12 money-saving questions to ask before printing your promotional material

There are questions you should ask yourself and your commercial printer in order to make the most of your print budget. Here are 12, with some excellent additions in the comment thread.

coloured paper samples

#1 Did more than one person proof-read the job?

An obvious one, this. No matter how many times I proofread text, I can miss the same glaring error each time it’s passed over. Another set of eyes can sort this quickly. In fact, the more people that proof your job the better. Unlike online content, mistakes can’t be corrected.

Remember, a spell checker won’t catch all the mistakes on your text. More specifically, it won’t catch misspellings that form other valid words.

#2 If we change the size of the printed product can we print on a smaller press and save money?

There’s no need to have your A5 flyers printed by a large commercial printer. If you’ve been using one printer for all your projects try shopping around. A printer who specialises in small-run jobs can be much more competitive.

#3 Did you make a “dummy” or mock-up to check configuration and presentation?

If you’re producing a folded leaflet, for example, it’s always worth printing the pages yourself to be sure you have them in the correct order. If you’re in any way unsure, ask your printer for help. They’ll check the composition for you.

#4 Are you absolutely sure about the quantity to be printed?

A second print run will cost a lot more than extended first runs (or “run-on” as printers call it). If you’re asking for a quote of 10,000 copies, for example, be sure to also ask for “run on” costs. This will help with budgeting.

Cat at gives this advice when asking for quotes:

“In the heat of a project it can be easy to lose sight of getting the information you need. Sure, you could request quote after quote. There’s a better way. Relax. Make a printing quote check list and bring your printer in early.”

#5 If there are photos in the document, do they need to be retouched?

One of the most common changes I make in Photoshop is to adjust the levels of an image. This is to make sure that white areas are bright white and black is actually black. It really helps with contrast (in the image menu, select ‘adjustments’, then ‘levels’). Also, colour prints tend to get darker after scanning, and large reductions can make shadow areas heavier.

#6 Is the paper opacity sufficient or will there be any see-through?

If you hold a newspaper up to the light, you can read the text and see the images on the other side of the paper. This might be fine in the newspaper industry, where paper costs are astronomical, but you obviously don’t want a promotional brochure or annual report to have the same effect. Choose a good weight of paper stock (approx. 150gsm+) and you’ll not only prevent this from happening, but your colours will print more brilliantly too.

#7 What about the texture of the paper?

Cheap paper feels cheap. Is this the impression you want to give? When receiving a quote, why not factor in a few different weights of paper? You might be surprised at how little extra you need to pay for a higher quality paper.

#8 Can we substitute our choice of paper for a stock that’s less expensive, while still looking as good?

Your printer can advise you. One factor this depends on is the amount of ink you’re going to use. For instance, if you have large areas of black to be printed, you’ll need a decent paper stock to prevent the paper going out of shape.

#9 Will ink colours change when printed on a particular type of paper?

Printing inks are transparent and will change depending on the brightness or “yellowness” of a white paper. .

#10 Does the printed sheet need a varnish?

If your print job is to be stacked and packaged, you have to be careful that the ink doesn’t transfer from one brochure/poster/business card to another during storage and transit (this is called offsetting). Varnishing can be a useful preventative. You can also consider aqueous coating to guard against finger-marking and scratching. Most printing presses will apply anti-offset powder, which is a fine powder lightly sprayed over the printed surface of coated paper as sheets leave a press. This is normally sufficient to prevent ink offset, but if in doubt, ask.

#11 Can we print four colours on one side of the sheet and black on the reverse to give the illusion of a “four colour process” job?

If you want to use colour, but find that it’s too expensive, you can always print one side of the paper using full-colour with the reverse in black only. Newspaper companies use this technique to give the appearance of full-colour printing. What you’ll find however, is that a lot of the time only one side of a newspaper page shows colour, whereas the reverse of that page is in black only. This saves money, yet gives the appearance of higher quality.

#12 Can we combo-run any of the elements for a cost-savings?

Always ask the printer if there’s any space left on the printing plates for extra work. You could, perhaps, print some extra business cards off the same printing plate as a batch of book covers, as long as the card stock is the same.

To sum-up

I’m sure you get the gist by now. The most important piece of advice is to ask your printer about possible savings. They’re the ones who know best.

