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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: Saving Money When Buying Printing Services

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At the present moment the state of the economy in general and the supply chain delays in particular are driving up prices. More specifically, for printers and print buyers this is reflected in higher paper prices. However, depending on how you approach your design work and your print purchasing, you may be able to contain these costs.

Some of what I’m about to share with you pertains directly to paper. But some of the suggestions will involve other choices such as the number of commercial printing inks you use for a job, the press you use, and even the binding method you select.

Your choices do not have to diminish the quality or effectiveness of your design. And the best way to illustrate this point is with a story.

A Design and Printing Case Study

About 20 years ago I had a design and print brokering client who was dirt poor. She was an independent contractor with a small line of clothing she wanted to sell. My client needed business cards and hang-tags for the garments. She had no budget for the job.

This is what I did. First I took her logo, tagline, and contact information and designed the items she needed for custom printing in black ink only. This would allow her to use a much smaller press, a duplicator (or small 2-color press rather than a much larger 4-color press). The printer I was working with billed out use of the 2-color press at a much lower hourly rate than the 4-color press.

I also ganged up all of my client’s jobs. I could do this because all of her items would be printed on a thick cover stock (i.e., as opposed to printing a business card on a cover stock and a brochure on a text stock). This was a happy accident, but I took advantage of it and ganged up everything. Actually, I set up all of the printed products to fit on an 8.5” x 11” sheet, which simplified both printing and trimming the job. My goal was to make everything as easy for the printer as possible, because this would be reflected in his lower price.

Then I chose the paper. I went into the printer’s paper supply and looked through his partial cartons of small-format press stock. This was essentially trash. No one else would use it because there were only 50 or so sheets of each kind of paper.

I was lucky enough to find a number of different colors in the same cover-stock weight, 80# cover, if I remember correctly. All of the colors had the same surface formation and rough texture, so although the colors of the paper didn’t match, there was an overall consistency in the look and feel of the paper (as opposed to a gloss coated sheet and an uncoated sheet).

I knew that once printed, the austere, black-only design would give a coherent branding to the business cards and hang-tags as well as a simple, crunchy-granola feel to the printed pieces. Moreover, I knew that without adding to the cost by using a second or third ink color, I could use the color of the paper (blues, tans, browns, and greens, as I recall) to enliven the overall design.

The overall printing bill was exceptionally low: somewhere between $200 and $400 as I recall. The price could have been considerably higher, had it not been for the design (and commercial printing workflow) choices I had made. My client liked the price, and she felt the design and overall feel of the printed items reflected the tone of her business. Everything had a consistent, earthy feel.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts, if cost is an issue:

    1. Depend on the strength of the design rather than the production qualities. For instance, you may want to use uncoated paper and fewer ink colors.


    1. Using fewer ink colors lets you use a smaller press. A 2-color press costs less to operate than a 4-color press.


    1. Be flexible when choosing paper. If you can use partial paper cartons your printer already has on hand, this will save a lot of money.


  1. Gang up jobs when possible. Printing a number of jobs on the same press sheet will cost less than printing each as a separate job with a separate press run.

More Ways to Save

These are more global choices, in contrast to the takeaways from the job noted above, which pertains to one ultra-small businesses with a handful of items to print. However, the good news is that you can reap much higher savings. Most of these were gleaned from Getting It Printed by Mark Beach and Eric Kenly.

    1. Don’t select a specific paper. Ask your printer for a 70# uncoated, bright-white paper (for instance), instead of requesting a 70# Husky or Finch stock. If your printer already buys a lot of a particular stock, you will benefit from his lower cost. This is called using a “house sheet.”


    1. If you can’t use a house sheet and you have a small job that requires less than a carton of paper, still have your printer buy an entire carton. According to Getting It Printed, a partial carton costs 15-60 percent more than a full carton.


    1. If you buy a lot of commercial printing (when I was a production manager, for instance, we produced over 100 different titles a year, including brochures, books, and signage), ask your printer about using the same stock for a number of the printed products. If you can do this (and commit to one printer for this work), your printer can often buy more paper, in bulk, and pass the savings on to you.


    1. Ask your printer about reducing the size of the printed product a little (maybe even 1/4”). This is especially relevant for books and catalogs. Using a slightly smaller format can filter down into a huge reduction in paper over a large number of pages multiplied by a large number of printed products. (Imagine a 300-page book with a 10,000-copy press run. The amount of paper needed will drop over the length of the press run.) Reducing the trim size may also let you move to a smaller-format press (at a lower hourly billing rate).


    1. Don’t print what you don’t need. For instance, this can mean printing a longer catalog fewer times each year.


    1. Or, it could mean cleaning your mailing lists by removing outdated, incomplete, or incorrect addresses.


    1. Ask your prospective clients if they need a physical copy of the catalog (as an example). Some may be equally happy checking out your website.


    1. To expand upon the prior suggestion, consider cross-media marketing. This means integrating your print catalogs (or just sending out a mailer) and your web presence. This can create synergy, which will make a bigger impression on clients than either a print catalog or web presence alone.


    1. Reduce paper weight. You can save between 12 percent and 20 percent (according to Getting It Printed) by moving down from 100# to 80# or from 80# to 70# stock, for instance. (Confirm this with your printer.)


    1. Reduce paper quality. Maybe you don’t need a “premium” press sheet. Perhaps a #1 sheet will do. The numbers (premium, #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5) reflect the paper’s brightness. You might print an annual report on a premium sheet (or save money by printing on a #1 sheet). You might print a magazine on a #2 or #3 sheet (or even a #4 sheet for a web-fed printed product). Since many commercial printing papers are brighter than the stated “grade” numbers would suggest, you might be pleased with your printer’s suggestions. Just make sure you review printed and unprinted samples before committing to a particular paper. And, as noted above, only use appropriate paper for your jobs. (For instance, for an automotive parts catalog, a #5 sheet would be fine.)


    1. Coated (dull and gloss) paper costs more than uncoated paper. Do you really need coated stock? The same goes for colored paper (especially dark colored paper). Perhaps you can print screens of a color on the paper instead of using a colored stock.


  1. Consider your binding method. For instance, saddle stitching usually costs less than perfect binding. Case binding costs more than perfect binding. And mechanical binding (Wire-O, spiral, and comb binding or GBC binding) requires hand-work, so except for ultra-short press runs, it is usually not cost effective.

The nice thing about discussing these options with your printer and making sensible, economic choices is that you will have more money to spend when you really want to create a knock-out printed product, such as your annual report or a special invitation to a gala office party.

2 Responses to “Custom Printing: Saving Money When Buying Printing Services”

  1. I have read your post and found it valuable for readers. You have very well explained the impact of printing on business growth. And how a business can save money by ordering wholesale custom boxes with their logo and proper branding. is also a reputed company that offers all kinds of custom boxes with great designs.

    • admin says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. I agree that printing can be a major contributor to the growth of a company or entire brand. I appreciate your sending me the link to oxo packaging. I will check it out.


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