Talking to your Printer
by James Court


How to present your manuscript

By 'Talking to your Printer' I don’t mean swearing at an HP inkjet that has just run out of ink halfway through a 40 page document, but speaking to that inky fingered breed of person which took over from rows of monks with quills as the producer of the written word. The printing industry has gone through many changes since Caxton and Gutenburg, yet its jargon and workings are still a mystery to the average person. For example, the industries apprentices are still called devils, in honour of the devil Titivillus who was reputed to insert spelling and grammatical errors into the copies of manuscripts produced by the monks; and subsequently haunt print shops inverting type, spilling ink and generally creating mischief.

If you want to produce your own books at a sensible price then you need to understand this secretive world, and present your manuscript in the form expected by its inhabitants. I apologise in advance if you find this article becomes a bit technically heavy. But do persevere, for if you do sell your books directly, or use them as support material in training sessions, then this method could cut your costs considerably.

Here at the INCA project we have assisted many authors to get into hard copy, using our book template to prepare their works for CreateSpace. But a number of you have local sales opportunities at book fairs, conferences and other events. For such sales Amazon's overheads just don't add up. So recently we have trialled working directly with an online print firm to produce small batches of books, and have developed an A5 template to use in European print shops. With Christmas rapidly approaching you might find our experience useful.

But working directly with a firm of on-line printers does not usually include the validation steps provided by Amazon, so here is a checklist to follow for a black and white book with a colour cover.

  • The interior file must be submitted as a PDF. Word, Open Office and Libreoffice can export PDF files, but not PDF/X as so many printers demand. We will explain how to fix your PDF output later.
  • All pages must be the same size. This sounds obvious, but cut and paste insertions, font changes and other activities can slip rogue pages in. Never fear, INCA project can test a final PDF file for you.
  • All fonts used must be embedded in the PDF and they must be solid black. This is achieved by setting up a colour in CMYK format with the values, C0%M0%Y0%K100%. See image below how to achieve this in Libreoffice – Word has a similar method.
  • Illustrations should be black & white, or grey scale at a resolution of 300 dpi. The resolution must be native so they fit within the required space on the page without adjustment. Diagrams should not be scaled by adjusting the space taken up once inserted on the page as this will alter the resolution. I know that there is an option to fix images at 300 dpi during the doc to PDF export, but the process does not always result in a good image. Often thin lines become broken, and shading looks rough.
  • The cover is submitted as a PDF, generated directly from your graphics software. I just export a JPEG from GIMP to PDF taking care to scale the JPEG to the specified size first. The cover image is twice the width of the page, plus spine width, plus 6 mm wide, and page height plus 6 mm high. The cover design must extend to the perimeter,(the size of the book, plus 3 mm on all edges, called bleed), to avoid white edges, and important design features must be at least 10 mm from the edge to ensure they are not clipped during the trimming process.Back to top of page


What can INCA do to help you conform to the above?

  • Using the new A5 template from the INCA website would give you a finished product measuring 148 mm by 210 mm. This is very slightly smaller than Createspace's US 6" x9". Converting my recent novel Percy’s Progress from one format to the other resulted in 220 pages against the original 204.
  • We can run a script against your interior PDF file to test the size of each page, and that all fonts used are embedded. This last point is a common cause of trouble, since Word sometimes substitutes for a font that a document has specified, but which are not installed on your computer. When printed on a different machine this can result in slight variations in line length, giving a ragged look, or even pushing the page size beyond that specified.
  • Providing the book inner file in the correct solid black form may be a problem. Just presenting a PDF file does not guarantee that the text conforms to the CMYK 0-0-0-100 specification. A check must be made on the final PDF file. Our recent tests show that using our A5 template under Word provides a solid CMYK black, provided you have set your software package to use CMYK font colours. In Libreoffice, and existing Word documents with RGB font colours, you need to carry out a conversion on the exported PDF as described below.


Checking book interior files conform to the print firm’s requirements

Print firms like to work with clean PDF files that will load and print exactly as seen on-screen. To ensure that your work meets their requirement you should run a test on the file before submitting it.

Install the free application Ghostscript on your machine either from your software package manager. It is available for Linux, Unix, Windows and Posix compliant systems like Apple products. If you’re working on a 40 year old Commodore Pet then you’ll have to compile it from source, or ask Santa for a new laptop for Christmas.