Give as much info as possible about your future print plans, too. If your printer knows what projects are on the horizon they might be able to combo-run your jobs to save time and money.

By scheduling in advance, your printer will be thankful of the notice. There’s little a printer likes less than a client who needs their job yesterday.

What advice have you gathered during your time dealing with printers?

If you have any tips or hints please leave a comment, or feel free to ask if you have a question about the print process.

52 responses

  1. Give your printer a deadline. Even if you don’t have one. Trust me, I print stuff and you wouldn’t believe the number of jobs I get without a deadline (I always set one with my clients). If you don’t give your printer a deadline s/he will sit on that job until you phone the day before it’s due. Much stammering will follow and your job will wind up rushed and more than likely incorrect.

    Bonus tip: Call your printer the day before your job is due to confirm completion times.

  2. Some top tips there David, thanks for sharing. I’ve learnt the hard way concerning not printing enough copies and then doing a rerun. It’s always cheaper to print more than you need than not enough!

    To add another tip I’d just say get at least three quotes per job. It’s staggering the difference the printers will quote for the same job and my experience is that you’ll get very different prices depending on how busy they are (or aren’t) so it’s always worth shopping around.

  3. Definitely the proof reading thing is one of the most important. I like to give my projects to family members who are completely disconnected from the project. If there is a phone number on the piece, call it to make sure it’s correct. I worked at a place where the client actually provided the wrong toll free number, so checking it against their copy would not have caught the error and it was a very “inappropriate” number to be calling.
    Thanks for all the great tips David.

  4. Great advice David.
    I’ve worked for an offset print company in the past (now working in digitally printed signage) and I agree with Ian the worst thing you can do is give the deadline as ASAP. Your job will quickly drop to the bottom of the pile give a definite deadline and if possible allow for a couple days between the print deadline and when your client is expecting the job. People are always happier to get a job earlier then expected.

    Make sure you talk to the printers the more they know about the job the more they can do to get the job done right and cheaper. Ask dumb questions and keep on their back through out the whole process, unfortunately its the customers that jump up and down the most that get what they want. Having said that make sure you show your appreciation once the job is completed.

  5. I’m with you on the proof reading too David, its so easy to miss something when you have looked at it for ages. My tip for digital printing would be to steer clear of printing heavy solid colours as they never come out looking very solid.

  6. Ian,

    Great addition. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to keep on top of printers in order to ensure a smooth delivery time.


    Yes, you should definitely shop around when receiving quotes. It’s comparible to shopping for anything. Never accept the first price and don’t be afraid to negotiate.


    Thanks for sharing your client story. I’m sure there were some raised eyebrows with that one. Ha.


    Good tip to allow for a few days between completion and delivery. Under-promise and over-deliver is appropriate here.


    Interesting you mention that about digital printing. Do you think it was more to do with the print process than the paper / ink then?

  7. I do a lot of work for a company that does digital printing and they have said that it is one of the downfalls of the digital printing process.

    Certain colours are worse than others. I once designed a photography brochure for them that had a solid lime green on the cover with some simple typography (I didn’t realise at the time the implications) they asked me to change it to mainly white :) because of the colour issues.

  8. I recently had a digital printers in Plymouth offering to print a few copies of one of our corporate magazines which we usually do through litho, so they could show off their top-end digital printers.

    I’m not a fan of digital print so was full of doubt, but took them up on the offer. I have to say the results were VERY impressive. The colours were ever so slightly lighter and some of the photographs lost a tiny amount of detail, but I’m sure 99.9% of our readers would never have known the difference.

    Digital printing has come a long way over the last two years and I won’t give it long before printing on demand with digital becomes more common than printing thousands of brochures litho that end up sitting in boxes doing nothing.

  9. Excellent points. I too learned the proof reading lesson the hard way. In total, 4 people proofed the piece (myself included), yet not one of us caught a particular typo.

    I just couldn’t believe we had all missed it. I suppose we each considered it a boring task, had many other things to do, and went through it faster than we should have. Lesson learned big time.

    • Proofreading is boring, unless it’s your job. The best way to avoid simple but costly errors is to use a professional, trained proofreader/editor. I am a proofreader, but I always have material I’ve written proofed by another pair of objective, expert eyes. It doesn’t cost that much when you think of what mistakes cost you once they’re printed. Proofreaders are trained to spot errors.

