A Complete Guide to Print Pricing

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Print and print marketing can be a significant investment for any business and depending on your market, size and message, the return on that investment can vary a great deal.

We categorise print into three main areas 

  1. Admin – Letterheads, comp slips, staff handbooks, directional signage 
  2. Operational – Order pads, safety data sheets, packing notes, safety signage
  3. Marketing – Brochures, leaflets, business cards, graphics for exhibitions and events

For the purposes of this article, we will treat them all the same, but it’s worth considering the goal of each. Admin and operational are a cost to the business, the marketing print is an investment and should deliver a return.

How are printing costs calculated?

Printing costs are influenced by many factors that affect the time taken, machinery used and raw materials and the printer’s cost structure. These are interdependent and one can affect the other.

When calculating a print price, your service provider will consider the following:

Material cost

The choice of material will significantly impact the cost of the finished item. Looking at paper alone, compositions, weights and thicknesses can vary significantly. Finishes too such as matte, gloss and silk coatings will add luxury and texture but also cost.

Other considerations include environmental impact. You may wish to select a carbon-balanced paper to reduce your carbon footprint per printed page.

The choice of paper thickness is usually guided by application. 90gsm (grams per square metre) uncoated paper is typically used for volume printing such as books and lengthy documents. 130gsm is usually coated and forms the ideal substrate for flyers and magazines. 170gsm is used for items such as posters and catalogues. While heavier weights including 350gsm and 400gsm are chosen for business cards and more rigid printed requirements.

Size of the printed item

Print sizes are determined by doubling or halving the size of the preceding sheet. We’re all familiar with A4 as a paper size. A0 is the largest specified size according to the international standard ISO 216 (covering A, B and C formats) and measures a metre square. Folding this in half results in A1, halving again is A2, and so on.

B-sized papers are commonly used for book printing and posters, whilst C-sized papers refer to envelope sizes and are designed to contain the commonly used A-sized papers. Specifications include RA sizes, which are untrimmed and usually slightly larger than the corresponding A size, and SRA which allows for ‘print bleed‘ in commercial printing.

Number of pages

The number of printed pages in your document or publication will obviously have an effect on the final print cost. This will also impact finishing costs; a simple A3 folded print will not require the same levels of binding and finishing as a 48-page catalogue and this binding will increase the cost per page.

Quantity

If you only require a limited number of copies of your document, it may prove more cost-effective to consider digital printing. However, once quantities rise, the cost per unit can reduce dramatically as set-up times for conventional printing account for a significant proportion of the final price. Assessing printed page quantity requirements carefully and accurately will help ensure the best value.

Finishing

Print Finishing is the term used to describe what happens to your item once it has been printed. Processes include cutting, folding, creasing, laminating and varnishing, foil stamping and embossing to create an individual end result. The printed pages may be joined by wire staples or perfect binding. All these processes are carried out once the print is complete and are costed and charged accordingly.

Delivery 

Once your job is complete, it will need to be delivered to an end-use point. This may be a single delivery or may require routing to several different places. This could be to meet specific date and time specifications. The cost for this will be included in your quotation.

Colours (CMYK, Single, spot and metallic colours) 

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key) are the four primary pigment colours used in four colour process printing. Other options include spot colour/metallic colour printing, where a spot additional colour is used to enhance the end product. The key colour used in printing today is black. Different ink and printing methods will impact colour, as will the chosen substrate. Exact colour matching is a challenging science!

Studio time

When your artwork arrives with your printer, there will be a certain amount of work involved to ensure it is print ready and that the final print result will match the artwork. This will be calculated and added to your quotation.

In order to understand a little about how all the above factors affect the price a customer pays we also need to consider the main types of printing.

Lithographic print (Litho)

Lithographic print is a process of using a “plate” for each colour, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). Using plates costs money (the plates are usually aluminium although not always) and takes time to set up each job, known as make ready. Litho print allows for very fast production speeds and relatively low cost per copy.

Digital printing

Most digital printing uses the same four colours (CMYK) but often contains ‘light’ versions of Cyan, Magenta and Black in order to provide a wider range of colours (colour gamut). In digital printing, there are no plates. Instead, the image is created directly onto the substrate. This means that the ‘make ready’ part of the process is very fast or non-existent. However, production speeds are limited by the current technology and the cost per copy is higher due to the cost of the inks and machine maintenance (often charged to the print company as a ‘cost per click’ or ‘cost per impression’).

A working example

Let’s take the humble flyer as an example. If you need 1000 flyers, there is a good chance that digital will be more cost-effective because there is the time taken to ‘make ready’ the litho job will be more than the total time to print on a digital machine. Because litho machines are typically more expensive than digital this will cost more. However, printing 100,000 of the very same flyer and the longer set-up time is worth it due to the much faster production speed and lower cost per impression.

Litho vs Digital example printing costs on 170gsm silk paper
Print Pricing of Litho vs Digital based on printing on 170gsm silk paper
Speciality material costs
Print Pricing of Litho vs Digital based on printing on speciality paper eg Colorplan or Pergaphica

Where buyers think they can save money

Material is often where buyers look to make savings. Thinner (lighter) papers are usually cheaper than thicker ones, and while this does affect the overall spend, it’s often not the biggest driver of the finished print until the quantity gets into the tens of thousands.

