Friday, 18 January 2013

The Printing of my Book


I had the opportunity this week to see my book being printed, so of course, I grabbed that chance with both hands and with my son, Jeremy, we went to the plant of one of the UK’s few large format book printers, Butler Tanner & Dennis.

Located in Frome in Somerset, Butler, Tanner& Dennis have a 166 year printing history and their reception contains a very old printing press used by the firm.

The plant is very large indeed and contains all manner of machines needed for book printing and manufacturing. BT&D proudly claim they are one of just a few companies that do everything under one roof in the production of books. For someone like me that has no experience of or any prior knowledge of printing and making books, the plant is a marvel of machines and looking at most sets up a guessing game of trying to work out what they do. Some of the machines are brand new and a marvel of modern technology, but at the same time, these are used alongside many that are decades old and still work perfectly well today.

The plant is laid out broadly in the order that a book is produced, with incoming materials such as paper at one end and the completed book exit at the other. The paper store is large but paper having come from specialist plants in many countries. Unlike newspaper production, all of the incoming paper is cut into flat sheets, not rolled.

My book was printed on the newest and biggest printing machine in the plant, a Heidelberg, which is capable of printing 15,000 sheets an hour at peak. Yes, you did read that right, 15,000 large format sheets an hour!

At about 12 inches by 12 inches (30cm) mine is a large book, and each of the sheets going through the printer contains 20 pages of my book on each side. The printing of the book pages is therefore done at a phenomenal speed.

This is the machine that makes the plates. They are very thin and made from aluminium. Each sheet going through the printer needs 4 plates (cyan, magenta, yellow and black)....






















This is one of the plates ready for printing.....























A close up of part of one of the plates – and a picture of Chris Luhman of Everyday Riding....






















The huge Heidelberg printer. With its six printing positions. Just four were being used for my book. The paper gets fed into the far right hand end, passes through the six printing positions and the left hand end is where the printed sheet is dried. The completed sheets are delivered in a neat stack at the left hand end.








































The top of the yellow printer. It is hard to see from these pictures just how fast everything happens. This drum is spinning at an incredible speed....






















The guys opened the side panel of the drying area, so we could see the sheets going through that part....






















A not very good picture of the completed sheets being stacked. It is really just a blur....






















The printed sheets measure 63 x 47 inches / 1.6m x 1.2m and each contain 20 pages of my book. Due to the way the sheets are folded into sections of the book, half of the pages are printed upside-down.























Each machine in the plant has a “minder”. This is Julian Keel (AKA Biff) who was looking after the Heidelberg printer. He can adjust many aspects of the print as the machine is working. We watched him run off a couple of stacks of different sheets while we were there and I would say he has a very challenging job....






















As each stack of printed sheets is finished, they are moved by a fork lift truck to a waiting area. These are not my stacks, but a book just ahead of mine in the production process....






















When the whole book is printed, the large sheets are folded into 2o page book sections by some amazing folding machines. Prior to actually folding the sheet, each is perforated to make the folding flatter. Depending on the size of the individual book pages, these machines need to be set up for each book....








































Once each 20 page section of the book has been folded and prepared, these are loaded into a long machine that first stitches the sections and then collates those sections. Each section has a printed mark so the machine can automatically check that the collating has been done properly and all sections are in the correct order....






















The collated sections then begin to take the form of a book. These are known as book “blanks” and are stacked ready to be moved to the next part of the production process. Note how the pages are just rough cut at this stage....







































On a separate production line, the hardback covers are manufactured. This is still done in the same plant, by a different team. Known in the trade as “cases” these are not for my book, but another just ahead of mine....




























Next is a very clever, multi-function machine that brings together the cases with the book blanks, trims the pages to the correct size and glues the book into the base to make the completed book. All that is left after this is to add the dust cover, or “jacket” as the printers call it....






















A similar process happens with the softback books, but a totally different machine is used to bring the various parts of the book together....






















Quality control is important at every stage of the process, with people having to sign off every part of that process. If they didn’t check each stage until the book was completed, a minor problem in one process would mean rejection of the whole print run. This is where the completed books are checked....






















Overall, the visit to the plant was fascinating. Having never before understood how a book is produced it was terrific to see each part of the process. The guy managing the production of my book, Clinton Walker, went out of his way to show us around and explain the process to us. Along with the Key Account director, Jeremy Snell, we were made to feel very welcome and it was clear the team at Butler Tanner & Dennis are excellent at what they do. I am really looking forward to seeing the end result.

