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  • Writer's pictureAdrian Hobart

The devil's in the detail...

Gigantic rolls of paper ready to be printed on
Raw books

For UK readers of a certain age, you'll know the following reference. Imagine Floella Benjamin inviting us to look through the "round window" on Playschool. Cue a short film of a factory, this time one that makes books. That's the experience that Rebecca and I had the pleasure to enjoy for real this week on a visit to one of the UK's leading printing companies, CPI Antony Rowe in Melksham, Wiltshire.

Guided by one of their production directors, Daniel, we were shown every stage of the book printing process - from raw material to finished product. My four-year-old-self was rekindled as we watched the awesome range of sophisticated ink jet printers at work. The speed of the process is dizzying, as is the cost of the kit. £5,000 per barrel of ink? Hundreds of pounds per print head with 180 per machine? It's mind-boggling.

Then you get to the really big numbers. This plant can print up to 70,000 books a day. It does emphasise just how huge the book trade is, and the challenges of standing out in a crowded marketplace. But above all, the visit emphasised the importance of knowledge. The team at CPI have generations of experience in the process of printing books. The range of paper for one thing is staggering, from 'bulky' 50 gsm to heavy grade premium papers for academic books demanding high-end colour reproduction.

We were shown the binding process, too. The plant in Melksham has been flat-out producing replica gilt-edged bibles from King Charles III's coronation. There's a small army of experts binding each one by hand. Then there's the gold embossing machine for the covers, built in the 1960s but kept in pristine condition by their in house engineering team who can fix almost any problem the equipment poses them. Above all, what struck us was the passion the whole team had for getting it right. It was truly impressive. But it was also an important reminder that as publishers we need to understand the printing process.

How we typeset our books is critical. Did you know that the industry standard block of pages is 16 for fiction titles? That means your choice of font size and spacing is crucial when typesetting a book if you want to avoid excess blank pages at the end of your paperback. These decisions matter.

What about paper choice? Cream or white? What paper weight should you choose? Matt or gloss cover? What about the binding? Every option has a consequence, both in terms of the cost and the quality of the finished book. It's easy to make a decision that compromises your book if you're not careful. Fortunately, with Rebecca's years of experience in the publishing industry, we can draw on her knowledge at Arch Publishing to avoid the issues and pitfalls. Following our visit to CPI, we've decided that we'll move the majority of our printing work to them in future. They have an impressive network of partner printers around the world to ensure books can be printed as close to market as possible, and they are working hard to reduce the environmental impact of printing books too.

Above all though, the visit underlined the importance of understanding the whole publishing process and how one wrong decision can impact the final outcome. It was a valuable visit, firing up our imaginations about what's possible, and what's important to know too.

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