Planning, Marketing and Design

A Breakdown of Printing Costs

The percentage cost for producing 10,000 copies of an 8-1/2" x 11" saddle stitched 16-page self cover booklet that prints eight pictures in four color process breaks down as follows:

Research and copy


Art and composition


Prepress work




Printing and binding


Mailing and postage


Of course, if the number of copies required changes, the percentages would also change. When the number of copies is increased, paper, printing and binding, mailing, and postage become a larger percentage of the total. A recent survey showed that more than 75% of all printed projects have print runs of less than 5,000 copies. If this is true for your organization, the greatest potential savings would come from improving the research, copy, art, composition, and prepress processes.

Planning / Communications

Establish goals and objectives

What do you want to accomplish with this printed piece? Do you want to create interest resulting in a call to action? Do you want to inform or have a transfer of knowledge? How will the recipient of the printed piece receive it—will it be mailed, hand delivered, picked up from a counter display? What is the time frame that you have to work within? What are your budget constraints?

The answers to the above questions help to solidify your thinking. The professionals that you work with want to focus on your objectives. Establishing your goals and objectives will save time in planning meetings and reduce design concept costs.

Set up a project team

The old saying that “two heads are better than one” is especially true when it comes to creating and then printing a project. The total production process is complex. Many concept, design, and production variables are often interrelated. The expectation that one person has all of the knowledge, except on the most basic of pieces, is frequently unrealistic.

The number of people on the team, of course, depends on the complexity of the project. A team could consist of sales and marketing personnel, graphic designer, copywriter, photographer, digital production artist and the printer. Team members bring their expertise to the project, and through group interaction the resulting final printed piece will, ideally, meet the objectives and be cost effective.

Use fewer suppliers to reduce internal and printing costs

Supplier lists are continuing to shrink as buying companies and print buyers have realized that working with fewer suppliers improves quality and creates greater efficiencies and cost savings. Most print buyers do not receive formal training. They learn the job by

  • trial and error

  • the person who had the job before them who probably didn’t get formal training

  • and often more successfully, from their printing sales representative

Given this fact, determining a sales representative’s expertise and willingness to teach you is imperative when qualifying new suppliers.

Meet with Castle Press at the planning stage

The time to save the greatest amount of money is to discuss the goals and objectives of the piece with us at the concept stage—before the designer establishes the look and feel of the project. Keep the decision on which paper to use for the project open, and don’t finalize the size or number of pages until you have this discussion.

A meeting with the client, designer and printer that is free flowing with ideas can quickly determine the least expensive way to print a project while giving the greatest visual impact.

Working with Castle Press as a partner rather than a vendor saves you money.

It’s all about communications and understanding. Printing is often considered a commodity until something goes wrong. The typical printing project goes through 23 production stages before the project is on the delivery truck. When something does not go as planned everyone gets very excited and wants to place blame somewhere. Developing a relationship helps reduce periods of high stress.

The first step in building a relationship is working with a sales representative that you like. You want a representative who will represent you when a potential problem arises. When that problem does come up (and it will) you want to hear three possible solutions. You need to hear “we can do that” rather than “we’ll try to do that.” During the planning process you should discuss past problems. When a project is completed, there should be a discussion as to how the process went and what could be done better in the future.

You should have a list of the key people so that if the representative is not available, there is a way to get instant answers to questions that often come up. Feel free to use Castle Press’ technical people as a resource to eliminate potential problems, especially in the area of digital file creation.

During the production process, you need to make yourself available to answer questions. Give us multiple ways to contact you, including your home phone number. Don’t worry, you are not going to get a phone call in the middle of the night unless there is a real problem and no one else that was called could answer that pressman’s question.

Learn printer services that will help save you time and money

The best suppliers will not only produce a good product on time, but they will also make it easy to work with them. The Castle Press will work with you to meet your printing goals. Our job is to make you look good!

Marketing / Research

Who is the piece going to?

Identify your target audience for effective marketing results.

How will it be distributed?

Is the piece going to be placed in inventory for future use? Are you getting this piece ready for a trade show or event? Is this piece going to be mailed one time or more over a period of time?

Can existing material be used to achieve your goal?

Can existing or combination printed pieces be used to meet the current goals and objectives? Perhaps a companion piece to go with an existing piece? There are times that a new printed piece is created because we are bored with the existing pieces. Our boredom does not justify printing new collateral.

Can your piece be set up for personalized marketing?

Integrating a recipient’s name and address into your copy can further increase participation and response rates. Customization will fine tune your marketing message and recipient’s receive more relevant materials. Personalized, or one-to-one marketing, can often increase your response rate by 100%.

Reducing warehousing costs

Cost reduction for inventory items could be the size of cartons—large cartons holding greater quantities are less expensive than smaller cartons. The offset cost is that in the warehouse, or in store rooms, smaller cartons are easier to handle. In warehouses using pallet racks—what is the ideal pallet size and height to maximize storage efficiency and reduce storage costs? What is the preferred method of carton labeling so that pallets will not require re-stacking before pallets are placed onto pallet racks? Reduce the cost of inventory control and product location through the use of scannable barcodes on carton labels.

Also, consider on-demand printing, which could eliminate an inventory supply.

Reducing costs when shipping material to a trade show

The obvious way to save money is to ship the material early with the trade show booth. For a number of reasons out of your control this is not always possible. So consider the options.

Only ship the material that you will give away during the show. Avoid shipping everything overnight—part of it can be shipped two-day air, or even ground with enough lead time.

Material shipped to your hotel has a smaller chance of being lost than material shipped to the trade show hall. If it is coming directly to the hall, let the receiving desk know that you are expecting a package. In this situation an advanced tip of $10 or $20 never seems to hurt your chances of promptly getting the incoming package.

Reducing mailing costs by choosing the correct delivery service

The United States Postal Service has site explaining their various rules and regulations which boils down to three basic services: Nonprofit Mail, Standard Mail and First Class Mail. Visit for more details.

Although not guaranteed, the serious objectives for Nonprofit Mail delivery is 10 to 14 days; for Standard Mail delivery is 10 to 14 days; for First Class Mail delivery is 7 to 10 days.

Write complete specifications to reduce miscommunications

Preparing written project specifications helps to solidify your thinking; it is a point of reference during the production process, and eliminates the chance of forgetting critical issues.

Specifications should include a proposed production schedule with relevant production milestones. A simple schedule would include acceptance dates for final design, final page proofs, release of digital file to prepress, an HP proof (blueline), a color proof, and final delivery date. As the complexity of the project increases, so do the milestone checkpoints.

The printing specifications should include quantity, number of pages or panels, flat size and folded size, weight and type of paper, colors of inks, types of proofs required, binding and finishing operations, special effects such as embossing or die cutting, and packaging requirements—all will help reduce miscommunication.

Specify a house stock

For a consistent branded look you will want all of your printed material to have the same look and feel. The stock you select for new projects should match in color the stocks you used on previous projects. Varying colors of stocks can make printed pieces look old or shop worn.

Using the same type of paper also allows you an opportunity to lower costs when several projects can be combined on a single press form. Additional savings can be realized when paper is purchased at the 40,000 pound level. Ask for a “house stock” for the best pricing.

When creating budgets or requesting estimates, asking for a specific stock allows for apple-to-apple pricing comparisons.

Have your text proofread by two people

The cheapest place to make a change is in the manuscript or original copy. This is the point of low cost or no cost changes. During the design and layout process, the page or laser proof changes become more expensive and time consuming. When the project is ready to print and the final proof is a blueline or HP proof, changes at this point are considered to be very costly (first page of corrections averages $100 and each additional page averages $50.)

A recent national survey of print buyers report that 9% of the respondents have one person proofread a project; 69% had two to three people proofread a project; the balance of the respondents had four or more people proofread a project.

We have found that it is best to have two people proofread and sign off a project at each proof stage, i.e. final copy, laser page proofs and final blueline or HP proof. The critical point here is that the people that sign off are actually proofreading and not just “looking” or “reviewing the project.”

Looking over a project at a proof stage gives a false sense of security and allows little mistakes to slip through the cracks. Little mistakes appear as embarrassing blunders after the piece is printed, bound, and distributed.

Edit text to reduce the number of pages

A good way to save printing costs is to have your document fall within a standard number of pages: 4, 8, 16, 24 – a multiple of 8 or 4. The savings could be substantial, so it might be worth it to edit your copy to make it fit within certain document lengths.

Consider a postcard as an economical option

Postcard mailings are an effective marketing tool. The most economical size for mailing a postcard is 4-1/4 x 6 inches. Larger postcards do not qualify for the postcard mailing rate.

What is your deadline?

Can you accept a partial delivery?

If you need an extra-fast turnaround, do you need the full quantity delivered, or would a partial delivery suffice? Be flexible.

Which Printing Technology Will Best Serve Your Needs?

How to determine how many to print

Digital printing or offset printing produces the majority of printed products. Digital printing has a low fixed set-up cost and a high per unit cost. Offset printing has a high fixed set-up cost and a low per unit cost. Yes, this is the simple answer and there are a wide range of what-if’s but let’s keep it simple at this point.

Short print runs result in lower total initial costs, lower levels of obsolescence costs, lower inventory, and warehousing costs. Digital printing is ideal.

Longer print runs result in lower per unit costs. Offset printing is ideal.

Which way to go is often determined by type of paper desired, size of piece, number and type of ink colors used, and desired finishing operations. A ballpark estimate from your printer will give you a starting point to prepare the written specifications. Estimating up to three quantities for a single set of specifications is easy to do and will help you to determine your print run.

Single page documents

1-color digital printer (black) - up to 5,000
4-color digital  printer - up to 1000
1 to 6-color Offset Litho - over 1000

One color (black) single-page documents, up to runs of 5,000, can print on the 1-color digital press.

Projects that print in a Pantone color require a printing plate and printing on an offset press. This process is more expensive than digital printing. Projects that have a flat size larger than 12 x 18 or quantities greater than 5,000 require printing on an offset press.

Multiple page documents

1-color digital press (black only) - up to 1,100
4-color digital press - up to 1000
1-6-color Offset Litho - over 1000

One-color, multi-page documents:

Less than 1,100 copies print on the 1-color digital press providing the booklet prints in black ink only.

Over 1,100 copies and booklets that print in a Pantone color require printing on an offset press.

Four-color process, multi-page documents:

Less than 500 copies print on the 4-color digital press. Over 5,000 copies or a flat size format of 12" x 18" print on a 4-color or 8-color offset press.

Cost Comparisons for 1-, 2-, 4- and 6-Color Printing

Here’s a budget guide based on printing 5,000 16-page self covered booklets:


(baseline) 0.0%


29.84% over base


84.60% over base


155.95% over base

Reduce Costs at the Design Stage

Set up graphic styles and standards for your company

Printed material helps create an impression in your customer’s mind. Your company wants to develop a brand that develops customer’s trust and loyalty. Your company develops a consistent look. This look speaks in a single company voice. An engaging company personality is developed. Over time, this branded company look provides customers a positive impression. This is the dream of every company president.

You can save money while creating this dream. Creating a branded look requires the standardization of layout formats, type faces, number of ink colors, and paper specifications. Your designer should be designing systems, not jobs. This approach saves money if it’s done right because developing new projects would be based on past projects and would not go through costly reinvention.

Standardization of layout formats allow for creation of digital files by lower cost digital production operators rather than the more expensive designers.

Standardization of ink colors and paper specifications saves money because of the opportunity to combine different projects on the same press form.

With graphic standards images in place on a web site, using online ordering systems for business products such as business cards, letterheads, envelopes, etc. can save you time and money.

Design low-budget projects to print black only

Design your project to print in black ink only which will allow for printing on a digital press. Digital printing is cost effective for production runs of less than 5,000 copies.

Design 2- or 4-color projects, not three colors

Printing presses are manufactured to print either 2- or 4-colors. A project requiring three-ink colors, if printed on a 2-color press, will require two passes through the press, resulting in additional expense for the second pass. If a 4-color press is used to print the three-ink color project, only three of the available four printing units will be used. Printing companies usually charge the same rates for three or four color.

Save money by designing two color projects or maximize your value by utilizing all available printing units.

Can your design be simplified?

Changing dimensions by 1/2 inch or going from a premium grade paper stock to a number one paper stock—being flexible—can help you produce a more efficient piece.

The most economical page size for printing is 8.5 x 11

In the United States, everything is based on a page size of 8-1/2 x 11. Paper is sold in sizes that are in multiples of 8-1/2 x 11. Printing presses and binding equipment sizes accommodate various multiple sizes of 8-1/2 x 11.

The premium paid for a non-standard size for projects that have low page counts and short press runs usually are not excessive, but as the page count increases or the quantity increases, the designer should have some strong arguments to support the additional costs for their size suggestions.

Economical formats for:

  • Single 8-1/2 x 11 sheets are in multiples of 1, 2, 4, 8, and 10 sheets.

  • 4-page brochures are in multiples of 1, 2 or 4.

  • 8-page booklets are in multiples of 1 or 2.

  • 16-page booklets are in multiples of 1.

  • Other economical sizes are multiples of:

    • 4-1/4 x 5-1/2 sheets or cards

    • 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 sheets or cards

A 16-page booklet is more economical than a 12-page booklet

When designing 8-1/2 x 11 booklets available press and paper size make the 12-page booklet an inefficient size. For quantities up to 20,000 you could design a 16-page booklet for only an additional $300. Whether you print a 12- or 16-page, the paper, printing and binding costs are the same. The only additional expense is the cost of design, layout and digital prepress work.

Square pieces are popular, but if it mails, it will require additional postage

Letters can be sorted on automated equipment. Square pieces, however are not "machinable".

Documents with no bleeds can save 3 to 6% of cost

The advantage of having images that bleed off the page is the appearance of having a larger page. There could be a bleeder bar on the face of the book to aid the reader to find a desired section. Sometimes it is just part of the design to improve the look of the piece.

Increased costs due to pages that bleed range from 3 to 6% of the total project. This is due to larger paper sizes and binding operations to allow for image bleeds.

Flexibility is the key to having your cake and eating it too. Discuss where it would be desirable to have images bleed off the page. Often times press forms can be laid out enabling certain pages to bleed at no additional cost.

In the written specifications, indicate either no bleed or what pages have an image that will bleed. This information will allow the estimator to give a lower price.

Crossovers can require additional time: stock, press layouts, ink density, and binding issues

Photos, illustrations or graphic images that crossover from page to page require special consideration and a higher level of complexity in the printing and binding process. Many of the potential problems can be minimized or eliminated during the design stage through communication with the print representative.

Proper consideration should be given that the same paper and surface is being used for the pages that crossover. For example, if page two was an uncoated sheet and page three was coated, the image could not match due to different levels of ink holdout and reflective qualities of the paper stock.

In the pre-production planning special consideration has to be given to the press layouts to allow for greatest ink control of the pages that crossover with one another. For example, could the crossover image be placed inline behind each other on the press sheet to improve ink and color control? Binding operations also have to be considered. It is sometimes necessary to increase the number of page signatures due to quality control issues but at a greater expense.

The complexity in the printing process increases to higher levels with ink control due to the perceptible difference of color variations to the human eye when placed next to each other. This equates to longer press make-ready times and slower press running speeds.

Bindery operations are slowed to maintain tight register control during folding operations.

Avoid a 6-page, 8.5" x 11" brochure. It can cause a 25% paper waste

Available press and paper sizes make the 6-page brochure with a flat size of 25-1/4" x 11" an inefficient size. With rare exception, you are wasting 25% of the paper because of available sizes. Additionally you are not maximizing the available space on the press.

A cost saving idea would be to print an 8-1/2" x 11" single sheet in combination with the 6-page brochure to use that otherwise wasted space.

See also:

9 Ways to Cut your Printing Costs

10 Tested Ways to Cut Your Printing Costs

Paper and Ink

Printing Resources

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