Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Sara Duane-Gladden, Editor for Smartpress.com, an online printing service based in Minnesota, and a contributor to the Smarptress.com blog. She also works as a freelance copywriter and photographer in her spare time.
It takes a lot of tinkering to get your ebook designs to look just right. From the cover art to the text within the interior pages, you want everything to look perfect in the digital space. But do you also consider how your ebook will look when it is printed out? Digital books are becoming more and more mainstream, but printed publications are still the norm. Though you strive to make your digital file flawless in the virtual world, some of that effort may be lost once ink has been applied to paper.
There are distinct benefits to ensuring that your ebook translates well when it is printed. You’ll know that whatever form your ebook takes, it will look good, whether the reader is viewing the file on their ereader, a hard copy printed off the home printer or the professionally printed version created by you or your publisher.
With a versatile design that works in both forms, you can distribute your publication in more ways, raising the prospects of greater message reach and potentially more profits.
Recommended Reading: Beginner’s Guide To Book Cover Design
With a few adjustments to your ebook design, it will look great when it makes the transition from the virtual to the physical world. Though nothing is foolproof, keep the following points in mind when designing your ebook project.
Your word count isn’t as important with an ebook, but every extraneous word in your text adds up to extra pages in the printed version. Carefully review your work to make it as concise as possible. This exercise may even improve your writing. Additionally, spellcheckers are unreliable.
Read every word in the piece several times to make sure the words you’re using are the right spelling and grammatical tense.
2. Design and Layout
During the editing process when you’re moving, adding and subtracting ebook design elements to see what looks good, it can be easy to leave out something important. Mistakes are often made with consistency of fonts, colors, heading sizes, shadows and other small details that might have changed in some area, but not others.
This might be easier to miss in the digital space but when several pages of an ebook are printed out and the fonts change in size or consistency, it can be quite obvious. Double-check these points to ensure you’ve been consistent throughout.
3. Color Replication
Getting the colors on the paper to match the colors you see on the screen can be difficult. Different color model settings in the design program, digital file, professional printer and home/office printer will affect the final results.
While most graphic designers and photographers like to work in RGB, digital printers and home printers mostly use CMYK. To address this, you can convert the design to CMYK yourself, though it may take some tinkering to get the colors to look correct.
Monitor calibration may also make the colors of your design look different. Printing a test image and comparing it to what’s on your screen can give you a decent idea of how your monitor is impacting your design – and what people will see if they print your ebook at home.
4. Image Resolution
It’s recommended that you save your ebook PDF at 300 DPI. Though you can get away with lower resolutions in the digital space, every pixel is important for producing the best printed results. This is particularly true if your ebook is filled with photographs, intricate illustrations or other imagery.
When in doubt, always save your file with the highest resolution possible. You can scale it down if you need to, but there’s no way to add pixels later.
5. Limitations of Home & Office Printers
Home and office printers have big limitations. They aren’t like professional printing presses, which can accommodate papers of varied sizes. Home and office printers are often restricted to the most common types of paper on hand: Usually inkjet or laser printer paper, bright white in letter or legal sizes.
Additionally, home and office printers don’t lay down ink all the way to the edges of the paper, as there’s usually a minimum requirement of a 1/2" margin. Keep these home and office printing limitations in mind when creating your ebook design file.
6. Bleeds, Crop Marks & Cutting Tolerance
Digital designs become more complicated when you consider professional printing. Digital printers expect you to have knowledge of bleeds, crop marks and cutting tolerance when you create your design file.
- Crop marks tell the printer where to cut the pages to size.
- A bleed is printing that extends beyond the edge of the crop marks, and is cut off in the finishing process.
- Cutting tolerance is the slight variation that occurs when sheets are cut down to size.
Knowing your print provider’s cutting tolerance and having the correct bleeds and crop mark settings is essential to getting the final printed design you want. Bleed and crop mark requirements can vary depending on your printer, but many request 1/8” bleeds and quality printers have a cutting tolerance no greater than 1/16”.
7. Paper & Binding Options
When you print your ebook, how the final results look will depend on the paper and binding options you choose. Coated paper is smooth, has a satin-like finish, and is more resistant to dirt, moisture and wear. Coatings restrict how the paper absorbs the ink, which is desirable when printing sharp images. Uncoated paper is generally not as smooth and tends to be more porous, which can cause ink to spread on the paper.
As for binding options, most printers offer saddle stitch, wire coil and spiral binding, though each may have restrictions on how many pages can be bound together. Work with your printer to find the right paper and binding options.
8. Don’t work Alone
Check your work, make corrections, recheck it, and then have someone else review it. When working really closely on a project, your brain can fill in letters and words where they don’t exist. Having another pair of eyes check it over can eliminate these mistakes. Be sure to have them look at both the digital and the printed versions for best results.
9. Print It Out
As mentioned before, printing your ebook can help you see how it will look. This applies to professional printing too. Before submitting your file, print the ebook out with standard paper, cut it down, and do any expected folding, as may be required by a saddle stitched book. This will give you a good idea of how your project looks and, if needed, you can refine your design.
Once you’ve sent your ebook design file to the printer, you will also likely get a digital proof to approve. Print the digital proof and cut it down to size, too. Although this won’t show the final colors or paper, it will give you a clear sense of how it looks printed to size.
Look really close because once you’ve received a proof, you’re approaching the point of no return as far as changing the final design.
10. Get a Hard Proof
When you have your ebook professionally printed, digital proofs are great for a quick turnaround and low cost, but if you really want to ensure print quality, get a hard proof. This is especially true if the paper you’ve chosen has unique properties, such as synthetic materials, or it’s the first time printing your ebook.
You may also want a hard proof if you have very specific brand colors that need to be precise. Because the printer has to set up the press for your proof, there is often a fee for each one, but the nominal fee is worth it if you want to see what to expect.
Once you or your client is happy with how the ebook looks, the only thing left to do is get it printed. You’ve done what you can to make sure it looks good if someone prints it on a home computer and you’ve done everything within your power to ensure that you’ll be happy with what a professional printer produces. Barring any unusual glitches, the tips above should help you get the finished printed ebook you desire.