POD vs “Traditional” Printing

A comment a dear friend of mine made on Facebook and the comments that followed got the ol’ gears going and, rather than get into a war with people I thought I would do a blog post.So here goes.To give you some background, I have working in the printing and publishing industry off and on my whole life, from newspapers to roleplaying games to having my own novel published.  My opinion isn’t based on stuff from the internet, it is based from what I have personally witnessed as an employee.

Now, there is this fallacy wandering around the internet and publishing world that “Print on Demand” is not as good as “Offset Printing” and the best books are printed on offset printing and POD books are lower quality.

Okay… so go in your bookshelf and take down a few books.  Just by look and feel, can you tell which are POD and which are offset?  Probably not, and here is why:

Back in the day, pre-1980 or so and the invention of computer generated printing plates, a typesetter had to painstakingly create your book, newspaper or whatever and transfer it to a printing plate (usually made of aluminum) using essentially a fancy camera.  It was a long and tedious process and the printing left blurred letters and a slight texture behind that you can see and feel.  If you find an older novel you will be able to tell by looking and running your fingers over a page.  You will see blurred edges and feel some of the letters where the printing blanket was rougher than other places.

With the advent of computers the process of creating printing plates using what were frequently pages of text set by an offset printing process and then photographing them went out the window.  Documents can now be fed directly into the system to create printing plates that are much cleaner and smoother.  When these plates are transferred to the “blanket” it again leaves a cleaner image, which when printed leaves minimal excess ink or texture behind.  On a quality printer this means neither the naked eye nor the naked fingers can tell how the page was printed.  It also means a printer can create a print run in a matter of hours and not days.  Very very few offset printing companies use the old way of creating printing plates unless they are doing small custom print jobs like wedding invitations that require that look and texture that says “custom made.”

Now, enter books printed POD.  POD means “print on demand.”  It means books are printed as needed.  You probably knew that, but did you know many big publishers essentially use print on demand?  Do you really think they keep their entire catalog of books sitting around for you to order?  Those second or third print run paperbacks you grabbed in the checkout line at the grocery store were most likely printed “print on demand” and you can’t tell the difference.

Here is another secret: Almost all of the best Print on Demand publishers are using either a modern version of offset printing or a high-quality laser printer which is actually cleaner and clearer than anything previously available, I mean, its a laser not a massive ink roller three times removed from the original document which is what you have in offset printing.  To be sure, hey aren’t running these books off in the basement on your dad’s 1982 dot-matrix.

Honestly, unless it is the paper most people can’t detect the difference between modern offset printing and print on demand, especially since they are frequently produced on the same type of equipment.  So please, stop poopooing the idea of POD novels, odds are you have some lurking on your shelves and don’t even know you have them.  You read them, enjoyed them and got on with your life.  Don’t let the “big business” publishers or POD naysayers get in your head. They are full of crap,


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