How To: Small print runs

How To: Small print runs

Because of my background with Black Flag and Freedom I sometimes get asked for advice on sorting out print jobs for small leftie publications. So here's a very quick rundown of the issues you might want to think about.

Generally the prices of printing vary pretty widely depending on what you want out of it, and there's a number of different factors which most printers will ask about:

Paper weight/Size
Paper is weighed under the GSM scale, with loo roll coming in at around 16gsm, newsprint at 45 and light cardboard at around 200. Generally the heavier the paper the more it costs, both to print on and to post out, however there are benefits like a better print quality and the "heft" factor (people tend to subconsciously respect heavier paper as a quality product).

Matt or glossy
Generally untreated paper like you get in your home printer is again cheaper, but will produce a much lower-quality job and is more liable to smudge. Glossy paper is more expensive, but can produce a very high-quality print job on much lighter gsm pages. On top of this is the option to "coat" your pages to avoid the ink rubbing off, this is often useful for highly-inked (graphical) cover pages which tend to get a lot more wear and tear.

Colour use
As the technology has changed, the cost of colour has dramatically reduced, but it is still more expensive to colourise more pages. The print/fold system means colour page counts go up in tranches of two (eg. one flat A3 page is folded into two A4s) and for older readers, it is rarely the case any more that spot (eg just using red and black) is less expensive than full colour.

As a quick tip to layout people, printers will usually do a better job of matching your colours to their printing if you convert pictures to a CMYK format in photoshop rather than leaving them in RGB which is the web standard. It's under image > mode.

Page count and the run
Obviously the more you do the greater the expense and due to the nature of print and fold page count goes up by four pages at a time. Small print runs with high page counts are MUCH more expensive to do via commercial printers because of the production cost for "plates" (the molds used in lithographic printing to reproduce pages) and labour, but get progressively cheaper per magazine as the run goes up (once it's started printing the only costs are machine time, paper and ink).

For this reason, if your run is very low and your page count very high it might be worth looking into print on demand services which offer a fixed "per copy" price rather than one using economies of scale - though if you do this make sure you know exactly how many you're going to be selling because there's much less room for error. The basic rule is that with anything under 500 it's probably worth looking into digital on-demand printing, above that and lithographic services are best.

Size/fold
This can actually be quite restrictive depending on the printer. A4 and A3 are the two most common sizes for mass printing and usually (though not always) you can get the final publication folded and stapled in the same place - though you'll probably pay for the extra. Make sure you're not getting bilked on it though, it can on occasion be cheaper to send it to a separate group for the fold. For A1 and A2 it can actually be a bit of a hassle in itself sorting out fold/staple so it's worth asking what the printer can manage and how much it costs.

Binding
This isn't really an issue up to about 48 pages, as a staple will usually do the trick (again, depending on paper weight) for smaller paper sizes and at A3 it'll usually keep its integrity without any binding at all. The topic's Wikipedia page covers most of the options if you're aiming to go bigger than that.

Picking a printer
Generally it's worth emailing or ringing around several different providers to get a quote. Having your printer nearby can be useful for a smaller publisher because you can badger them about getting yours done (there is a tendency to relegate lower-run stuff if a big order comes in) and can get it delivered sooner, but there are huge discrepancies across the industry as to the quality and pricing of work at smaller scales so if you don't like the job done first time round don't be afraid to switch to someone else.

Posted By

Rob Ray
Apr 10 2010 13:12

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Comments

jef costello
Apr 11 2010 18:14

very informative rob, thanks.
Might be worth adding this to the organise section.

Steven.
Apr 12 2010 16:00

yes, if you are okay with that Rob then we will take this out of your blog and put it in the organise section (still crediting you as the author)

Or alternatively we can just duplicate it in the organise section

arminius
Apr 12 2010 16:24

This is very good. And, assuming that cash flow isn't a problem - a giant pain in the ass by itself, of course! - the biggest problem for any such effort is effective distribution arrangements. These do differ in the particulars of the problem and the country/area one does it in, and presumably the solutions to it will vary widely as well, but it would be great to hear some ideas. From my experience over many years it is the single biggest problem. I know we don't want to be floggers of the Trot/Jehovah Witlesses variety (and is that method really the most effective to reach the folks we want to anyway?) but has anybody come up with any better ways? Given the situation of print retailers these days anyway, I don't get the impression it's getting better. Maybe in some places? I'd really like to hear some.

