Production in practice: a behind-the-scenes tour of Clays

Header image showing a conventional printing press from Clays

Belle Hinchin and Leyla Yusuf-Strang are Sales Executives at Clays. Together they head up Clays Indie, working with a variety of customers ranging from self-publishers to small and Independent presses. Their role involves guiding these customers through the production process, whilst ensuring they receive the encouragement and support they need to help bring their books to life. In this article, Belle and Leyla take us behind the scenes at Clays, to find out more about how their book printing processes work.

Who are Clays?

For over 200 years, Clays have been producing books from our Suffolk-based factory. Printing for some of the world’s most famous publishers, we’ve manufactured many of the world’s best-known books, from the original Harry Potter series, to Atwood’s The Testaments.

Although most people are very familiar with books, manufacturing can be a confusing and complicated process for publishers and non-publishers alike. Therefore, we were thrilled to be offered the chance to write this blog post for BookMachine, explaining a little bit about how our business works.

How does printing work?

We can produce books using two different methods: lithographic offset (conventional) printing and digital printing.

Conventional printing involves etching the data onto large aluminium plates, to which ink is applied and then transferred through a system of rubber rollers onto the text paper. As there is no contact with the paper, we refer to this as ‘Offset’ printing. These plates can be used for 100,000 copies before new ones are required. Although it’s incredibly quick to print this way, it does take a long time to create the plates, so we generally use this method for any run length above 5,000 copies.

Digital printing uses the same technology as your printer at home: the data is uploaded to the machine and ink applied to the paper from inkjet heads, printing only where text or images are. The technology is slower, but it’s quicker to get the job set up so we generally use this method for anything below 5,000 copies.

Where both technologies differ from anything you have at home, is the sheer scale of the operation. We use paper reels that measure an average of 11,000 metres long and our fastest binding line can produce 18,000 books per hour!

To put this into a broader context, the total length of paper that we order in a single year could reach around the world 4.5 times, or over half way to the moon! The total weight of this paper is 11,382 tons, which equates to the same weight as 3,200 elephants.

Once the covers and jackets have been printed, and any special finishes applied, the two elements can be bound together, packed up, and despatched.

What do we do to make sure things don’t go wrong?

The primary way that we make sure things don’t go wrong is by checking all the data that is supplied to us. Whilst there’s always a possibility of things going wrong on press, if the data is supplied incorrectly, then it’s impossible that it will go right!

Any reputable printer should be able to provide a set of guidelines and state what they will and won’t check for. If your printer can’t do this, that’s a red flag.

Any new material we offer goes through rigorous testing to make sure we can use it, whilst ensuring we get the best result.  For example, the metal blocks we use to apply foiling to our covers and jackets are heated to around 400°C, but the precise temperature is dependent on the properties of each foil, even the colour!

Foils (left) and cover laminate (right)

But what about the environment?

With the introduction of ebooks and audiobooks, people sometimes question whether buying print is an ethical choice.

With a strong push from publishers to continuously evolve and develop more sustainable practices, there’s less to worry about than people might think. All our materials are FSC accredited and we are fully ISO14001 compliant. In addition to this, we are proud of our own green policies, for example, we recycle all our factory waste and the entire site ran on renewable energy last year.

The majority of monochrome books in the UK are printed here, indeed our own factory is in Suffolk. So, if you’re looking to cut your carbon footprint and the air miles associated with your business, then printing your books in the UK is a great way to do this. You also have the benefit of knowing that your books were produced in an ethical, environmentally conscious way.

For any readers interested in seeing behind the scenes at our factory in Bungay, give us a follow on our new Instagram page @Clays.Indie for some fun photos and videos, plus a look at some of the books we have produced!