Printing Tips

The $ factor, things to consider when budgeting printing cost.

There are a number of variables influencing the cost of any given print job. You may not realise it but short-run jobs have a higher cost per unit than long-run jobs

We are often asked, "I only want 5,000 instead of 10,000 so why isn't the price half as much?" The answer lies in the process required to set up a job on the printing press. The set up or 'make ready' is the preparation time taken on the press to get the machine to the stage where it is making good copies. If you are printing a digital job these principals do not apply as the first copy will be as good as the last. However the cost structure allows this to be effective only in relatively small quantities.

Lets take an example of a two-colour corporate letterhead. If non-standard colours are required, the printer must mix the inks from basic component colours to a precise formula (think colour mixing paint at your local hardware). The mixed ink is then applied to the press rollers and the machine is run till a uniform layer is acheived.

Next, printing plates are made and fitted to the press. After the plates are in place the first 'pull' is made to get the initial prints. This is known as 'make-ready' and the process applies to every job printed on an offset printing press. Each job varies in its quantity of colour coverage and colour type. For instance, a brochure with a solid colour background will require a longer make-ready than one with a couple of small colour images. Therefore the trained and experienced operator will spend some time adjusting the press before commercially acceptable copies are being produced.

The whole make-ready process can take up to half an hour or in some cases longer and no matter what the quantity is the entire process has to be performed for each job. In the case of a short-run print job the make-ready charge is always a larger percentage of the total job cost than for a large run and so the basic unit cost is higher. So if your print job repeats without changes, for example a tax invoice book, it will be more cost effective to buy a year's supply rather than order two to three times a year at smaller quantities.

Consider this: the modern printing presses in use at Ashley Printers run at optimum speeds in excess of 12,000 sheets per hour! So it doesn't take long to print say, 5000 copies of an A5 flyer. In fact, the make-ready time will in most cases like this be the same as the actual print time taken to finish the job.

The third point to consider when planning is to consider the benefits and costs of adding colour to your project. The use of colour can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your intended message. Studies indicate that colour enhances learning and recall by as much as 70%, and can help sell ideas 50 to 85% more effectively than black and white. New printing technology allows Ashley Printers to offer full colour printing at much more affordable prices than in the past.

So, how do I select a printing company?

Ask around - don't take our word for it. Who better to advise where to go than other local businesses who have been there and done that. If a company has been around for quite some time, it's a fair bet they know what they're doing. Bear in mind also that printing/copying (whatever you want to call the business of putting images on paper) has undergone some very significant technological changes in recent years. This has meant many long-established businesses simply closing their doors if they haven't kept up with digital integration - by that I mean understanding and applying computer programmes in page layouts and investing in digital printing technology. Check if your chosen supplier has both, or is simply a provider of services, ie a broker or middle man.

Other clues that will tell you what kind of value and service you might expect from your chosen printer are:

  • What type of projects do they specialise in and typically produce? Not much good ringing a printer who specialises in newspaper printing if you're after a business card.
  • What is the quality of samples displayed?
  • What is the maximum press size and do they have single or multi-colour presses on the premises?
  • Who do they have as clients?
  • Is the premises clean? Are the staff polite? Do they seem to possess a good knowledge of the industry?

A general rule of thumb - when you walk into a print shop reception you will get a good or negative 'vibe'. If the counter person is attentive and receptive to your enquiry, it's probably a safe bet you'll be in good hands.