Inside book production: A Perfect Chemistry

The limited edition version of our newest publication, A Perfect Chemistry: Photographs by Hill & Adamson

As our newest title is wending its way into bookshops across the world, we thought we would offer a peek into the process behind producing a National Galleries of Scotland publication. Every project is unique and varies depending on whether the book accompanies an exhibition (sometimes one with multiple, international venues) or stands alone, is an academic catalogue or a children’s publication, a reprint of one of our most popular titles, or a guide to one of our Galleries.

After the initial brief and scope of the book is agreed on by our authors, publications team and anyone else involved in related projects or exhibitions, our authors set about writing their text and making an initial selection of images to be included. In this case, most of the images were of works from our own collection and were out of copyright, but on other occasions it can take many months to request images from other collections, commission photography and clear copyright permissions for all the works in the book.

Working on the book proofs.

After the text has been copy-edited and fact-checked, it goes off to the designer along with all the images and captions. We usually work collaboratively with both designer and printers to settle on the final dimensions and materials. For this project, we decided to produce both paperback and hardback editions. We chose a portrait layout to complement the photographs in the book, and a quarter-binding (covering the spine with a material such as cloth) to give an elegant, traditional feel. This also allowed us to introduce some colour to balance the photograph we used on the cover.

Early cover design by Philip Lewis.
Early cover design by Philip Lewis.
Early cover design by Philip Lewis.
Early cover design by Philip Lewis.
The final cover.

We tried out a number of different options for the cover, and after asking many people’s opinions settled on the final image for its graphic qualities, combination of architectural and social details (four small figures and cart give a sense of the period) and a recognisable landmark that makes clear that the book centres around the people and events of Edinburgh. As an added bonus, part of the Scottish National Gallery can be glimpsed in the background.

We also decided to create a special edition, limited to just 200 copies, which we thought would be perfect for lovers of photography or history who will relish a beautiful book covering the masterpieces from these world pioneers of photography. We had fun selecting the perfect shade of cloth for the binding and copper foil for the embossed title, as well as experimenting with our printers on adding copper-coloured gilt to the page edges. Luckily, we also had a very amenable author who agreed to spend a morning hand numbering and signing 200 books!

Cloth samples for the binding.
Foil blocking on the spine.
Foil blocking on the cover.

After our designer comes up with the initial design for the book and creates the first proofs, we then spend a few months adjusting and refining the layout. At one stage we got so confused with which images we wanted to move to which pages next to which other images that we resorted to spreading all 128 pages out on a table (and surrounding floor and chairs) to help us figure out what was going where.

During this time, we also work on proofs of all the images in the book, comparing them as much as possible to the actual artworks to make sure that they are faithful reproductions.

Working on the layout.
Comparing image proofs to the original prints.
Comparing image proofs against the printed sheets at the printers, to check colours (also featuring: unfortunate spelling confusion).

At the printers, these image proofs are then checked against the sheets coming off the printing press and the colours adjusted if necessary.

After all the sheets have been printed and dried, they are folded and trimmed and the printers send us the ‘folded and gathered’ sheets – the final pages of the book – to check before they are sewn, bound and the hardback covers added.

Checking the colours across the different versions of the cover.
Sheets flying off the printing press.
Printing finished! The sheets drying before going to be trimmed and bound.
Folded and gathered pages, before binding.
Copies of the book on display in our shop.

Two or three weeks later, often just in time for the opening of an exhibition, all the final copies of the book are delivered to our warehouse and we can start sending them out to our shops and to customers around the world … and praying that no-one finds a typo.




Find out more about National Galleries of Scotland publications here.

A Perfect Chemistry: Photographs by Hill & Adamson can be purchased from our shops or online.

By Gillian Achurch, Publishing Coordinator, 27 June 2017