Well, black and white, right? No, not exactly. Color comes into play in book design in three ways; actual printing with inks of two or more colors, which I’ll discuss in another installment; paper and text ink color, about which I’ll say a brief word here; and what typographers call the color of the page, which has to do with font choice and spacing; I’ll cover that topic over the next two installments.

Paper color: For the vast majority of books that readers of Brian’s newsletter are involved with, the printer will offer the choice of white or “natural” paper. In this context, “natural” is a buff-colored dye added during the paper manufacturing process; it does not describe some special environmental virtue of the paper. A great deal of fiction and some categories of nonfiction are printed on natural paper, which cuts down on glare for the reader. Science and engineering books are almost always printed on white paper, which seems to connote a reductionist, black vs. white viewpoint appropriate to the field. Books with many illustrations, particularly color illustrations, are generally printed on white paper.

Papers are white by degrees, though. Brightness can start in the 80s and range well into the 90s, as a trip down the paper aisle of an office supply store will quickly demonstrate. Printers will tell you the brightness of the various white papers they offer. Again, brighter is not always better, from the standpoint of reading comfort. Similarly, papers are available in various finishes. Enameled (coated) papers make a very heavy book (because to have paper thick enough—strong enough and opaque enough—for printing on two sides, coated papers have to be heavier than uncoated papers; the mineral coating is much heavier than wood pulp). In general, coated papers are less bright than uncoated papers. However, a high-gloss coating adds glare. Various gloss levels are available, down to a matte finish, which is excellent for low glare but eye-popping color reproduction. Uncoated papers may be smooth and thin (calendared) or soft and thick (“high-bulk”).

Ink color: A word on “black” ink. As with “white” paper, there’s black and then there’s black. If there are any printers left who will vary the hue of their black ink, from blue-black to brown-black, depending on the cast of the paper, I’m not aware of them. Typically, they’re all shooting for a neutral black. But both offset and digital presses vary in the density of the black applied to the paper. In the case of offset printing, inks vary in quality. When you are evaluating printed samples from printers you are considering using, take a close look at the printed page in good light. If the black is not uniformly dense and black, consider choosing a different printer.


[Previous: Dressing the part…]

[Brian Jud invited me to contribute short articles on book interior design to his Book Book Marketing Matters newsletter, a biweekly e-zine. This page is adapted from one of those articles.]