CategoryWorking with Printers

Size Matters. #sorrynotsorry

One of the things that consistently shocks designers and customers alike is how much a project price can change based on its finished size. I am going to show you why that is. Read on and you will realize why #sizematters and you will be a #designhero.

How  Size Affects Cost

Know that deviating from an increment of 8.5 x 11 is important when designing,  especially for a client on a budget. Here’s an example:  If you want to design a square brochure that is eight pages and saddle stitched, that’s two, 4-page signatures or one 8-page signature. If you make your finished size 9 x 9 inches and the brochure is printing on an offset sheet, then your printer would order a sheet size that is 25 x 38 or 23 x 35 depending on availability. (Whether or not you add a bleed doesn’t matter because the printer will need crop marks for bindery. But there are other instances where a bleed can make a big difference in cost. We will get to that in a little bit.) The printer needs approximately 1/2 inch of gripper on the long edge of the sheet. Paper sizes already take this into consideration. The diagram that follows shows how much waste is contained in a design that is 9 x 9 inches square. The difference in paper cost might nix the project for a cost-conscious client, whereas a design change can help the project move forward. For a more image-conscious client, the cost difference may not be as important as the visual impact that comes with the larger size. Remember that reducing the number of printed sheets not only lowers the paper cost but also reduces the amount of press time!

One Booklet, 3 Sizes:

Here is an 8-page brochure. I’ve laid it out on a parent sheet so you can see what happens when you deviate from 8.5 x 11. Take a look at the amount of waste ($) that is generated. I am not saying it is bad to create a 9″ x 9″ brochure as long as you and your client know it is going to cost more.  Another consideration is the waste apart from the cost. A client that prides themselves on their environmental responsibility will not appear responsible with a 9″ x 9″ brochure.

8 x 8
Here’s the first example, an 8″ x 8″ page size. Because both dimensions are smaller than 8.5″ x 11″ the whole brochure is able to fit on one press sheet. 25,000 8-page booklets with a page size of 8 x 8 require the purchase of 25,000 sheets of 23 x 35 paper. If we pretend the paper is $1.00 per sheet, the paper cost is $25,000.00.  The darker gray area on the press sheet is scrap that will be recycled. Knowing how much paper is wasted, you the designer could add on additional items in the “waste” area of the press sheet such as coupons or statement stuffers or whatever.

 

9 x 9
Below is the second example, same booklet sized to 9″ x 9″. This is a great standout size, it will be wider than a stack of direct mail and can really make the message stand out. But look at the cost: 25,000 8-page booklets with a page size of 9 x 9 requires the purchase of 50,000 sheets of 23 x 35 paper.

If we pretend the paper is $1.00 per sheet, the paper cost is $50,000.00, double the paper cost of the 8″ x 8″ size. This size also needs to be printed on two press forms so that is double the plates, double the make ready and double the press time.

 

8.5 x 11
The third example is the same booklet with a page size of 8.5″ x 11″. 25,000 8-page booklets with a page size of 8.5 x 11 requires the purchase of 25,000 sheets of 23 x 35 paper. If we pretend the paper is $1.00 per sheet, the paper cost is $25,000.00, Although the price is the same as the 8 x 8 sized booklet, the waste is dramatically reduced.

How grain affects cost

Are you going with or against the grain? The other way that size affects cost is in combination with grain direction. For example, let’s say you design a brochure that is 4.25 x 11 when folded, 8.5 x 11 flat. It has solid black ink on both sides and you want to print on coated paper. (See design decisions that make headaches here) The brochure has to be cut with the grain parallel to the fold, because of the score going through solid ink. So the brochure must print with the grain following the 11 in. dimension parallel to the fold. As shown below, that nets you only 6 out of a sheet instead of the eight out you could get if the design allowed for it to run with the grain against the fold. Few papers are available grain short (more on that below). I have had instances where customers wanted to redo their brochure as in this example because “the last printer screwed it up real bad”. Having a sample of that last printing in hand I can see that what should have run with the grain was not. Why? Maybe the client was pressuring the printer on cost. Maybe the printer explained to the buyer that there was going to be some cracking (the buyer who no longer works for the client so that story is lost). You can work with a printer that is going to save you money or someone that is going to guard your branding with ferocity. It’s a choice.

If this print run was for 25,000 brochures and the paper cost $1.00 per sheet,
the paper cost would be $4,166.00. A page size of 8.5 x 11 tthat must
run grain long produces a considerable amount of waste.

