Overage / Underage in Printing Industry
From the perspective of the offset
printer, producing a particular quantity of printed pieces
is not an exact science. For one thing, a printing press
is not like a light switch. It cannot be turned on and off
to print exactly 50,000 copies, so the printer almost always
either prints too few or too many copies.
In addition, there are many different
manufacturing activities within the production process.
For instance, one side of a press sheet is printed, then
the other side is printed after the first dries. Once the
presswork is complete, the printed press sheets are transferred
to post-press for trimming, folding, collating, stitching,
etc. Ink-jet addressing and other lettershop activities
may follow. In the course of each production task, printed
sheets are wasted. This waste is called spoilage. To eventually
hand off to the client a completed press run of 50,000 copies
of a publication, a printer must start with many more copies,
assuming he will destroy a certain number in each step as
part of the manufacturing process.
Within the printing industry, a membership
organization of printers called the Printing Industry of
America has developed a series of trade customs. Among these
is a standard for overage/underage. This is the terminology
for the copies of your publication that exceed or fall short
of your requested press run.
According to these trade customs, a
printer charges a customer for the actual number of copies
produced, up to 10 percent more or less than the requested
amount. The key here is the word “actual.” This
is not an arbitrary number. The printer can only charge
for what he hands off to the customer.
There are a few “rules”
that expand upon/modify this trade custom:
- Less overage/underage can be expected
for longer runs. Another way to say this is that by their
very nature, longer runs tend to be more accurate, with
the necessary allowance for spoilage being a smaller percentage
of the entire run. For instance, you might expect 3 percent
overage within a 100,000-copy press run.
- You can negotiate overage/underage
limits with your printer. A printer I once worked with
agreed to charge for only 2.5 percent overage/underage.
However, this was for a weekly magazine. The printer and
client had a contract and a long history of working together.
- You can request “not less
than” 50,000 copies (or any other number), as well.
However, to guarantee that you will receive not less than
50,000 copies, the printer can provide (and charge for)
up to double the usual amount, twenty percent more (in
this case 60,000 rather than 55,000 copies on a 50,000
press run). In this case, the printer makes sure that
far more copies than needed are produced to ensure that
not even 10 copies fewer than the requested limit are
handed to the client.
When in doubt, talk to your print
provider. Remember that ongoing negotiations regarding printing
services and fees should be included as part of the relationship
you develop over time with your printer.
When designing a publication involving
folds, such as a brochure or a book consisting of folded
signatures, keep in mind that folding equipment is imperfect.
There will always be a tolerance for error. In the past
few years, folding equipment has improved, and the tolerance,
according to a local printer I work with, is now plus or
minus 1/32”. This means that if two halves of an image
come together (as in a gatefold), there is a possibility
that the image may not line up exactly across the fold (or
page break). In fact, the match may be off by plus or minus
1/32” (or a total of 1/16”). In addition, the
more folds your job has, the more this tolerance will add
up (1/32” plus 1/32” plus 1/32”). If the
fold is misaligned initially, it will get worse with each
successive fold. It is therefore prudent to discuss your
job’s folding requirements with your printer and ask
for suggestions about designing your job to minimize this
inevitable problem. Designing signatures of a publication
with this limitation in mind (for example, placing an image
that crosses from page to page in the center spread of one
signature rather than with half of the image on the last
page of one signature and half on the first page of the
following signature) can maximize alignment accuracy.
Export File Formats for Process Color in Pagemaker
The following are a few case
studies involving desktop publishing software, image processing,
and file formats. They may be irrelevant to many
readers, although some may find them invaluable.
The first case study
comes from a local prepress operator who had trouble placing
a 4-color TIFF image into a PageMaker layout and then exporting
this file as a PDF for final printing. The image converted
to grayscale, deleting all process color information. To
avoid this, he instead saved and exported the file as an
EPS, maintaining accurate color information. Apparently
the artwork separates properly if you output film directly
from PageMaker. The switch from process color to grayscale
occurs only if you create a PDF from PageMaker and then
output the separations from the PDF.
The second case study is
similar and has the same solution. It comes from a designer
who notes that when he colors and crops a sepiatone in Photoshop
and then creates a PDF of the file, the result is a shift
in the color balance from a beautiful red/orange sepia to
a tacky green. According to this designer’s print
provider, sepias--especially dark sepias--are very delicate.
He also notes that his offset print provider always converts
his TIFFs directly to EPS format.
Given the dramatic effects of
even a tiny shift in color balance, you should give your
printer a hard-copy proof of your file with actual colors
as you want them. Also ask your printer to check for color
shifts during the press run. And, if at all possible, ask
for a press check in which you can make sure for yourself
that all colors print as you expect them to. Although this
requires more time and effort on your part, you will be
more likely to avoid unpleasant surprises. There are no
short cuts, and it is far better to be safe than sorry.
[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.]