Publishing Advice - [Printing] Printers, the 2009/2010 List

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Jul 27th 2010 edited

To me it seems like time to revisit that thorny old topic of what printer to use for your game. It's been a while since we discussed the various qualities of different printers, so it seems like as good a time as any to draw together a list of those companies that we have used over the last year or so.

If, when mentioning a printer, you could give a web address, what you used them for, what the service and pricing we're like, and any other over impressions, that would be really helpful.

A Local Printer (UK)
After seeing the quality of Hell 4 Leather, we went with Gregor's recommendation of A Local Printer for the first issue of the Hot War Transmission. Now, full colour is expensive for small runs, but we certainly felt it was worth it for a product like the Transmission.

ALP also make use of Forest Stewardship Council Certified paper, which provides a sustainable, high quality alternative to recycled paper. Quality of print is excellent and the service we received was great: free postage, and the print run delivered bang on time. We will certainly be making use of them for future issues of the Transmission.

Fidlar-Doubleday (USA)
For some years now, Fidlar-Doubleday have been our printer of choice in the United States. The main reason for this was their excellent customer service. Unfortunately, the brilliant and ever helpful Kory Cogdill has moved on to pastures new, but his replacement, Al Vital, is (from what I've heard) doing a great job.

Price wise, Fidlar were always a tiny bit more expensive that some other short run printers, but that little extra was well worth it for the quality of service.

Vistaprint (UK)
We have been using Vistaprint for our postcards and marketing materials. If you want to do thing like A5 postcards with character sheets on the back, they are the place to go. They always have special offers on where you only pay postage, and the quality of the finished product is excellent.


Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Jul 27th 2010

I'd like to echo Malc's recommendations of both Fidlar and Vistaprint - I'm currently in the process of getting Dead of Night printed through the former, and Al has been very helpful, and used the latter for printing promo postcards, which turned out very good (and cheap).

I'll also add:

I printed my initial run of Dead of Night via Lulu and, eventually, they turned out really nicely. Very easy to upload files and the finished quality is virtually indistinguishable from other printers. They're slightly more expensive than using, say, Fidlar, but that's compensated by the convenience and simplicity of use.The one caveat is that I've had a couple of batches that have been miscut quite badly, but Lulu's customer service has been impeccable and they've replaced them with no quibbles really quickly.

Posted by: Tim Gray On: Jul 29th 2010

I've used Lightning Source for Jaws of the Six Serpents. Branches in UK and US so you can get stuff sent from either. Been pleased with the quality and price. Initial account set-up was hard work, and the site interface not very intuitive. Fees for product set-up, proof, and subsequent changes. So if you're new to POD probably not the one to start with.

Interestingly, One BookShelf (RPGNow/DriveThru) has recently launched a print programme in partnership with Lightning Source, under which you don't pay a set-up charge and OBS site users can order off the product's page. May use it in future; haven't heard any feedback yet.

Lulu - books are fine, but pricing and delivery charges are still a bit wacky. In particular there are problems delivering to IPR's warehouse.

Posted by: Neil Gow On: Jul 30th 2010

An update on my Lulu experiences.

The Lulu service offers a number of very useful services, especially in the UK. I have found it particularly useful for supplying retailers by sending materials directly from the printers. It saves on the packaging and post offices and such and is a painless service. The delivery time and notifications of printing are timely. It works.

When it doesn't work, I have been confounded by the sluggish nature of the Lulu customer service team - however, it has been some time since something has gone wrong and therefore Andy's experience may have been more up-to-date. To be honest, it couldn't have gotten worse from the state it was nine months ago!

One other information point for Lulu - they offer a number of regular 20% discounts and postage discounts on an account. If you can time your restock with one of these offers, you can mitigate Lulu's rather random postage costs.

I'd also add that I run my stuff on a minimal inventory system, so the most books I tend to get printed at any one time is 20-30 to hold at home. This obviously alters the benefit I would gain from, say, ordering print in from the US.


Posted by: Claus On: Aug 4th 2010


I'd like to hear more about your experiences with Lightning Source as a POD service. Their distribution list is impressive and they have all the book formats I need, but there is nothing about pricing and it is not clear if the book will be distributed with all their partners in both US and UK or just some. Maybe you can shed some light? Also, how much were the various fees (set-up, proofs, etc.) and what were the major stumbling blocks for you?

