How Are Books Made Today | A Visit to the Almanac Printer!

The Almanac for Kids at the Printers

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Ever wondered how books are made? The Almanac for Kids is hot off the press, just in time for summer reading! Take a peek inside the printing process and then take a look inside the book!

A Very Short History of Printing

People have been reading books for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians pounded the stems of papyrus to make sheets of paper-like material and then wrote on it. They also glued papyrus sheets together to make scrolls. Eventually, people shifted from scrolls to pages by either folding or cutting papyrus sheets into page-size pieces.

In the early days of book making, people made one book at a time, copying the text of each page by hand. You can imagine how long that would take! Only a few pages could be copied each day. It could take an entire year to make a book, so books were valuable and only available to monks and scholars.

The Chinese invented the technique of block printing, which involved carving an entire page of text onto a block of wood—a laborious process. This gave way to a system of moveable type—sets of letters (type) that could be rearranged (moved). 

Around 1440, a German named Johannes Gutenberg applied these techniques and invented the first adjustable type mold. It allowed a printer who was casting metal type to adjust the width, thereby creating narrower or wider characters (letters). This meant that a given character could be replicated thousands of times. With Gutenberg’s mechanized printing press, books could be printed and produced more quickly—and it launched a Printing Revolution. Before 1455, no printed books existed in Europe. By 1500, more than 20 million books had been printed! Books were finally in the hands of anybody who wanted them—from merchants to bakers to people like you and me. Not many inventions have spread this fast! 

Printing in Crawfordsville, Indiana

The publisher and production director of The Old Farmer’s Almanac recently made a trip to the city of Crawfordsville, Indiana. That’s where the printer of the Almanac for Kids is based.

Believe it or not, a lot of books that you read are not printed in North America any more, but we think it’s very important to print in the U.S.A.

When we visited our printer, we saw an antique Washington Hand Press (see below), which was invented in the early 19th century. The operator of this press would set type into a frame that was filled with ink. Then, paper was pressed down on the frame. Note the handle in the below photo. The machine required a very strong person to lift and lower handle to press the paper down.

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The Modern Printing Press

Today, we can print thousands of copies in just a few days. The printing plants are huge! The facility in Crawfordsville is the size of 1,700 football fields. The printing presses run around the clock, 24 hours per day, with employees working day- and nighttime shifts.  

The two photos below (from a different printer we use in Pennsylvania) give you a good idea how big these modern printing presses are!

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Look at the colorful pages in the below picture. Notice that modern printers no longer print one page at a time. In fact, the printer lays out several pages at a time on a huge sheet of paper, taking great care to arrange them in a particular way, so that when the sheet is folded prior to binding, the pages will be in the correct order. You would not want to read pages out of order, would you?

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Time to Print!

To produce the Almanac for Kids, we use “offset lithography” printing—sometimes referred to as offset printing. Do you remember, perhaps from a science class in school, that oil and water do NOT mix? That’s the principle behind this printing process!

It starts with aluminum plates. An imaging, ink-accepting coating is applied to the plates. They are fed into a laser printer that etches the images on a page onto the coating. Every page of the book gets etched. Then both water and oil-based ink are rolled onto the plates. The water resists the oil-based ink, so the ink remains on the plate where it is wanted. The plate is then transferred to the cylinder, where the image is then printed on the paper. Each of the ink colors goes on separately and the press prints both sides of the paper at the same time.

The Almanac for Kids is printed on massive rolls of paper (see below), which is delivered to the printer by railcar and truck. A single sheet is 35,000 feet—or 6.6 miles—long!

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Credit: International Paper

For this type of printing process, we use 8-color printing units (four for each roll of paper running through the press).

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A close-up of one of the printing units (magenta) showing how both sides of the paper are printed at the same time. The paper runs so fast it is just a blur to our eyes.

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The words and images are printed on the paper in groups of pages called “signatures.” Each signature will be folded.

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Then the folded signatures go to a stacker that puts them in tight bundles to go to the bindery.

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The next step is to bind the book. A special binding machine glues the pages and the cover together.

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However, although printed and bound, the pages are still folded—you can not yet open the book and read it! In the old days, people had to cut their book pages in order to read them. Today, machines trim the pages and then put the books into cartons that will be shipped to stores—and to you!

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That’s how we make The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids. Click here to look inside the final pages of the Almanac for Kids. Tell us what you think!