  10. Two Cents on Digital Printing: It’s hard to find a printer in Winnipeg, Canada (where I live) that doesn’t use digital printing. If it’s the norm here in Winnipeg it has indeed come a long way.

    I usually find the colors over-saturated — except for the blacks which are usually lowered to a 90% output because it saves the printer money and 90% of people don’t immediately notice how terrible their copy looks compared to a “professional” job. Ask for a proof.

  11. I’ve shared with Aaron sometime back that I’ll stick by a trusted printer even if the price is higher. I’ve learned so much about printing that I can even guide any new designer/production coordinator because of an unassuming, humble, award-winning printer I’ve worked with for the past decade. Not many printers – whether here in Singapore or anywhere around the world – would call to say “Your films showed 5% magenta but that is too light to be captured on plate. Would you like to proceed with printing or re-do your artwork and films?”, “Would you reduce your artwork size by 4mm, you can have 16up instead of 12up.”, “Since this is an export order, give me an extra 3 day to get my QA people to run through every page on those 4000 copies.” His price could easily be more but I’m willingly pay it for good quality, puncture deadlines and good night sleeps. I don’t have to call to check delivery. Once deadline is agreed, he usually delivers earlier than scheduled date and never late. When there is an unforeseen delay, I’ll know it 48 hours earlier. My take is: Don’t change a trusted printer if the price difference is marginally small.

    As for digital printing, it is getting extremely popular that I see 8 out of 10 business cards being done digitally. What I don’t like is the coated sheen on the printed area. However, top digital printing press like HP’s Indigo is so good that it almost matches the off-set ones. Did a table calendar for a UK company last year and they called to say they were short of 20. We ran it using Indigo and honestly, without skilled eyes and proper tools, one can pass them off as off-set.

    Your 12 points were simply great. Anyone who don’t do them are either inexperience or just plain unprofessional.

  12. Good to get your insight, Tara.


    Before I went self-employed I used to despair at the number of boxes stored in my old workplace. All full of brochures and literature that was date-stamped, and often rendered useless.

    Print-on-demand is certainly beneficial in that respect.


    I guess that if you know there are other people involved in the proof-reading, you’re less likely to be as sharp as you can be? Thanks for that thought.


    “Ask for a proof.” – Absolutely! Once or twice I’ve been involved with printers who don’t provide one unless it’s suggested, which is, of course, a big ‘no-no’.


    You’re definitely one of my readers with the most experience of printers, so I’m glad you stopped by to comment. Sounds like you’ve really got a great printer as a contact, which is fantastic.

    Interesting about the HP Indigo.

  13. Well, my poor husband really should have read this before they printed 500 copies of a product catalog with the COMPANY name misspelled! He is so lucky he didn’t get fired over that incident! I am sending him here!

  14. I can relate to every one of these points! Thank you, David!

    When I was designing the annual report done for my company, I was constantly talking with my printer rep. She was such a great help and although I felt silly asking some of my “newbie” questions, she was great! She never acted like I was dumb and then when I went to the press check, the owner of the print shop came out an introduced himself and took me on a tour. It’s so important to be friendly with your printer! And often, printers promote a family feel to their business.

    You definitely should ask for a proof and never be afraid to tell the printer it’s not right, send it back and have them make the corrections. I had to do this several times with the AR (it was their mistake). Also, when you go to the press check, ask for a couple of the sheets to take back to the office. It’s fun to have a little memory of a job! Maybe that’s it’s just me…

    Finding a good printer is like finding a good auto mechanic. Stick with the ones you trust!

  15. I agree with several commenters – finding a good printer is essential, as is maintaining a good relationship with them. Sooner or later there will be a problem with a run and having that good relationship can get you through.

    Also, have to agree with your proof-reading comment. You MUST get other people to read it. Also, if you are the person who written it, it’s worth taking a break before you do your proofreading. It’s no substitute for other people proofreading, but getting away from the content for a while will increase your chance of picking up errors.

  16. Lauren,

    I completely agree that a good printer / designer relationship is important. I’ve been on a fair few tours of commercial print plants, and I’m always learning something of use. It’s those ‘newbie’ questions that help me understand the processes.