I've got a book for sale with Lulu and know them well. However, due to much cheaper printing costs and amazon distribution I've tried setting up a CreateSpace account, but having to get a "commitment letter" that I can take to the American Embassy to have the IRS process my W-7 to get an ITIN to fill in W-8 for CreateSpace to avoid 30% witholding tax is proving a bit painful (I refuse to pay an agent for such silly paperwork or to lose 30% of each sale).

Posted by: Gregor Hutton On: Aug 4th 2010

I have some good tales of 360digital from Nathan Paoletta. I'll let you know of his experiences with them and report back on the quality of the books when I see them tomorrow.

The proof looks excellent (Annalise features two different paper stocks in its Final Edition).

Posted by: Tim Gray On: Aug 6th 2010 edited

Hi Claus. In haste - I wasn't bothered about the Lightning Source distribution service as I only wanted cheap printing to supply IPR, so I can't answer that bit. (And I'm not convinced that distribution outside specialist RPG channels is going to add much in sales for most products.) They charged £21 for set-up and £21 for a proof copy. Jaws of the Six Serpents is a 6x9in softback, about 135 pages, and costs a bit over £2 per copy.

The major stumbling blocks were getting them to accept me as a client in the first place, and working with their online set-up and ordering. That first bit was because "we work with publishers, not authors" - which makes sense for them, as they don't want to deal with lots of people who aren't capable of getting the technical aspects right, but was weird for me trying to explain that I was both. But LS is a proper UK operation as well as a US one so you wouldn't have the paperwork shenanigans you're talking about.

Honestly, though, now that you can get access to LS printing with no set-up fee through OBS, *as long as it actually works* that may well be the better route.

Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 15th 2010

I used Antony Rowe aka CPI for the UK short print run of Hell for Leather. The book looks nice, the customer service was outstanding (quicker and more complete than Fidlar Doubleday every time) and the pricing was great.

They recommended I talk to iQ Laserpress for the merchandise. Again, outstanding quality and customer service. Not sure how the pricing works out compared to Vistaprint (who I hadn't known about until now), but for a double sided 11 x 11 inch full colour card it only cost £1.65 per print (for 50 prints). Is that a lot?

Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Aug 22nd 2010

The only printer I have experience of so far is Guild of Blades publishing, as they are one of the few who can do POD card games. I know Joe has had trouble getting anything from them, and I have heard similar stories elsewhere, but I personally have never had a problem. I think this may be due to the fact that I was one of their first clients when they started the POD, allowing me to establish a relationship with them before they got really busy.

Now in the their defence I know that they were working on putting in new machines in the last few months, and weren't taking on any new clients until they had that done. Hopefully the new machines are in by now, and that will allow them to step up production rates and take on more people.

Their production quality has improved vastly since I first printed cards with them, and I have always been very happy with their customer service. If you do want to use Guild of Blades and are having trouble, I would advice getting Ryan's Skype address and contacting him that way. I have had trouble getting replies from emails, but he is always very quick to reply to a skype message.



Posted by: Gregor Hutton On: Aug 24th 2010

Oh, cool, Iain. Have you had a recent reprint with GoB? If so, how did that go?

For me, I've had positive experiences with A Local Printer (May -- 1000 units of Hell 4 Leather), LULU (three runs of books from May through August, each of 25-30 books) and Fidlar-Doubleday (June -- 158 books sent to two different locations).

A Local Printer phoned me to check the format and fold of the Hell 4 Leather job, which was much appreciated. They were very quick (<5 working days to print and have the copies arrive with me) and the quality is fantastic. The bright head-aching colours are all on me. The printer reproduced them perfectly.

Al Vital helped me out at Fidlar as Kory (my dependable and long-serving account manager) moved to San Francisco. Sue Speer in accounts was as efficient as ever in dealing with the billing and keeping me informed too.

I'll get the 360 Digital details from Nathan. The Publishers Graphics run of Mars Colony looked great too. I'll ask Tim Koppang about his experiences there too.

Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Aug 24th 2010

I like the idea of A Local Printer if it is more environmentally friendly.

I haven't done a recent print run with Ryan, but I need to get some more of both in the not too distant future. I'll let you know how that goes.

From previous experience, turnaround is about 2 - 3 weeks including shipping.

Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 30th 2010

If you want to do thing like A5 postcards with character sheets on the back, they are the place to go. They always have special offers on where you only pay postage, and the quality of the finished product is excellent.

How often do they have these special offers? At the moment, there is nothing available along those lines. They offer 100 postcards for £14.99 (so, 15c each plus P&P). Do you know of another printer that would provide a cheaper service?


Posted by: Neil Gow On: Aug 30th 2010

It depends on the volume that you want to generate. There are a number of companies that will do decent quality double sided colour A6 postcards - ok, they're nightclub fliers but they serve the same purpose - for about 100ukp for 5000. 2p a card? If you wanted to include a batch of 20 with your game and then supply re-ups as a purchase, thats very affordable.

Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 30th 2010

Hi Neil,

I'm looking for around 100, tops. Can you recommend a printer?

Posted by: Paul On: Aug 31st 2010

Hi Sebastian

I would wholeheartedly recommend Vista Print for postcard printing. You'll need to sign up and allow them to send you emails; that's the way to get special offers. Getting an email from them every other day is a bit of a pain, but the trade-off is free printing (all you pay is the postage). For example, we got 100 A6 cards (full colour laminated front / BW back) for a total of £4.14. The quality of the print is great and the card stock is pretty good. By the way, you can also get 50 A5 cards for the same price.



Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Aug 31st 2010

I'm going to have to add an additional caveat to my Lulu recommendation - every print run I've done with them since has had a fail rate of 60-70%. Don't know why, as they have managed to get it right on occasion. Anyone else had recent dealings with them?

Posted by: Gregor Hutton On: Aug 31st 2010

I got 25 copies of Remember Tomorrow shipped on the 16th August. One out of the 25 had a slightly out of alignment spine, so I'll use that as a copy to play with. The rest were bang on perfect. So for me the "miss" rate has been ~1%, which is crazily lower than yours.

I'd be pretty hacked off if I was getting a fail rate of >10% no matter how good the customer service. So 60-70% is nuts.

Posted by: Claus On: Sep 1st 2010

I've had two bad prints from lulu which is not great considering my very low volume. One was a customer who complained about the low quality graphics which turned out to be a printer error (they sent him a replacement).

The other was for the most recent early beta-stage proof of Crimson Exodus where it seems the placement of some letters is completely wacky. So for example "blood and carnage" might appar as "blooda nd carnage" and sometimes letters are on top of each other. It only happens now and then and a word can be fine in one place but wacky in another so I'm not sure what is going on. I wonder if it might be because of the serif font I'm using - "Palatino Linotype", but it looks perfectly fine in the pdf. Anyone have any typeface knowledge to explain this?

Posted by: Gregor Hutton On: Sep 2nd 2010

Hi Claus

It sounds like a problem with the font embedding in the PDF and/or the reading of that font embedding by the printer's equipment. (I'll spare the technical details as I don't know exactly which software and hardware they use, and in LULU's case it has varied in the past between locations)

The only insight on it that I have is to ask what standard you prepared your PDF to, and what software you used to that?

I have never had a problem (touch wood) with LULU when I have used a PDF X-1 standard file created using Adobe Creative Suite (in two different versions: CS and CS4), i.e. software that is creating an Adobe PDF using Adobe Acrobat Professional software.


The other update I have, today, is that I've just ordered another 200 copies of Remember Tomorrow from Fidlar-Doubleday. The customer service from Al Vital is as good as it was with Kory (response within hours and everything handled very efficiently). The unit cost for those interested in pricing is $2.14 each, with shipping on top of that -- I estimate shipping will be ~$0.25 each. They estimate the books will ship 7 days from now, which I am perfectly happy with.

Posted by: Claus On: Sep 5th 2010 edited

Interesting, I was completely unaware of the PDF X-1 standard, but reading
here I am now a bit wiser. Thanks!

Now, I'm using Open Office and looking in the PDF options there is no PDF X-1 standard, but there is a PDF/A1-a standard. From further reading it is a standard for archiving, but it seems to be pretty similar to the PDF/X standard. I'll try using this option for my next print and see if that fixes it.

From what I've read Adobe Creative Suites do not handle open office (odt) documents. I could of course convert to RTF or word, but that would completely mess up all the layout work, images, etc.

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