If this print run was for 25,000 brochures and the paper cost $1.00 per sheet,
the paper cost would be $3,125.00. A page size of 8.5 x 11 produces very little waste.
It is clear how the standard parent size of 23 x 35 is optimal for the 8.5 x 11 page.

Solid ink cracking on a fold.

Paper Sizes

Most American print revolves around a paper sheet size of 8.5 by 11 inches, called letter size. (Most of the rest of the  world revolves around the A4 size of 21 x 29.7 centimeters). When you are designing a printed piece size is important because printing companies buy paper in standard sizes. The most economical use of that sheet, large or small, is going to be in a multiple of 8.5 x 11. Minimizing paper waste is important for containing costs. The large sheets of paper that printers buy are called parent sheets, and these come in standard sizes based on the weight of the paper. What that means in plain English is that it is more wasteful ie: more expensive, to deviate from the 8.5 x 11 format or add a bleed to some papers, such as writing, versus others such as text. (Exceptions are custom sizes, which can be ordered  from a paper mill depending on the amount of lead time you have.)

The information that follows is organized by paper grade. You can learn about paper grades here. The dimensions given in the chart below are standardized in multiple ways. The first number refers to the horizontal measurement (the 8.5 in 8.5 x 11”). The second dimension is the vertical measurement and the grain direction (the 11 in 8.5 x 11”). Sometimes grain direction is indicated by making that dimension bold as in 23 x 35 or by underlining it as in 23 x 35. Sometimes paper is sold grain short and that is indicated by the dimension 35 x 23 or 35 x 23  or 35 x 23 or 23 x 35 or 23 x 35.

In the chart of standard sizes by paper grade, note that the less expensive grades (uncoated, for example) are sold in sizes that do not allow for a bleed. The economy of a 23 x 35 sheet versus a 25 x 38 sheet over a long print run is significant.

The primary size is the size(s) that will be carried by most manufacturers. The primary size is always available in the basic colors such as white, cream, and ivory. If designer colors are manufactured, then they would also be available in the primary size. The secondary size is for the most common colors such as white, ivory, and perhaps other popular colors in that line. The tertiary sizes would apply only to the most common colors (white and ivory) in the most common grades and weights.

Below are all the common paper grades with their corresponding sizes of parent sheets available to printers.

Other costs such as plates, ink, and set-up charges affect the price, but the bottom line is that a size decision made at the design stage will make a significant difference in your printing cost. Have you experienced a size problem in the design stage? I would love to hear about it, please comment below to share your experience with other readers.

Do you have a question about this topic or would you like me to further explain something?  Do you have a request for a topic for me to cover or elaborate on? I’d love to know, comment or email me at marina @ designingforprint.com

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Designers Set Print Costs, Not Printers

Whaaaaaat?

The cost of producing your printed piece is completely dictated by the design.

Oh Snap!

If you have a knot in your stomach right now you are not alone. Remember, I am a graphic designer, we are of the same tribe, and I have your back. There’s a reason why so much of the printed stuff out there looks the same — budgets. Small budget projects look like they have small budgets. So one of the ways in which you, oh noble designer, are able to differentiate yourself, is by getting your client more bang for their buck.

Many designers who do not have a lot of print experience tackle this question by giving their budget to their printer and asking the question “how many _______________ can I get for $____”. How many pocket folders can I get for $2000? How many trifold brochures can I get for $500? You do not need a printer to get an answer to that question, go to vistaprint.com or modernpostcard.com or nextdayflyers.com and look up pricing. Share that pricing with your client. Tell them that the pricing is for a basic tri-fold on cover paper 4 color both sides. Then ask your client, do you have room in your budget to differentiate your product visually and tactilely from your competition? Is there something in your USP (unique selling proposition) that we can showcase in this brochure through sight or touch?

Do not call your print rep and don’t ask them how many ___________ can my client get for $________. Call your print rep and invite them to collaborate on your project and share their expertise. Here’s an example:

“Hi Sue, do you remember Cafe Cocoa? We did those menus for them a few months back? They need a catering menu for a new marketing campaign. They can spend a little more on this menu but not a ton. Do you have any suggestions on how we can help them stand out and succeed with this new effort? I was thinking we could die-cut the front panel around the plate and emboss the shrimp, what do you think?”

