NoahKnoble's Blog

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Correct Grain vs Cross Grain

I am going to tell you a little story, and admit to alot of you that I still have alot to learn! šŸ™‚

As many of you know, the company I worked for, Conley Printing, was bought by J.B. Kenehan back in early September. Before, we were primarily a publications printer, and, not to toot my own horn, but this I know alot about. How to beat the USPS, offer econmical paper stocks, and to offer the most efficient way of creating your publication. NOW, our capabilities have vastly opened up, we can do slim jims, digest sized publications and the like because we have sheet fed capabilities and webĀ presses that allow us to beĀ competitiveĀ etc… Believe me, my eyes got pretty wide, and needless to say, I was and still am pretty excited about what we can do in house.

With these new capabilities comes a great amount of learning, and believe me, I am still learning! I recently bid onĀ a publication.Ā It was a digest sized publication, (when I say digest sized I am talking about publications that have a smaller trim size like 5 3/8x 8 3/8 etc). Although this was something that I probably wouldn’t have gone after in the past, with our new capabilities I went in confident knowing this was something we can do.

I got the job! I was estatic, busted out my happy dance which is a horrible version of the moon walk (ask any of my co-horts) and began planning. As soon as my boss came in, I ran up to tell him the good news, after listening to me he immediately asked me “Did you bid it cross grain or correct grain?” I looked at him the way a dog looks at you when he is thinking WTF are you talking to me like a baby for with their head titled sideways, (you know what I am talking about). A smile creeped across his face, it was more of a smirk, he could tell I didn’t know what he was talking about. I knew then I was about to be schooled as we walked into his office.

He put two publications on his desk in front of me, one was a signature and the other was a tabloid sized publication. “When we talk about correct grain, we are talking about printing and binding the publication with the grain of the paper,” he said as he opened up the signature sized publication. “Signature publications are typically always correct grain, so this is something you wouldn’t have had to worry about in the past.” Then he opened up the tabloid sized publication, “When we talk about cross grain, we talk about printing and binding the publication against the natural flow of the grain of the paper, tabloids are typically always cross grain on a web press so this is something you wouldn’t have had to worry about in the past.” He pointed towards the spine of the tabloid publication ” Do you see how it is wavy towards the binding, this is called puckering, and happens because the paper is bound cross grain, there is nothing you can do about it.”Ā  Then he went on, “Digest sized publications and slim jims can either be done correct grain or cross grain, but it makes a huge difference in the price, it all depends on what the customer wants.”

I looked like a deer in headlights, and new exactly what he was getting at, was I about to give a client what they were expecting? I ran back to my desk, reviewed the RFQ, and there was no stipulation of cross or correct grain. Then I reviewed my bid, and found out that I had indeed bid the publication cross grain. So I picked up the phone, called the client, and asked them if they had a preference of cross grain or correct grain. I knew that same look on my face earlier when that question was posed to me was now on their face ” Noah, this is the first time we are doing this publication, and the first time we are using this trim size, can you explain to me what the difference is?” How could I blame them for not knowing when I didnt even know? I went on to tell them the differences, the difference in cost, quality, and so on. Ā Like many publishers in today’s market, they told me they wanted the best quality product for the least amount of cost.

With that, I explained to my boss what they had told me, and we agreed to honor the price for the cross grain, but produce it correct grain. In the end it was all worth it, the client absolutely loved the product, and this is all that truly mattered to us.

So, if you are going out to bid, make sure you are asking for exactly what you have in mind. The last thing any printer wants to do is to give you anything other than what you want. Should you not care about a little “puckering” towards the spine in order to get the best price possible then note it. Should you want the best product possible and are willing to pay more in costs, then you may want to note in your bid to quote correct grain. It all comes down to what fits the equipment which effects the pricing, a good printer should be able to show you all options.

Lucky for me I have an emormous resource of knowledge in printing surrounding me. Not everyone has that, so remember if you are going out to bid, make sure you are getting what you want. Grain isn’t something you only find in your cereal bowl or in a field, it is something that effects the price and look of your publication as well!

FYI ….Here is another blog about correct grain printing that I think you will find explains it more in depth


December 12, 2010 - Posted by | Books, Publishing, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I appreciate your story…I’m learning about printing as our company prints each new book. I realize this probably sounds like a dumb question, but when you say a “tabloid sized book” is that a 9X12 book?

