Back when I was young and dewy-eyed and non-motherly and designing annual reports and presentation folders I found myself running into a quality-control issue. I had created a lovely folder. To make it even more lovely I had designed the folder to be a copper metallic cover. The spine was a contrasting dark green. Beautiful, right?
Well, it would have been, except that when the folder when through the scorer, the die-cutter, and assembly something slipped, just the tiniest bit, and I ended up with a spine that was mostly dark green, and a front cover that was mostly metallic copper. Because the printer was a very good printer, and this was a very big project, he reprinted the whole thing, and stood over the scorers and die-cutters and assemblers to make sure that the green showed ONLY on the spine, and the copper showed ONLY on the cover. It cost him a lot of money, but he did it, because the studio at which I worked was a very good client.
Because we were good clients, though, we didn’t want a repeat of that. So when the job was finished I sat down with the printer and we talked about how we could avoid having that happen again. He offered a simple piece of advice: Don’t have the spine art end right where the fold is supposed to happen. When you do that you’re setting up a situation where trouble can happen. Or, if you must have a contrasting spine and it must have one side right on the fold, wrap the the color, pattern or texture around the back a little way.
His advice was good. I didn’t realize HOW good it really was until I started designing book covers for publishers. Book printing is a very different animal from annual report and presentation cover printing. Book presses make their money not from printing comparatively small numbers of beautiful, complex projects, but from printing lots and lots of books. Fast. Major book presses often don’t print anything else. They are predominantly located in what one publisher called “printing ghettos” in the Midwest, and in Florida.
Book presses have to work fast in order to turn a profit, because publishers must keep the printing cost per book low enough to allow for royalties, a publisher mark-up, a distributor mark-up, shipping, and a bookstore mark-up.
And that brings us back to book spines. When presses, scoring machines, and binders are moving as fast as they must, it’s incredibly easy for something to slip. That’s one reason for allowing reasonable margins, for running “full-bleed” images off the edges of the page at least an eighth of an inch–and for wrapping cover images and colors around the spine, rather than running them up to the fold lines and stopping. In theory, yes, the printer should be able to print a contrasting spine. But do you really want to design a potential problem into your cover?
Take a look at the samples below. And next time you’re in the bookstore start turning books over. Note how many of them wrap cover images around the spine and well onto the back of the book–or flood a single color or image over the entire cover, and inset text into it.
Option 1: Images and colors are wrapped over the entire cover:
Advantages: The printer need only be reasonably accurate to get the title and spine copy to look good.
Disadvantages: There may not be a lot of room for back copy. In this case, the image has too much detail to allow for flowing text over it, which means copy can only happen on the color bars.
Option 2: Image wraps around spine and onto the back cover.
Advantage: I use this solution or variants of it a lot, because in many ways it’s the best alternative. It minimizes printing issues, and still allows for lots of back space for copy.
Disadvantage: There really aren’t any. Just make sure you wrap the image far enough onto the back to allow for a nice texture bar–and so it doesn’t look like a printing mistake.
Option 3: Cover image wraps crown of spine, but ends at fold onto book back. (Dumb, dumb dumb dumb…)
Advantage: The printer need only align one sharp color contrast, try to center the spine copy, and try to center the cover copy. Not really much of an advantage; the poor guy still has to hit three elements, spot on. It might be fun to watch your printer’s head explode, though.
Disadvantage: The poor guy has to hit three elements spot on. And you’ve lost the visual interest of that nice texture bar on the back.
Option 4: Contrasting spine, colors shift on both folds (use only if you really want to drive your printer into bankruptcy, homicide, or suicide):
Disadvantage: Okay, start counting. How many places does the printer have to get exactly right? Now consider the fact that print plates can shift, and paper stretches as it goes through the press. And we haven’t even talked about film plate registration yet. This is just a really, really bad idea.
Wrap your images.