Your print rep should now dial in on that specific part of your question… “spend a little more”. What does that mean, 10% 20% 50%? If you can get your client to nail down this number, it will save you a ton of time and back and forth. Let’s assume Cafe Cocoa spent $1500 printing their menus and now they are prepared to spend $2000 on their catering menus. That is a 33% increase!

The pitfall here is to give your client an idea of what can be done without giving them a budget. Or, heaven forbid, designing, comping and showing them a spectacular catering menu that will cost $10,000 to produce! Do not laugh. It happens. All the time. For real.

If you use the prices you can easily find on-line for gang-printed marketing collateral and stationary as a baseline, you can really help your clients establish a direction for you to design.

Costs

It’s easier to be aware of the items that increase cost—and so avoid them if the budget doesn’t allow for them—than to make a list of everything that reduces cost. Here then is a list of items that are guaranteed to add cost, regardless of who your printer is and what kind of equipment she has. This list is based on the parameters e.g. size, paper, number of ink colors, etc., that you need to consider when designing any printed piece.

Expensive Size Decisions for Lithographic Printing
• Either dimension not being a multiple or fraction of 8.5 in. x 11 in. For example, 9.5 in. x 11 in. would add expense, and 12 in. x 12 in. would add expense.
• One dimension larger than 40 inches (for a project that is not a digital large-format project).

Expensive Size Decisions for Digital Printing
• Sheet size larger than 14 in. x 20 in.
• Total page count not evenly divisible by four (e.g. 34).

Expensive Paper Choices
• Thicker
• Deep, intense, color
• Texture
• Unusual
• Plastic

Expensive Ink Choices
• Three colors
• More than four ink colors
• Metallic ink
• Touch plates, Hexachrome or High Fidelity Printing
• Scented coating

The Cost of Bindery Techniques
• Wire-O (more expensive than spiral)
• Case binding (more expensive than perfect binding)
• Side sewn (very expensive)
• Saddle stitched (least expensive)
• Folding very thick paper (expensive)

All Coating Done Off-Line Adds Expense
• UV-coating
• Laminating

Finishing Techniques add Expense
• Foil
• Embossing or debossing
• Die cutting
• Scratch-off ink
• Laser cutting
• Flocking
• Lenticular
• Eye letting
• Drilling
• Perforating
• Tabbing, taping, spot glue, re-moist glue (unless the job is being run on a web press in which case it does not add as much as it would off-line.)

Common Design Features that Increase Printing Costs
• Solids, large areas of solid color
• Solid ink in bindery area
• Very large and light screens (below 10%)
• Very large and dark screens (between 70 and 90%)
• Envelopes with bleeds
• Business cards with large solids
• Identity systems with pastel colors (colors shift within 12 months necessitating more frequent printing)
• Business cards that are die cut
• Design elements that are within 1/8th of an inch of edges (may necessitate die cutting)
• Page size that is smaller than cover size (requires hand assembly)
• Pages that are different sizes
• Pages that are different papers (when it necessitates cutting signatures and hand collating)

Rush Charges
Most printers will add a rush charge for getting something to you faster than quoted. Here are some examples of why and at what point rush charges can be incurred.

Paper
If you can’t wait a day for the paper to arrive, it has to be sent by messenger, and that costs extra. Sometimes rush charges can be very steep. We once had a client pay $700 to air freight $350 worth of paper. That’s what poor planning can cost.

Printing
Presses are scheduled a day or two in advance to allow for maximum efficiency in the pressroom. Keeping a press crew overtime to finish a job that was estimated to run on straight time can result in a rush charge. If your printer has to have a crew stay overtime, over a weekend, or on a holiday to make your schedule, expect to pay for the extra expense.

Bindery/Finishing
Just like printing, the bindery process cannot be rushed without endangering the results. Each step must be completed before the next one can begin, and these steps take a prescribed amount of time, dictated by the speed of the equipment. There is no way to make one folder rated for 5,000 an hour do 10,000 folds an hour, but if your printer has two folders, that would help. If your job has to run on two folders for scheduling reasons (two folder make readies), that adds cost.

Delivery
Expect to pay a fortune for air freight versus ground delivery. Paper is very heavy.

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Never, Ever, Say ASAP to a Printer.

Planning Print Jobs

Here we are at the beginning of a new year, so it’s a great time to talk about planning. Whether you are a person who likes to plan in advance or hates to plan in advance, there is no downside to advance planning for print jobs. And, lucky for you, the printer actually does all the planning, you only need to get a file due date from your printer and work backward from there to your final approval date from your client (or boss).

