Print-on-demand (also called publish-on-demand and usually referred to simply as “P.O.D.”) has been one of the four corners of the self-publishing revolution at the onset of the 21st century. Perhaps nothing else has truly put the benefits (and risks) of publishing within reach of most authors. It is the model on which nearly every subsidy or vanity publisher (often calling themselves “self-publishing companies”) is based.
Although P.O.D. has come a long way since its inception not so many years ago, it still requires some consideration when it comes to your cover design. For most interior designs (black ink on white paper), you’re pretty much free to roam design-wise; however, the color capabilities of P.O.D. is limited.
Know that your colors may be inconsistent from book to book. The variation may not be much, and may not matter to you, but if color accuracy is critical to your book you may have a problem. Due to the nature of P.O.D., it’s simply not possible to guarantee consistent color reproduction. Instead, you’d be better heading over to the world of offset printing and buying a larger print run.
Avoid photos, especially of people. While some imagery may not look bad if the colors are off (and no one will notice), others will look horrible. This is especially true of skin tones and food. No one wants to see faces with a greenish or purplish tint. Remember, it’s not the photo itself but rather the variance in how it will be printed. If you have such a photo that you absolutely must include in your cover, consider having your designer incorporate it in grayscale (black and white) or duotone.
Lastly, flat areas of color (as opposed to gradients, fades, and other effects) will reproduce best in P.O.D. This is not to say you must use flat areas of color, just that you will reduce the chances of a problem. Again, all this can vary significantly across the many P.O.D. services.
Print-on-demand has truly opened up exciting possibilities for self-publishing authors. For all its current limits, I wouldn’t trade it for the “old days” for anything. But as with any budding technology, it requires adaptation for the most effective use. And remember, when going or considering the P.O.D. route, be sure to mention this to your cover designer before starting your project.