In a short blurb? We talk books.

Inside // how covers and jackets are made

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of visiting our primary cover and jacket printer, Coral Graphics, a wonderful company that is huge in the publishing world. They work with all the “Big Five” trade publishing houses: Random House, Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, and do excellent work, especially when it comes to specialty processes like embossing and foils.

The Biggest Printer You'll Ever See

The very first thing I see when we enter the plant is this massive printer. See those six beige things standing up on that platform in the picture to the right?? Those are filled with ink. The biggest cartridges you’ve ever seen, huh? And this is only a half-size press. Large sheets of paper run through each ink, getting layers of color in different densities, all set very carefully in machines like the one below this upcoming Joel Osteen cover:

Joel Osteen & the ink density machines

The sheets come out wet and actually have these tiny balls of cornstarch sprayed on them to keep them from sticking together long enough to dry out. Once dried, we can put on the finishing. Coated/Uncoated, Liquid/Thermal, Gloss/Matte, there are lots of different ways you can finish the cover.

The coolest part, however, is adding the foiling and embossing to the covers. This process is still very much manual, and the foil is super pretty!

Rolls of foil

Ribbons of foil are manually placed in the proper position (which is often a trial-and-error process) and thermally stamped onto the covers. Let me tell you, those machines are hot.

Embossing is a completely different process. To emboss something, you need to first create a die with the design that needs to be embossed carved out of a metal plate. There is a machine for simple letter embossing, but if you need any other type of design element embossed, it is hand carved by one of the printing presses’ artists. Something like the Creep die below can be done in maybe an hour. Something like a World of Warcraft die can take an entire day. Maybe more! Again, the plate is positioned onto the cover, but instead of thermal treatment, the cover is pressed between two plates with tons of pressure until a perfectly embossed cover comes out.

Creep plate

Because foiling and embossing is a very manual, time consuming process (and because foil and metal embossing plates don’t come cheap), know that a cover that is foiled and/or embossed cost quite a bit more for the publishers, which means that the publisher believed in the title enough to spend a good chunk of change on the book, so it’s probably worth checking out!


Now, once the cover gets all of its ink, finishes, foils, and embossing, it is time for us publishers to check out the final product. The press prints and finishes a few covers so that we can be assured that the printer will maintain its consistency and then we go to check them out. Chances are something needs to be adjusted, perhaps an ink color, perhaps the density of the ink, perhaps the height of the embossing, perhaps some dust got into the printer and is messing up some of the sheets. We fix it, print out more sheets and go back to proofing. Usually, these trips take 1-2 hours, but some can go much longer. I believe the longest proofing our tour guide had was 20 hours straight. And I know colleagues who have had to go for multiple days to proofing the same title.

The printing of the covers is fairly close to the release of the final book, so no one wants problems during this stage, but we also need the books to be perfect for all you readers out there.

So, though you still should not judge a book by its cover, the next time a cover catches your eye, take the time to pick it up, check out the finishes, admire the special treatment, and appreciate all the work it took to become the cover it is today. This article didn’t even touch on the amount of time and skill it takes to design these covers. You have highly skilled artists who create fabulous unique designs, editors who know the book inside and out, authors who have poured their souls into the book, sales and marketing representatives who understand consumers’ reactions, and publishers who need to stay true to their list’s brand, all collaborating to draft the covers and figure out which will best speak to you, the consumer, while still being a beautiful and proper representation of the author’s story. Sound complicated? It is. But I think we’d all agree that it is totally worth it.

Happy reading!

– Carin


64 comments on “Inside // how covers and jackets are made

  1. SandySays1
    August 6, 2011

    Covers do make a HUGE difference. My humans new book has a snake head with a boat in it. It stops folks in their tracks.

  2. Mikalee Byerman
    August 30, 2011

    I love insider peeks into worlds I’ll never visit; therefore, I LOVE THIS POST!

    How fun is that? I would totally dig the foil/embossing process, too. Looks super cool.

    Thank you for sharing this. I can only imagine (hope. dream. wish.) that I will one day visit the plant that is making the cover to my book.

    Fingers crossed!

  3. Cathy
    August 30, 2011

    I’ve always been curious on how certain things are made. This one for example. Isn’t it very interesting? 🙂

  4. Lafemmeroar
    August 30, 2011

    Let’s all appreciate books covers as they will soon be extinct now that everybody seems to be going digital. I still love my hardcovers and I protect the jackets with acid-free covers.

  5. PCC Advantage
    August 30, 2011

    Now, THAT is an insight into the printing world that I’ve never had before! Brilliant post! 🙂

  6. judithlesleymarshall
    August 30, 2011

    Wow! Imagine having to change the ink cartridge in that printer. Found the article really interesting. Am always fascinated by book covers. Will be attending the Book Apothecary drop-in book making session at Durham book festival in October. Covers are one of the reasons why I prefer a traditional book to an e-book. They appeal to the sense of touch – and the sense of smell. I also find designing a mock-up book cover helps to visualise the finished product and aids the writing process. Creativity begets creativity.

