Working with POD Printers

Plan Your Illustrations for Print on Demand Printing

Here’s the thing: print on demand (POD) printers will never equal the quality of an offset printer.

But the advantage of POD is that you can set up multiple books with a minimal investment. When you first begin publishing children’s books, you probably won’t have a good idea of how your books will fit into the marketplace. Books that you love will find few sales, but some toss-off book you did on a lark will take off with great sales. It happens.

Starting a new business is hard! Figuring out how to package your stories—choose great art, write blurbs, etc—is all so complicated.

POD gives you the time you need to figure things out, without going broke. And once your business thrives, it keeps you going because everything is streamlined. It’s a slick process when someone orders a book, it gets printed and shipped—and you never touch the book.

I am a POD enthusiast!

However, there can be problems.


When you design a book for POD printers, you should realize that with Ingram and KDP, the paper is thin, only 60# or 70#. The # here means pounds. A ream of paper, or 500 sheets, would weigh 60 pounds or 70 pounds. That’s thin paper.

It’s also uncoated paper, so a rough surface. The best POD printing comes from a coated paper that has (wait for it) a coating that creates a smooth surface. Lulu/LuluDirect (formerly LuluXpress) offer an 80# coated paper, which produces better results.

With thin, uncoated paper, you should do a couple things when you create the art.

AVOID BLACK. Black backgrounds will almost always produce just good results, not superior results. The color saturation becomes a dull dark grey. Too much ink will cause the thinnest papers to wrinkle. They never seem to dray flat. Whenever possible, avoid a black (or other dark) backgrounds.

LESS INK. Also ask for illustrations that use less ink. This will mean white (unprinted) backgrounds whenever possible. Spot art, small self-contained vignettes, will print the best for POD. Use lots of open space.

Plan ahead! When you commission illustrations, explain to the illustrator that you’ll be doing POD printing. They should avoid black/dark backgrounds, and should opt for more white backgrounds when possible.

Of course, this isn’t always possible! Depending on your story, you may need those dark backgrounds. A bedtime story requires a night time scene! A nonfiction book about stars will require a dark sky.

In those cases, you have four choices.

  1. Try a spot illustration. Do you need to fill up the entire page with the art?

  2. If you really MUST choose dark/black backgrounds, choose the highest quality paper possible. The 80# coated paper from Lulu is a delight after the uncoated paper of other POD printers.

    OR, you can just live with the quality as an acceptable book. I’ve never had a teacher or parent comment on the quality of the printing. People do know quality of printing. But when they order books from a school book fair, they understand that the cheaper price means cheaper paper. They understand that printing varies and price can vary depending on the quality of the printing.

    They DO comment on the story, the content of the book. But unless there’s a gross misprint or an exorbitant, they won’t care. Yes, there are those gross misprints! But I find them to be rare; and the printer will always replace them free.

  3. Offset print. You can abandon the POD business model for certain books. That creates multiple problems of warehousing, fulfillment of orders, and so on. Think carefully before abandoning a business model for a single book.

  4. Don’t publish this book. Wait until you can switch to an offset business model to publish this book. Or, there’s nothing that says you MUST self-publish every book. Perhaps this is the one title for which you seek a traditional publisher.

POD is a viable business plan for indie publishers of children’s book. But you should keep in mind the limitations of the POD printing process. You CAN work within the challenges of the POD printing process to create great books!