Warpage, An Update

Back in April, I talked about a production problem with two books (family history) my wife was publishing through Lulu. Namely, the two 8.5×11″ books had warped covers–warped enough, in the first shipment, that she wasn’t ready to use them.

What I mean by “warped”: If you lay the books flat on a table or desk and look at the short side, you’d see two curves up from the edge of the table–one curve on the 6″ side of a 6×9 book, but most of those curves were so small as to be unnoticeable.

At the time, as recounted in that post, several things became clear:

  • Lulu pays attention to customer concerns. It took a few days, but they not only sent us replacement copies at no cost (also with a little warp, but not enough to be terrible–and that small warp goes away after a week or two), they ordered copies (at their cost) from two different U.S. printers and a UK printer to investigate the situation further. (They sent us these copies after they investigated.)
  • In the end, Lulu concluded that some warp was unavoidable–and that the paper stock for the books themselves was within normal parameters.
  • The one shipment may have been an anomaly–possibly the printer shrinkwrapped the six copies too soon after they were bound and shrinkwrapped them too tightly. In that one case, the warps–while lessened–are still there.

But a natural question came to mind:

Is it just Lulu?

And I had the perfect opportunity to explore that question–with ALA Annual on the horizon.

So, in DC, while going through the exhibits, I made a point of looking for trade paperbacks produced with that kind of cover (10pt./85lb. coated gloss full-color) and, if feasible, laying them down and seeing if there was warpage. Better yet, I might spot some stacks of identical books.

And I got my answer.

No. It’s a characteristic of the cover stock and process

The “aha” moment came when I saw a small stack of 8.5×11 trade paperbacks at a major publisher’s booth…with exactly the same double-warp pattern, made more obvious by the stack of books.

Trying out both 6×9 and 8.5×11 trade paperbacks (mass-market paperbacks are smaller and typically use a different cover stock) with that kind of coated, glossy, 10pt./85lb-90lb. stock, I saw the warp (single for 6×9, double for 8.5×11) repeatedly. Rarely so bad as to be noticeable unless you were looking for it, but in a couple of cases it was as bad as the shipment we rejected.

Conclusion

Lulu’s one-off production process works as well as most trade paperback printing processes. The body paper is better than a lot of trade paperbacks and as good as any I’ve seen, the printing (high-speed laser) is what it is (as good as offset for text, maybe not quite as good for photos), the cover color reproduction is excellent–and the cover stock is what it is.

I’m reassured. As to the warped books, well, you let them lie flat for a while. Weighting them down doesn’t seem to make much difference.

There’s the other cover problem that shows up with this kind of cover stock once in a while, and I’ve seen that much more often in “bookstore books” than in PoD books: The flyaway covers, where the top right cover warps out from the book itself. But then, I’ve seen that with almost any cover stock.

Oh, there is one way to absolutely avoid the warpage problem. My wife decided she needed a couple of hardbound copies of each book (to give to local history museums, who indicated they wanted them). Lulu can do that–for 8.5×11, by shrinking the body PDF just slightly (since the body paper is 8×10.5, with the covers 8.5×11). The original cover is reproduced in full cover on the case binding. The results were first-rate. Of course, that does add about $10 production cost and a week to production time, but the results are quite nice. (It’s not a sewn binding, to be sure; it’s perfect-bound to a cloth strip attached to the case.)

And, to repeat, it takes them a few days, but Lulu does respond to customer/creator problems.

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