Thu
Dec 13 2012 11:00am

A Memory of Light Being Printed, Step By Step

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

I’ve worked at Tor Books for nearly twenty years and I had never visited our bindery before. As the art director, I’ve been to our jacket printer, of course, but my job usually ends there. I had never been to the place where the guts of the books are printed, bound, and shipped. What better excuse to remedy that than to watch A Memory of Light—the final volume of a series that has been with me my entire carreer—go from rolls of clean white paper to shiny new hardcover books? A trip to historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Quad Graphics was definitely in order.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

When I arrived last Thursday they were still well into a process that would take a few weeks to complete. The first batches are packed and shipped by truck to the most far-off places, working back to more local regions. I’m told it is unusual to be able to see every piece of the process on one book, but with such a massive print run, I was able to see AMoL at nearly every stage.

Here is our walk though the process....

In one corner of the plant, the spines of the hardcover cases were being stamped with red foil. A quick process of heat and pressure.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Meanwhile, the text is being prepared. It all starts with paper. Lots and lots of paper. Paper stacked and warehoused like the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The 50” rolls are spooled into the offset printer. Here you can see one in use and another ready to engage the moment the first runs out.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

That bit of blurry grey area on the paper, that’s A Memory of Light.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

From one giant sheet, the printer folds and then cuts the paper into 32 page  bunches called signatures. In this case, it was a chunk of the chapter titled “The Last Battle.”

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Signatures on the move.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Signatures stacked.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

...and ready to move into the next phase.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

If you look in the middle ground of the photo below, you’ll see the skid with the signatures numbered 27 on it...

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

....those signatures are placed into a long machine that is a series of pockets. These pockets will drop each signature in decsending order (note that this is pocket number 27) thereby stacking the pages of the book in order. (I was told The Way of Kings was so long that they ran out of pockets and had to run the book through twice.)

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

It’s a bit blurry but you can see the book zooming by below the green shelf.  

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The collected pages are then upturned and shaken until they line up neatly on the bottom.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Glue is laid on the spine and the endpapers attached.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

At this point it’s almost like a messy paperback.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Moving on to the next station.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Here they are being trimmed into a neat block of text.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

And on the move again.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Stacks of A Memory of Light now ready to have hardcover cases attached.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The cases are stacked on top of a machine and drop down into it...

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

...while a dry stringy glue is laid down on the spine. 

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Through the machine the text block and case are connected and...

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

...a book! But a naked one.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The jackets (you can see the white undersides of them below) are then fed through a machine that gathers up the pages....

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

...and folds the jacket around the hardcover case.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

And now we have our final product. 

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Each one examined for quality control....

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

...and then placed into cartons for shipping.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The whole process looked like a marvelous bit of Suessian-magic to me, with long conveyer belts that doubled up and looped around. Everywhere we looked the warehouse was full of twelve foot stacks of the book in various stages of production. Looking at so many individual editions was a remarkable way to visualize the scope of Robert Jordan’s fan base.

I was very thankful to see this part of the process. My thanks to Jim Kapp, Tor’s production manager, for setting up the trip. And of course a huge thanks to Carter, Sally, Chris and everyone at Quad Graphics for inviting us in and letting us peek under the hood. If you are reading A Memory of Light next month, these are the behind-the-scenes folks that have had a hand on each and every copy.


Irene Gallo is the Art Director at Tor Books.

This article is part of A Memory of Light: ‹ previous | index | next ›
54 comments
Kadere
1. Kadere
I am utterly facinated by this stuff. It's all these little dressings of the book that I get curious about. "How's the spin going to look?" "What's the print going to look like on the spine?" "What color will it be?" "Did they put in the map as usual, or Darrell K. Sweet's unfinished cover?" etc. etc.

Thanks for answering all of that. 26 more days and I'm in the middle of TDR, got a lot of reading to do.
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
Some of these pictures are really oddly beautiful. And I, too, am fascinated by the process, so thanks.
Kadere
3. Al C
Thanks Irene,

Great pictures of the printing / binding process. 20 years ago I worked in a factory like that, except we never got to print anything but junk mail catalogs.

Just in case the process doesn't look complicated enough, consider all of the environmental factors that also play into the process. If the humidity is too high, the paper starts to curl, causing paper jams. If it is too low, static electricity holds the forms together, causing jams. Same thing goes for temperature, and the pressure feeding the forms into the conveyor.

Looking forward to getting my copy soon.
Kadere
4. Fran W
I love these photos. Thank you, Irene, for the bindery field trip!
Phillip
5. yannhuei
So if The Way of Kings was already long enough that they had to feed them through twice...then WoT books 12-14 in a single epic binding would be...
Irene Gallo
6. Irene
I meant to add...The thickness of the book even effects how many we get into the trucks, which also adds extra time to the process.
William Carter
7. wcarter
@5 yannhuei

...Too heavy to lift.

