Printing Guide for Cost Savings
Explore some of our tips on how to save money on your next print project.
The following design features that impact printing costs can be considered at the beginning of the project:
- Size—larger printed products require more paper
- Bleeds, because they call for additional paper for trimming
- Die cuts, especially those that necessitate a specially made die
- Gateway folds or other special or unusual folds
- Special inks like metallics and pearlescents that must be custom ordered
- Special hand work or bindery, like inserting a fly sheet
- Full color versus black ink only—but be aware that today’s digital presses may be a cost efficient choice for your full color project if the size and quantity is right.
- One-sided versus two-sided
Three things determine which press can be used: sheet size, run length and color. Choosing the right press to handle your project will mean no surprises in printing costs.
- Are designed for shorter runs (less then 2,000 depending on size).
- Requires your design to fit on size sheets of 12 x 18 or smaller.
- Are a cost-effective printing solution for full color projects.
- Cannot print on envelopes.
- Use toner (not ink) in cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) to create colors.
- Pantone colors on a digital press may vary from those produced on a 4 color process offset press, however your printer should be able to guarantee consistency from run to run by properly calibrating their equipment.
- Can not be used to print letterhead because digitally printed sheets will be damage by running them through another laser printer.
- Can handle either 1 color, 2 color or 4 color process projects.
- Are ideal for envelopes, letterhead, longer runs and larger sheets.
- Use of a 2 color offset press is usually less expensive than using a 4 color offset press, unless the run length is significant.
- 1 and 2 color offset presses use Pantone spot color inks that match your color specifications exactly.
- 4 color offset presses mix cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks (CMYK) to Pantone specifications to closely approximate the correct color.
Adhering to these guidelines will help you to avoid incurring extra fees:
If you intend for your job to bleed (ink to be printed to the edges of a page), then you must allow for this in your files by extending all your images 1/8″ beyond the final page trim. Be sure that the PDF you send to the printer is one quarter inch larger than the final trim size. For example, an item that is to trim to 8 1/2” x 11” should have a PDF file that is 8 3/4”x 11 1/4” to allow for trimming.
Use a 1/4” type safety, meaning that type should not be closer than 1/4” to the trim edges of a page or to the gutter of a booklet as a precaution against small variations in trimming being overly noticeable.
Delete all unused colors from your color palette so that only colors that you expect to print are listed. Make sure that these colors are specified as Pantone colors or built four color process (CMYK), depending on the press that will be used for your project.
Be sure that your document and images are not RGB! These are the colors (Red, Green, Blue) your monitor uses for display and are the default color specification in desktop programs like Word or Publisher. They look great on your monitor or desktop printer but cannot be used in commercial printing.
Desktop monitors image show color in RGB and are usually not calibrated. The color you see on your screen will not match the final printed piece. Always specify colors with the Pantone Matching System if color is a critical component of your desired output.
As a rule of thumb, photographic images should be 300dpi (dots per inch). Avoid using photos taken from the internet as these files are usually low resolution 72dpi RGB files that are unsuitable for commercial printing.
Interpolating an image from a lower resolution to a higher resolution in Photoshop will not improve its quality. True optical resolution is determined during image capture (scanning or digital photography) so make sure that your files are the proper resolution for their size to begin with.
Be sure to include all fonts used in your design when collecting and sending files to the printer. Another option is to convert fonts to paths. When converting to paths, the text becomes a vector shape and will look no different than its original state. This is especially useful for logos.
In Photoshop, text can be rasterized and therefore does not need the fonts. Keep in mind that after rasterizing or converting to paths, no changes can be made to the text.
Confirm that the dimensions of your fold panels are correct and properly accommodate gutters. Some common fold specs are:
8 1/2” x 11” letterfold: First two panels are 3 11/16” (3.6875) and the last panel is 3 5/8” (3.625)
8 1/2” x 14” letterfold: First two panels are 4 11/16” (4.6875) and the last panel is 4 5/8” (4.625)
Create your design file or PDF in single page form and in correct numerical order, allowing your printer to do the final imposition. If there are to be blank pages, then be sure to include blank pages in your file. For two sided printing projects, adjust or rotate individual pages as needed so that they will back up properly. Check to make sure that the file you submit is the correct size (trim size plus bleed). Adjust page size if necessary. For example, a PDF for a business card should be 3 3/4” x 2 1/4” and not centered in an 8 1/2” x 11”.
