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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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Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing Redux

I recently wrote a PIE Blog article about a client who needed hang-tags for her client’s restaurant.

Recap of the Job Specs and Intended Usage

More specifically, the job specs involve a 10,000-copy press run on 65# or 80# white smooth uncoated cover paper, die cut with diagonal edges and and a drill hole (like the proverbial furniture hang-tag), printed in one PMS color with no bleeds. The trim size is 5 3/16″ x 2 11/16″.

Initially, the specs also included an option for a 100# text paper.

My client’s client plans to either tape these die cut hang-tags onto his pre-packaged restaurant food boxes or in some cases hang them on the boxes or other restaurant food items with a string through the drill hole on the tag. Because of this he wanted to make sure the paper for the hang-tags was not too heavy. After all, if the 130# or 170# double thick cover paper I had suggested had been used, the final die cut hang-tags would have been too rigid for the intended use.

Moreover, my client’s client plans to hand-print Thai glyphs related to the Asian restaurant on the preprinted hang-tags. (That is, the commercial printing vendor will print the logo and some other information related to the restaurant onto the hang-tags, and then the restaurant owner will add the hand-printed Thai glyphs.) It was for this reason that I suggested an uncoated, smooth printing stock. My client had also wondered about a matte coated sheet, but she was concerned that the hand-printed stamp ink might smear.

So be safe, we posed all of these questions to the owner of the commercial printing shop we had initially approached with this job. Since he was ideally suited to print the job (i.e., he had the right equipment), and since he tended to be reasonably priced, we decided to get only one price at this point. It would help us set the budget for my client’s client. It would also clarify some of the points of which we were unsure. We felt we could always solicit competitive bids later.

The Printer’s Answers

Right off the bat the custom printing supplier suggested not printing the tags on 100# text stock. He said the paper was too thin to be die cut effectively (i.e., the die cutting could be rough and uneven).

He also encouraged us to use an uncoated sheet rather than a matte coated sheet. He said the hand-printed stamp-pad ink would be less likely to smear on an uncoated sheet. In fact, even a non-gloss coating (dull or matte) would increase the likelihood of the hand-applied ink’s smearing.

(To put this in context, uncoated paper comes in a variety of finishes. These include wove, which is quite smooth and without much visible texture; vellum, which has more of a “tooth” or roughness; eggshell, which has a bit of a puckered surface; and antique, which has a rough surface. All of these share a common trait. They have no surface coating (a coating of clay and other chemicals and binders, which allows the ink to sit up on the surface of the press sheet more than it seeps into the paper fibers). This is called ink “hold-out.” It makes for a crisper look. Ink that has soaked into uncoated stock will dull down as it dries. This is not a bad thing. It’s just something you need to expect, and in my client’s client’s case (the restaurateur), it will provide a textured, earthy feel to the printed piece.)

Pricing the Job

The commercial printing vendor was able to gang up a number of copies of the hang-tags on a press sheet (even on his relatively small presses, which are close to 20”x 28” in format, as I recall, although I could be off a bit). This is in contrast to the much larger presses owned by big print shops that might take a 28” x 40” press sheet or larger. Such a press would allow for ganging up even more hang-tags on a single press sheet.

As simple a job as this seems, it involves die cutting. That is, the edges of the card on one side will be trimmed diagonally, and there will be a hole for tying the tag onto the restaurant’s boxes or other items (when the tags are not taped on).

The printer noted that if the job had a much smaller print run, it might be possible to use a router table to do the die cutting (onsite, at the printer), but this would get expensive as quantity (and therefore time for the die cutting) goes up, so for a 10,000-copy press run of hang-tags, the printer said he would need to create a die.

For the printing part of the job, this custom printing supplier would charge about $400. I thought this was quite reasonable. However, the cost of a metal die, produced by an outside vendor, would add an additional $588. This cost would include the custom metal die ($240) and the actual process of die cutting the hang-tags ($348).

To put this in context, a metal die cutting rule is cut, bent into its intended shape, inserted into a wood backing, and then placed in a dedicated die cutting press (like a converted letterpress). The stamping process of this particular kind of press (which is different from an offset lithographic press) cuts out the shape of the hang-tag (its diagonal edges, for instance) all the way around the tag, and the waste paper is pulled away from the tags. The die is made by an outside vendor, and then it is used by the vendor to do the die cutting.

The custom printing vendor did note that the cost to make the die was a one-time charge (the $240). When my client reprinted the job (which would be likely, since the restaurateur’s hang-tags would be used on every product not brought to a restaurant table), the only charges would be for the printing and die cutting processes (since the metal die rule would be kept for the restaurateur’s later use). Over time this would save a lot of money. In addition, the printing cost for 10,000 hang-tags would presumably be lower than pricing from other vendors (to be confirmed).

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

    1. The first thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the smallest job is more complex than you might think. A hang-tag usually needs to be die cut by a subcontractor. This raises the cost of the project. It also reduces your printer’s control over the job schedule. That said, most printers don’t have this capability in-house.


    1. No one knows more about a printer’s specific equipment than the printer himself. When the printer I approached suggested that I not die cut 100# text paper (and instead choose a 65# or 80# uncoated cover sheet), I took this advice very seriously. To me it means that if I choose the 100# text stock, the printer could have mechanical problems, and I probably won’t like the results.


    1. Making dies is expensive, but the printing industry is gradually moving toward laser die cutting. This will eliminate the need for metal dies as well as the storage of these dies. You may want to to keep abreast of developments in laser die cutting and creasing.


  1. Anything other than right angles will probably require a die (such as a front-cover window knock-out on a presentation cover, or the pockets on a presentation folder). For simple jobs with very short runs, your printer may be able to use a router table. You may want to ask. But for long jobs, the unit cost will be cheaper for the die. That said, if you pick a standard design for a pocket folder (or another job involving die cutting), you may be able to use an existing die. (Of course, this might mean changing your initial design plans in order to save the money by not creating a custom die.) It never hurts to ask.

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