Rob Ray
Apr 13 2010 15:00

No problem with copying it over steven (though maybe keep it in the blog on the grounds I'm a bit erratic with the posting and it may be a while til the next one wink)

Arminius, yes definitely distro is a huge problem, I actually wrote separately on the subject here a little while back.

arminius
Apr 14 2010 18:14

Thanks for that Rob. Your bit and the reply from Zach on AK's blog were both very good. I still think we all have a way to go to make the clearinghouse that was alluded to, and such should be both comprehensive, (including international) as well as area/country specific to peculiarities. Certainly helping cross borders *within* the anglophone ghetto is the least we can do. We should eventually aspire to even more. We all know works from other tongues that we want to get our hands on but aren't available to us yet, and I'm sure the reverse is also true for our other-speaking comrades. I'm sure there are many on Libcom that would agree with that., aren't there?

Devrim
Apr 14 2010 18:48

Thanks Rob, that was quite interesting. I have a few comments to make on our experience. We print our magazine, and photocopy our paper (for very different legal reasons). I think that photocopying can be such good quality nowadays, and people are usually really surprised when we tell them it is photocopied. The quality is virtually the same.

Quote:
though if you do this make sure you know exactly how many you're going to be selling because there's much less room for error. The basic rule is that with anything under 500 it's probably worth looking into digital on-demand printing, above that and lithographic services are best.

Yes this also goes with what we do. We print more magazines, usually 600, because they sell for a longer period. I think that it gives you more flexibility with the paper though. For example we can print (read photocopy) 200, then if we sell out quickly do more.

Quote:
This can actually be quite restrictive depending on the printer. A4 and A3 are the two most common sizes for mass printing and usually (though not always) you can get the final publication folded and stapled in the same place - though you'll probably pay for the extra. Make sure you're not getting bilked on it though, it can on occasion be cheaper to send it to a separate group for the fold. For A1 and A2 it can actually be a bit of a hassle in itself sorting out fold/staple so it's worth asking what the printer can manage and how much it costs.

And the photocopying machine does the folding and stapling automatically.

Quote:
Picking a printer

This is very important. With our actual printer it doesn't really matter, because we don't do it that often and don't need it urgently. With our photocopy shop, we have a great relationship (probably because we give them a lot of work). I have the guy's mobile, and I can ring him, and he will come in early, or in the night if we have urgent stuff.

Also the quality is important. The place we use it not the cheapest, but the quality is great.

Devrim

Rob Ray
Dec 7 2014 17:06

Common sense for the most part, but this is a good checklist from Creative Bloq

01. What are my choices?
Ask your printer which print process is best for you. Quantities will often determine whether the job should be digital or litho, so find out how it will be printed. Work with the printer to find the best option for your budget.

02. What's the creep and bleed?
If you're printing a brochure or book, you should always check if you need to allow for creep. This can take a long time to adjust for pre-designed work. Bleed should always be checked whatever the job: 3mm is a standard safety net.

03. What about paper stock?
You might know what you want already, but if you give your printer an idea of the finish you're after, they will be able to advise on stocks, how the ink handles on them, the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly options.
Make sure to provide your printer with an idea of the finish you're after so they can advise the most cost-effective options

04. Should I mark it up?
I like to mark up my artwork with the specs and the colours printed, and any guides, just so everyone knows what's going on. Set the guides up in a single spot colour and call it 'GUIDES ONLY - DO NOT PRINT'.

05. And what size?
If you can be flexible, it's always worth speaking about the size you want your piece to be. Quite often a difference of a few millimetres can mean you can plan up more pages per sheet and have a much more economical print. This might leave you with extra budget to get that metallic.

06. What are your supply requirements?
Find out if there are any specific colour profiles you should be working to and make sure nothing is set to overprint unless it's meant to be. It's worth checking whether the printer wants the fonts outlined or packaged up and sent with the artwork, as well.
Always check if there are any specific colour profiles you should be working to and that nothing is set to overprint

07. Can I use folds or unusual formats?
Your printer will also be able to advise on any unusual folds or die-cuts. Different printers might want artwork adjusted to allow for folding, so go through how you want your final piece to look and they will figure out how to do it.

08. Can I see a proof?
Crazy things can happen when work goes to print, so even if it's just a PDF proof, make sure you see something. Ideally your printer would invite you to check the material as it's being printed - a practice known as to 'press-pass' or 'pass on press'. But with more time and budget restrictions, this happens less and less.

09. How fast can you do it?
Find out from your client when they need the finished items and where they want them delivered. Your printer will then be able to work backwards from that time and give you a deadline for the artwork. It's always best to do this sooner rather than later in a project.

10. Can I call you at any time?
Check in with your printer on a regular basis. If there is a problem your printer should get in touch, but it's always good to call up and hear that everything is running nicely and delivery will be on time. If you're aware of everything at every stage, it can't go wrong.