Update on Printing Progress

Hello again from Afton, Va. Here’s some more on progress towards your Complete Vance Integral Edition.

The printer has our high-resolution PDFs. Most books these days are printed on what amounts to large-sheet, Xerox-type printers. (There’s little offset and letterpress anymore.) So books are written on some editor such as MS Word, and then typeset using (most often) one of either Adobe’s InDesign or Quark Express. The process of converting a Word document to InDesign is the province of the compositor, who worries about visual appearance, drawings, footnotes, ligatures, accents, and all sorts of other nitty-gritty of setting a book. The resulting PDF file can be very large, since images will be included.

The printer can print directly from this, but a prudent publisher (and I’m a prudent publisher) will do one more check, from something called a “blue” or “ozalith”. I suspect that this refers to a now-obsolete process, because what I receive as a “blue” is actually the “block” of the book–that is, the printed pages, cut but not bound, from the machine that will print the book. This is the exact printed material that you will receive. Two of us will page through all 2000 pages over the next week or so, making sure that the counts are correct, page numbers, and so on. At that point, we tell the printer: let’s go. The actual printing doesn’t take very long: a day or so.

The blocks of the book are then bound in a sometimes-separate facility, a bindery. At the bindery, they are given a gross check, packed into substantial boxes, and a large crate of books heads out to 38.022661 N, -78.85494 E. At that point, I begin affixing labels, and my local post office (a small one) has to be appeased with chocolates and Italian candies. (They are obligated to ask, “are you shipping anything hazardous or dangerous?” I sometimes say yes, which nets me a look. I explain: “they are books. What can be more dangerous than ideas?”. I don’t go to jail because of the candy… and, of course, they know exactly where I live.

As a side note, some of you have asked me about a leather-bound edition. I have been thinking about that. I may set aside a few blocks, so that people who want a leather-bound edition may purchase one. This will be very expensive, since less than a dozen are likely to be made. A leather-bound set may come in at $3500 plus shipping and handling. You can go ahead with your present order, since I have found that VIE sets only become more valuable, and you can sell your set for more than you paid. (This isn’t a promise, by the way… just my experience.) In any event, I am not certain that the leather-bound will ever exist.

Volumes 3 & 4 will follow more quickly than Volumes 1&2, since they are already in the composition-edit-composition pipeline.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask…



  1. töff said,

    February 22, 2010 at 4:08 am

    > “Most books these days are printed on what amounts to large-sheet, Xerox-type printers. (There’s little offset and letterpress anymore.)”

    O Gutenberg, whither gone thou!

    Does this particular printer in Milan use a liquid-imaging system or a fused powder? I’m more a fan of the former, as fused images can crack under poor handling and flake with age; but I’ve seen some nice oil-fused toner work, esp. in full color. I worked in the print industry for over 20 years … until 2 months ago :\

    • rclacovara said,

      February 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      Well, let’s see. The printer is Zones, in Milan. The principal, Stefania Zacco, is effectively a contractor. She selects one of several printers from people who do work for her constantly, based on the type of printing and the paper. She also selects the bindery, also on the basis of what is needed for the particular book. I am not sure of the details of the particular printer who will print the blocks, but I’ll ask… Stefania was the printer for the original VIE, and the general comments, even from non-Vance people who were shown the books, was, “beautiful”. One of the reasons I go with her is that she does the job right. By no means the cheapest: people go to China for that. But I wanted “right” and not “cheap”.

      • töff said,

        April 1, 2010 at 10:09 pm

        > “I am not sure of the details of the particular printer who will print the blocks, but I’ll ask…”

        Any word on the make & model of hardware that’s printing our pages? I’m still really curious what precise sort of machinery they’;re producing it on.

      • rclacovara said,

        April 2, 2010 at 1:22 pm

        Ah, I will relay the question to my printer… she actually uses the services of several different shops, so she herself will have to ask the shop what they are using.

  2. wrycur said,

    February 22, 2010 at 8:03 am

    That’s all very interesting, Bob, as only printing geeks like töff would be likely to know such things.

    About how long is transit time between Milan and Afton, Virginia? I would assume they come by ship to, say, Baltimore or Norfolk and then get trucked the rest of the way, eh?

    And these “blocks” you’re now in the process of checking must have come by airmail from Europe, then.

    Thanks for the update and best wishes.

    • rclacovara said,

      February 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

      Transit Milan to Afton is days. This size shipment is committed to Fed Ex or DHL. On the other hand, if it comes by ship, figure a month. Stefania has shipped to me both ways. The blocks go express, takes about 3 days. One of the proofers is in the EU, so it’s not even that long.

  3. Evil Overlord said,

    February 27, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    One of the great things about this set is that they’re NOT leather – finally, a VIE edition that vegetarians can buy, for which I’m very grateful. There have been two leather editions already, so that demand may be sated.

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