

Bindings

We’ve got a whole thing about bindings over here. By this point in the quoting process the most suitable binding option will probably have revealed itself by the process of elimination – if you’re opting self cover, for instance, perfect binding will be knocked out of contention – if you’ve got a 120pp page count we’re not going to be able to saddle stitch that… In some cases there’ll be an open question: say you’ve got a page count of 60pp – that could go either way – so we’ll quote both options unless you express a clear preference (and probably even if you do…) If in doubt hit the button that says “whatever suits my page count best” and we’ll take it from there.

You’re asking for a budget so you can take all my pennies!

I promise I’m not! The budget box is a relatively new addition to the form, and I did question whether to put it on there at all, because it can be read like that (this is why it was made optional). This actually fulfils a couple of purposes if you use it:

  • Price comparison
    If you’ve previously printed elsewhere, or if you’ve got a bunch of quotes in already, giving us a target price lets us judge pretty much instantly whether we’re going to be of any use to you. If we look at the target and can see that there’s no way we’re going to get anywhere near it on the spec you’ve asked for we can quickly get back to you and let you know you’ve got a great price and should take it.
  • Reality checks
    This is of most benefit to first time printers, or more generally for people who don’t really know the ropes when it comes to print costs. If the budget available is just not going to cover the costs of the spec you’re after we can often suggest tweaks and amendments that will bring it more in line – not just printing with us, but with most printers. If this happens we’ll offer you a range of cost-cutting options to consider, naturally.

The mysterious box of mystery that is known as “Other”

Every form should have a catch all box, I think. Perhaps you could use it to compose a nice poem for us. Or to make a little bit of ASCII art. Or you could always use it to mention a spec you’ve had previously, I guess. That’s probably a more useful thing. Shame though – I’d like a poem.

The captcha

Apparently some people can’t see this – I think it’s to do with an extension in Chrome. If you can’t see it the form won’t process, so best to disable any extensions before you begin if you can’t see it at the bottom!

And that there is the quote form… Go check it out why not? As ever – if you’ve any questions just give us a shout.

Posted in Comic Book Printing Tips, Comic Printing Blog

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