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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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Business Forms: What You Need to Know

About twenty years ago I was a graphic designer. Among other jobs I produced for my employer each year, I designed a payment book and an application form. These are decidedly not sexy jobs, but even in the age of the Internet they are essential for some firms.

Here are a few things to consider when designing and buying printing services for business forms: continuous, NCR/carbonless, invoices, purchase/work orders, receipts, register rolls, payment books, and such.

Size of the Payment Book

The payment book I produced was approximately 5.5” x 7.75”. Business forms printers offer standard widths and lengths starting at about 3.5” x 7.75” and ranging upward to over 14” x 17”. Try to keep to the standard sizes of the custom printing vendor you choose in order to save money.

To complicate matters, the forms were attached to a perforated “stub.” That is, on one end of the forms, the printing paper extended about .75”. Two staples were driven vertically through all forms, and between the staples and the forms there was a perforation. The part of the form beyond the perforation (including the stapled area) is called the stub.

Attached to the staples on the stub, and wrapped around the entire book (on the long dimension) was a paper cover that could be folded back to expose the payment forms so you could write on them.

Number of Forms Per Set

As I recall, there were 100 sets of forms per book. Each set comprised three forms: one white, one pink, and one yellow. The paper was very thin but durable enough to not come apart when being written on. NCR paper (which stands for No Carbon Required) reproduced the handwriting on the pink and yellow copies when you wrote on the white copy with a ballpoint pen.

Number of Sets Per Pad

When I drafted the specifications for the job each year, I had to tell the printer how many forms would be in each set and how many sets would be stapled together into each payment book (3 forms x 100 sets). The commercial printing supplier then used his standard paper stock for the forms and for the paper cover (standardized to keep costs reasonable by not creating a custom printing job).

Crash Numbering

The business forms printer added consecutive “crash” numbering (specified on the contract as “consecutive with no skips or omissions”). Crash numbering, which is still in use, involves a relief printing process whereby metal numbers strike the first sheet in a business form set printing a number on the substrate. The force of the strike makes successive impressions on each of the remaining sheets in the business form set since each sheet has an NCR coating that acts like carbon paper.


I also had the printer add what we called “marginals.” These were words just outside the text of the form explaining the purpose of each sheet within each set. For instance, there was the main white copy for the merchant. Then there was the “student” copy and then the “teacher” copy. Each form (white, pink, yellow) had the appropriate red printed marginal. (These may be referred to by a different name now, but the concept is the same.)

The Application Form

The application form was similar, just larger than the payment form. It also had three parts in three different colors. It had marginals (“merchant copy,” “student copy,” and “teacher copy”). And it had a snap form or stub from which the three copies could be pulled apart.

Unlike the payment form, the application form had writing on the back of the form as well as the front.

The custom printing vendor folded each copy, stacked 25 together, and then shrink wrapped each package to chipboard. This made it easier for the representatives of the company I worked for to register students. They could just grab a pack of registration forms, tear it open, and go.

What You Can Learn from This

Here are some things to keep in mind when you specify business forms:

  1. How many parts do you need each form to be (and in what colors)?
  2. What size do you need?
  3. How many ink colors will you use (one, two, four)?
  4. Will you need the forms sequentially numbered?
  5. Will you need to perforate the forms in specific ways (other than just at the stub)?
  6. Will the forms be printed on the back as well as the front (called back printing)?
  7. Will you need the forms wrapped in a particular way (shrink wrapped, for instance) in certain quantities?
  8. Do you want the forms assembled into a book with a paper wrap-around cover, or can they just be padded (glued on one edge to create a pad of paper)?
  9. Unlike the forms I designed and described earlier in the article, do you need the forms to be continuous (attached end-to-end) with pin feed holes so they can travel through a pin-feed computer printer, or do you need the forms (particularly the ink on the forms) to withstand the heat of a laser printer?
  10. Do you need any personalization (variable data that will change from sheet to sheet)?
  11. Do you need special finishing such as embossing or foil stamping?
  12. Do you need the NCR coating in a particular place only? This is called “pattern carbon.”
  13. Will you need MICR inks (magnetic ink for some financial records, readable by special equipment)?
  14. When in doubt, ask for samples to make sure your printed job will work in your office printing equipment.

One final thought: Choose a dedicated business forms printer. They are better equipped to produce jobs like these than standard printers are.

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