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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Business Card Printing: Ganging Up Jobs to Save Money

A client of mine is buying some business cards, a brochure, a table runner, and a retractable banner stand for an upcoming convention.

I gave her prices for the items, suggesting an alternate paper stock to bring down the cost, and I think we were both pleased with the results. In fact, a simple paper substitution brought the price of 1,000 business cards two dollars below the prior cost of 500 business cards.

In addition, I provided pricing for 250 and 500 brochures. My client had thought these prices were a bit high.

Background on the Jobs

To give a little background on the two jobs, the brochure is a two-color, 8.5” x 11” piece wrap folded to 3.66” x 8.5” on 100# Finch Fine text, and the business cards are the standard size, printed on both sides on 130# Finch cover, with a bleed on the back of the card.

Both jobs had started out with short runs (50 copies of the brochure and 500 copies of one business card). Therefore, they were initially bid as digitally printed jobs to be produced on the commercial printing vendor’s HP Indigo. Although the viewer would perceive them to be two-color jobs, the business cards and brochures would really be printed in 4-color process liquid toner. In prepress, the printer would convert the PMS colors to their nearest process color builds, and then the jobs would be run as process color work. (If I understand correctly, the color conversion may even be made on the fly in the HP Indigo press.)

A New Wrinkle in the Jobs

My client wanted options and good prices. Who could blame her? She also didn’t want to buy more than she needed. Therefore, my client asked if instead of 1,000 business cards (with one name), she could have two sets of 500 cards (with two names). Presumably for the same price.

I said this was not possible. On a digital press, the jobs could not be ganged. I was wrong (and partially right, regarding price).

When I asked the custom printing supplier about this option, he said that he could in fact gang up the jobs, which would save money. However, the two jobs together would still cost more than one 1,000-copy press run because of the extra prepress work involved. (This last part is what I was expecting, but I was pleased that there would be a discount for printing both 500-copy sets of business cards simultaneously.) I knew ganging was possible on offset equipment, but I assumed the smaller format of digital printing would not allow this. I was pleased to be wrong. So was my print brokering client.

Still Another Wrinkle in the Jobs

The best price I could get on the brochures was about a dollar a piece for digital custom printing. The press run at both 250 copies and 500 copies was too small to move the job to an offset press. It would have not yet reached the point at which the unit cost would have been cheaper for offset than for digital.

My client asked about printing 250 or 500 copies of the brochure in English and 50 copies in Spanish. I said this would be two press runs, and the 50-copy press run would be expensive on a unit-cost basis.

Based on the printer’s stated ability to gang up digital jobs (business cards), I do wonder about ganging up the English and Spanish versions of the brochures. However, for 50 recipients of the Spanish version, my client opted to move this portion of the job to the Internet.

Since she still wanted to pay less than a dollar a brochure, I suggested that I request pricing for 250, 500, and 750 copies. This would allow my client to compare total costs and unit costs. At the 750-copy level, the job might even be more economically printed via offset lithography. I will leave that to the custom printing vendor to determine.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to consider:

  1. If you have received a printer’s price for 1,000 copies of one version of a job, changing the job and providing art for two separate versions will not cost the same total amount as the cost for one. This is because there is more prepress work involved, even if there’s space to gang up both jobs on one press sheet.
  2. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking about ganging up multiple elements of a job. This may still save you money.
  3. Printing 500 copies of a brochure in one language and then 50 in another yields two jobs, not one, even if the art (photos, design, etc.) is the same in both. This will be reflected in the price, but, again, there may still be a savings for ganging up the jobs. However, if your jobs will print digitally, remember that the maximum press sheet size is often much smaller on a digital press than on an offset press (approximately 13” x 19” vs. 25” x 38” depending on the digital and offset equipment). Particularly if your job will bleed, there may not be room on the press sheet to gang up the jobs.
  4. Always ask your printer about options. You might even suggest moving from digital equipment to offset equipment (or vice versa) to ensure the most economical custom printing process.
  5. If you’re splitting the components of your job between digital and offset equipment, remember that the former operates in a 4-color environment and the latter in a 4-color and/or PMS match color environment. If you produce a portion of your work using one process and the balance in the other, the two components may not match.

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