We might be living in the age of the Internet, but print collateral is still a part of just about every organization's marketing arsenal. So let's start with some common questions and answers that inevitably arise in the print-project process.

Whenever a client asks "Is it possible to..." normally our answer is "Absolutely." The better question would be "Can I affordably produce..."

Whenever a client asks "Where are the quantity price breaks?" our answer is "The first one is really expensive; after that it's minimal."

Whenever a client asks "Can I add another color without paying more? After all, it's only a four-color job and it's running on a six color press," our answer is "More colors means more money."

Whenever a client says "I love that blue there, but over here I want the blue to be more yellow," we say "Unless you want to go to PMS with a specialty ink, that is probably not possible."

So, as you can see, there are various options, scenarios, and variables to take into consideration when putting together a professional printing job. A high level of understanding between customer and provider is truly the key to coming up with solid options that are both effective and affordable.

Myths and misunderstandings abound about the printing industry, just as with most industries. Hopefully, I can shed some light on those myths and provide some factual information that customers will find helpful when purchasing printed materials.

Offset, Color, and Digital

For instance, if you want to produce a project that exceeds the limitations for digital printers, your project will need to be produced on an offset press. That press operates by making and mounting metal plates, and each plate is for one color.

So, consider a four-color project on a six-color press. Yes, two units will be empty and not running. And, yes, you can always add another color or two colors. But doing so would increase the price of the job, because there's a cost to producing the plates and mounting them, along with additional ink costs.

If you want to produce a project that is smaller in quantity and will fit on a digital printer, there are no plates to produce, and therefore you can print a four-color job as inexpensively as a single-color job. Also, inks aren't used in the digital process, so there is no additional charge for inks.

Price Breaks

As for price breaks, most costs are incurred getting the presses ready to print. Once a press is started and is ready to run, almost three-quarters of your budget has already been spent. Presses run fast, so once a press is going... printing an extra 1,000 sheets is almost paper-cost only. So, it's the first sheet that is expensive. Accordingly, no price breaks for certain quantity levels... That's just a fallacy.

Take a recent job we did for a client: The cost of 500 pieces was virtually identical to that of 1,000 pieces. Those are small runs, to be sure, but you get the idea. The "quantity myth" has lasted long enough...


Color changes can be difficult when producing a four-color-process project. Ink trains on offset presses means that color is controlled in sections. If you want your blue a little more yellow in this or that area, then you need to realize it will be a little more yellow in other areas.

If color is that critical, consider using special mixed inks. That way you'll get the exact color you want without comprising elsewhere. However, keep in mind that doing so, too, will cost more.

My Estimate Is Different Now

Whether you're working through an agency or directly with a printer, remember that if the parameters of the job change, the price almost invariably will change as well.

Almost anything you can dream up can be produced, but the real question is this: Can it be produced affordably? Once you begin adding additional creative elements such as intricate die cuts, hand assembly, specialized packing, foils, dry trap varnishes, special inks... the costs begin to rise.

Every printing project is a custom piece: Printers don't have your pocket folders or brochures preprinted and waiting for you on a shelf. Because each project has unique specifications, a printer can bring true value to clients when given the opportunity to provide strategic advice and suggestions on budget.

Your Printer as Partner

Consider inviting your preferred vendor into your initial project meetings. Doing so can be invaluable for learning about and determining paper specifications, size limitations, costly hand assembly, and so on.

Don't view your printer vendor as a low-cost commodity; rather, see your vendor as a partner who can bring true value to the conversation. The good ones can truly be invaluable, particularly if you don't have much experience with printing.

Involving the vendor early on in the process will give insight into the most effective marketing channels to use, as well as distribution costs and timing.

You don't need to know all of the industry specifics; you just need a printer who does.

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What You Need to Know About Printing, Including Costs

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image of Debbie Simpson
Debbie Simpson is the president of Multi-Craft, a privately held marketing services and support company founded in 1955.