BookSmart

Ink jet versus digital offset printing

We often get asked about the difference between a Blurb-printed book and pages printed from a home ink jet printer.  It’s a great question and the answer helps to set the proper expectation of what you will receive when you get your first Blurb book.

First off, our book pages, or "guts" in bookmaking venacular, are printed using digital offset presses, 4-colors at 812 dpi.  In comparison, a  $110 Epson R380 prints 6-colors at 1400 dpi.  The look is quite different as well.  If you look through a loupe at both outputs, you’ll definitely see the halftone screening on Blurb books. With the inkjet it is much less pronounced, virtually continuous tone.  The offset look is one of the reasons we call our product "bookstore quality".  Commercially printed books are offset printed in runs of 1000’s.

So, sure, today’s home inkjet printers create brilliant output.  So what are the challenges?  Price first off.  An 8×10 inkjet print will cost you just over a buck a page.  Also, if you want two-sided sheets you’ll need to get glue the pages to some sort of board.  And options for putting these sheets into a nice hardcover case?  Limited and expensive.

Binding books  is the basis of bookstore quality and it’s not easy with semi-matte, full-bleed pages.  This is the reason that you find  "photobook" providers limiting page count in their books.  This is an area Blurb is constantly looking to improve so when you get your book you’ll see some binding variations.  If your book is under 100 pages in hardcover, your book will the side-sewn.  Over 100 it will be metal stitched or glued or a combination of both for strength.

Softcover books are a bit easier to bind and we use the perfect binding method for all of our books, exactly like what you will see at the local bookstore.

This whole democratization of publishing is heady business.  We strive to keep our prices low while providing the best on-demand products in the market, a tall order but one we see as the basis of our business.  That’s why we love your feedback and it’s what makes this whole trip so rewarding.  We are always looking for ways to better meet the needs of authors that trust us to create their books and you can be assured that is goal number one for us every day.

—bw

Replytopic_b_normal
Posted by
bruce
Sep 17, 2007 9:06am PDT
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bruce Icon_staff
 

So what’s he trying to say here?  Don’t expect too much?  I really don’t understand what he means by, "you’ll definitely see the halftone screening on Blurb books."   It sounds a little like trying to cover your, er, tracks, Bruce.  Here I am designing a client’s family album book and now I don’t know what to do….

Posted by
wvphotog
Oct 9, 2007 5:31pm PDT
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wvphotog
 

Just setting the right expectations.  Our books are not "photographic" and if you expect them to be you could be disappointed.  You left out the beginning of the sentence "If you look through a loupe…"  If you view a photo book at a bookstore with a loupe you’ll see the same defining characteristics of offset printing and that’s the point I’m making here.  If you look at either in normal viewing distance you won’t see the screening.

Best,

—bw 

Posted by
bruce
Oct 9, 2007 6:55pm PDT
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bruce Icon_staff
 

wvphotog the posting by Bruce is very accurate and didn’t sound like he was making excuses for anything but instead trying to set expectations. I also didn’t see as much negative in his description as you apparently did. I think Blurb quality is excellent (I have 3 books printed and we’re working on 2 more) and Bruce’s decription of Blurb printing is very accurate.  But were I for example, a wedding photograher who usually handed my client an album of "photographs" I would be sure to show my prospective client an example of a Blurb book before committing to proving that instead of the photograph album. A color photograph shows only fine random grain with a 10x loop but the Blurb book will have a halftone pattern. Is that acceptable to the client? The advantage of the Blurb book is the various picture sizes and formats including text that can be used in the book. Another advantage is that anyone who wants a copy of the book can have one for a "reasonable cost" instead of several hundreds of dollars for the photo album. I think photographers have found a market for this quality level which is different than the standard photograph album but just as acceptable to many clients. Nice having the option. Wish I had this option xx years ago.

I would highly recommend that anyone with reservations on using Blurb or their quality order their book on how to write a Blurb book. It will provide ideas and a sample of print quality since the book is printed by Blurb. This is a lot cheaper and faster than doing your first book.  

The quality is truely like a good photobook that you can purchase on Amazon or a local book store. One caution is that the book on Amazon was worked on by a number of diffferent professionals in book editing, book design, typography, photography (Intended for offset press.) etc. To expect a Blurb book to look like one for those books the first few times out is being very optimistic. Again this is not the result of Blurbs printing processes.

So if you are looking for printing that looks like a photograph, and here I’m refering to a conventional Kodak-like photograph (silver dye reversal) or a high quality ink jet print (using an ink jet photo printer printing on "photo" paper and claiming 2-5 picoliter drops) don’t use Blurb. The only way to get that photographic look on a short run is to use tipped in photographs. 

 

Posted by
lcarreira
Oct 9, 2007 7:04pm PDT
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lcarreira
 

Bruce. Sorry did not mean to cut in but I was writing my piece as you sent yours in.

Len 

Posted by
lcarreira
Oct 9, 2007 7:09pm PDT
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lcarreira
 

In searching the internet, I found this post, and I think it’s a useful addendum:

http://mikedelgaudio.com/wordpress/2007/02/16/quality-review-of-a-blurb-photobook/  

Posted by
burrill
Oct 9, 2007 7:44pm PDT
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burrill
 

No problem Len..great discussion I think.

