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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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Book Printing and Commercial Printing: Overage and Underage

Printing trade custom allows offset printing companies to deliver up to 10 percent more, or 10 percent fewer, copies of a job. The commercial printer or book printer can then apply this surcharge (or discount) to your invoice for the actual number delivered. The key word here is “actual.” This is not an arbitrary number. The printer can only charge for what he hands off to the customer.

The reason for this is that printing and finishing operations destroy a certain percentage of the copies in the process. This waste is called spoilage.

What Is Spoilage?

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. To eventually hand off to the client a completed press run of 50,000 copies of a publication, for instance, a commercial printer or book printer must start with many more copies, assuming that a certain number will be destroyed in each step of the manufacturing process.

Overs/Unders Are Negotiable, to a Point

Prior to the estimate, overage/underage is negotiable. Some clients do not accept overs. In those cases, the printer increases his base pricing to cover the materials and the potential for loss. So overage is then factored into the cost.

Overs/unders are billed at the marginal cost (i.e., the average cost less the cost of make-ready). Some printers call this the “run cost.” Therefore, the unit cost of overs is usually rather low. It is, however, a potential cost and should therefore be disclosed to the buyer.

You can request “not less than” a certain number of copies as well. However, to guarantee that you will receive not less than this number of copies, the printer can provide (and charge for) up to double the usual amount: i.e., twenty percent overage. In this case, the commercial printer or book 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.

Some printers do not charge for overs. Usually this would be the case for a commercial printer–not a book printer–since the materials cost of books is higher than for commercial work. (In contrast to book printing, commercial printing would include brochures, posters, and other work not composed of multi-page press signatures.)

The biggest question in negotiating overs is whether you will use the copies if you get them. If so, accept the extra copies, pay for them, and be happy for the surplus. If not, request revised pricing, but be aware that the surcharge will be factored into the new price in order to protect the printer from economic loss.

Here are a two “rules” that expand upon this trade custom:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 also had a contract and had been working together closely for about ten years.

More Latitude for Digital On-Demand Book Printing

That said, there is somewhat more latitude with a digital press. In many cases the digital equipment incorporates finishing technology right into the press, or at least into an attachment to the press. When this is the case, there is a little more control over the final number of copies.

Of course, if the finishing requirements cannot be performed within the digital press, that’s a different matter. Larger sized pieces or jobs with multiple folds may need to be finished outside of the digital press on traditional folding and trimming equipment. In this case, finished press sheets produced by the digital printing equipment must be brought into the post-press department for binding, trimming, etc., and spoilage will increase.

Discuss Overs/Unders at the Bidding Stage of the Job

In all cases, it’s best to discuss overage/underage with your commercial printer or book printer early in the process. Your options are as follows:

  1. No underage, in which case you can be billed for up to 20 percent overs.
  2. Customary 10 percent overs or 10 percent unders.
  3. No overage or underage, in which case the printer will provide a higher price that covers him against loss, since the printer cannot know what will actually occur during the printing and finishing process.

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