B. Developing a Publications Department

Final Print Production

Activities associated with the final production of hard-copy documentation are:

In larger companies, typically a separate production department handles these activities and the publications organization simply hands off the final camera- ready copy or electronic files. In smaller organizations, the publications department is responsible for these activities.

This section provides only general information about printing and production processes. See Appendix A, "Recommended Reading," for sources of more thorough information on these subjects.

Deciding on a Strategy

There are several factors that influence the type of printing and packaging used for documentation. Some of these include:

Printing Methods

While there are various ways that documents can be reproduced, the two main printing methods are offset printing and photocopying. If you need fewer than 1000 copies of your manuals, you probably want to use photocopying. For 1000 to 4000 copies, regular sheet-fed offset is usually appropriate. For over 4500 copies, you will probably need to use a printer with a web press (one that uses rolls of paper rather than sheets).

Offset Printing

Offset printing provides higher quality and may be your only choice if you are using color in illustrations or text, or photographs. Note that if you are producing camera-ready copy on a 300-dots per inch (dpi) laser printer, offset printing will not increase the quality of the output.

Offset printing requires a larger print quantity to be cost-effective. Ordering a larger quantity just to take advantage of the price break is usually not a good strategy, though, because you may be left with many copies of outdated manuals. Costs for offset printing are also influenced by other factors, including the use of color, the size of the page (influencing how much trimming is needed), and the type of paper and ink used.


Photocopying produces lowe-quality output, but it is more cost-effective for smaller quantities. Other costs for photocopying might include special handling if you're using an odd size of paper or special paper. Many photocopying machines today can provide rudimentary binding as well as photocopying.

Binding Methods

There are several types of binding generally available. The most common are:

Factors that influence which binding method you choose might include:

Three-Ring Binders

Three-ring binders hold standard 8.5- x 11-inch pages or other industry-standard page sizes. (For a price, you can also arrange for custom-size binders.) A big advantage to binders is that you can easily insert updates, change pages, and tabs. Covers can be slipped into plastic pockets in some binders on the front and spine, which saves binder printing costs. However, three-ring binders take up a lot of room. Users often dislike them because they are bulky and awkward to handle, and the rings can burst or rip pages.


Wire-o binding is much less expensive than three-ring binding, is smaller, and lies flatter. There is also much more variety available in page size. However, updates are difficult to include and the wire prevents the book title from being printed on the spine. (Wraparound covers are the workaround to this problem, but they are not very effective and add cost. Generally, users don't like them and often can't figure out how to use them.)


Perfect binding is less expensive than either three-ring or wire-o binding, especially in large quantities. A perfect bound book usually includes the book title on its spine, making it easily identifiable on a shelf. The chief complaint about perfect-bound books in the past was that they did not lie flat, but recently developed lay-flat or flex bindings have remedied this problem. You cannot insert updates or change pages into perfect-bound books. Also, large page counts sometimes mean that pages may fall out over time.


Saddle-stitch binding is possible only for page counts up to 80 pages. While it is very inexpensive, you cannot insert updates or change pages into saddle-stitched books, and they are too thin to have a spine.


The type of packaging you use should be determined in large part by how you sell your products and what your competition provides. If you sell products directly to your customers, you may not need as elaborate a packaging scheme as if you were to sell products through an external commercial vendor, where your package competes with others.

Direct-to-customer packaging could be as simple as a padded envelope or corrugated box.

The type of commercial packaging you choose could be influenced by several factors, including:

If you are new to dealing with commercial packaging, you may want to go through your printer to find a reputable packaging source. You can also go through a broker, who puts together a whole production package, finding and dealing with printing and packaging vendors, for a fee.

When you find a packaging vendor, be sure to have the vendor produce prototypes of several packaging designs, and ask the pros and cons of each. You will probably have to provide the page counts for your manuals, and the number and type of other components in the package, before a realistic prototype can be produced.

Working With Outside Vendors

The best way to find a reputable printer or production broker is to ask people who are in the same geographic area and industry that you are. Ask printers or brokers about their experience with your type of product, or other jobs they have done for people in similar industries.

If your printing and packaging needs are relatively simple, you can probably use a printer who has less experience with your particular product area. However, you will be expected to provide the printer with camera-ready copy and all the information needed for the job.

If your needs are more complex or you have little experience in this area, you will probably need to spend more time finding a vendor who is right for you. Experienced printers can provide you with professional advice and samples, and the pros and cons of various printing methods, paper, ink, and so on. But you have to ask! Larger printers often have account representatives for larger customers who can offer suggestions and get answers for you.

If you suspect your printing or packaging needs are very complex, or you do not have either the expertise or the staff to investigate vendors, you may want to find a broker. Brokers quote a fee for your whole job, and take on the responsibility of finding and dealing with vendors, procuring packaging samples, and so on.