Seriously, assuming you could find a way to bind it, it would probably have to come with a warning label from the Surgeon General about risks of lower back injuries.
Tricia Irish
8. Tektonica
Just where is this printer??????

Thanks, Irene. A trip down memory lane for me. I used to design books in NYC ,and printing, usually in York, Pa, was always thrilling!

Can't wait!
Joe Sherry
9. jsherry
That's fun. I work for a print shop, but sadly we don't do awesome stuff like printing The Wheel of Time. The whole bookbinding process is a bit beyond our scope (we could do a smaller perfect bound paperback book), so this is fun to see.
Chris Hawks
10. SaltManZ
This might be my favorite post on Tor.com so far. I don't care about WoT, but I absolutely love books. Fascinating stuff!
Kadere
11. Kudzu
I know it's a lot of books but I had a chuckle over one of the last steps "Each one examined for quality control..." as two of the books I've purchased in this series has had the book glued into the cover upside down. One was "The Gathering Storm". I know, I should have checked in the store but I'd forgotten that it had happened previously. I had to exchange it thereby delaying my reading. I hope my "luck" doesn't run to this one.
Kadere
12. DMcCunney
Thank you. I used to work for a large printer (large enough to have two story tall Rockwell web offset presses), and Quad Graphics is the next step beyond that. In some shops, bindery is a seperate operation, which may be done by a different company in a different location. Quad has it all under one very large roof.

Coordinating this stuff is an art form, and Jim Kapp has a real challenge. Outfits like Quad make money by being busy 24/7, so coordinating schedules is critical.

This was absolutely fascinating. Thanks for documenting it.
Dan Herbert
13. Ordeith
Being in the printing industry and having seen or worked on many types of printers or presses it is nice to have an accurate behind the curtain view of the work that goes into the simple process of getting ink on paper.

Can't wait to pick up my own copy and dive in.
Kadere
14. syncap8
Geez, really want to read this on my kindle, but I'm not sure I'm going to be strong enough to wait!!
Kadere
15. Martin C.
Can you say how many books have been made so far?
Kadere
16. WOTgirl
This is fascinating! Thank you for sharing. I cannot wait to get my hands on one!
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
17. Lisamarie
If they need anybody to, uh, 'inspect' for quality control, I could do that very thoroughly!

Also, the Last Battle chapter! Quick, 'enhance'!
lake sidey
18. lakesidey
Thanks for this :) I once worked in a factory that made thread, used to think that was complicated machinery; this takes that to another level, and then some.

You know, you should outsource this printing to India (so I could steal a copy). This waiting is very hard...will be a long time before I get to lay hands on this baby.

~lakesidey
Peter Ahlstrom
19. PeterAhlstrom
Yay, I found the Bindery song from Reading Rainbow! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiCzuUU9t0M

This post totally made me think of that, and similar factory visits on Mister Rogers.
Kadere
20. Sandy R. Stuckless
That's awesome. I've never seen the actual printing and binding process of a book before. As a writer, I hope to see one of my own works going through this same process. :)
Mary Buchner
21. HeyMaryHey
I pre-ordered, so it's weird and awesome to think that one of those books might be mine!!! :D
Kadere
22. Kainos
I really can't stand it. Please TOR take a page from Jim Butcher and release a chapter a week up to release not this one line at a time stuff.
Kadere
23. Cuirass
Is that guy picking his nose in the first picture?
Kadere
24. Planeswalker
Finished product (AMoL book) looks really big...
Kadere
25. Callendor
I got a lump in my throat when she mentioned the chapter "The Last Battle" can't wait thanks Irene.
Ron Garrison
26. Man-0-Manetheran
Thanks Irene
Many of my earlier copies for WoT are marked "printed on acid-free paper." The last books are definitely not and the paper seem courser. Do you know if this was an economic decision? Or, were some copies printed on acid-free paper and the remainder on a lesser paper?
Tina Aydon
27. Taydon
~sigh~

I think I hate you just a tiny wee bit Irene...

not really. But waiting is SO HARD!

Roll on the 8th...
April Moore
28. aprildmoore
Great to see this whole proces and exciting particularly to see it for this book. Thank you for sharing your visit with us, Irene!

(Oh and how about that epic cover art; can't wait to get Whelan to sign my copy at JordanCon. :-) )
Sarah Lester
29. slester
Anyway we can get a video of this awesome process?? :D
Kadere
30. iamnotspam
Can you tell us how many pages?
Douglas Freer
31. Futurewriter1120
This is fascinating.
Reading that comment on The Way of Kings, it makes me wonder now how thick a book has to be to be run through twice like that.
Cannot wait until the day I can hold a fresh copy of one of my own stories.
Roger Powell
32. forkroot
Thanks Irene!