When the book is finalised, they need to be shipped to the various supply locations and then we will be ready to go, in time for the book launch on 4th march.

32 comments:

Troubadour said...

Wow, what a unique opportunity! What a privilege to be invited to see your own book being produced "hot off the press".
I love seeing the old hardwood floor in contrast to the computerized equipment in the factory.
Thank you for sharing.

Gary France said...

Troubadour - I loved seeing the machines, old and new. You are right about the hardwood flooring - it has stood the test of time for many decades. It was a great day out.

cpa3485 said...

That is so very Cool!
I'm very excited to see a copy!
Gary, I'm sure the end product is going to be very special, even before I get a chance to see it.

Jimbo

bob skoot said...

Gary:

Must have been exciting to see your own book being produced. there's a lot to the process that we don't realize and how it all goes together. It was nice for them to show you around "behind the scenes". I'm sure not everyone has this opportunity . . . and they let you snap photos too

bob
Riding the Wet Coast

Gary France said...

Thanks Jimbo. The end result weighs a ton, so it will be good for propping open doors, weight training and steps to reach tall cupboards. Some might like to read it, or maybe look at the pictures!

Gary France said...

Bob – It was terrific to learn about the entire process and it was far more complicated than I ever imagined. They had no problem with me taking pictures – I was careful to ask first.

Roger Fleming said...

I have my oqn print finishing company Gary..could of finished it for you, ecept freight would of killed it!

Nice to see it progressing.

Thomas Osburn said...

That is way cool. Far cry from the Gutenberg press. Thanks for sharing so much of the process you have been going through with the book.

Arkansas Patti said...

I am stunned. Not sure what I thought printing and putting a book together might be like but I could never have imagined that process. That machine is HUGE. What an amazing opportunity and you obviously had a great tour guide. How exciting to see your trip and your book come to life.

Charlie6 said...

Cool tour and info Gary! Thanks!

Rex J. Covington said...

Fantastic! That was very cool! Can't wait to see the book!

Geoff James said...

What a great post Gary and a privelege to see your own book being run. Thanks for letting us see the process as I know absolutely nothing about printing. you never stop learning!

BeemerGirl said...

What a great opportunity! Must have been super exciting to see the run and how it was looking. Thanks for thinking of taking pictures and posting for us. The process intrigues me. March 4th!!! Coming up so quickly!!!

Eve said...

Awesome! It is going to be fantastic!!!!

Trobairitz said...

Wow, how cool was that?

I never really have given much thought to the actual printing process. The size and scope of those machines are amazing.

Gary France said...

Roger – I didn’t know you did that. It is a long way to ship the book from NZ!

Thomas – It was pretty cool to see the printing and the technology they used.

Patti – Me too. I had no idea what was involved either. It was terrific to see it all.

Dom – You are very welcome.

Rex – Not long now.

Gary France said...

Geoff – You are so right about never stop learning. I love seeing things like this for the first time and seeing how things work. Invariably, something you thought was probably simple, normally never is.

Lori – It was exciting to see, Yes, 4th march is getting ever closer. Some people might not need to wait that long though.... 

Eve – I hope so.

Brandy – I actually only took pictures on some of the machines. The place contains many more and is huge.

biker baby said...

Boy did this Bring back memories! I worked for a printing company for 33 years. I started as a bindery worker, jogging the forms that came off the folders. then operator; runnung stitchers, folders, binders (the machine that gathers the forms, glues the backbone and the covers); and various other machines. Then I started setting up the machines. Then moved on to Assistant Supervisor, and on to Supervisor.
After 23 years in the bindery I decided I needed to get out of production and save what was left of my hands. My prodution background made me a good fit for an estimating position. By the time I was laid off, I was Manager of the estimating department.
That was in Jan 2009. It seems like a life time ago. The company was over 100 years old and lost its niche.
If you traveled allot back in the 80's and 90's, you may recall a flight guide called, "Official Airline Guides" aka "OAG". We printed, bound and mailed that publication all over the world every month, along with most of the major american hotel directories and other airline guides.
Once the internet took over, and you could get flight schedules and hotel rates online, the company slowly started dying.
There were some really good frienships and memories made in our bindery.
Thanks for taking me back.
I can't wait to get the book!

WooleyBugger said...