To be clear, in what follows below, one day means one working day. Depending on your printer’s schedule, a work day might only be weekdays, or it could include weekends too if the print shop is running six or seven days a week. If your printer says 7-day turnaround does he mean Monday to Monday or Monday to Wednesday? Right. You don’t know unless you ask.

And NEVER, EVER tell your printer ASAP when they ask when you need it. Your rep has no idea what ASAP means. When a  job hits production with no due date, that means as soon as “possible” and if there are a week of emergencies with due dates in front of your job… you guessed it. The unscheduled job sits. And sits. I have seen it happen too many times to count. A good rep will pin you down and ask you what you mean by ASAP, five days? ten days? Everyone has a different definition. A great rep will never create an expectation they cannot meet because the difference between expectation and reality is stress.

Having said that, sometimes it is helpful to have a ballpark production schedule before you agree to take on a project. If there isn’t enough time, do you want to work day and night on your end to meet a file deadline? Is overtime in the budget? Will your client cooperate with copy and internal approvals? Exactly. Now you know where I am going with this.

Timing/Schedule

When you are planning a print job, the following schedule will work 99% of the time in a commercial sheet-fed environment. (Web printing can have a different schedule depending on run length.) I put this together to simplify a “ballpark” schedule. There are instances where this schedule doesn’t exactly fit, and I will explain some of those in a minute. Just bear in mind that the scenarios here will not fit 100% of print jobs.

Exceptions to these timelines occur when running jobs on web presses. Depending on run length and paper availability, you might need to book your press time a month in advance. You also may be able to have much of the finishing done in-line on a web press which will save you time on the back end.

Let’s take these points one-by-one:

File to Printer & final specs, due date & delivery address
If you get all the information to the printer on day one, your job will be far better off than if you piece-meal the information. For example: if you send the file to the printer and say that you will get back to them with final ink choices after the marketing boss/client/decision-maker gets back from lunch and chooses a palette, and you think something is going to happen on your job in the interim… nope. Not happening. Don’t assume that because you can design a file in one palette and switch it out in a minute in InDesign that your printer can do the same. Because they can’t. Don’t assume that your printer has some kind of  MIS system that allows them to input your spot colors in Sales and that it updates a job ticket and alerts prepress. Because they don’t. It’s hard to remember that print is really and truly a custom manufacturing project but it is. And what that means is nothing happens until all the info has been captured. The number one problem with incomplete information is delivery addresses. Everyone thinks that it happens last so it can get to the printer last. In some companies shipping labels are printed at the time of order entry. And if that is the case with your vendor, the order needs to wait in shipping and return to order entry for shipping labels and then turn around and go back to shipping. You get my drift.

Proof Received, okayed and returned to the printer
Each type of proof takes a different amount of time. A PDF proof is quickest and the least accurate for things like color. A folding blueline takes a little more time and contract proofs with folding bluelines take even more time. Add on getting proofs to you and then for you to get them to the client and then getting them back to the printer and you can see how one day can turn into a week. Be proactive and find out who will okay proofs and that person’s availability when the proofs are ready. Are you and the client on two different sides of town? Plan ahead to meet at the printer or have the proofs shipped to you and you take them to the client. Working this out in advance can really be a big time-saver when the deadline is tight and there is no room for error. Don’t expect your printer to take three days out of their schedule if the client is on vacation and the proofs sit on a desk for three days. The other thing to remember with proofing is to know what you are proofing. All specifics like names and addresses and websites and etc. should have been proofed at the copy stage. Final proofing may be for color, pagination, die-cutting, or other bindery operation. And if you know your client/department/boss always makes changes and requires another round of proofs, tell your printer so that this is built into the schedule.

Simple Trimming, Bindery, Folding
Believe it or not, sometimes we have to wait for the ink to dry before we can cut your job. If it is printing on coated paper, it’s likely going through an infra-red (IR) drying unit and will emerge ready to cut. But if it is an uncoated sheet with a lot of ink on it, like solid coverage, there might be drying time involved before the job can be trimmed or bound. Most printers have a folder set-up for letter folding or a simple right angle. Complicated folding like a pharmacy fold or map fold takes longer to set up. Ditto for cutting. If you need a diagonal corner for example, that takes longer to set up, cannot be programmed into a cutter (yes, cutters are programmable, it’s super-cool!) and because it becomes a manual set-up and run operation it takes longer.

