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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: More Ways to Save Money When Buying Printing

Photo purchased from …

The trick is to realize that most things are negotiable. There are ways to find what you need if you take the time to look. Prices for commercial printing (and especially paper) are going up, but if you’re creative, you can often bring them down at least a bit.

I wrote an initial PIE Blog article on this subject a while ago, so this will be a follow-up article with more tips and tricks for you to consider.

Long-Term Contracts

This is one reason to develop strong, mutually supportive relationships with your vendors. Now, when times may be lean, you can work together to find solutions.

Let’s say you produce 100 jobs a year, ranging from newsletters to forms to business cards. Some are on monthly schedules, and some are on an as-needed basis. If you group the products and sign a long-term contract to have one vendor produce similar publications (all the newsletters, for instance), your printer can often reduce the overall cost. Why? Because he can probably buy the paper from the mill in a larger quantity and store it on-site (knowing your newsletters will come to him every two months, or whatever). He may be able to pass the savings on to you.

Again, this only works if you have developed mutual trust with your vendor over time. (Most probably it also means that you have not been awarding print jobs to commercial printing vendors based solely on the price.) Price is important, but the skill of the printer and his responsiveness are far more important.

In this light, I want to share with you my insights from a consulting gig I had with a major publisher for over a decade. This government education organization published a daily 2-color magazine and a much longer 4-color weekly magazine. During my stint with the publisher, I helped craft contracts with two vendors (one for a few years and the other for the balance of my time with the publisher). In both cases, each printer had sole responsibility for all of the publications. Because they had the consistent work, the custom printing suppliers were very willing to do whatever was necessary to meet the rigorous schedules and even keep their pricing lower than their competition’s. There’s nothing more valuable than mutual loyalty.

The Seconds Market

I have personally bought paper on the seconds market, and I’m suggesting it as an option because it may work for you. However, I would do this with extreme care.

First of all, what is the seconds market (also known as the “odd-lots” market)? You’re basically buying extra paper left over after a larger paper sale, a portion of a box of paper, or a few web rolls of paper no one really wants. It’s like buying something at a thrift store. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

In the consulting gig I referenced above, the publisher produced a quarterly newsletter on goldenrod paper. (I think it was actually a bright canary yellow.) No one else wanted it, although it could be seen from across the room.

Since almost no one else used this stock, it was expensive. (That is, the more people want a particular paper stock, the more the mills make, and the more they make, the less your portion costs.) So I went to the seconds market and got a discount (maybe 10-20 percent).

The good news is that it cost less. The bad news is that the printer had to store it and inventory the web rolls (for which they could have charged but chose not to). It was a headache. They never let me forget this.

So what I would suggest in your case is that you involve your printer in such a purchase (even if you find the paper yourself). Why? Because if anything is wrong with the paper, or if the specs don’t exactly match what your printer needs for his equipment, it’s automatically your responsibility because you provided the paper.

So I won’t say you shouldn’t do this. In my case it was the (almost)-perfect solution. But there can be potential problems. So be prudent. At the very least, ask your printer for all specs you will need to match for specialty paper (and the canary-yellow, or goldenrod, stock was just that—specialty paper).

Avoid (or at Least Be Conscious of the Cost of) Bleeds

Right now, without any contracts or seconds-market dealings, you can save money buying commercial printing by being mindful of the cost of bleeds.

Bleeds refer to photos, art, or color blocks that appear to extend off the page. In reality, they are printed to extend off the page and then are chopped down with the printer’s guillotine cutter to flush cut the paper to the proper trim size. Because they extend off the page, they make the overall page spread, and the photos in particular, appear larger than they really are. Bleeds give your publication a sense of opulence.

That said, since the bleeds must extend 1/8” beyond the trim and then be cut off in the finishing department, adding bleeds to your publication may necessitate printing on a larger press sheet, which may need to go on a larger press (at a higher hourly rate).

Or maybe not. Sometimes, everything fits, depending on your printer’s press size and the size of your print job page. So always ask whether bleeds are included or what the additional cost of bleeds will be. Depending on your choices in this area, you may be able to save money.

Alternatively, you may reduce the trim size of the print product slightly and keep the bleeds. Same difference. You just want to make sure your printer does not need to go to a larger press sheet size or a larger press because of your bleeds. The best practice is to ask.

Smaller Mailer Size and Format

Postal regulations can be your friend, too. And you can save money on paper by making something just a tad smaller.

Sometimes even a half inch can make a difference. Early in my career as an art director/production manager for a local non-profit, I was tasked with producing direct mail catalogs. I learned the difference (quickly) between letter mail and flat mail. Flat mail costs more in postage, and anything larger than 6 1/8” x 11.5” is a flat, not a letter.

So I made the mailers and the catalogs 6 1/8” x 11”. Consistently. And I saved our organization hundreds of dollars here and hundreds of dollars there over the course of the year in postage just by doing this. Moreover, since the overall trim size (even with bleeds) fit on my printer’s press comfortably, I think I actually may have saved a little on paper costs as well.

Even a half inch makes a difference. So study postal regulations (length, width, thickness, etc.) for the various classes of mail, and ask your printer (as noted earlier in the article) about bleeds and trim sizes.

Multiple Tiers of Paper Quality

Not everything you print has to be on the very best paper. The yellow rolls of paper I mentioned above weren’t spectacular, but they were exactly right for a 48-page newsletter. So overall, the paper and final product were less expensive and absolutely appropriate.

Keep this in mind. For an annual report, for instance, you may need a premium press sheet. It enhances your brand. If you want to look a little more organic and sustainable, maybe you can choose a special uncoated stock. But if you’re printing forms, in-house newsletters, or similar functional items, ask your printer about lower grades of paper that might work equally well while saving you money.

The Preprint Model

During my decade-long consulting gig noted above, one of the custom printing vendors printed 4-color shells for a large number of issues of a short, daily newsletter and then imprinted (black ink only on a Xerox duplicator) the nightly news stories. This saved a lot of money since the (expensive) 4-color work could be done all at once in bulk (because all of the color placement was consistent from issue to issue), and the (cheaper) black-ink-only work could be done in smaller quantities each night. The process ran smoothly and saved lots of money.

This is also a good idea for business cards. Let’s say you want to include metallic ink (expensive) plus 4-color process ink on your business cards. Do a large run of everything but the employee’s name and contact information, and then go back periodically and print in black ink only the information that is pertinent to the individual employee.

The relevant terms here are “static” and “variable.” The former would be the (preprinted) more-expensive custom printing work that doesn’t change, and the latter would be the (imprinted) less-expensive information that does.

Now that we depend so much on digital commercial printing, you may want to consider offset printing the static “shells” and then digitally printing (or imprinting) the variable data.

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