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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: Saving Money Buying Printing

“Saving money.” These words have a nice ring to them. Here are some ways to do this.

An Example: Using a Cutting Die More Than Once

A print brokering client of mine is about to (hopefully) award me a job she has been sending my way for a number of years. It is a small print booklet with diagonal, step-down flaps in the corners of the successive pages. Each is a different color, and together they provide an easy way to navigate through the sections of the booklet.

As a commercial printing exercise, however, this has been expensive and somewhat hard to accomplish. Since the divider pages step down (each is shorter than the next, all have solid colors printed on the tabs only, and each tab abuts exactly to the next without revealing the white paper below), metal cutting dies are needed. Fortunately, though, my client (a freelance graphic designer) and her client (a for-profit association) have maintained the physical structure of the booklet for several years and have just redesigned the graphics annually.

What this has done is the following:

    1. The first year was a nightmare. In spite of the dies, the job was new, and cutting the press sheets exactly, such that the step-down dividers abutted perfectly without any white space between them showing, was a very slow process. My client’s client had to pay extra for the die that year, and the printer lost money on the torturous die cutting work.


    1. The second year, the printer used the same cutting die. Therefore, the cost of the die was subtracted that year. The printer was also happy because by the second year he could do all the diagonal cutting more easily. He had had a lot of practice.


  1. Both the client and the printer were happy. And the client kept coming back to me (and the printer I represented) because the process was easy and cheaper than a new design. And even though the overall creative “look” changed from year to year, there was a recognizable brand consistency in the physical structure of the booklet with its step-down tabs.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

For recurring jobs that cost a lot (because they involve work your printer cannot do in-house), any processes you can repeat (unchanged) from year to year will save you money. Usually this involves a finishing technique rather than a custom printing technique (i.e., foil stamping, embossing, and die cutting all require metal dies that can be reused).

A Poor, But Artistic, Self-Employed Client

This client was a clothes designer. She needed some tags and booklets and business cards and other little paper items that would either be attached to, or that would accompany, her hand-made clothes.

Here’s how I saved her some money.

I went in the back of a commercial printing shop and dug through the boxes of partially used paper. I was looking for different colors and surface textures, but all with the same size (8.5” x 11”) and the same weight (80# cover stock). Then I created a single 8.5” x 11” art file with all of my client’s print jobs ganged up on the one sheet. I made the cut marks obvious so my client could take a ruler and a knife and cut the printed products out herself once the job had been printed.

Then I gave the paper and the art file back to the printer for reproduction on his smallest press, an 8.5” x 11” single-color duplicator, if I recall correctly. Small presses like this one bill out at a lower hourly rate than a much larger press (a 40” Komori, for example). In fact, the job was dirt cheap, and there was no finishing (trimming or anything else). The commercial printing vendor gave me the printed sheets, and we were done. Then my client cut them herself and punched a hole in each (with a single-hole-punch) for the ribbon to tie the tag onto her hand-made garments.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Ganging jobs saves money. That is, if you lay out a rack card and a business card on the same press sheet, and your printer produces both jobs together, the overall cost will be less than if the two jobs had been printed separately. Be creative in applying this concept, and you can save some serious money. My client and I went even further and omitted finishing from the production steps the printer would otherwise need to do. In your case, keep in mind that anything you do will lower the overall cost. (But do realize that for anything but the simplest process, your printer will do it better.)

Another Ganging Example

My fiancee and I like to collect “fan” books. Not books for fans of certain artists or rock groups, but the kinds of books that can be fanned out (like a PMS color swatch book). We have collected and then given away to family members such books as an insect fan book, a mythology fan book, and a presidents’ fan book.

What makes these all very special is the intricately cut, printed image at the top of each long, narrow page. Plus the fact that the 100+ pages of each print book are all attached at the bottom with a screw-and-post assembly, which makes them a good learning tool. Kind of like a collection of flash cards, all attached at the bottom.

To go back to the intricately die cut nature of each book, as noted above, this is potentially an extraordinarily expensive product. My fiancee recently pointed this out, and I started to think about how the publisher could do this and not lose his/her shirt.

This is what I came up with. Granted, each die cut god’s or goddess’ head (or insect body, depending on the book) had to be die cut. And each metal die had to be created. However, I wondered whether all or at lest many of the various pages had been laid out on the same large press sheet in such a way that a single complex die could be used to chop out the contour of a large number of book pages. Presumably it would have been much cheaper to have made only a limited number of large and intricate cutting dies that would chop away the scrap around a great number of these die cut fan-book pages.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

The lesson is the same as in the last example. If you can “group” otherwise time-consuming and expensive processes in the commercial printing or finishing portion of your job, you can save money. Most likely your printer will bring up this subject. If not, ask him yourself about ways to save money by ganging up jobs or portions of jobs.

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