Inkjet Book Printing – What Matters?

In Knowledge Base, Print Quality Analysis by Elizabeth Gooding

In 2011, Cary Sherburne wrote an article about inkjet book printing at Webcom, one of the largest book printers in Canada, where she said: “As more high speed full-color inkjet offerings come to market, the book market is the logical industry to feel the impact of this transformative technology.” As usual, Cary was right.

There have been many analysts since who have talked about the suitability of production inkjet for book printing in light of the massive changes in the publishing business model. Canon provides a resource called “Why Consider Inkjet Technology for Printing Books” and Howie Fenton writes for Xerox on “How Inkjet and In-Line Finishing Impact Book Production Costs.” However, assuming that you have already made the leap and decided that inkjet is the way to go, it can be hard to find resources to lead you to a solution that fits your little corner of the book production market. We are hoping to make that a little easier.

At the macro level, there are a lot of different ways to describe book market segments including variations of topics like:

  • Textbooks
  • Professional, technical and scholarly books
  • Trade books
  • Children’s books
  • Consumer books
  • Self-published books
  • Other (my favorite non-helpful definition)

These descriptions are not particularly useful in defining segments of the book market that may be more suitable than others for production on inkjet devices, or in determining the inkjet characteristics that may be needed to produce them. Since we at Inkjet Insight are pretty serious about being useful, we have tried to come up with some segments that are based on production requirements rather than distribution channel or publishing business model.

Inkjet Insight has documented key performance indicators (KPIs) for book quality and defined the segments based upon the level of tolerance for those KPIs in different segments. For instance:

  • Visual Coverage
  • Total Ink Coverage (TIC)
  • Black Optical Density*
  • Black Ink Strike Through
  • Average CMY Process Color Optical Density*
  • Average CMY Process Color Ink Strike Through
  • Positive Small Text Raggedness – Black Text
  • Reverse Small Text Raggedness – Black Text
  • Color Gamut Volume

For example, nearly all book categories have a need for good text legibility and avoidance of strike through, however, if only printing monochrome book blocks, there is no need to consider any process color KPIs. For any of these KPIs, performance will be determined by the device itself as well as ink and paper selections. If competing in a particular book segment requires the ability to print on thin paper, thick paper, cheap paper or the use of coated papers, all KPIs will need to be tested with those specific parameters at the highest TIC level that will ever be used in a book to determine compatibility. Most inkjet implementations used to product books are configured with pigment ink, but you may have several options for pigment ink to consider such as fast immobilizing pigment ink and high-density pigment ink or the OEMs standard pigment ink offering.

Books – Monochrome is our inkjet book printing segment definition for book blocks printed in black ink only (K) rather than CMYK to produce black. The characteristics and KPI tolerances for this segment are as follows:

  • Paper Types: Uncoated and Inkjet Treated
  • Paper Weight Range: 60-75 gsm
  • Visual Coverage: < 15%
  • Total Ink Coverage: < / =100% K
  • Black Text Optical Density: > .85 *
  • Black Ink Strike Through: < 2.5
  • Positive Small Text Raggedness – Black Text: < 13.0 microns (μm)
  • Reverse Small Text Raggedness – Black Text:< 13.0 microns (μm)

Books – Color is our inkjet book printing segment definition for book blocks and covers printed in full color at a quality level below that of Fine Art Books with the following characteristics and KPI tolerances:

  • Paper Types: Uncoated, Inkjet Treated, Inkjet Coated, Primed Coated
  • Paper Weight Range: > 75 gsm • Visual Coverage: 15% – 30%
  • Total Ink Coverage: 200% – 220% • Black Optical Density: > 1.0 *
  • Black Ink Strike Through: < 3.0
  • CMY Process Color Optical Density: > 1.10 *
  • Average CMY Process Color Ink Strike Through: < 2.0
  • Positive Small Text Raggedness – Black Text: < 13.0 microns (μm)
  • Reverse Small Text Raggedness – Black Text: < 13.0 microns (μm)
  • Color Gamut Volume: > 220,000 colors

Books – Fine Art is our inkjet book printing segment for book blocks and covers requiring very high quality text and images, often with high coverage requirements. This is an emerging market for production inkjet and is evaluated for suitability with the following characteristics and assumed KPI tolerances:

  • Paper Types: Inkjet Coated, Primed Coated
  • Paper Weight Range: > 90 gsm
  • Visual Coverage: 25% – 85%
  • Total Ink Coverage: 240% – 300%
  • Black Optical Density: > 1.30*
  • Black Ink Strike Through: < 1.5
  • Average CMY Process Color Optical Density: > 1.20 *
  • Average CMY Process Color Ink Strike Through: < 1.0
  • Positive Small Text Raggedness – Black Text: < 10.0 microns (μm)
  • Reverse Small Text Raggedness – Black Text: < 10.0 microns (μm)
  • Color Gamut Volume: > 320,000 colors

As noted earlier, paper and ink are major factors in achieving specific performance thresholds and we will talk more about them in future posts and with reference to Print Quality Analysis Reports for specific book segments since as you can see, requirements differ.

Profitable book operations typically require short-run, quick-changeover production with low waste where the finishing capabilities and configuration play a key role. We will also talk extensively about finishing for book operations in future posts.

When evaluating inkjet devices (and paper and finishing) for your book printing operation, you should have specific KPIs that you will measure against when comparing technology. This will provide a more objective basis and a standard frame of reference when talking to potential suppliers and partners. We hope that these definitions will provide a relevant starting point that is specific to printing operations rather than the publishing market as a whole.

We are in the process of launching our Print Quality Analysis Reporting and would love to get feedback on the ways we have segmented the market from a performance standpoint.

Do these segments have relevance to your business?

Would knowing what device, ink and paper combinations can deliver within these tolerances be valuable?

Suggestions for additions or clarifications to segments are very welcome.

End notes:

* Optical Density (OD) is measured on a logarithmic scale where:

  • OD of 0 means that no light is absorbed and 100% of light is transmitted
  • OD of 1 means that 90% of light is absorbed and 10% of light is transmitted
  • OD of 2 means that 99% of light is absorbed and 1% of light is transmitted
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