How yearbooks are printed

How yearbook are printed - banner

Woo! You’re done with your book and it looks amazing. But wait, at the moment, it’s just sitting on your screen… How the heck does it get printed? And how to make sure the end product will look just as it does on your screen?

That’s what I’m going to explain in this article. In the lines below, you’ll (re)discover what a book is made of. I think it’s good to refresh on the basics to better understand why printers need certain types of files and specifications to be able to print top quality publications.

After reading this, you’ll be familiar with the different steps a book has to go through before getting delivered at your doorstep.

Sounds good? Let’s get into it.

What is a book made of?

Let’s start with the product itself. Take a book in your hands and observe.

01. A book is printed on paper

Did you know that there are hundreds if not thousands of paper types and thickness that can be used to print a book? I won’t introduce them all here, but here are the essentials you should know:

* Uncoated stock:
Grab a sheet from your home printer and touch it. Now take a magazine and compare. The touch of your printer sheet is a little more rough than the pages of your magazine, isn’t it? Well, your home printer sheet is generally an uncoated stock, a paper that has no coated pigment applied on it.

Don’t take me wrong: it doesn’t mean that uncoated stock is not good, it’s just a type of paper. Some of the most stylish magazines are printed on uncoated stock. Below is a cover example of Frankie Magazine, a beautiful national bi-monthly based in Australia, printed on uncoated stock.

how yearbooks are printed - frankie mag

What makes uncoated stock nice? Its thickness and its white intensity. A paper that has no coated pigment applied on it also feels lighter. This means that you can choose a thicker paper for the same weight. Your blank pages will look brighter and your book will look thicker and lighter at the same time.

* Coated stock:
Most magazines, brochures, catalogues and yearbooks are printed on coated stock (at Fusion we use coated stocks by default). A coated stock has a glossy or matte finish. It’s generally a lot smoother and has a great effect on the appearance of your pages. The surface coating allows to achieve sharper details, to improve color density and to reduce ink absorption – your pages look vibrant and colorful. As an example, Elle Magazine is printed on coated stock.

how yearbooks are printed - elle magazine

* A few other characteristics to know:

> Paper weight: whatever stock you like, you have many options to choose from and paper weight is one of them. The lighter you choose the thinner your paper will be. Here are a few examples to have an idea :

* Uncoated stock around 40 gsm (grams per square meter) = newspaper
* Uncoated stock from 60 to 115 gsm = Business Forms, Flyers, Books, Mailers
* Coated stock from 80 to 135 gsm = Brochure and Magazine inside pages
* Coated stock from 115 to 350 gsm = Magazine cover
=> At Fusion we use coated stock 150 gsm for the inside pages and coated 350 gsm for the cover.

> Thickness and transparency: the thinner your stock is the more transparent it is too. That’s one thing to consider if you want to avoid seeing what’s happening at the back page of your page.

So in the end…
– Uncoated stock = rough touch but bright and light.  
– Coated stock = looks pro instantly (depending on the thickness of the paper), have a matte or gloss finish and is generally more vibrant.
– Paper weight, thickness and transparency can have a real impact on the look of your yearbook.

02. To print something on paper… you need ink.

Your text and photos are printed on paper with ink. I’m sure you knew that already. But did you know that all the colors you see on a book a generally a mix of 4 colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black)? Those colors are the notorious CMYK we often hear about in the printing industry.

In the image below, spotted in this great blog post from Heater, you can see that all the colors are mixed from the 4 toners at the top (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Of course, there are thousands of printer models. Digital and offset printing don’t work exactly the same. But the idea is the same for all.

how yearbooks are printed - digital printer cmyk toner

Here is a cool illustration found on that explains everything about the color profiles. Click on the image below to access the full version.

how yearbooks are printed - cmyk color profile


Good to know: some machines allow to add extra colors to get specific results (like pantones, metallic or fluo inks for example). These extra colors are not mixed with the 4 standard colors, they are added thanks to a fifth toner.

Below left, a fifth color would be required to get this perfect fluo tone printed. On the right, we have an example of use for metallic ink.

Note: adding a fifth color is a pretty expensive process. We generally don’t do it on yearbooks.

03. Finishing options (or how to make your yearbook cover stand out)

Do you want to give your cover a matte or gloss aspect? Then it has to be laminated with a matte or gloss celloglaze. There are loads of other finishing options out there like the ones below:

how yearbooks are printed - UV varnish

Spot UV varnish
Your cover is matte except for a few things like a text, an image, a logo or whatever you want that is gloss.

how yearbooks are printed - embossing

Refers to the creation of an impression of some kind of design, decoration, lettering or pattern on your cover to make a relief.

how yearbooks are printed - leatherette foiling

Leatherette and Foiling
If you’re not 100% happy with paper, you can think about leatherette, textile, etc.

Note: adding finishing options make the production process longer and more expensive. Why? Because other machines and materials are required, operators need to spend more time on the job, not to forget the drying time.