    Comment by Sarah | May 30, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for the question. That is correct, anything larger than a trim size of 9x 10 7/8 is considered to be a “tabloid size” publication. So yes, 9×12 would fit into the tab sized category.

      Let me know if there is anything I can be of help on.


      Comment by noahknoble | May 30, 2012 | Reply

  2. I’ve been doing some research on why a recent publication of ours (9X12) is getting “wavy” pages. (Humidity is not a factor.) I read that cross grain printing can cause this and I tried tearing a page to see if I could tell. I think it is cross grain (though I admit I’m totally new at this). At first I was very discouraged, but I think I realize now, that a 9 X 12 would be printed cross grain unless you specifically asked for it to be printed otherwise. I really like working with our printer, and I don’t think they did anything intentionally. We kept asking them to keep costs down, and I believe that’s what they did. We are just still learning what all the ramifications are when we say “keep the cost low”. So, first of all, do you think the wavy pages could be caused by cross grain printing? Second, is there any other way to know for sure if your book is cross grain printed without tearing it?

    Comment by Sarah | May 30, 2012 | Reply

    • Hey Sarah,

      So I have a couple of questions. Do you know if it is printed sheetfed or web? Also, did you notice this waviness in the past or is this the first time you are noticing it?

      Depending on how they are printing it would allow me to have some more insight. There is one of two things happening here, either it is being printed cross grain, or it is experiencing heavy “fluting”. If you go to my LinkedIn profile I have a boxnet account and one of the PDF’s is “Why is my magazine wavy?” Download that PDF and see if that looks like the waviness you are seeing in your publication, if so, then it is simply fluting and there are things in your production that you can control in order to reduce the waviness.

      Otherwise, it is being printed cross grain. Printing cross grain would most definitely reduce costs, if they are printing it on a web the chances are that they have always been printing it cross grain, which would then beg the question why would you be noticing it now and not before. If they are printing on a sheetfed press, and you have been telling them to help you reduce costs, then they may have switched to printing it cross grain.

      You can tell if it is correct grain or cross grain by either licking the paper or wetting a paper towel and rubbing it on the paper. The direction the paper curls will tell you if it is correct or cross grain. If the paper curls downward then is it cross grain, if it curls inward towards the spine then it is correct grain.

      Let me know if there is anything you would like help on.


      Comment by noahknoble | May 30, 2012 | Reply

  3. Thanks so much for your comments. It’s nice to gather perspective from multiple sources in these situations.

    I wasn’t able to get to your PDF, I’m not very familiar with LinkedIn. (I created a profile today just to try to view your PDF.) Nevertheless, I did some other research and looked at some photos I found on fluting and I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with. I believe the press is sheet fed. We haven’t noticed it previously, because this is the first project we’ve printed with this printer. We received the books from the printer about 4 weeks ago. The books that have been sitting in stacks don’t show anything. It’s the few we have sitting on a desk or something by themselves that have started to show the waviness. I do know how to tell if the cover material is cross grain and I know for sure that it is. Along with the bumpy edge, it’s causing the cover to stay open ever so slightly. Would you call it “industry standard” to print a 9 X 12 book cross grain? We just need to learn the business and understand different options and what they cost.

    Comment by Sarah | May 30, 2012 | Reply

    • Normally I would say yes, it is industry standard, however in this case I would have to say no. If it were a web press, absolutely it is the industry standard to print it cross grain. Reason being is that the press is sheetfed (or so we believe it is) therefore if the printer new they were going to bid on the project and print the project cross grain they should have told you and been up front about it. Sheetfed books can be done cross grain or correct grain, however, costs for correct grain at a 9×12 are 15-20% higher depending on your run quantity, paper stocks, and page counts. Therefore, it sounds like this printer took the “keep costs low” and automatically assumed you would want it cross grain as it is the least expensive method but which as you are seeing now, isn’t the best quality.

      My suggestion would be to specify “correct grain printing” on your next RFQ and then ask to see savings if the project were to print cross grain that way you can make the choice and will be receiving all apple to apples bids from the printers.

      This is exactly why I wrote this blog, it sounds like your printer might have not read it šŸ™‚ It is all about managing the customers expectations, it doesn’t sound like this printer did a very good job of that in this case. I don’t mean to jump to conclusions, but all arrows are pointing that way.

      Comment by noahknoble | May 30, 2012 | Reply

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