That was very, very interesting, so fasinating. Having looked for the process before on the web I must say this one has the most complete information and explanation of all.
I myself have often wondered how the big book printers did all this. My very first book "The Fly to NewYork City" was all done by hand by yours truly. I hand drew the book cover, did all the layout, trimmed the pages and did the binding. Of course I was all of eight I think and I still have the original.
Can't wait for my personal copy of yours.

Gary France said...

biker baby – I am glad I rekindled the memories for you. I imagine a great many printing / book binding companies have gone out of business or significantly down-sized as a result of the growth of information on the Internet. It is very sad to see such long-established businesses, with their rich and diverse history failing after many decades of success. The company I used for the printing of my book now employs a third of the people it did a few years ago. I am however very pleased to be sending your book to you very soon!

Gary France said...

Wooley – I am glad that I was able to fill in the gaps for you about the process. I too found it very interesting and the whole thing was fascinating to the point of wanting to share it on my blog.

You should find that book of yours, take a few pictures and share it with your blog readers. Those types of thing are great pieces of personal history and should be dusted off and shared with others every now and then.

Canajun said...

What a great experience to see your own book being printed, and kudos to the company for giving you the tour so we could all learn a bit more about the process. As others have also said, I can't wait to see the final product.

George Ferreira said...

Great to see the book in its final stages, can't wait to read it. That was great they gave you a tour and allowed you to take pictures.

VStar Lady said...

Must have been much like watching the birth of another child ... something to smile with pride about for sure. It's such an amazing process, I just can't help wondering what the folks from 100 or more years ago would think as they watched pages whizzing by at the speed of light - ah, they'd probably think it was the devil! You devil, you made it - well done! Can't wait to hear news of the launch.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gary:

This is an exciting time for any author. Savor the moment. It will be the first of s number of moments that you'll never forget. The next first is when someone says, "Can I have your autograph?"

Granted, the last time this happened to me, it was a document carried by a subpoena server, but what the hell?

I love the smell of a print shop. I love the atmosphere of a book store. Wait until you open the first case of printed books and take out copy #1.

The crispness of the pages... The aroma of the ink... The sound of the spine resisting the initial bend... It is all special.

But the best sensation of all is to see someone reading your book... Someone you don't know... Thoroughly engrossed in the material.

I wish you the best of luck with this. Enjoy the moment. Each and every one of them.

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe
Twiste Roads

Tim France said...

That really is am impressive set-up they have there. Just the same as Santiparp in Chiang Mai really!!

As just about everyone else has said, can't wait to see the final thing, and you holding it!

David Masse said...

Very nicely done, both for the book, and the factory tour. Reads like a script for the cable show "How it's Made".

For a little while I was considering book-binding as a hobby and spent quite a number of months taking a book-binding class in an art bindery in Montreal. The instructor was this amazing lady who had learned the craft in Paris and had done restoration work on medieval illuminated books. No machines (other than an ancient paper cutting machine) were used in producing beautifully bound books.

She taught me to do the most precise cutting and folding techniques using scalpels and bone folders.

Brings back good memories.

Congratulations on the book! I look forward to seeing on the shelf, that would be really cool.

Gary France said...

Canajun – You are right, it was a great experience and one that I was very grateful for.

George – I hoped they would let me take pictures and they said it was no problem at all.

VStar Lady – I did have a big smile on my face, that’s for sure. If there was such a thing as a time machine, what wonders would we discover about the future? If I could, I am not sure I would want to travel forward in time.

Jack – Opening that first box and taking out the first book will happen very soon. I cannot wait and I am sure I will treasure that moment. You must be right about seeing someone reading your book – that would be very special and I hope to experience that one day. It’s all very exciting.

Gary France said...

Tim – The differences between the two set-ups went a long way to explaining the cost difference. Labour intensive vs machine intensive means while the UK printer has made a huge investment in machine, the Chiang Mai printer continues to employ a lot of workers to do things by hand. Despite the huge difference in size of the companies, I think there were more workers at Santiparp. Amazing contrasts really.

David – Thanks. Wow, your book binding by hand sounds like a terrific experience. The instructor sounds like a fascinating person.

Matthew said...

Today digital printing is being increasingly used in place of older forms of printing such as litho. It is easy to understand why when you look at the many advantages digital printing offers:

Digital Book Printing

Gary France said...

Matthew – digital printing does offer some advantages, but not in printing of books. Offset / litho still rules, unless there is are small numbers required.

Book publishing companies said...

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