Printing and Design Tips: March 2010, Issue #104


Sometimes you need to print a lot of copies of the same job. Maybe you need 10,000 copies of a brochure, and you want all of these copies to look the same (this is called "static" printing). Or maybe you need 2,000 copies of a case-bound textbook or 20,000 copies of a trade paperback. In these cases, nothing beats static offset printing. No technology is superior or more economical.

For shorter-run jobs, however, this may not always be the case.

The physical act of designing, printing, and delivering a brochure (or a business card, or letterhead) to its intended user may turn out to be costly and inefficient in certain circumstances. Design services cost money, and if your business produces multiple versions of brochures, you have to pay the designer each time a new design is needed. Paper also costs money, and when the brochures arrive at your warehouse, you have to pay for storage, handling, inventory tracking, and so forth. (Printed products are heavy and take up a lot of storage room.) In some cases, over time the brochures become obsolete and need to be discarded or recycled. This can be a cumbersome process. However, the marriage of design, the Internet, and digital or offset printing is now providing a solution.

"Web-to-print" is a hybrid technology whereby a business (a printer or any other business) purchases individually tailored e-commerce software created by a website designer. The website combines page design and Internet functionality. To the user who wants to create a brochure, the interface looks like an on-line Quark or InDesign template. However, this software offers fewer design options than such page-composition software normally would. The user begins with a template of a brochure, letterhead, business card (or any other personalized, printed item) created by the originating designer. It is "locked" (or controlled) so it can only be changed in certain ways. For example, perhaps the margins and other elements of the design grid are locked and the typefaces cannot be changed. But the person granted access to the website (maybe a sales representative from your company) can upload photos and replace and update text in the template.

Ultimately, this allows for several huge benefits:

  1. Since the design is not variable, all the brochures from any of your sales reps accessing this service will look like they go together. This uniformity of design will reinforce your company's brand image.
  2. Your sales representatives will be able to produce their own brochures from this web-to-print template, so you won't need to pay a designer's rates each time you need a new brochure.
  3. You will have personalized materials for your sales reps rather than generic materials.
  4. You will only print what you need and therefore will be less likely to throw away old, outdated copies.
  5. You'll pay less for storage and inventory control because you'll only print what you need.
  6. You can make changes to the documents as required (as your products or business practices change) and then print out new ones. Therefore, all information in the brochures will always be current, accurate, and fresh.
  7. You can track everything from the design changes to the number of copies to the delivery information on-line. That is, you'll know how much to invoice whichever department in your business ordered the job. Or, if you open this service to clients outside your business, you can use the e-commerce tools currently available to accept payment online and then track delivery of the job. And you can even take the opportunity to collect more demographic information from your client during the electronic transaction to facilitate any follow-up marketing activities.

Once the document has been designed, it can be printed either conventionally or digitally (or both).

This paradigm for web-to-print technology is perhaps best suited to short print runs of variable-data jobs using digital printing rather than offset printing of static data. That is, this technology would not lend itself to printing several thousand copies of a product (especially a long job like a book). Rather, you would probably want to produce a limited number of short, printed products that vary from one another in some way but that conform to a particular format and need to look like they came from one business.


This is a marketing term for an undeliverable mail package that never reached its destination due to incomplete addressing information. It is relevant because every piece of mail you send that is a "nixie" wastes your printing money, paper stock money, mailshop money, and postage. Check with the Post Office early in the process to ensure accurate addressing. There are many services available like CASS certification for address completeness and NCOA for new or revised address information. Make list hygiene a priority. It can be a business choice well within your control.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]