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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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Brochure Printing: Revising Jobs from Prior Years

One of my print brokering clients is a designer. Last year she made one of her clients very happy with two self-mailers. I wrote about them last summer, and this year her client wants to update the two jobs without changing their format.

The Back-Story of the Z-Fold Brochure

One of the jobs is a Z-fold (or accordion-fold) piece. Each of the 12 panels (six on each side) folds back and forth in the opposite direction of one another (like the letter “Z”). The self-mailer folds to a final size of 10.2″ high and 4.5″ wide. The 4-color custom printing project will be produced on 80# white gloss cover.

Here’s the Catch: Postal Regulations

In January I received an update from the Post Office listing new requirements for automatable discounts on self-mailers. These changes included acceptable self-mailer size and format, paper weight, address placement, folding restrictions, and tabbing positions for wafer seals.

Fortunately, my client’s Z-fold self-mailer from last year met all of the requirements without any significant changes. However, a different job with different specifications might not have passed muster. And in this case, without corrections to meet the USPS restrictions, the job might have incurred a significant surcharge—or it might have been rejected outright by the Post Office.

How to Avoid Mailing Problems

This is what I suggested to my client, and I would offer the same advice to you:

  1. Keep abreast of developments in the US Postal Service. Google Alerts can give you daily updates of relevant articles. Foreknowledge can save you money. These updates can come at any time. The USPS update that pertained to my client arrived this January.
  2. Show a mock-up of your brochure printing job to a business mail service specialist at the Post Office (or send him/her a PDF of your project). Make it clear that you want your piece to be machinable and automatable, that you want to receive the best postage discount possible. And then ask for his/her suggestions. Ask how you need to change the size, design, paper specification, address placement, or any other elements of the self-mailer to ensure compliance.

Another Piece: A Step-Down Print Booklet

Last year my client also created a step-down print booklet with diagonal thumb tabs. Each successive right-hand page was cut slightly less deep than the one in front of it. Thumb tabs had type reversed out of five different solid colors (one for each tab, with all being process color builds). It was beautiful, but it required precise cutting to make all tabs parallel to one another—with all of them on the same 45 degree angle.

The outer cover of the print booklet extended across the full 6” x 9” dimension (folded down from 12” x 9”), and the booklet was closed and tabbed for mailing. It also included a folded flyer, printed on 50# white offset and inserted into the direct mail package prior to tabbing.

The custom printing supplier had initially planned to cut the pages without using a die. He had expected to do extra hand-work, so the price included a surcharge. However, as the job progressed, it became clear that due to the precision needed in cutting the diagonal thumb tabs, the printer’s hand-cutting would take forever, might not be parallel, and might leave white lines between each of the differently colored tabs.

Therefore, the printer had steel die-cutting dies made and lost money on the job. If I recall correctly, he passed a small portion of the cost on to my client, but since the printer had initially priced the job for hand-cutting, he stepped up and bore the lion’s share of the cost of the dies.

A New Year, but the Same Step-Down Print Booklet

So now it’s a new year, and the custom printing job is essentially the same. The graphics will change completely, but the size and format of the step-down self-mailer will match last year’s job.

The good news is that the dies have already been made. So the overall cost of the job may be quite reasonable (even with a slightly higher initial price than last year’s job, due to the complexity of the work, offset by a discount, since the dies have already been made).

What You Can Learn

If you’re doing a job that is essentially the same one you did last year, particularly if it involves preparatory work such as steel-die-making, consider going back to the same custom printing supplier that did the work the preceding year, and ask about using the old dies.

Conversely, even if it’s a new job (a pocket folder for instance), ask about using a die that has already been created. If you’re willing to adjust your design a little to match an existing die, you may reap a savings, upwards of $500.00, since die-making can be pricey as well as time consuming.

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