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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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Commercial Printing: Creative Ways to Save Money

If you’re really in a pinch and have no budget for your custom printing job, there are still ways to save money. This blog will primarily address smaller jobs, such as materials for a wedding or a small business, if you have one. I’ll also throw in a few ideas for big commercial printing jobs.

Saving Money on Paper

I had a print brokering client many years ago who needed business cards and hang-tags for items she planned to sell at a craft fair. Each business card or hang-tag included her business logo and some text. It was a simple custom printing job, but my client had no money to spend.

I went to a printer with whom I had developed a relationship over the years and discussed the job. I also went back into his paper supply room and looked for opened, old (but usable) 80# cover stock in a selection of colors (mostly muted neutrals like grey, off-white, light brown, and a subdued light green). Since these were already trimmed down to 8.5” x 11”, they would fit his smallest press (known as a duplicator), which also had the lowest hourly rate.

I planned to run black-only line art and text, and let the color of the paper provide the color for the job. Along with the consistent type treatment, the similar earth tone colors would provide a uniform overall “look” to the job. Not running any PMS colors would save money as would producing a one-color job on (essentially) free paper that would otherwise have gone to waste.

To save even more money, I laid out the whole job in InDesign to fit on a single 8.5” x 11” page. Along with crop marks to facilitate the post-press trimming process, I laid out a number of hang-tags and a number of business cards side by side on the sheet. I used up all the space I could, placing an extra hang-tag or business card here and there to fill out the press sheet (this is known as imposition, and is usually done by the printer).

I don’t remember exactly how many of each fit on a page: let’s say six business cards and two hang-tags. Since I had collected about 200 scrap 8.5” x 11” sheets with roughly equal amounts of the four tinted colors, I knew that, once trimmed, the single master imposed press layout multiplied by 200 sheets would yield 1,200 business cards and 400 hang tags.

The entire custom printing job probably cost a little over $100.00 for prepress, printing, and finishing for several reasons:

  1. I had collected the scrap press sheets myself that probably would have been thrown out eventually, even though they were perfect for an artist with a certain urban grunge look to her work.
  2. I had produced the imposition for the job (which only took a little math and not much work).
  3. I limited the job to one color on a very small press.
  4. And, most importantly, I had developed a long-standing relationship with the commercial printing vendor, who worked with me to meet the client’s budget.

Variations on the Theme

Here are a few options that are similar, and hopefully equally useful to you.

  1. The printer who did this job also printed my business cards at another time for almost nothing. Why? Because I said he could put them on any 80# white stock with any other job he was already printing–at his convenience, with no deadline.
  2. The approach I took for my business cards can be altered a bit to fit your situation if you are printing a few different jobs. You can lay out all of the jobs on the same press sheet. That way, all jobs can go through prepress and the press at the same time and then only become separate jobs at the trimming stage.

Note: This only works if all jobs can be produced on the same weight of commercial printing paper. If you need business cards and a thin paper brochure, you can’t do this. However, if you’re printing business cards and fold-over photo notecards, you can “gang” them (which is the printer’s name for this operation). You may note that ganging is what I did for my client’s business cards and hang-tags. It’s also a creative way to save money on larger jobs, and process-color work as well.

This is actually how quick printers and online business card shops can charge so little for business cards. If you take one business card to a custom printing vendor, he will do the prepress work and print the job by itself on a press. Therefore, you may pay $200 or more for the business cards. If you go to a printer that does gang runs of business cards, your cards may be on press with many, many other clients’ work. All clients for a particular run can then split the cost of the prepress work, press work, and finishing. In this case, your cards might cost $10 or $20.

One More Hint: the Odd-Lot Paper Market

Sometimes your commercial printing vendor can buy paper through the secondary market, also known as the spot market. Note: This may or may not be a good idea for recurring publications, since your paper may not be available when you need it. However if you are flexible (i.e., willing to accept substitutions), you may want to ask your printer if he has a relationship with an odd-lot vendor. Keep in mind that some of the paper lots also may be of less than optimal quality and runnability. Therefore, your printer may not want to do this. But it is a good way to get a remarkable deal.

One final word on paper from such a source: I’d suggest this only if you are producing a long run of a multi-page publication. In other words, it is only a prudent way to save money if you have a large job that requires a lot of paper.

The Moral of the Story

Think outside the box, and consult your custom printing supplier early and often.

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