I know I'll be gobbling down the text come January 8th - but this post will definitely make me appreciate the physical object in my hand as well.

I wonder if this is a time in history that will soon be lost. With the increasing popularity of e-Readers and so forth, I could definitely see how in the future there will no longer be massive "Bestseller-sized" print runs.

I'm not predicting that physically books will completely disappear, but I think they may eventually become a niche item and will be run in smaller batches.
Jeff Schweer
34. JeffS.
Somewhere in that series of pictures is MY COPY.

26 days to go.
Thanks Irene and Tor for this look into the mechanics of the printing. This post along with the one on the jacket printing process was pretty darn cool.
Jeff S.
I am only an egg
Joseph Newton
36. crzydroid
Absolutely amazing.

So that one big roll of paper is eight pages wide, and continuous going down...and it has to be cut an collated and and and whoever invented this machine is a genius.

What exactly is the penalty for selling a book early, and is it up to other sellers to catch someone and call the number from their own boxes?

Oh, wait! If I hang out at the dumpster behind the bookstore or the library, maybe I can get my hands on my very own AMoL box...
Jonathan Levy
38. JonathanLevy
Glue is laid on the spine and the endpapers attached.
When I read that, all I could think of was my original paperback copy of TEOTW.
Kadere
39. xandox
Do they check every book and every page during quality control?!
Jennifer McBride
40. vegetathalas
Irene,

I took off my Towers of Midnight hardcover jacket to keep it in good condition last time I read and my grandfather found it and decided to throw it away for me. Do you know if there's a way for me to get a replacement jacket? Or am I just going to have to buy a second copy?
Ed Rafferty
41. BigBoy57
Somewhere in those pictures is the hardback copy that will complete my collection but it won't be the copy I read first. I guess there is another bindery somewhere in the US of A busily doing similar things to the trade-paperback edition which will be the one I read first (and often).
My paper-back collection suffers all the wear and tear whilst the hardbacks sit back taking it easy!
Then of course somewhere else someone is converting the book into a formatted e-book file that I will also purchase - not to mention the audio-book which I have pre-purchased from Audible.
Maybe it's best this is the last book of the series - I think I need some therapy!
Brigitte Reed
42. brigittereed
That is SO COOL!!

Thanks so much for sharing this with us! : D
Michael Walsh
43. MichaelWalsh
@5. yannhuei " then WoT books 12-14 in a single epic binding would be..."

When Robert Jordan was Guest of Honor at Balticon 30 (1996) in the Souvenir Book for the convention certain demented people ran a fake advertisment for Faux Press announcing the publication of The Complete One Volume Large Print Edition of Wheel of Time.
L M
44. srEDIT
Enjoyed tremendously . . . thank you!
Rich Bennett
45. Neuralnet
wow, the book looks nice and thick. I wonder how many they can bind a day?
Kadere
46. cookiekins40
Interesting process to look at, but horrible of you to tease...
The photo bomb in the first picture is amusing, I'm sure the guy will be ribbed about it for a long time! Happy Holidays!!!
Kadere
47. feenja
"and shipped by truck to the most far-off places"
seems to be my home in germany!
Amazon.de will deliver at January, 16!
;O(

But thank you! And I also like the light blue cover!
Kadere
48. Rhiadon
So how does the process vary for the leather bound/slip covered edition of the book? Just the binding different or does it actually go through a different print shop altogether?
Irene Gallo
49. Irene
Rhiadon,

The guts of the book are printed here at Coral and then they send those to an artisan that hand-makes the leather covers and binds the books.
Kadere
51. Carl V.
That was cool! I especially enjoyed seeing how the embossing on the book itself worked. Thanks for sharing. Today is a very exciting day for Jordan fans.
Kadere
52. Elizabeth Moon
Thanks for posting this interesting and informative article on printing and binding. I'm linking to it from one of my own blogs, because I get so many questions about what happens in the process. The photographs are great, and the information thoughtfully presented.
Kadere
53. Laura J. Underwood
Neat! Thanks for sharing.
Karen Fox
54. thepupxpert
I'm still waiting for my copy from Amazon so I'm trying my best not to go to any spoilerific areas, this was a great diversion thanks!
Kadere
55. Kinami
@36 -
Don't hang around by the dumpsters behind the bookstore...go inside and ask the booksellers! There's no reason they can't give you a box, and they're book people too, so they probably won't even look at you like you're crazy. (I still have boxes from the last few Harry Potter books, from back when I was a bookseller.)

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment