Understanding Book Printing Estimates for Self-Publishers, Part 3

by | Jan 19, 2011

In Part 1 of this series on Understanding Book Printing Estimates for Self-Publishers we looked at the specific items included on a typical book printing estimate from an offset printer. The second part examined how to use that language to get accurate estimates from book printers, based on your exact specifications. In this third and final post, we’ll look at how this all comes together on the printer’s Quotation.

The Printer’s Quotation you receive in response to your Request for Estimate embodies all the specifications for the physical manufacture of your book. In addition, it is a contract between you and the printer, and after you sign the quotation you will be bound by what’s in it, as well as the printer’s terms and conditions. A lot of the terms and conditions have to do with standard trade practice and we’ve already talked about some of the customs you’ll encounter when printing your book with an offset printer.

offset printing for self-publishers

Click to enlarge

As an example I’m using a sample quote provided by the good people at Thomson-Shore in Dexter, Michigan. I have a long association with Thomson-Shore and continue to print books there for their outstanding quality and excellent customer service. I’m grateful to Thomson-Shore for giving me permission to use this form.

You’ll notice in my illustration that there’s a place for you to sign at the bottom, and you should remember that you are signing on behalf of your publishing company, and committing to the project as it’s outlined in the estimate. Let’s take a look at this form.

A Project Summary in Specifications

The estimator has taken our specifications and transferred them to the printer’s quote. It’s a good idea to look over the quotation to see if it accurately reflects everything you outlined in your request for estimate.

In this sample, for instance, I note that the cover stock is 10 point C1S (coated-one-side) instead of the 12 point I specified. The reason for this is that the printer has standardized their book quotes, using the 10 point stock as the default.

If you look at the bottom of the quote you’ll see several items typed in by the estimator, and one of them is:

“12 pt C1S COVERS ADD $.08/EA”

From this I know the estimator read my instructions, and provided a price for this upgrade. I’ll just have to work out the unit cost myself.

Looking at the price grid at the bottom of the quote, there aren’t any unit prices at all. Some printers will include this for your convenience. But examining the rest of the “options” that have been added to the quote, it’s obvious we’re going to have a little math to do anyway.

The only other discrepancy I can see on this sample quote is the packing: single wall cartons are called for, although I specified “HD” or heavy-duty (double-wall) cartons. Everything else is fine, and the difference in the cartons is a minor one.

Getting to the Price

We have prices on quantities of 1,500 and 2,500 books. The only thing in the pricing you might note is that paper is the largest single cost in book manufacturing. The paper we’re using, a natural white paper that has a recycled component, is not the least expensive paper available. Reducing or increasing the quality of the paper will have a marked effect on the price.

The quote says that 1,500 books will cost $2,310, or $1.54 each. Add to this the cost of my options, the heavier cover stock (+$.02) and the matte lamination I requested (+$.08). But because we’re using the heavier stock, the estimator has thoughtfully included the cost of scoring the covers, (scoring puts a crease or fold in the paper at the hinge of the spine) which will make them easier to handle and not as stiff as they would be without the scoring.

So here’s my calculation of what these book are actually going to cost:

1,500 books
$2,310 + 35 = $2,345
$2,345 / 1,500 = $1.56
$1.56 + .02 + 0.8 = $1.66

2,500 books
$3,110 + 35 = $3,145
$3,145 / 2,500 = $1.26
$1.26 + .02 + .08 = $1.36

Of course, you have to pay freight, too. But I haven’t included that.

You can see that raising the quantity has caused the unit price to drop by about 20%, a significant difference. The price would continue to drop as the quantity increases.

(For the curious, this book would cost $4.23 at Lightning Source.)

A Note About Trade Practices

There are many trade practices in printing, and the back of your estimate form may be covered in 10 point type printed in gray ink detailing these. The most important “trade practice” to understand is regarding the quantity of books you order versus the number of books that will be delivered.

Trade custom dictates that you may receive “10% overs/unders.” This means that the printer can deliver as many as 10% fewer or more books than you ordered and still have fulfilled your print order.

If you ordered 2,000 books, your shipment will be somewhere between 1,800 and 2,200 books. Your invoice will be adjusted to reflect the final quantity shipped, and usually the printer will supply a “overs/unders” or “additional hundreds (000)” price to calculate this unit cost.

Here you can see that overs/unders are priced at $.99 each. This allows you to pick any quantity you like and calculate what the price will be. For instance, maybe this author decides 1,750 books is what she needs. When she asks how much the books will cost, I’ll do the following calculation:

1,500 books = $2,345 (from above)
250 books @ .99 each = 247.50
1,750 books = $2,345 + 247.50 = $2,592.50
$2,592.50 / 1,750 = $1.48 each
$1.48 + .02 + .08 = $1.58

From this you can see that all the information we need to arrive at any particular quantity is on this Quotation. It is a document with a long history and established parameters. It represents all the thought and planning we’ve put into the physical manufacture of the book, and for any book that will be offset printed, it’s one of the most important documents in the production of the book.


