Printing in color or grayscale

book printing in color or grayscale

Take a look at these two images. If I asked you which one you thought was better, which one would you choose?

My guess is that you’d go for the color image, and who can blame you. There is something about the energy of color that is hard to resist.

Now, what if you wanted to print and sell a book that used this image? You want to make a good profit, after all, and color printing is costly.

Hmm. Using color now becomes a matter of practical priorities, doesn’t it? It’s not just about taste, and that means some tricky decisions.

A book entitled “Famous Paintings” is going to rely on masterpieces displayed in their full-color glory. But what about a book called “The Da Vinci Biography”? Would color still be better?

We know that with your book’s success on the line, making the right decisions is a stressful business. In this guide to color and grayscale printing, we’ll help you better understand the choices ahead of you. Hopefully, the right decision will become much more obvious, and we’ll leave you feeling more confident.

Understanding color and grayscale printing

Before we get stuck in, it will help to get to know the printing process a little better.

Grayscale printing is what we think of as black and white printing. When we print in grayscale, what we’re essentially doing is applying little black dots to white paper. More dots in a space appear dark gray; fewer dots appear light gray. Ms. Lisa on the right up there is made up of thousands of these little black dots. There are more dots in her dark hair and robe than in her lighter skin and the sky.

Color printing uses dots too, but in a different way. When someone says that they’re printing in color, most of the time they mean that they’re printing with four specific colors. These four colors – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and BlacK – are what’s called CMYK color, or “process color.”

Commercial book printers use this process. By using dots of these colors mixed together, printers can quickly produce the vibrant shades needed for full-color pictures.

Consider popular choices

The type of book you’re creating will often give you some clues as to whether color or grayscale is the way to go.

Novels always favor grayscale. Readers of novels are put off by a high price tag, so it’s extra important to keep costs as low as possible.

Non-fiction is more subjective, making the author’s decision that bit harder. Non-fiction books can be grayscale, 2-color, full-color, or grayscale with a few colored inserts. It all comes down to whether the book would benefit from some added interest.

A reference textbook called “Learning to Speak French,” for example, might help engage readers by using color illustrations. “Advanced C++ Programming,” on the other hand, is unlikely to gain much from full-color images. Using 2-color printing could add a little variety and help highlight the most important points. Workbooks designed to be filled in by students are likely to stick to grayscale and use cheaper uncoated paper. Ask yourself: what will readers use your book for?

Coffee-table books are almost always full-color. Readers buy these books specifically to pour over glossy pages full of high-quality photographs or artwork. The only exception to this would be a book of black and white photography where color isn’t necessary.

Children’s books use bright colors to help draw their young readers’ attention. Older readers may be happy with grayscale illustrations, but for younger readers, it’s a case of the brighter and more colorful the better.

Look at other books

As the author, you’re probably very aware of other bestsellers in your genre. If you can, visit a local bookshop or library and physically leaf through the pages. If not, look them up on Amazon and review what you can via the “look inside” feature.

For those printed in color, what do you think color adds to the book? It probably looks more attractive, but try to dig a little deeper than that.

Could the same message have been delivered without color? What would it have lost? Do you think a lower price on the cover without color inside would have meant more readers or fewer? Would it have meant higher or lower sales figures?

Know what your printer offers

Most Print on Demand (POD) digital printers provide grayscale or full-color printing. However, your printer may not offer every book trim size and binding type for both grayscale and color printing. Make sure you check all your options with your printer before you set your heart on any particular aspect.

Non-POD services typically provide much more flexibility. They might offer the option of inserting colored plates as a block between pages of grayscale text. Printing in 2-colors or 3-colors are also typically available options if you’re printing a batch of books with a lithographic printer.

Think about production costs

When it comes down to choosing between grayscale or color, the bottom line is likely to be all about cost.

Remember: while a grayscale printer uses a single layer of black ink, a color printer uses four layers of colored inks. For this reason, color printing typically relies on thick, coated paper stock. This is needed to prevent the sheer quantity of ink from wrinkling up the paper. It’s also necessary to stop the images showing through on the other side. Add it all up, and this means color printing is always more expensive.

As a rule of thumb, the same book will typically cost 4-5 times more to print in premium color than it would in grayscale. So, if the grayscale book were $5, the premium color version would be $22.50.

You may know that Lightning Source has introduced standard color as another color printing option. This uses ordinary or thicker paper stock but less ink, so colors appear duller. Think of a reasonable magazine-level of quality. It might work for something like a business book to add color to the odd line drawing or diagram. However, it’s unlikely to be suitable for high-quality images.

Think about your content

Finally, it’s time to think about the words and pictures you plan to use in your book. Weighing up everything we’ve run through so far; do they really need color? Do you think most your readers will be happy to pay more for the pages to appear glossier and more attractive? Or would they be less likely to buy it when they see the higher price?

If you do decide to go for grayscale, it’s important to go back to your manuscript. If you’ve been busily preparing it all in color, you may need to make some changes. It could be you’ve color-coded diagrams or referred to “the text in red.” Will amending this change your readers’ understanding? What other consequences might removing colored elements have? This last question can be a tough one to answer so if you’re not sure, ask your book designer for help.

So now you know…

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what grayscale and color means when it comes to printing your book. I think we’d all agree that books look more striking in color, but they need to make a profit too.

Find out what your printer offers and then ask yourself: what does my book need? Would grayscale printing do justice to everything that makes it special, or would color printing make a crucial difference?

You know your book best, and now that you have our guide too, we’re sure you’ll make a great decision.