About This Blog

Your Old Farmer's Almanac editors occasionally share our reflections, advice, and musings—and welcome your comments. too.

Reader Comments

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Editor

I loved this article, which editor wrote it?

Thank YOU!

Thank you, Shinara! Catherine Boeckmann, an Almanac editor, wrote this article.

3 Winners of Almanac for Kids

To those who entered the Almanac for Kids Giveaway (now closed), the three winners are: Doug Stack, Beckey Wolfe, and Jean M Russell. Please email us with your “snailmail” so we can send you a copy at: AlmanacEditors@yankeepub.com  Thanks to everyone for your positive words—and we hope you’ll check out our Kids Almanac!

How Are Books Made

What a delightful description! The pictures make me want to take my children by the hand...and jump in! Thank you for showing us.

kids almanac

My granddaughter and I are reading this article and she is so excited about how it us all put together.
She is an avid reader and loves receiving her kids national geographic and ranger Rick in the mail.
She wants to get one of yours so she can learn something different.
She loves working in the garden with me and I know she would thoroughly love to get a copy..
Thank you

Almanac for Kids

She sounds like an Almanac kid! 

I have always been fascinated

I have always been fascinated with the printing process!

Book smart!

Everyday we use so many things and don't stop to appreciate the work, or history, put into it. Thanks for the educational briefing on the history of book making. I believe books are very important and my 4 yr old daughter has TONS! She loves her book and we would love one of these, especially free haha :)

Very Cool!

Great insight into the printing process. Very interesting. My daughter would love the kids almanac.

Almanac for Kids

What a neat article. I am a school librarian and will be showing this to my students this fall. Hopefully they will find it as interesting as I did.

All four of my kids all love

All four of my kids all love the Kids Almanac. They have been eagerly awaiting the next issue.

All four of my kids all love

All four of my kids all love the Kids Almanac. They have been eagerly awaiting the next issue.

Contest Entry

I'm excited to see the kids almanac. My 10 yr old is a book worm. She'll love to explore this book and I have to admit, I will, too! I'm glad to see this production happening in the US. We live in KY, so Indiana is our neighbors. Keep up the good work!

Almanac for Kids

Wow! This is a great way for kids to learn without that textbook feel! Thanks!

Passing on the Tradition

My grandfather taught me how to use the almanac while teaching me to garden. I've been a fan ever since. I have a granddaughter myself now. She'll be 5 in August and I would love to gift the Kid's Almanac to her.

kids almanac

this would be totally awesome to have this on hand for my grandchildren

How books are made

WOW that is awesome ! I work for a box company that uses some of the same equipment and some from the 70's . It never ceases to amaze me !
I would love to win the Kids Addition Almanac, I love the Magazine !

Neat!

It was really nice to read about the printing of the Almanac for Kids and to preview some of the pages with my kids. They both loved it!

Children's Almanac

I certainly love the adult version! My children would probably enjoy this one.

Children's Almanac

I certainly love the adult version! My children would probably enjoy this one.

printing history/give away

Children and adults alike will love the history of printing as Kids Almanac has written. From the early Egyptians, the color photo of an antique printing press, right through the process of a modern printing facility. This statement was astounding "Before 1455, no printed books existed in Europe. By 1500, more than 20 million books had been printed" from 0 to 20 million, that is only 45 years!!
My kids would love to have this Almanac.

Considering this Kids Almanac is volume #7 I'm surprised I've never seen one before.
I purchase all of my regular Almanacs and beautiful Almanac Calenders at Lowes. I love using them as stocking stuffers.

Almanac for Kids

Hi, Jean, Thanks so very much for your enthusiasm for the Almanac and for our calendars. The Almanac for Kids, now in its seventh edition, comes out ever two years (it’s content is undated, timeless—not tied/dated to a given year like its parent, the Old Farmer’s Almanac), and it is/has been on sale with the Almanac at Lowe’s every year it has been published. Look for it there this year!

Almanac For Kids

Coincidentally, my 12 y.o. son (& I) learned a great deal, this past school-year, about the spreading of ideas & knowledge via writings on papyrus leaves, through the ages, and up to the invention of J. Gutenberg's printing-press. The ingenuity behind each writing technique is fascinating, and I'm tickled to learn, Almanac For Kids, has been printed on 6.6 miles of rolled paper(!) ,right here in our own Hoosier State. :D

How the Kids Almanac is printed

Kids still play with marbles ? Glad to hear there is something interesting to do besides play on a computer, book reading should be a vital one and this article hopefully will peak their interest enough to pick up a book (like the Kids Almanac) and begin an adventurous learning experience. With so many things Not being produced in America it is refreshing to know that many still are. It is a crying shame that with the Technology Age we are losing the appreciation of the printed book, when the power goes out and the computer doesn't work maybe just maybe books will come back into the lives of many people once again, to stay this time...

