This article is part of a series on KDP and IngramSpark (IS) as print-on-demand (POD) platforms for independent authors. For an overview of the two platforms and summary of key issues, read KDP vs. IngramSpark: Which Publishing Platform Is Right for You?
Here, we cover KDP and IngramSpark printing options in greater detail. For the most part, the two platforms offer similar printing options. There are, however, a few major differences.
“Trim size” describes the dimensions of the book, such as 6 x 9 inches or 5.5 x 8.5 inches. KDP and IngramSpark offer most of the same trim sizes, and both offer detailed lists of the possible trim sizes (KDP’s list, IngramSpark’s list). Both platforms offer industry-standard trim sizes, but you can also choose nonstandard or custom trim sizes. In general, I recommend you stick to standard trim sizes; they’re easier to work with across platforms and give you more choices with distribution channels.
For nonfiction/business books, 6 x 9 and 5.5 x 8.5 are the most common standard sizes. Since page count is influenced by trim size, consider how thick you want your book to be. If you have a fairly long book (50k+ words), 6 x 9 is nice; if your book is closer to 30k or 40k words, 5.5 x 8.5 helps it feel thicker and more substantial. (Note, though, that the higher the page count, the higher your print cost.)
If you are publishing specialty books, read the trim sizes and related options closely. Calendars, children’s books, and other specialty books often seem more appealing in less common sizes, which is not a problem if the options you want are available. For example, in 8.5 x 8.5, which is fun for a children’s book, IngramSpark offers only the case laminate hard cover, not the dust cover option.
If you plan to use both platforms for the same book, verify the trim size you want is available on both. For example, you may be using KDP for Amazon and IngramSpark for other distribution channels. If you choose a common trim size, you can use the same interior file on both platforms. Likewise, when creating both paperback and hardback, if they are the same size, you can use the same interior file.
Both KDP and IS offer black-and-white (b/w) and color interiors.
Black and White
Black and white is the option I work with most frequently; it’s standard for books that are primarily text. Plain old b/w is cheaper than color (by about 2–3x), so unless you really need color, go with b/w.
TIP: If you have diagrams or images in your book, develop them in b/w. For example, in a pie chart, use shades of gray that can be distinguished rather than colors that when printed in black and white are too similar to tell apart.
When you choose b/w printing, you also get a choice of paper: bright white or cream/off-white. This decision is based on personal preference and what suits the book style and topic. In general, I like cream, but some books just call out for bright white.
TIP: Cream paper may be slightly thicker than white paper, and paper thickness can change the spine calculations for your book cover. Ideally, choose your paper before the cover is created; if you change your paper choice after the cover is designed, just be sure to check your spine calculations and adjust if needed.
For b/w books, the interior print quality is comparable between the two services. Some people like IS quality slightly more; other prefer KDP. I find the difference negligible; for what you expect from a paperback, they both provide reasonable, solid quality.
Both services offer the option of color interiors (all on bright white paper).
- KDP offers only one color-print option, on 60 lb. paper.
- IS offers three options: Standard color on 50 lb. paper, standard color on 70 lb. paper, and premium color on 70 lb. paper.
With both services, color printing is significantly more expensive than black/white—by about 2–3x. For example, on IngramSpark, a 6 x 9, 150-page, b/w book costs $2.97 to print; the same in standard color costs $4.74; in premium it costs $11.26. KDP price variation is similar.
POD color printing is also more expensive than what you might find in a traditional print run. In print runs, you can print b/w on the b/w pages and color on the color pages. In POD, every single page is printed in “color” even if it’s black and white, thus driving up the price.
If you are publishing a standard business book, chances are you’ll stick with b/w; go to color only if there is a need for it.
I have limited experience with color printing on either platform, but I’ve found that KDP colors tend to print more vibrantly than IS colors, and that IS colors run to reddish tones. If you are printing a book in color where the accuracy and look of the color is important (e.g., a children’s book with illustrations), I highly recommend doing further research online for feedback about color printing on these platforms—and be prepared to make adjustments once you’ve seen a proof copy.