That wraps up our look at book printing estimates from offset printers. Knowing the language of printing allows you to write an accurate specification in your Request for Estimate. Comparing your request with the printer’s Quote will assure you you’re getting the book you want. Doing a little math will get you to the unit cost of your books.

If you have questions about this process, leave them in the comments and we’ll try to help out.

Photo by Horia Varlan

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Nahlah

    such a simplified yet comprehensive guide!..
    prayers and thanks from Pakistan

  2. Tim

    Typo above the quoted shipping from China to Rochester was around $2500(!)

  3. Tim


    Great series! I just found it now since I’m getting ready to reprint and replenish my dwindling book inventory. The quoted estimate sure was cheap for the US from my vantage point. Of course it is 2011 prices. Is anything close to that price point possible without printing in China?

    I looked at PrintNinja.com and the estimate was similarly close to $1 per copy for 5000 of my perfect bound 224 page book (compared to the 256 page book of your estimate) as your estimate…until the nearly $1000 shipping from China to NY kicked in.

    Do you happen to have an article on how to go about choosing who to request quotes from? It is time consuming to just pick them at random and fill out their always slightly different and slightly confusing online quote forms…

    Or is there a list of “best buy” (aggressive pricing without sacrificing standard quality) printers on your site or elsewhere in the self-publishing world online?

    I’m wondering if I should just find an offset printer near Rochester, NY where the books will be store to get close to free shipping…or what do you recommend for someone just trying to find the current most competitive offset printers whenever you need to do a reprint?



    • Joel Friedlander

      Tim, the shipping is outrageous IMHO. Usual practice in my experience is the shipping is included in the printing price, and this is almost always the case with print brokers, who interface with printers overseas on your behalf. Pete Masterson has the most complete list of book printers I know of. You can find it here: https://www.aeonix.com/bookprnt.htm

      • Tim

        Thanks for that list. I’ve gotten some good quotes back, a couple already close to $1.20 a print for my book which I’m happy with. But one of them said this which surprised me because I thought offset printing in the US is like a commodity now. Or at least picking from the recommended names on the Aeonix list:

        “We have been in business over 20 years and have an excellent product. If you are only shopping price remember that printing is like dentistry: you can always find a cheaper price but you may not like the results.”

        I wonder if you agree with the salesman, and if you do, how does one go about verifying quality and comparing apples to apples with the estimates? Thanks again…

        • Joel Friedlander

          Tim, we may treat it as a commodity, but I assure you the printers do not. They need to differentiate themselves and, in truth, there are big differences in quality, attention to detail, reliability, and price among the printers available. You can always request samples of similar books to see how the products of these vendors compare.

  4. Rosalie Morales Kearns

    Joel, thanks for this. I notice that here you give per-unit costs of 1.66, 1.58, etc., depending on the print run. But in your May 2010 article “What Does Self-Publishing Cost: Competitive Self-Publisher,” you mention that 2.25 is a good, competitive per-unit cost. Was that 2.25 including something more than the 1.66 figure?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Rosalie,

      Much depends on the individual book, page length, trim size, binding style, and quantity ordered. That’s why it’s always best to get a real estimate based on your own specifications.

  5. William

    “(For the curious, this book would cost $4.23 at Lightning Source.)”

    …yes. But don’t forget that Lightning Source can also off-set print for 1500+ paperbacks. The price will be comparable to your other quotes with some advantages. The books will definitely be the same as the ones bought via Lightning Source POD; you will only need to work with one printer; you will have no worries about having to adjust your files.

    • Joel Friedlander

      William, good point. I’ve never priced an offset book at LSI since I assume they subcontract the printing and, as a longtime print buyer, I’d prefer to deal with the company actually doing the work. You say it will “be comparable” so I wonder if you’ve seen their pricing? That would be interesting to know.

  6. Tina Hoggatt

    Just wanted to say what I’ve been thinking as I receive your posts in my feed – that you are a terrific resource to the field. As publishing goes through its sea change it’s great to know that there are resources out there for people wanting to make books. Authors get so overwhelmed with their choices and it’s helpful to be grounded in good design as well as to have guidance on all that should go into the making and marketing of a successful book.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Tina. Although ebooks continue to grow in share and dominate lots of online discussions, most books are still printed offset, so it pays to have a bit of education before writing that check to the printer. These three articles together ought to prepare most self-publishers to deal with a printer’s estimate. Thanks for taking the time to comment.



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