Finishing – Foil, Emboss, Perfect Bind, Spot UV
Some bindery operations are more complicated and that’s why they take more time. Take foil stamping and embossing for instance; these techniques require a die, which needs to be made and proofed. Sometimes this take the same amount of time as the printing, sometimes it takes longer. Your printer’s production department has this planned out to the day, and sometimes the hour, and that is where your print rep is getting the schedule, straight from production. Trust your rep and don’t try to push for a different schedule. Also, plan on adding extra time for each finishing operation that happens. They often have to run in sequence, not simultaneously so each process can add another five days to the schedule.

Case-binding
Case-binding takes much longer than perfect binding or stitching and there aren’t as many binderies that perform case binding. It’s a good possibility that your print job may even be going out-of-state for this finishing. Schedules that run a month or more out are not uncommon. Patience grasshopper!

Paper Scheduling
Depending on if your job is going to print sheet-fed or web, paper may take from one day to five weeks to arrive at the printer. Sometimes, the sheet-fed paper you specified is not locally available and needs to be ordered from the paper mill. In this case, it might take up to seven days for the paper to arrive, depending on which part of the country you are in. Most paper mills are in the Midwest, Wisconsin area. In California, it typically takes seven days to receive a mill order starting on Thursday—the day the paper merchant needs to get his paper order to the mill to make the truck that is leaving Friday. That means you have to let your printer know by noon on Wednesday. If your job is running on a web press expect it to take anywhere from one to five weeks for paper to arrive. Give your printer time to do the job right, give your paper merchant time to do the job right, and you will eliminate a great deal of stress and expense. In the best case scenario, you will know about a mill order’s paper situation when you are given the estimate. That way, you can order the paper on day one, give the printer the file on day two, the printer gives you a proof on day four, and then it’s just a couple more days before the paper arrives. By then, dies (if necessary) are made, and everything is ready to go. If the paper is in stock at the local merchant, it will be at the printer the next day. If the paper is at a local mill warehouse, it takes two to three days to get to the printer. Some terminology know-how is helpful when talking about paper availability. Local merchant means the paper is at the local merchant’s warehouse. Local Mill means the paper is at the paper mill’s local warehouse which may be in another part of your state. Mill warehouse means the paper is located at the paper mill and mill order means the mill needs to make the paper for your order. Winter storms affect trucking schedules. Be smart and add extra time to critical projects after snow is on the ground.

Dummies
As soon as you have narrowed down or decided on your choice of paper, order dummies. Even if it is a simple project, ordering dummies is an excellent habit to get into.

Drawdowns
As soon as you have decided on your final paper, order drawdowns if you are printing spot or a solid color, it may take a few days to receive them. If you want to see type or screens on your drawdown, mention that when you request the drawdown. (Screened drawdowns are very rough and not very accurate.)

Proofs
If you know your client is going to make revisions to the proof, build that into the schedule. Tell your printer upfront how many rounds of proofs you think the job will take. Be clear about whether the subsequent rounds of proofs will be PDFs only or blueline or contract color. You can adjust the proofing workflow to work best for your client. Your printer can start out with bluelines because your client will be making adjustments to color necessitating a contract proof
 at the end. Remember that proofs are an expense, and they can add up, especially for large projects that include numerous pages or require complex hand cutting. Do not expect your printer to “throw in an extra proof.” It’s a hard cost item, and he will not appreciate the hit to his bottom line.

Press Check
When you give your printer the estimate specs, let her know if you are going to need a press check. Unless you are printing highly unusual art with a special technique, you do not need to be at a press check. If your client requires it, find out if she wants you to watch out for something specific.

One final word about scheduling and your print rep. Sometimes Printer A will tell you a job takes 15 days and Printer B will tell you it takes 10. Sometimes someone is not telling the truth and is already planning on calling you with some bad news in a few days about how there is going to be a delay. In my experience, that doesn’t happen very often. Why? Because good printers stay in business and good reps stay in the business. A good rep is a rep that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. And sometimes Printer B can do it faster, because of better equipment or more shifts, or more flexible plant scheduling or they really want your business and are willing to work overtime to get it. Only you, the savvy designer and print buyer will know the truth, caveat emptor!

Do you have a story about a scheduling nightmare? I’d love to hear it, comment or contact me, we all learn from all the printing stories out there!

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