04. After being printed, your pages need to be bound and trimmed

So, your cover and insides pages have been printed. Now, it’s time to assemble them and to make a real book. But first, you need to choose a binding type. Here are the main options you have:

how yearbooks are printed - saddle stitch

Saddle Stitch
(soft cover)

how yearbooks are printed - standard pur binding

PUR perfect Binding
(soft cover)

how yearbooks are printed - spiral binding

Spiral Binding
(soft cover)

how yearbooks are printed - case binding

Case Binding
(hard cover)

Depending on your choice, the printer will use different materials and machines. The process is roughly the same for all, so let me describe the most popular one of the yearbook industry (PUR perfect binding).

Once printed, your inside pages are assembled together (in the right order) and cropped on the binding side of the book. Then, they are glued to the cover sheet, just like below. Please note that there’s a lot of different machines out there to make this job. Despite their differences and specificities, they roughly do the same job.

Once your book has been put together, the exterior sides have to be cut again (which makes your book edges perfectly straight. This happens on a machine like below.

Note: each type of binding has their own specifications. For example, case binding requires extra steps to finish the book. That’s why you really have to consider these little things when designing a book:

how yearbooks are printed - bleed crop marks

Found on the final PDF, the crop marks tell the machine where the edge of the page is and where to cut the paper. If you want an image or any other element to go perfectly to the edge, adding bleed is crucial (if you don’t add bleed, you might end up with a white line on the edge of your page). Finally, you also want to apply the same margin on all your inside pages because if you don’t:
– your content might be absorbed by the binding.
– your content might be too close to the edges of your page.

Please note that the process can be a little more complex depending on the book type you’d like. Below is the anatomy of a hard cover book to give you a rough idea. The more special options your book will have the longer it will take to prepare and to produce. This will be a multi-step process and will require several extra days in the production process.

Now that you know how a yearbook is printed, it should be easier for you to understand how the final file is prepared for printing.

From a design on your screen to a print-ready file

OK, you know what a book is made of. Now we need to tell the printing machine what to do, which colors to use, where to cut the pages and that sort of things. If you want to make sure the results are exactly the same as the ones you’ve got on your screen, you have to refer to the standards of the printing industry.

05. The book that is sitting on your screen

Creating a book, a poster, a word document, a presentation or whatever you like happens on your computer thanks to a software (desktop or online). As there are thousands of softwares available out there, it’s important to export your work in a standardized format that is accepted by professional printers.

Why is using a standardized format important?
– Because using a native file means taking risks (your design might be funny from a computer to another depending on the version of the software, if it’s a Mac or PC, some fonts can break, etc.). No printer wants to take this responsibility for you or to waste time on fixing things for you.
– Because all the machines used for professional printing work with these standards.

If you’re a well seasoned designer, you might know how to properly export your work as a print-ready file. But if you’re not, solutions like Fusion take care of it for you. You just have to press a button and then, your print-ready file is automatically generated.

Good to know: as mentioned ealier (chapter #2), the colors shown on your screen are on RGB mode (red, green, blue). Why? Because a screen doesn’t really need to provide as many details as a printed document. Most of the professional printing machines work on the CMYK mode to offer more details on the end result. That’s why, at some point, a conversion from RGB to CMYK is needed. This happens on our side after your work is exported.

06. The PDF: a print-ready file generated for you in Fusion

So, what’s a PDF file exactly? The Portable Document Format (PDF) is the world’s leading language for describing the printed page. In his book, PDF Explained: The ISO Standard for Document Exchange (2001, O’Reilly Media, Inc.), John Whitington defines the PDF like that:

In other words, as a book is made of text and images, it’s very important to provide your printer with a file format that encapsulates all the information relative to the components of your work (fonts, colors, graphics, images, bleed & crops marks, etc.). This is when using the PDF format becomes ideal. It offers everything your printer needs to know to print your book exactly how you designed it on your screen.

How to generate a PDF in Fusion?
In the order process, there’s a step where you’ll be asked to generate your final high-resolution PDF.

how yearbooks are printed - generate pdf

Once generated, you’ll be able to view your whole book in a PDF viewer (like Adobe Acrobat Reader).  At this stage, you’ll have to make sure you review everything carefully to avoid any bad surprises. For that, simply compare your original work with the PDF proof (page per page).
To learn more about proofing your yearbook, check out this article.

Once approved, your final PDF file will be sent to print.

Let’s sum it all up!

You see, it’s not that complex. When you start from the object, you can easily visualize all the components of a book and the kind of information a professional printer needs to do their job properly.

That’s why print-ready file standards have been set up for the printing industry and why you’d better respect them if you want to get professional results.

Once you’ve got all that stuff done, approved and secured the whole thing in a PDF file, you can rest assured that your yearbooks will be printed how you want them to be!

1 – Everything will be printed as you want (digital or offset).

2 – Your pages will be folded, gathered and bound.

Et voilà ! I hope this article helped you to better visualize how yearbooks are printed. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!

Create a beautiful yearbook with your students.

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After a degree in corporate journalism and 4 years in a publishing agency in Paris, Julien fell into digital. Passionate about content in general, he loves turning good ideas into practical tips & tricks. That's just one of the things he does at Fusion Yearbooks, as a Digital and Content Manager.

Australia's #1 Yearbook Company