Percentage of print costs attributed to paper

That said, some premium papers are significantly more expensive than standard papers. In the next graph, we have substituted a standard 170 gsm with a premium branded paper of a similar weight to show how this can affect the price of the print. Many brands value the exclusivity and feel of a really nice quality substrate.

Talk to your printer before you embark on the design. They should be happy to advise you on the best way to achieve your goal.

A guide to sample printing prices

Here are some sample prices to help you calculate your potential budget requirement.

Leaflets

  • Double-sided A6 on standard 170gsm silk – From 1.2p (50,000) to 37p (1,000) each
  • Single sided A5 – From 2p (25,000) to 4p (1,000) each

Brochures

Based on 32pp, 130gsm throughout, (saddle stitched)

  • A4 – Prices from 59p (10,000) to £2.30 (250) per brochure
  • A5 – Prices from 32p (10,000) to £1.64 (250) per brochure

Business Cards

Based on 400gsm matt laminated, double-sided, full colour

  • Prices from 3p (5,000) to 64p (500) per card

A4 Letterheads

Based on 120gsm single-sided, full colour

  • Prices from 2.5p (50,000) to 24p (250) per letterhead

Posters

Based on full-colour, single-sided, 170gsm gloss

  • A3 prices from 10p (5,000) to 52p (250) per poster
  • A2 prices from 15p (5,000) to 96p (250) per poster

Combining print jobs

Increasingly, printers are finding ways to ‘gang’ print jobs together to reduce printing costs. For example, a sheet of print can contain 48 different business cards, so all 48 jobs take a share of the set-up and run cost, assuming the customers are happy to take a standard size and specification, usually CMYK for example.

If your printer only has access to litho and your jobs are low volume, you could be paying too much. Equally, your jobs may well have outgrown your local digital printer so it’s best to use a printer with access to the best technology for a wide range of jobs.

Understanding the application of the intended print

There are also considerations on overall cost that are closer to home. While a nice cheap pack of letterheads printed digitally may seem like a saving when compared to litho, be aware that some digital print is not suitable to run back through another laser printer as this can re-activate the toner which allows it to smudge. Make sure you let your printer know what you are using it for.

Using the letterhead as an example again, some offices have taken to printing a colour letterhead themselves from a template. If the quality of your printer is good enough this can be a good solution, but make sure you understand the cost per copy of your in-house printer because office printers usually carry a premium for colour copies.

Print marketing

When it comes to print marketing and direct mail, in particular, a large part of the cost can be the postage. It is worth talking to your printer about the best and most appropriate delivery method. If you are mailing large volumes (over 4,000 addresses) and your printer can sort the data, you should be receiving a postage discount which will more than cover the cost of processing the data.

What information do I need to provide for an accurate estimate? 

Provide as much as possible but at the very least they will need:

  • Quantity
  • A Page count – printers refer to each side as a page
  • Number of versions (if more than one, for example, additional languages) 
  • Size – its really helpful to express flat (unfinished) size and finished (once it’s folded or bound), number of pages, quality and weight of paper 
  • How many colours (one side or both), full colour? special or metallic colours?
  • Finishing, trimming, die cut, embossed, foil, lamination, spot varnish 
  • If it’s a booklet or brochure, the specific binding method 
  • Delivery requirements (address and any specific packing requirements) 
  • If it’s a direct mail piece, are you supplying the data or will the printer need to acquire this?
  • How you will be supplying the artwork?

Further information that will help the estimator 

  • The intent – a good printer will be able to offer some advice on how to achieve your goals
  • Example of the artwork
  • Examples of previous prints
  • If the printed item is complex, it may be useful to provide images of how you intend it to look.

In summary

It’s not an easy task to estimate printing costs in advance of the availability of artwork which sets out the exact parameters of the item in question. However, giving your printer as much background information as possible will enable them to produce a fairly accurate quotation based on understanding the materials, equipment, finishes, quantities and special/individual requirements. It will help to outline your target audience and your aspirations. Your printer will have the industry knowledge and expertise to ensure that the end product matches your application.

Remember that the cost of print isn’t only defined by the price on the invoice, but rather by the final cost. While a fixed cost may look competitive, it’s important to calculate the service impact within the final price that you pay. For instance, if the print is delivered on time and in good condition, it will keep your project on course and within budget.

Variation between print companies

It’s worth noting that while the components of print prices are largely universal, some variation exists between how one printer and another will calculate a print price. Each printer will pay different rates for supplies and fixed costs, both of which affect similar companies’ prices.

While some print companies are happy to offer discounts after they have submitted the initial quote or to “match a price” at Smart Printing Company it’s our idea to submit our best price the first time. The price is calculated on all the considerations above and believe that the quality and service provided are valuable and will save the customer money without them having to ask for discounts. If you would like an honest, competitive price please get in touch for a free quote.

The true measure of the value of print is what return you expect to achieve and actually achieve. Like any other marketing device, print spending should be seen as an investment.

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