Printing personal copies of books on tips and tricks I've learned


The EN World kitten
A few weeks ago, I casually mentioned that I'd been considering starting a thread about things I'd learned since I started printing personal copies of several PDF-only products via The idea got a better reception than I'd anticipated, so I've decided to go ahead and push forward with it.

I want to stress that this isn't meant to be a step-by-step guide to the process. Most of Lulu's interface is fairly self-explanatory (i.e. that you go to "My Projects" to get started, that when creating a new project you choose "print my book" rather than "publish my book" since the latter is only for commercial endeavors, etc.), so I won't be going over the obvious stuff here. This is rather to point out the unexpected pitfalls that I encountered, and how to get around them, so that anyone who's new to the process won't stumble over some of the obstacles that I ran into on my first few forays.

And of course, if anyone has any questions about something I didn't cover (or didn't cover in sufficient detail), please ask away!

So, without further ado, here's what I've learned about the finer points of printing via

Embedded Fonts: After filling out the basic information for your project (i.e. confirming that it's a book (and not a calendar, comic book, etc.), setting the language, etc.), you'll be asked to upload the PDF that you're going to have printed. When you do, there's a slight chance that Lulu will tell you that the file has fonts which aren't embedded. Like the Hitchhiker's Guide says: don't panic! Embedding fonts is actually really simple: just go to the PDF, choose "print," and have it print to PDF format. Yes, you're PDFing the PDF; for whatever reason, that embeds fonts, and you should be able to upload the "printed" PDF file without issue.

Remove the file's cover(s), if any: The book's covers are something which Lulu wants to deal with separately from the rest of the book. As such, my personal recommendation is that, if your PDF has front or back cover files, you remove those from the file. Most PDF editing programs (Adobe Acrobat, Kofax Power PDF, etc.) can do this fairly easily, and if you don't have those it's surprisingly easy to Google websites that make PDF alterations (ideally without inserting a watermark).

Now, you don't have to remove the cover page(s) from your PDF when uploading what the text of the book is. Leaving them in just means that the first page will be the cover image, and the last page will be the back cover image. I just prefer to remove them because, in addition to the total number of pages, the amount of color used is also a determinant of how pricey the final project will be, and most covers are fairly colorful. If you're choosing a black-and-white interior, then that's no big deal, but otherwise you might as well cut costs where you can.

Pixels per inch warnings: Don't be unnerved if, after uploading your PDF file, you get a warning about it having less than 200 pixels per inch. Most PDFs with illustrations, I've found, tend to get hit with this warning. While it does mean that a few of those illustrations might be slightly choppy when printed, for the most part that's only been an issue for particularly low-resolution images. The majority of the time, the interior illustrations have been fine.

Color, paper, binding, cover finish are where the costs come from: This is fairly self-explanatory, but I wanted to highlight how much this determines the cost of your book. When I printed my copy of the Everquest II Spell Guide, I made it "premium color," chose "80# White - Coated" and made it a softcover with a glossy finish. Given that it was almost three hundred pages in length, it was perhaps no surprise that this made it cost $56 USD (had I made it a hardcover, that would have bumped it up to $64; all before taxes and shipping). By contrast, when I printed my personal copy of The Final Church (for the old Alternity RPG), I went with "standard black and white" for the interior, "60# white" for the paper type, and a softcover binding with a matte finish; all things that best imitated (to my mind) the classic look of old TSR and early WotC-era supplements. While only about a third as many pages, it was notable that the cost was only $5.50 before shipping and taxes. So be aware of just how largely these selections can influence the price.

Designing your cover is the hard part: If you have no talent for graphic design the way I don't, this will be the part that drives you up the wall.

Presuming you don't want to simply have the cover be a single blank cover with the name of the supplement on the front and the spine, Lulu has several options for designing your cover. I strongly recommend going with the "Create Your Cover" option (the fourth and final one listed) that lets you use Lulu's design tool. Choosing that opens an interface that feels somewhat akin to manipulating images in Microsoft Word, where you upload a JPG or similar file (ideally of the cover image that you snipped from the PDF before uploading it) and then move it around onto a representation of the book's cover spaces. This nicely allows you to place things on the front and back, and lets you overlap images and insert text where you'd like (including on the spine, since text boxes can be rotated). The fact that the book's covers and spine are "magnetic," in that they pull things into place with their borders, helps immensely.

However, be aware that the warnings that come up regarding the resolution of most images you're likely to try aren't like those easily-disregarded pixel warnings I mentioned up above. Most of the time, where they warned me about an image's resolution being below their recommendations, the cover image did indeed turn out to be pixelated. Not very much, but there was at least a small amount of "fuzziness" to a lot of them. While that doesn't matter if I'm doing something like sticking the old TSR logo onto the spine (which I did for my custom copy of Ivid the Undying), it's another thing for the front cover image. If you can't make the resolution any sharper, be aware that it might not look as good in print as it does in Lulu's preview tool.

Never print out your book for full price: I want to stress that Lulu, more than any other online storefront I've ever shopped at, has perpetual discounts running. Quite frankly, you should always be able to find anywhere from 10% to 20% off, with 15% being the typical amount. The best discount code I can find right now is WELCOME15 (which requires the use of caps, there), and while that may change later, their store always has some amount off. You shouldn't ever have to pay the full price there.

Hopefully this has helped you decide to give printing out personal copies of your RPG PDFs a shot! If there's anything else you'd like to know, please don't hesitate to ask!


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Tip: If you already get things printed using Lulu as a drop-shipper (so your own work that you sell) there's an important caveat

MAKE SURE TO DO THIS ON A NEW ACCOUNT / DEDICATED ACCOUNT that is not linked to your sales account.

Lulu's terms of service are very clear that you must own the copyright of anything you print through them. Not "have permission" to print it, but actually be the copyright owner. I'm active in several communities where people get stuff printed via Lulu (one community it is literally just two PDFs that people print - the 1981 Basic and Expert rulebooks - available from OBS but not in PoD). If you have a major printing issue that involves a human having to look over your print, odds are your account will be flagged and closed if they recognize the book and check the copyright.

This is most common if you run into a printing error and try to report it to get it reprinted. The customer service rep will typically send you a copy of the TOU, and then close your account instead of sending it back to be printed again. So if you run into a printing error, the best advice is often to "suck it up".


The EN World kitten
For what it's worth, I've contacted Lulu customer service before about issues I've had with printing personal copies of PDFs (specifically regarding that Everquest II book), and they didn't inquire into anything copyright-related.

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