Printing a high quality art book using uncoated paper

As a printer of high quality coffee table art books we typically use matte or gloss coated paper

Gloss or matte coated paper is the ideal substrate for optimal print quality of art books. It allows the printer to print a superfine dot that does not soak into the paper.

Coated paper also looks and feels more “expensive” than uncoated paper.

Recently two clients asked specifically for uncoated papers. I advised them that color accuracy would suffer if we use uncoated paper. Because inks soak into the paper, halftone dots spread and deform (this is called dot gain).

Generally, on uncoated paper:

  • The range of color is reduced
  • The brightness is reduced
  • The density range is reduced
  • Highlight and mid-tones get darker, but the shadow areas get lighter.

Why then would an artist want to use uncoated paper for the printing of his or her coffee table art book?

Why would an artist choose uncoated paper for the printing of his or her coffee table book? Uncoated paper offers the advantage of greater legibility, but this is not a major concern in art book printing. Budget-wise, uncoated paper is really not much more affordable than coated paper.

Uncoated paper offers the artist natural, earthy, recyclable and earth-friendly properties

The best color reproduction in an art book is of secondary interest to the clients who choose to print on uncoated paper. They go for a certain “feel” that coated paper does not offer. Even though many coated papers are now FSC certified, it is hard to find post-consumer recycled paper in coated category. There are some beautiful uncoated papers that are 100% recycled. Uncoated paper is also available in off-white shades.

Uncoated papers are available in many shades of whites and finishes

If you are considering printing on uncoated paper, you can request swatches of different surface finishes and color shades. We always try to accommodate your ideas!

Recommendations for printing on uncoated paper

Invest in a wet proof

My first recommendation to clients who express interest in uncoated paper is to invest in a wet proof. You can read more about wet proofing in my previous article here. Comparing your color file printed on uncoated vs coated paper will help you make the correct decision about how to proceed.

Plan your files for optimal color on uncoated paper

Secondly, plan your file preparation correctly for successful printing on uncoated paper. By opening the separation, the actual dot size is decreased and the space surrounding the dot is increased. This can be done in Photoshop → Color Settings → US Sheetfed Uncoated.

Consider printing part of your art book on uncoated and part on coated art paper

Another option may be to print part of the book on uncoated… and part on coated paper! This is what Adam French did. Part of the book features his concepts, notes and sketches – the parts printed on uncoated paper – and part of the book features his finished artwork. Reproductions of the art are printed on coated paper for optimal color reproduction.

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The smallest quantity to print a professional quality art book

The smallest quantity to print a professional quality art book by a professional art book printer

This article addresses a common question: “What is the smallest quantity to print a professional quality book? The minimum quantity order we offer is 300 copies. At Art Book Printing we print and bind coffee table books of museum quality. We do have digital printing equipment available, but only for certain applications (such as consecutive numbering of limited edition books). Color reproduction is always done on offset presses. There is no equal in quality. Our modern presses waste very little paper during set-up. But to match the colors on the printed sheets to your original art, we use up a fair amount of paper. It is not economical to print fewer than 300 copies.

Printing 300 copies of an art book may still be prohibitive for some artists. It is not long ago that that minimums were much higher. Only because of recent technical innovations in book printing can we now offer the finest quality in such small editions.

You will have the cost to professionally photograph your original art. You will incur cost to design and proof the book. These costs are fixed no matter how few or many copies are printed.

Exceptions to the minimum order requirement

There are exceptions to the minimum order requirement. We have printed art books for clients who demanded the finest quality but who authorized completion of only a very small number of books. I sometimes say tongue in cheek: The smallest quantity to print a professional quality art book is 1! And really, in one case we produced just eight copies! These ultra-limited edition art books are often autographed (personalized) by the artist. They are typically very valuable because only a very small number of collectors can own a copy.

To publish my own art or photography book, what is the right quantity of books to order?

Of course, I wish I knew the answer to this question. It is different for each publisher of art coffee table books. A better question I ask artists is: “Do you have a market for at least 300 copies of your art book?” If the answer is YES, then the investment in design, printing and binding an art book is well worth it. If NO, why would you spend a significant amount of time and money in such endeavor? Some of our art book clients test the waters with this minimum quantity of 300 copies. Often they come back for reprint after reprint. Others do not sell as many but they take tremendous pride in creating the crown jewel of an art career.

Ask for a quotation to print a range of quantities to make the right decision

We can provide you with a quotation that shows the unit cost in a range of quantities, such as 500 – 750 – 500 – 1000 – 1500 copies. That shows you break-even points at your intended retail price.

Often your original art is financially out of reach for many admirers. And to be real practical, collectors have limited wall space. To print a coffee table book can be a wonderful addition to an artist’s offering to his or her audience.

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