 —bw

Posted by
bruce
Oct 9, 2007 11:09pm PDT
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bruce Icon_staff
 

Bruce <del>- I’ve never found Blurb’s halftone screening to be an issue -</del> because I expect the book to look like a commercial book, not like a set of bound photos. But one of my Blurb photo books is filled with photos taken in a dark club, and the darkest areas of the images seem to pose a challenge for Blurb printing. Compared to my inkjet prints, the shadows aren’t very black and the results are muddy. Is there anything I can do to get better results? Thanks.

Posted by
joeholmes
Oct 10, 2007 5:27am PDT
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joeholmes
 

Hi Joe, shadow detail can indeed be a challenge, especially on our iGen printed products (softcover standard and all 7×7).  Best advice I can give is read through Sam Edge’s color management suggestions here .

—bw 

Posted by
bruce
Oct 10, 2007 6:16am PDT
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bruce Icon_staff
 

Sorry to jump in… but I guess that the explanation Bruce is giving is indeed necessary and absolutely sincere for any professional or enthusiast amateur photographer (mainly!)....

You see… Blurb may be used by dozens of "types" of users (writers, photographers, bloggers etc. etc.) and all with different needs (personal books, limited-number books, portfolios for clients etc.). Photographers are (normally) the most demanding group due to the need for more accruate color renditions.

However, let me add my 2 cents here for photobooks…

The results obtained from Blurb (especially during the last 1.5 months when problems have been being sorted out) are comparable to most mid- or low-priced photobooks at the stores.

And yes! If you use a loupe you are going to see some halftone screening, which is however invisible in normal book browsing. Most of the people that have seen my photobooks think that I have gone to a large-scale publisher etc. Most of them will never notice anything. Actually they are stunned and they do want their own copy after a single browsing.

Of course my photos look much better on my calibrated screen (and of course on my 1 picolitre inkjet!)... But my target group is not "trained" for that and actually does not have such high demands, or is not in the position to buy such quality (even at the bookstores). For other photographers that need to print their portfolios at the absolutely highest quality for specific clients and assignments, this may not be an option.

What Bruce is actually saying is that Blurb is providing a low-cost, high-quality on-demand printing process, similar to most photobooks that you see on the shelves, and this is sufficient for all but the most demanding photography needs. In any case, he presents the true case with some of its "technical" parameters and I guess this should be treated as an honest description and not as an apology or anything!

(PS my "difficult" sunset and low-light photos, are printed at a much better quality than expected in the photobook)

 Regards, Yannis

Posted by
larios
Oct 10, 2007 7:21am PDT
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larios
 

nice article.

of course there’s a difference between a photo and a printed photo.. look into any book, you’ll see the dots of an offset CMYK press..

but for this kind of money to be argueing about that… pointless imho 

Posted by
tom314
Oct 19, 2007 10:52am PDT
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tom314
 

And please notice that Bruce said you’ll see the halftone screening <del>—> if you look at the book with a 10x loupe <</del>—!!!   For heck’s sake – if you look at a really good inkjet print with a 10x loupe, you will see the ink dots!

I’ve just done my first book, when I look at it w/o magnifcation, no screening is apparent. And even under a loupe, the screening is much finer than most other halftone screens I’ve looked at!

Posted by
rdmastro
Oct 20, 2007 1:14pm PDT
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rdmastro
 

Bruce is very helpful in all these posts, obvtiously a pro. I am a professional photographer that used to print books offset (heidelberg press) using a duotone process from plates made from 8×10 or 4×5 black and white negs…the HP Indigo 50000 cannot reproduce this level of quality or sharpness. but its not bad at all..im sure to improve.

But I will say “wvphotog” is simply rude…and inaccurate. There’s a lot of wannabe photographers out here making family photobooks with very little understanding of the craft. My advice to Mr. VW is to lighten up and don’t make a fool of yourself questions the pros…its obvious you don’t understand the process.

I have tried 4 other book publishers online, and Blurb is probably the best output to the eye. Again, not as good as a top-end offset, but still strong output. BTW, I am using images from scanned negatives at 1200 dpi and remastered in Photoshop CS3 or with a 10.1 MP Nikon D80.

Posted by
chdant
Dec 4, 2007 2:29pm PDT
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chdant
 

Detailed. The concept about the ink jet versus the digital offset printing is something that is must to understand. Also with the help of this one will be able to know the right basics about it.

Printing Services

Posted by
CereusGraphi
Nov 16, 2013 2:41am PDT
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CereusGraphi
 

I am about to publish my first book. Blurb was recommended by another writer as the best place to get nice reasonably priced custom books. This topic on print quality made my day and set my expectations (thanks Bruce) by excellent comparisons to other printed products. I know what CMYK pages look like and thus what to expect.

I was looking for spine width for premium paper portrait 8×10 hard back books to know if I need to pack in some extra pages to make it look nice as a physical book.

Posted by
Bookiemaker
Jan 4, 2014 3:52pm PDT
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Bookiemaker