  7. taureanw
    August 30, 2011

    As a lifelong book reader that is pretty cool. Thanks for sharing!

  8. natasiarose
    August 30, 2011

    I like this post! As someone who spends a lot of time imaging what her future book cover will look like, it’s good for me to know the process now. :-p

  9. universallearningcentreblog
    August 30, 2011

    Really enjoyed this post! The pictures are fantastic!

  10. fornormalstepfathers
    August 30, 2011

    So much for “do not judge a book by its cover.”

  11. beckony
    August 30, 2011

    Covers definitely draw me in–the whole reason I started reading How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe because of how striking the cover is (both the paperback and hardcover versions). It’s too bad so many people under-appreciate cover art. I even know a few people who toss the dust jackets as soon as they get books (eek!).

    That place looks awesome to work in. Bet they have fun, even with the crazy-long proofing sessions.

  12. GraceLynneFleming
    August 30, 2011

    now this was a COOL post – thanks for sharing

  13. Pingback: Book Covers | always a writer

  14. miz250
    August 30, 2011

    But how do they get the “new book” smell into the book? 🙂

  15. I Made You A Mixtape
    August 30, 2011

    Wow! How cool you got to see that all for yourself! Such a facinating insight into how our books are made! The pics are great!

  16. Jane & Carin
    August 30, 2011

    Fresh paper, new glue, careful storage, and magic… definitely magic.

    🙂 Carin

  17. Jane & Carin
    August 30, 2011

    I’m so glad you all like the post! It was a great experience, and I know I’ll have many others to share with you guys!

  18. poetsthoughts
    August 30, 2011

    Wow! I love this! 😀

  19. rumpydog
    August 30, 2011


  20. Carmen Lezeth
    August 30, 2011

    Fun to know. And yes, book covers matters! and I will make sure to check them out a little closer later. Thanks.

  21. monasapple
    August 30, 2011

    wow. that is super cool. thanks for sharing. as someone who’s always aspired to writing a book someday, i should probably learn this kind of stuff!

  22. Nicole
    August 30, 2011

    Interesting. I like to learn something every day! Thanks for sharing.

  23. gabbyvillarreal
    August 30, 2011

    Love the picture of the “biggest printer”. Definitely agree!

  24. katyj94
    August 30, 2011

    That is really really cool. I recently finished writing a story that’s novel length, and am looking for a publisher now, so finding out about how the jackets/covers are made is really interesting. 🙂

  25. broadsideblog
    August 30, 2011

    Thanks so much for this!

    As author of two non-fiction books, whose covers I love, it’s another piece of the publishing process that is invisible and unknown even to authors. My cover designer for “Malled”, my new memoir, has a fab photo of a model that everyone mistakes for me! It was a big thrill for me to meet the cover designer at my book party and thank him in person for having done such a terrific job.

  26. Stephanie
    August 30, 2011

    Fascinating! Very cool post. Great tip about how foil and embossing is a sign that the publisher really believes in a book.

  27. writenaked
    August 30, 2011

    Wow, takes a bit of the magic out of a book’s history, but at the same time makes them more unique. Maybe a future post: How E-Readers Are Made? 🙂

  28. thiet ke noi that dep
    August 30, 2011

    Nice post. I like this. Thanks and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  29. Elly
    August 30, 2011

    How cool! Thanks for sharing! For some reason, this reminded me of when I would watch Mr. Rogers’ “How Things Are Made” segments…remember the crayons video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIgPLVjo-S8)? 🙂

  30. onepounddreamer
    August 31, 2011

    This is so cool. The front jacket of a book is so important and this little glimpse into how they are made is awesome. I love this stuff. Great pics!

  31. leadinglight
    August 31, 2011

    I work for a magazine that uses a printing house that was established in 1900. It’s pretty cool to get an insider glimpse into places like that.

  32. Jamie Greening
    August 31, 2011

    great post–congrats on being freshly pressed!
    i was surprised when they developed the cover for my book. it was so much more amazing than i ever imagined it could be, and the artists worked so hard putting it together. the cover really does matter.
    thanks for providing such great pics and wonderful information.

  33. florb63
    August 31, 2011

    Nice post. Book covers are just one of those everyday things that people (myself included) tend to take for granted without realizing the huge amount of work and consideration that went into them. There’s an anthropological term for this, but I’m forgetting it.

  34. Wow, information I never knew I really wanted to know about! Thanks. Given the fact that my children take off every book cover to every book they own will now make me think twice about letting them do it.

  35. uponatlas
    August 31, 2011

    phwoar. this is amazing!

  36. Rebecca Latson Photography
    August 31, 2011

    I love to read as well as write, so it’s always interesting to get these behind-the-scenes snippets of information. I never knew how a book cover was made until reading your post. Nice work!

  37. zookyshirts
    August 31, 2011

    A great post with a peek behind the scenes on printing book covers. I’m a graphic designer, so I’m involved on the design side. But I’m only one part of the team that brings books to life. As you listed: editors, printers, marketers, bookshop owners. Those printers bring a ton of skill to the table so that books and their covers look fantastic. Thanks for your post!

