The First Stone Bible is Coming
On January 26th, 2022, I wrote an article about making the first Bible out of a material that I grew to know when I lived in Shenzhen, China: stone paper. In China, I had built a business on this innovative material. Coming back to the US with my deep understanding of stone paper, I saw advantages for a Bible in that stone paper is tear-resistant, waterproof, fade-resistant, and high quality. I also saw a business opportunity to improve the material and grow its competitiveness with traditional paper. Now, with First Baptist of Lexington SC, we are really making the first Bible on stone paper (called the Word in Stone) and this article is about my thoughts and experience so far on this adventure. Here’s the official announcement last Sunday, October 15th, 2023.
Working with First Baptist
I firstly would like to note how grateful I am to the head Pastor of First Baptist of Lexington, Ralph Schneck, for working with me on this project. When we connected about this idea, I was only a few months into my return to the US after 8 years of living abroad in Germany and China. At the time, it was rather chaotic trying to find my footing again stateside. I made several visits to his office to discuss what I had learned back in China and how to apply it to this project. It honestly reminded me of the venture capitalists I met while building my stone paper business in China- Pastor Ralph shared a similar ambition and hope for new things that I had, the same feelings I shared with those crazy Chinese investors.
It was also the beginning of a spiritual change for me. Pastor Ralph invited me to join a Bible study group for the older members of our church, and through that I also had the chance to really dive into the Bible. I’ve been attending weekly video calls with that group of incredible people since then, even after moving to New York to continue my career with RR Donnelley. This experience has already taught me alot about the book we’re trying to re-publish in a new format, and what might come in the future.
Publishing My First Book
It didn’t even cross my mind that we were actually publishing a book until the typesetting was finished. I never thought I would be involved in book publishing other than printing them, but here we are! The typesetting was a year-long ordeal in itself. Finding the proper translation, getting a license, contract, and formatting everything for our target readers all involved details that I never could have imagined before. We had this project typeset twice because we changed our minds about the format, and it indeed cost several thousand dollars to do so. Ouch! But now we are happy with the NASB translation we have chosen that is perfectly formatted for the outer book that we have designed.
How Stone Paper Influenced Our Design
Stone paper still isn’t a worldwide phenomenon- there are some serious growing pains that currently make it not particularly competitive with tree-based paper. I originally thought we could take the thinnest available stone paper at 80 gsm and run it through the web press in Shenzhen to make our Bible. My old friends at the stone paper factory were kind enough to supply a large roll to RRD Asia for free to test this. It turns out the thinnest possible stone paper stretches significantly in a web press which is configured for traditional paper, and it also melts under the infrared heaters used to dry the web. Basically it made a big mess.
This first obstacle meant we needed to switch to a 108 gsm material which could be printed in an offset press. As you can imagine, printing a Bible with 1056 pages in a sheetfed press is not ideal. But new things always come with difficulty!
At the very beginning of the design process, we were also concerned about weight. With stone paper being 20% more dense than traditional paper, we originally started with a smaller format that could be carried around easily. This, however, meant we needed an 8pt font to minimize the page count. That wouldn’t work for our key readers, who likely needed extra large type. We went back to the typesetters asking for a 12pt font, and what we got back was an 8” x 11” monster Bible. With the 108 gsm stone paper, it comes in at over 7 lbs.
At first, this idea was scary and faced skepticism from most of my printing friends. But after receiving our final dummy, it actually turns out to be a feature rather than a bug. The paper, size, weight, and quality all make for an absolutely beautiful Bible. It opens smoothly, stays flat, and makes a statement when sitting on a table.
What I Think Now About Stone Paper
Stone paper has a long way to go to become a mainstream material, but I think this is the right path to walk. This is one of the very few chances to expand the capacity of stone paper production while building a great product that allows it to shine alone in a 7 lb package. Does it mean that we can explore a better way of manufacturing stone paper? I don’t think so, at least not yet. It will take years of developing stone paper volume through products like these to have a chance at that. But that’s exactly what I see in this right now. Depending on how our first project goes, it means we might just be able to slowly grow the demand for stone paper. And ironically, I believe the only force that can realize the dream of a stone paper factory in the USA within the next 20 years is God.
The Word in Stone Printing Specs
- 8" x 11" Format
- PU Leather Wrapped over Bible Board
- Black Aurora End Papers
- 108 gsm Stone Paper Pages
- Flexible Binding with Rounded Corners
- Dual Ribbon Bookmarks
- Hubbed Spine
- 12 pt Oversized Font
Order Yours Here
The Kickstarter campaign will go live at 8 am this Sunday, October 19th. If you’d like to be a part of our adventure, you can order one at the link below.
Hunter Bliss is currently a strategic account executive for RR Donnelley Asia, based in New York City. Previously, during a four-year residence in China, he acted as the founder and CEO of Pebble Printing Group, a printer specializing in stone paper printing. Hunter is from South Carolina, was educated as a printer in Germany, and founded his company in Shenzhen, China.