Hardback and Paperback Covers
Both platforms offer paperback; only IngramSpark offers hardback, so if you want hardback, IngramSpark is your option.
For paperback, KDP and IS both offer perfect bound paperbacks with covers in glossy and matte finishes. The choice of glossy vs. matte comes down to personal preference and suitability for the book cover and topic. For me, some books ask for matte—a calmer, more soothing feel. Other books demand gloss—especially with brighter colors and stronger language.
TIP: On KDP, order a proof copy in one finish; change the setting and then order a proof copy in the other. There’s nothing like feeling and seeing the actual product to help you decide.
To have text on a paperback spine, the spine must be adequately thick to hold text and leave wiggle room for variations in print. On KDP, you must have 100 pages to print text on the spine; on IS you need only 48 pages. (If your book is fewer than 48 pages, you will likely have a saddle-stitched binding.)
In my experience the cover quality is comparable across platforms. For paperbacks (and maybe hardbacks), the cover color seems truer on KDP; in my experience it seems redder on IS. I read someplace that the color is more “saturated” on IS. I’m not a graphic designer, so I’m not sure if that’s the right description, but if color accuracy is important to you, be ready to make some adjustments after you get a proof copy.
On IngramSpark, there are two basic hardback options:
- Clothbound – With a clothbound book the hard cover of the book is covered with woven cloth, and there is an option to have the title stamped on the spine in gold print. Since the cloth itself is fairly plain, most people choose to have a dust cover—that removable paper cover that folds over the cloth cover—but it’s optional. As with paperback covers, for dust covers you have a choice of glossy or matte finish.
- Casebound – With a casebound book, the cover design (like you’d have on the paperback or the dust cover) is printed and laminated on the hard cover of the book; there is no dust cover. (This style is less common in business books, but think of your old school textbooks—most of them were probably casebound for sturdiness.) Again, you have an option of glossy or matte finish.
The availability of hardback options varies by trim size, so be sure to read closely. For example, a dust cover is not available on an 8.5 x 8.5 book; if a dust cover is important, consider a different trim size.
Hardback is more expensive than paperback by about 3x. A 150-page, 6 x 9, b/w book in paperback is $2.97 to print; in hardback with a dust cover, it’s $9. Use IngramSpark’s online tools to help you sort through options. For business books, in general I’d recommend 5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9 clothbound with a dust cover.
Regarding quality, the cloth hardback with dust cover is nice. IS offers a nice, neutral navy blue, or a “dove gray” (which I haven’t yet seen). The quality of spine stamping is somewhat inconsistent (at times difficult to read, letters incomplete), but since the spine is usually covered by a dust cover, that’s a minor point. The quality of the dust covers is good, though occasionally a batch of clothbound books has arrived without all the dust covers.
Overall Print Quality
Print-on-demand books are created one at a time and entail more variation than a traditional print run. Occasionally you are likely to receive a book (or shipment of books) that has a flaw. In addition to the quality issues I’ve noted above, you may run into:
- Spines coming unglued and falling apart. This is a not uncommon problem in POD and appears to be related to the type of glue used.
- The interior text is streaked, faded, or uneven due to toner running out on the printer.
- Too much glue used on the casebound cover; it squeezes out and gets on the pages.
- Miscuts on the pages, for example, a page gets folded under before cutting.
The first two items should be rectified; the second two may depend on how significant the issue is. And you may run into additional issues I haven’t seen.
In my experience, Amazon/KDP (and previously CreateSpace) has been good about replacing poor-quality items. IngramSpark has been somewhat more difficult to work with; it seems more hit and miss based on who you can get ahold of. But I have less experience with IS, so we’ll see what happens over time.
In a Nutshell
KDP and IngramSpark are the two major POD platforms, and both produce a solid product. For publishing a black-and-white paperback book, the quality of the two platforms is comparable. For publishing a hardback, IngramSpark is the only option.
If you plan to use both platforms, choose a trim size available on both. And always read the printing specifications closely to make sure the configuration of options you want is available.