Proofread your design carefully before submitting it for printing. Check closely for typing errors and accuracy of content. Confirm that your printed job will meet any postal regulations or other end-use requirements. Errors found after print proofs have been prepared or after printing is complete will incur additional charges.
Each paper stock possesses the following characteristics: surface texture, brightness, whiteness, color, opacity, weight, and grain direction.
Uncoated and coated papers have different surface textures. Uncoated stock has vellum, antique, wove, and smooth surfaces (from rough to smooth). Coated paper varies from roughest (matte) to smoother (dull) to smoothest (gloss). The smoother the paper, the better the ink sits on the surface of the paper rather than being absorbed into the fibers, making for greater intensity of color.
Brightness, Whiteness and Colored Paper
Brightness and whiteness of white papers affect readability (too much light tires your eyes when reading long blocks of text) and the crispness of photos (too little light reflected back makes photos seem dark or muddy).
Paper color can change the color of the ink and is also more expensive than white stock because of the dyes used. Off-whites, referred to as cream, ivory, etc., are a good option for some jobs, but the names differ from paper mill to paper mill, and the appearance will change among paper batches produced at different times.
If the color of the paper is important for your project, always ask for samples.
Opacity determines show-through. A sheet with high opacity will prevent solids, screens, and halftones from being visible through the opposite side of the sheet. Skimping here could cause the printed piece to be difficult to read. Colored sheets are usually more opaque than white sheets.
Paper weight is based on how much 500 sheets (a ream) weigh at parent size. Parent sizes vary by the type of paper in an arcane system that is very confusing. This is why 60# offset is thinner then 24# bond and 100# text is thinner than 100# cover. The newer metric system of GSM (grams per square meter) is much more consistent but has not yet become the standard.
Paper weight can affect appearance and durability. It is best to rely on your printer for guidance and actually see and feel the sheet before making a final decision.
Grain direction refers to the direction the fibers of a sheet have aligned during the papermaking process. Direction and length of fibers affects the runability and printability of the paper, as well as its final appearance. For example, paper folds better parallel to the grain direction, but is stronger against the grain. Your printer is the expert in determining how best to place your design on the paper for optimum outcomes.
Recycled paper can be extremely costly and the process of recycling the paper can actually harm the environment. With modern, responsible forestry practices, paper can be produced in a renewable environmentally beneficial and cost effective manner. Consider using FSC or SFI papers to meet your environmental requirements and not break your budget.
Print shells as a way to save big. A shell is a business card or base sheet that is printed without all the contents in order to gain savings from larger print runs. The shells can then be stored and imprinted later (usually in black ink) with business card data or text content in subsequent orders. If your materials are two color plus black, this can offer considerable efficiency both in cost and in turnaround time.
Choose “no name” paper stock. There are many fine quality stationery papers and business card stocks that are far less expensive than the big names. Don’t get hung up on having to have Strathmore when another, less expensive paper can look and feel exactly the same. Another great way to save is to use the expensive paper for special projects (and the CEO’s letters) and use the less expensive paper for everyday use.
Quantity doesn’t always equate to savings. With today’s digital presses, volume discounts may be less important. For offset press projects, printing one year’s supply can produce cost efficiencies. But for projects that are subject to frequent change, using shells, digital presses, or black ink only printing may offer more cost savings.
Maximize the number of pieces you get out of each sheet. Changing the size of certain pieces even slightly can sometimes mean big savings. While it won’t work on standard sized items like letterhead, a mailer can be sized for maximum number per sheet when the files are prepared for printing.
- Follow USPS guidelines for mailer design to avoid additional fees.
- Mail 500 or more at a time to qualify for the lowest bulk postage rates.
- Choosing first class bulk postage costs more than standard rates (formerly “third class”), so if your mailer is not time-sensitive consider standard bulk mail.
- Be sure to have your address list CASS Certified™ before addresses are imprinted on the mailer—it could save you up to 15% on postage.
- Consider switching from plastic or leatherette covers and print your cover in full color on 100# card stock instead.
- Consider printing shells on an offset press and then imprinting the titles as you order the job. If your volumes are significant you can save the cost of short run digital press and take advantage of long run offset pricing.
- Save big on binding by using perfect binding, especially for longer runs—similar to paperback books, sheets are glued at the spine using strong, flexible glue.
- Just-in-time printing and fulfillment avoids waste when manuals become obsolescent and files can be stored by your printer, quickly edited, printed and delivered.
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