    • Jane & Carin
      August 31, 2011

      And thank you for being part of the team that creates such art! -Carin

  38. Sumukh Naik
    August 31, 2011

    Wonderful Article.The place is a printers paradise.

  39. whatsaysyou
    August 31, 2011

    Very interesting post.

  40. boltach
    August 31, 2011

    Great blog post!

  41. yantangle
    August 31, 2011

    Really fascinating – thanks for sharing.
    I volunteer at a Scrapstore – a co-op run treasure trove of bin ends, scrap materials and cast-offs for crafters – and we’ve often had the used foil ribbons donated with the image of the name and title etched away. I’d worked out what they were and that there must be a heat process involved – nice to see how it actually works.

  42. ohioken
    August 31, 2011

    Nice article. I am fascinated by tours such as this. It amazes me that things that look so complicated come out so perfect at the end of the line.

  43. Knitn' Green
    August 31, 2011

    Thanks for a great tour. Brings back great memories of when I worked in the printing industry. Now I’m on the public library side of things and staff fails to appreciate the time and attention to detail that artists, publishers, and printers put into covers. So face-out those books!!

  44. Pingback: Inside // how covers and jackets are made (via jane & carin // books) « yrolliug

  45. gaycarboys
    August 31, 2011

    I’m selling off half of my books because I don’t use them and need the space. It would be criminal to see dust covers and the books they hold go the way of the dinosaurs.

  46. queenofzenk
    August 31, 2011

    I love book covers.. sometimes the only reason I buy a book is because of its cover. Usually it’s a book that turns out to be good, so I’ve been lucky.
    I never really realized all the hours that can be put into something “simple” like the printing process of the cover.. one usually thinks of things like the time it takes to write the book and edit it or how long it takes the artist to draw the cover up.
    super post!

  47. Pingback: Inside // how covers and jackets are made (via jane & carin // books) « Kasey Kesner

  48. Mahrukh
    August 31, 2011

    nice and educated post, thanks for sharing

  49. sterlingsop
    August 31, 2011

    I’d never given much thought to the actual production of the book other than the creativity gone into the writing of the story before. Thank you for your article for making me think more about the process involved in getting a book to our bookshelves. It’s a fascinating insight and I will certainly pay more attention to the foil/not foiled, embossed/not embossed finish in future!

    Congratulations on making it to being freshly pressed 🙂

    • Jane & Carin
      September 1, 2011

      Thank you! I’m so glad! Stay tuned; I’d love to give you all an even better look into the publishing world. -Carin

    • Jane & Carin
      September 4, 2011

      I’m so glad — and thank you!

  50. aerah08
    September 1, 2011

    wow.. 😮 i hardly knew about that..
    thank you so much for posting this article..
    this is quite helpful ^_^
    you did an amazing job congratz!

  51. Mike
    September 1, 2011

    Nice explanation of book finishing. A few years back I worked in a small publishing company producing advertising directories, and used both printed/foiled overs, and hardcover formats
    A few old samples found form http://www.graphicline.co.za, look for DTP.
    Touring the printers factory and watching the people and the machinery in action was fascinating and interesting.
    I tried to be on site when the first copy of each edition rolled off the end of the process. It was always very gratifying to see the results of 9 months work turn into the finished product.

  52. Very cool! I work in print production (doing magazines and product packaging, mostly) and it’s always a bit of a thrill to get the final product — or even just that first proof — in your hands. I love the web but it’s so not the same to design something for digital consumption. I’ve never worked for an actual printer, but I used to visit the one we used at my last publication, and it was always interesting to see those huge machines working.

    • Jane & Carin
      September 4, 2011

      You’re absolutely right! There’s nothing like getting that first proof, that first “wow… this thing that I’ve been working on for months is really about to be presented to the rest of the world…” Us publishers don’t get paid much, but the rewards are amazing 🙂

  53. ejomlexus
    September 2, 2011

    I’ve been into a bookbinding shop before, but more like a low-tech one. I wish I could see more hi-tech machines that print book and make book covers.

  54. Pingback: Inside how covers and jackets are made (via jane & carin // books) « Knitn' Green

  55. jack
    September 6, 2011

    thats very useful information… Like to read it…

  56. thesecretravels
    September 9, 2011

    What an interesting post! I’d never given much thought to about the actual production of the book since what I appreciate is the writer and the way it’s written. Now I give credits to the creative geniuses

  57. rakhikankane
    September 9, 2011

    enjoyed reading 🙂 nice blog!

  58. realanonymousgirl2011
    September 12, 2011

    Pretty cool!

  59. Pingback: The Silent Heroes of Literature // So you want to be an editor? « jane & carin // books

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This entry was posted on August 6, 2011 by in Carin, Insiders and tagged , , .

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Words We Like

“I think it makes more sense to write what you don’t know. To write what makes you uneasy, what you wonder about, what keeps you awake at night."

— Lois Lowry, at the BEA Children’s Book and Author Breakfast

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