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The last time I printed a book I just needed something done cheaply and quickly. The print store used very bright, glossy office paper (the same that they use for office documents) and used construction paper for the cover. I thought this would be sufficient, but when reading I found:

  • The edges of the paper are too sharp, potentially causing paper cuts.
  • The pages feel too stiff. It's difficult to grasp and turn.
  • The book is thicker and heavier than most novels of the same length.

For my next book I want to select something which does not have these problems.

  • What kind of binding is preferred for a novel meant to be carried around in one hand and read on the bus?
  • What kind of paper should I select? Should it be bright? Brown? What weight?
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I don't have a full answer so am making this a comment, but I strongly recommend looking at matte, slightly off-white paper (cream or yellowish to your preference). I find those to be the easiest to read, myself; the contrast is good enough to make for easy reading, but not so strong as to make it annoying, and by using matte paper you reduce the risk for glare. –  Michael Kjörling May 16 '12 at 8:59
    
Is this really on-topic? –  JSBձոգչ May 16 '12 at 14:00
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@JSBᾶngs: We answer questions on printing, publishing and self-publishing all the time. Despite the title, the OP's question, "How do I print just one copy of my book in a format I can take on the bus?" is a valid and important question. I know because when I worked in a print shop, once a month somebody would come in and want us to bind their poetry collection, or 6 copies of grandma's cookbook or have us bind their unpublished novel in leather. Printing just one copy of a book is a problem writers face. This is exactly what we're here for. –  Jed Oliver May 16 '12 at 16:10

1 Answer 1

up vote 13 down vote accepted

TL;DR: Pick a lightweight, off-white, acid-free opaque paper (preferably book paper if it’s available). Then pick a binding to suit your budget: 3-ring and a nice binder if you’re cheap, plastic comb if you’re slightly less cheap, perfect binding if you’ve got a couple of bucks or professional bookbinding if money is no object.

From just printing it off and sticking it into a 3-inch binder to having it leather bound and printed on Bible paper there are many ways to print a single run book for just about any budget. But only you (with a little help) can decide what the “right” way is.

First, you’ve got to pick a place to go for this. Do NOT print it yourself. Do NOT go to a national chain. DO go to the locally owned print shop.

Why the locals and not you or the national chain? Two reasons: knowledge and experience. You don't have it and neither does that kid with the mohawk and nose ring. The local guy and his crew have it.

They’ll have access to all different kinds of papers and bindings and will have the ability and patience to tell you the advantages of each and every different thing.

I can tell you that from having worked in a locally owned print shop for years, every few months someone will come in and ask to print and bind their memoirs, poetry collection, cookbook or unpublished novel. The local guys know how to handle these sorts of things. The big national guys don’t and/or won’t.

Once you know where you’re going, you’ve got to pick a paper. The worst type is the (now standard) thick and bright white presentation paper (24#, 90-100 bright). In small quantities (10-15 pages) it’s fine (great, even). But in large quantities it makes the final product too thick and heavy and the bright white can cause eye strain and headaches over extended reading periods.

The best type of paper is called (believe it or not) book paper. It’s thick yet light, off-white and opaque (33-40#, 70-80 bright). Go grab a paperback off the shelf – that’s book paper. The off-white color makes it easier to read and the opacity makes it so you can print on both sides and not see the print on the other side.

The drawback is that in small quantities it’s special order and expensive. Your local print shop will be able to tell you more about it.

One other option that’s readily available and budget-friendly is the thinnest, dullest and cheapest copy paper the print shop has in stock (18-20#, 60-80 bright).

Frequently called 20#-bond, it’s normally thin (which makes it light), slightly dull and off-white (which makes it better for reading). The drawback is that it jams mercilessly in most printers, so you’ll have to print in small sessions. It’s also not archive quality so it likely won’t last more than a couple of years before it starts to fade. If you want your book to last, you’ll need to make sure to pick a paper that’s acid-free.

After you pick the right paper, you have to pick the right binding. If you have to go with a budget, pick three-hole punch. It’s cheap and there’s a variety of quality, good-looking binders on the market that you can put your book in.

After that, there’s plastic and wire comb binding. It looks cheap and you can’t (generally) lay your book flat but it lasts for a very long time and does not easily come apart.

Then there’s “perfect” binding which glues the pages together along the spine and gives you a final product that is remarkably similar to a paperback. But there are drawbacks. If it’s not a quality job or the glue is bad then pages can fall out over time. And because of how the margin shifts inwards towards the center of the book, you need to either use a pagination program (like InDesign or others) that can subtly increase the inside margin towards the middle or you need large margins that won’t noticeably be affected by the shift.

Of course if you’re going to go to the bother of shifting your margins around for a proper binding job, you could see if you’ve got some cash lying around and take your printed book and give it to a professional bookbinder.

This is also another advantage of using the local print shop – they are likely to know who the local hobbyist bookbinders are. They aren’t likely to have their own website or be in the yellow pages (what’re those?).

So pick the right place (the local print shop), the right paper (lightweight, off-white, opaque and acid-free) and the right binding (3-hole, comb, perfect or professional) and getting one book printed is easy.

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Wow, Jed, you ROCK. –  Lauren Ipsum May 17 '12 at 2:12

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