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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Printing Companies Negotiate Standards for Overs/Unders

As a general rule, printing companies can charge for up to ten percent overs. This goes for paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, magazine printers, even vendors that print newsletters or provide brochure printing. They can also deliver up to ten percent fewer copies than ordered. This is industry standard.

What does this mean?

First of all, “overage” refers to copies above and beyond the stated press run. These copies are produced to allow for make-ready (set-up operations) and spoilage during the various components of the printing and finishing process. If a custom printing service produces exactly 1,800 sets of text signatures for an 1,800-copy case-bound book order, portions of the books (both signatures and cases) will be inadvertently damaged during the manufacturing process. This is referred to as spoilage. So to be safe and not wind up with too few copies, a printer will produce more copies than needed (up to a stated amount). The printer can then bill for these copies to recapture costs.

The flip side of overage is “underage.” Since spoilage cannot be absolutely controlled, sometimes (although rarely) a printer will deliver fewer copies than requested. In this case, if spoilage is especially high for a particular printed product, the printer could contractually deliver fewer copies than ordered up to the same number as for overs. The final invoice would reflect either an addition or a discount.

Why would spoilage be this high? Let’s say you’re producing 300 invitations on handmade paper on a digital press, and every other sheet jams the printer due to the uneven thickness of the stock. You could spoil a lot of paper very quickly in this case.

If the client does not want to accept fewer copies, the printer can provide up to double the overage, to compensate.

A client of mine recently solicited printing for 1,800 copies of a 600-page case-bound book. I told my client about the printer’s overage policy (250 overs or unders on any press run under 2,500 copies), noting that according to the contract, she should expect to receive and pay for 250 copies multiplied by the unit cost (just under $8.00). I noted that the potential total cost could come close to an extra $2,000.00. Therefore, the big question was whether my client could meet the needs of subscribers if the printer delivered 250 fewer books than actually ordered. To avoid having too few copies, my client increased the press run from 1,800 copies to 1,900 copies.

It’s a bit of a gamble. In most cases printers wind up producing more copies than needed. That said, I did have one printer provide ten percent fewer copies than requested for a particular job. It wasn’t malice, or a clerical error. It just reflected higher than usual (but contractually acceptable) spoilage.

With most printers, particularly in a competitive environment, overs/unders are negotiable. The industry standard is 10 percent, but I have negotiated contracts for 2.5 percent. Of course, in this case, the printer used higher prices to compute the estimate (a totally legitimate action, since ten percent overage is the industry standard and the printer otherwise would have potentially lost money).

The safest thing to do in this case is state your overage/underage requirements to all printing companies bidding on the job.

Finally, some printers don’t charge for overs. However, they are usually commercial printers producing smaller jobs like brochures. For a brochure, the unit cost for overs might be $.40; for a book it might be $8.00. So it is understandable that a printer would desire the contractual protection of an overs/unders stipulation. It’s just prudent for you to be aware of this and negotiate to meet your needs as well.

So, in particular, when you are working with soft-cover book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, and magazine printers, ask about overs. In other cases, it’s also a good idea.

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