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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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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

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Custom Printing: Design Your Job with Paper in Mind

Paper is a resource. In addition to coming (mostly) from trees and therefore being worthy of preservation, paper as a significant materials cost of commercial printing bears consideration. Paper is expensive. Don’t waste it. In fact, it is sometimes a rather large portion of the overall cost of your print job.

For example, if you’re printing 100,000 copies of a 352-page perfect-bound textbook, two things you should seriously consider–and discuss with your printer–are the cost of paper and the cost of shipping (in addition to costing money in large-page-count, long-press-run projects, paper is heavy and costs a lot to transport).

So how do you save money buying paper for your custom printing job?

I’ve addressed this in prior print blogs, but I just came upon a few more suggestions in Mark Beach’s and Eric Kenly’s Getting It Printed, my all-time favorite book on commercial printing. In no particular order, here are some suggestions:

Consider the Purpose of the Job

If you are mailing out an invitation to a fundraising gala dinner, the paper has to be perfect. However, if you’re printing an in-house newsletter for your employees, you don’t necessarily need the finest printing stock.

This isn’t as much about the particular paper you choose as it is about your mindset. Getting It Printed even suggests asking your printer what kind of extra paper he has in his inventory, perhaps partial reams of paper that may not exactly match but that might be perfectly adequate for an in-house newsletter.

I once did this for a client who needed hang-tags for her clothing designs. She was self-employed, and every dollar counted. I did what Getting It Printed suggested, but I took it a step further. I found waste paper (the last few unused sheets from a few reams in my printer’s inventory) that had the same feel but that came in different colors: as I recall, a pink, a green, and a brown. Just by digging in the printer’s paper stacks among paper selections too small for a full job, I gave my client a rainbow of colors for her hang-tags and business cards.

Discuss these options with your printer. Sometimes even a slight difference in color or surface texture will be irrelevant to the audience for your print product but could save you some money.

Group Your Jobs

When I was an art director/production manager, I used to get an annual list of over 100 publications that had to be designed and printed within the following year. (I didn’t take the following advice, but I think you should consider it.) Getting It Printed suggests that in such a situation you talk with your printer (or maybe a few printers) about grouping your jobs.

The list I received when I was an art director included a number of textbooks, a number of newsletters, a number of invitations—the list goes on—each year. There really was only a short list of different kinds of jobs we designed and printed. What would have saved us money at the time would have been to group these publications, by type, and request bids for a number of them.

Getting It Printed suggests this. For instance, we could have compiled specs for five different newsletters produced on the same commercial printing stock, along with any additional printing specs, and spread these over twelve months within a predetermined schedule.

The good news is that printers in such a situation can often provide an overall discount for additional, regular work, and can sometimes even provide a discount on the particular paper stock based on a larger commitment over a longer time. You can presumably negotiate terms that would involve your only paying upon completion of each job.

The bad news is that this requires foresight and forethought. Back when I was an art director, everything was always a rush, so I never quite got around to doing what I’m suggesting. Learn from my mistake.

Paper Size and Job Trim Size

The elusive goal of paper management is to eliminate waste entirely. Although this will never happen, it will save paper (and therefore save you money) to consider the size of the poster, flyer, or book page for the job you’re designing. This is not just on an individual page-size level, but also in terms of how many copies you can get on a press sheet.

This gets a bit complicated when we’re discussing press signatures, so we’ll start with short jobs.

Let’s say you’re printing a pocket folder (before it’s converted from a flat press sheet into an actual folder). When you take apart last year’s model, you’ll see that the pockets have glue tabs and other little flaps and protrusions that turn an unassembled pocket folder into a much larger flat item on a press sheet.

If your printer can give you an idea of the press sheet size (based on the size of the press he will be using), then you may see that you can get (for example) two of these flat, unfolded pocket folders on one press sheet (including all the tabs and flaps that will need to be folded and glued).

The ideal situation is that when you lay out two of these folders on a press sheet (which is called imposition, and which is a task your commercial printing vendor will handle), there will only be enough room for bleeds, printer’s bars (color targets and such), and the gripper margin (the gripper pulls the press sheet through the press)–and nothing else. No waste. That is ideal. If you work with your printer to determine the best press, the best press sheet (both its size and its availability on the market), and the best size for the flat printed job, you can often minimize paper waste. And this may lead to a paper cost savings.

Press Signatures

All of this becomes a bit more complex when you’re producing multiple-press-signature work. For instance, if you’re printing a 32-page saddle-stitched booklet, presumably this will be composed of two 16-page press signatures, each with eight pages on each side of the press sheet.

Each press signature will constitute one press run. Each signature (eight pages on each side of the sheet) will fit on the press sheet ideally with no waste. That is, with nothing but the press bleeds, printer’s bars and color targets, and gripper margin. For this to happen, the size of each booklet page has to be determined and each page has to be positioned on the press sheet.

For instance, if your book is 8.5” x 11” in format, and you have four pages across by two pages down on each side of the sheet (eight pages, four above, four below—and the same number on the back of the sheet), you need at least 34” across (4 x 8.5” across the width of the press sheet) and 22” down (2 x 11” along the length or depth of the press sheet). Plus, you need room for the gripper margin, printer’s color bars, bleeds, etc. If your printer can run a 25” x 38” press sheet through his press (very likely), you’re golden. You have almost no waste.

Talk with your printer. Get these specifications and match them to your preferred book page size, and see whether everything fits on the press sheet. If not, ask your book printer by how much you need to reduce your page size (sometimes only slightly).

Granted, this assumes a 16-page signature. Some book signatures are four pages, some eight, some even 32 pages. Sometimes your printer will even print two copies of the same (often a four-page or eight-page) signature on a press sheet. But this, at least, is a starting point for discussion with your printer. It’s also useful for you to start considering press sizes and printing paper sizes, as well as the trim sizes of the publications you design and print. In the long run, this expanded awareness will save you money.

Consider the Post Office

With the preceding information in mind, you might be inclined to change the size of your publications. For instance, you might want to make a fold-up self-mailer larger, since larger pieces often stand out more dramatically in the recipient’s mailbox.

But be aware of the ramifications. The “wow factor” of a large printed piece is only one criterion for the success of the job.

Unless you have a business mail template from the Post Office, by lengthening one dimension of your fold-up self-mailer, you might inadvertently change the ratio of length to height and unknowingly make the job unmailable. Or it might require a postage surcharge. It might look great, but in the process of redesigning the self-mailer, you might have unknowingly made the overall job (printing and mailing) more expensive, even if you reduced paper waste by using more space on the press sheet.

Or, if your job will go out in an envelope (for a job that’s not a self-mailer), your (slightly larger than usual) printed marketing piece might not fit in a standard envelope. You might need a custom envelope (which will cost more), and the size difference might cause you to incur a Postal Service surcharge.

What can you do to avoid making these mistakes? Get a business mail template and booklet from your Post Office, and learn everything you can about aspect ratios (length to width), size requirements, paper weights, how to keep your mail piece machinable and automatable, and how to reap the greatest postal discounts. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to find a business mail specialist at a local Post Office and give her/him your mock-ups for feedback. Then you can approach your printer, as noted above, regarding presses, paper sizes, and waste from a more knowledgeable position.

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