Kids book

I've never heard about the children book , this sounds great and would love to try for my homeschooling.

Kids book

I've never heard about the children book , this sounds great and would love to try for my homeschooling.

Very nice to show kids how

Very nice to show kids how things are made. We love to watch 'How it's Made'. My children are learning the Almanac. I would love for them to receive a kids Almanac. Keep up the great work.

Great article on Kid's Almanac!

Thank you for the glimpse into the making of a Kid's Almanac. I would always pick up my copy of the Farmer's Almanac every year, and was so excited when I saw the Kid's version. When my son (now 15) became able to read, he would beg me every year for his copy. Of course, once he was done reading it, it was my turn! I even caught my husband reading it a time or two. I can only imagine that what's inside has become more interesting and wonderful over the years!

Almanac for Kids

Thanks, Kami! And to your son! And your husband! You know, your 15-year-old is not too old for the Kids Almanac (nor are you and his dad). We have been told (by readers) that kids can’t put it down and parents can’t wait to pick up (sounds like your house!). It’s for ages 8 to 80!

Kids Almanac

Great read! I have some Grands who would enjoy the Kids Almanac!

kids almanac

I was raised with my parents reading almanac they would get one every year and read it from cover to cover they taught me the importance of it and I still get one ....would love to have one to share with the kids

Kids Almanac

Great read! I have some Grands who would enjoy the Kids Almanac!

Almanac for Kids

Great article on how it's printed.

Farmer's Almanac for Kids - How It's Printed and more

Wow!!!! What an amazing book full of wonderful things to learn about. Our 8 year old grand daughter loves to read, so she would love this book. Our 5 year old grandson is fascinated with all things weather, so he would especially enjoy that portion of the book even though he's just beginning to read. Then there's our 3 year old grandson. Our kids read to our grands every night before bed, so this would be a great book for the family to read together, discuss, and learn lots of interesting things. I would love to be one of the winners so that I could give this book to them. Thank you!!!!!!!

KIDS ALMANAC

I enjoyed the article, and I think the printing process pictures will be a great resource to show my students who are curious about how books are printed. I'm definitely bookmarking this article!!!!

KIDS ALMANAC-HOW IT'S PRINTED

I think it's great too show kids how too print books with all the games'phones' out there today' learning is what we need' to teach our kids too read and work'like our grandparent did'I love too read the farmer almanac I plant by it' I read the weather' the long range forcast I love too read this book.

Kids Almanac

Interesting read...love that it was made in the USA, that's always a big plus. I think my kids would enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy reading to them from the Farmers Almanac. Love that in the final pages that it had,how to shoot marble,I remember when my grandfather taught me.... thanks for the chance to win one for the kids

Kids Almanac

I think this is fantastic. I remember as a kid in the 70s, I always got a world almanac for my birthday. I would practically read cover to cover. This kids almanac would have thrilled me!!!

How cool! I'll always prefer

How cool! I'll always prefer a print book over an e-Book. I'd love to see a video of this process, too. Thanks for sharing!

Kids Almanac Printing

Wonderful article! Since I work as a graphic designer, this helped me to show my daughter who is 8 just what happens to some of the type of work I do. It is always exciting to see the final project! She loves books and asks questions about weather. I think I have a mini me in the works!

Kids Almanac- How it's printed

I'm still old fashioned and love the feel of a new book in my hands no matter if it's for kids or not!! I'd love to see the process in a youtube video! Thanks for all you do in keeping us informed with such good advice (yes, I read that article too about the best advice ever received)!

Almanac for Kids

Many thanks for your comments thus far! Making a video of the printing process is a great idea if we can get permission from the printer. We’re excited about your positive reception to the Kids Almanac. Kids who read it can’t seem to put it down so that’s a good sign, too!

How Books are made. Very interesting reading.

How Books are made. Very interesting reading even for "old fogies." I rated the article 5/5!

Almanac for Kids

This is great! I have Grandsons who would absolutely love this book since they are very inquisitive. The book seems to have everything to keep them interested in learning new things.

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