In a short blurb? We talk books.
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 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:
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!
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.
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.