Now open a terminal session in the same folder as your document file. It’s probably a good idea to create a new working folder, and a copy of the original to work on.

Run the command:-

            gs -q  -o - -sDEVICE=inkcov yourbookfilename.pdf [enter]

to get a list of pages, reporting the percent coverage by each of the four inks. A list will appear showing them in order. If the page is solid black then it will be reported as below, with the first three columns all zero.

Cyan Magenta Yellow Black    
0.00000 0.00000 0.00000 0.05040 CMYK OK
0.00000 0.00000 0.00000 0.06030 CMYK OK

If you get a report that looks like the below then either your black in made up of a mix of colours, or you have some other colour on the page. The file is not acceptable for a black ink printer. you need to force it to solid black.

0.06187 0.06187 0.06187 0.09101 CMYK OK
0.00039 0.00039 0.00039 0.00039 CMYK OK
0.05853 0.05853 0.05853 0.05853 CMYK OK
0.03514 0.03514 0.03514 0.03514 CMYK OK

Forcing a PDF to solid black

Ghostscript can force all elements of a document to become greyscale, with colours converted according to the percentage of each of the three primary colours. Composite black, made up of a mix of the three primary colours becomes solid 100% black, and colours become shades of grey – effectively a percentage of solid black. The recent bestselling novel was wrong! There are thousands of shades of grey!Back to top of page

Type this series of commands in your terminal session to force a PDF into solid black text.

  • -o yournewbookfilename.pdf  \ [enter]
  • -sDEVICE=pdfwrite \ [enter]
  • -dColorConversionStrategy=/Gray \ [enter]
  • -dProcessColorModel=/DeviceGray \ [enter]
  • yourbookfilename.pdf [enter]

Note: the backward slashes at the end of each line allow a command to be continued onto the next line. The backslash ‘\’is a unix/linux convention. A windows terminal would use a caret ‘^’, or you could type the entire command on one long line. Make sure that the output file is a new unique file name within the current directory.
Now check for the ink coverage again. If all pages report as solid black than you are ready to present the interior file for printing.

Choosing a print firm

We have trialled my book, Percy’s Predicament, using the BooksFactory.
Their UK customer support manager, Guy Green, was very helpful with a few minor issues during the order process. My bank went off-line when I was placing the order – but that’s another story.
Their on-line system took some getting used to, but once you have signed on as a potential customer, and uploaded your book files, you can place an order directly from the quote system.

BooksFactory provide a number of support tools including:-

  • A quote system where you punch in all your requirements, size, number of pages, paper chosen, volume of books, etc. giving you a job price before you commit to purchase.
  • A spine width calculator based on the number of pages, and the type of paper chosen, as well as a calculator for cover size.
  • A cover template for your chosen size, with trim areas, spine area and edge areas marked. It’s really easy to load the template into your graphics package at real size, and plot your graphics over it to ensure a perfect image.
  • An ISBN number generator, that takes your ISBN number and produces a small PDF file for inclusion on the back cover of your book. Bear in mind that most print firms require an image in CMYK format, and the ISBN barcode and number must be in solid black, not composite CMY.
  • Pages of information about their print requirements.


Converting existing books

If you have a manuscript that had been created for 6”x 9” then converting must start at the .odt or .docx stage, re-sizing the pages, and then perhaps adjusting individual words and paragraphs to make best use of the whitespace.Back to top of page

If you have new page styles for each chapter, as in a book of short stories, then you have a fair number of styles to alter. I use a macro I wrote for Libreoffice to perform this resizing. You are welcome to use it if you use Libreoffice, or send your files to us to carry out this step, and a check on formats and page sizes.

Figure 1. Creating a solid black colour in CMYK format in Libreoffice

Figure 2. Format of the ISBN box provided by Booksfactory

Note that we are investigating how to obtain an individual ISBN, as this cuts the tax surcharge significantly


Entering this mysterious, inky fingered, world inhabited by devils and masters, armed only with a well written novel to support you, requires confidence. But if you want copies to give away, or sell locally. it makes sense financially. If in doubt about the robustness of you work, as you open it to the scrutiny of the young devils, then send it to us for testing before making your journey.


James Court – October 2017