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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: Short Folds Are Cheaper Than Die-Cutting

This is a case study showing how a judicious use of folding rather than diecutting can save you money in your print buying work.

A print brokering client of mine, who is a designer, wants to produce a print booklet for an event her client is hosting. She envisions six 2-page spreads plus some introductory material and some follow-up material. She has therefore requested a 16-page, self-cover, 6” x 9” booklet with a press run of 3,000 copies, to be printed in 4-color process inks on 80# cover stock. A simple job. So far, so good.

Here’s the Catch: The Divider Tabs

In order to distinguish among the six 2-page spreads, my client initially suggested tabs. She had heard that thumb tabs (the kind that stick out beyond the face trim of a booklet) would need to be folded in to avoid being cut off during the trimming process. This is usually true for a multi-page book, but in this case, each page spread would have a thumb tab (so there would be no text pages between thumb tabs and presumably no need to fold the tabs in prior to trimming).

When he heard about the proposed design, the printer I had initially approached for an estimate was concerned for two reasons. On a design level, thumb tabs might be inelegant or unsightly. And on a custom printing level, they would require a die (which would cost multiple hundreds of dollars) and die-cutting time on other equipment (possibly a letterpress).

My client suggested tip-on tabs instead, but this too would be a separate process involving gluing additions onto the booklet pages.

My client then asked about designing the print booklet with staggered, diagonal cut-outs in the top right-hand corner of each page. The first page with the diagonal (triangle) cut-out would be slightly smaller than the next, which would be slightly smaller than the one after that. Printed colors could further distinguish between the diagonal cut pages. (Basically this would be a diagonal version of the thumb tab.)

The Alternative the Printer Suggested

The commercial printing vendor proposed an alternative: to do the same thing with horizontal, staggered pages. Each of the four 4-page spreads in the 16-page booklet would have a slightly shorter fold in the front of the book (the low-folio side), while the back pages (the high-folio side) would all be flush.

That is, the back eight pages of the print book would all be 6” x 9”, while the eight pages moving from the front of the book to the center spread would each be 1/2” shorter in width than the following page.

Again, a different ink color for each vertical strip could further distinguish between the page spreads.

One Printer’s Savings in Avoiding Die-Cutting

The booklet with the vertical short-folds would be the cheapest version by far. Why? Because it would not involve any dies or die-cutting on separate equipment.

The bids actually both arrived today, and the pricing of the printer with whom I had discussed the job reflected an additional $600.00 for the die cutting of the diagonal step-down corner tabs.

Interestingly enough, the second printer charged much less (about $200.00 less for the vertical step-down folds but almost $600.00 less for the diagonal version). Apparently he could do the diagonal trim on the cutting equipment without creating a die or doing any die-cutting.

What We Can Learn from this Case Study?

I think there are four lessons to take away from this custom printing scenario.

  1. First of all, all printers have different skills and equipment. Although the norm for a job like this would be to die-cut the diagonal corner step-down tabs, the second printer has offered to do the job without the surcharge for the die and die-cutting. If he does not succeed and has to manufacture a die, it will be at his expense.
  2. The second lesson is to see how helpful it is to approach a commercial printing supplier early. The first vendor I approached offered his knowledge of the cheaper vs. more expensive ways to produce a print booklet. He could have produced any of the four options, but he wanted to save my client money.
  3. The third lesson is that a custom printing job requiring die-cutting gets expensive. The printer has to create the metal die (even if it’s just one diagonal trim that’s repositioned for each of the 4-page spreads) and then take the time on other equipment (usually not a rotary offset press) to die-cut all the press sheets. This adds both time and cost, sometimes without providing a more compelling print book design. (Again, the second printer’s offer to trim the diagonal pages without a die is unusual.)
  4. The fourth lesson is that the cheapest book printing option is not necessarily a bad one in terms of design. In fact, the bold vertical lines of the successive short folds could be quite dynamic, particularly if set off from one another with contrasting colors.

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