    Good tip to take a break before proofreading. A tired mind will skip typos and grammatical errors, so it’s important to be refreshed. Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Proofreading is, as others have said, one of the main things i concentrate on. It is so important to get several people to do it, as everyone reads differently, ans if you wrote the copy yourself, you’re less likely to spot the mistakes.

    I also always go for thicker paper, but recycled. Thin and flimsy flyers etc don’t give a very good impression in my eyes, where as something sturdy is much harder to just scrunch up and ignore!

  18. Just got to share this … as this happened only yesterday. We finished a Spanish planner and had it sent to our favourite printer. It was poof-read by 3 people – at least 3 times by our Spanish translator and 1 of our non-Spanish speaking colleagues, plus 1 more time by another colleauge who is totally uninvolved with the project. I believe a fresh pair of eyes to be very helpful. Yet, I received a call from Paul. He asked “Why is your April tag spelt as “APR” when the Spanish equivalent is Abril? The rest are all in “Abril”. It is so obvious and your people didn’t notice it?” It was an “oh my gosh” moment.

    The lessons I learned here:
    1. We were careful but we got to be even more careful. Need to work out a systematic approach in proof reading to prevent such mishap.
    2. We are going to stick with this printer for sure, high price or not.

  19. Alex,

    There’s no substitute for a nice paper stock. It just makes it ‘feel’ professional. With print, the look is only half the joy. Nice to read you go for recycled.


    You really have an excellent relationship with your printer! Next time I’m quoting a big job I’ll be sure to get in touch.

    Thanks for leaving your story.

  20. A little trick i learned from my grandfather, who started one of the best read newspapers in Belgium just after WWII :

    When proofreading something i’d like to hold the paper upside-down. I have to concentrate on the individual letters in stead of the word.

  21. I just stumbled upon your website and I just have to say that the helpful tips and info you are providing is brilliant and i will continue to read.

    too add to this print topic, I have been working at a large print shop for several years and I do all the design work and prepare the files for the printers, and one thing that is good for a client to do is ask for your job deadline to be a few days earlier than it is actually needed done

    your job will most likely hit a high priority point during the timeline and even if there are complications you will have those few extra days until you REALLY need the job done.

    one thing that drives me nuts is how a lot of designers don’t fully understand the programs that they are working with and they send the files without any links / embedded files.

  22. side note: you don’t need to tell them that you don’t actually need the job completed until a few days after your ‘false’ deadline but it just makes the job more of a priority

    and if the print shop has a lot of jobs on the go maybe telling them your ‘actual’ deadline time might make it possible for them to do your job.

  23. Good tips David… how about a blog topic on “How to choose a good printer?”, “How to eye a good one?”. Hopefully one like Vivienne’s!!

  24. Peter,

    That’s great that you’ll continue to read my blog. Thanks for letting me know.


    Nice idea for a blog post. I reckon Vivienne’s more of an expert in that field, but it’s something worth looking into.

  25. Hi David……
    I am a fan of your site in no time……the amount of exposure it gives to graphics……sometimes at such a raw level is just amazing and I am in love with the informative resources you have provided in your blogs….

    I didn’t have a art background……and i found it really worthwhile in going through your blogs on typography, logo design process, printing……..and you have been really nice to share with us all the experience you have……..can assure you one thing….knowledge only increases by sharing it :)

    go on….

  26. Hi David, i just want to add this:

    You should make a PDF file before send the job to the printing, make sure to have a postcript printer, could be a virtual one, just install the software and use a ppd (postcript printer description) I always use a Agfa Select Set 5000, so, make a print to file (ps or eps file) then open in Adobe Acrobat Pro 7 or higher and see if the pdf is the same as the original file.

    Additional tip: If you use Indesign or Quark make sure ti compose to the postcript printer before start the document (new one)

    Regards from Mëxico.

  27. wow! this is great info..i own a company so I print a lot of invoices and misc stuff..this is really going to save me some money..thanks for the info..

  28. Tomás,

    Thanks for your addition. I’m not all that clued up on postscript printers, and if sending a file to print via PDF I’ll use one of the pre-installed InDesign settings. Do you ever do similarly?


    I’m very glad you’ve found some info of use, and hope it saves you some funds.

  29. Good tips here on saving money on printing :)

    Especially encouraging communication with the printer before the job is sent to the press, they really can tell you if there are any possible issues with paper and ink choices.

    One thing I didnt see mentioned was the use of shells for commonly used items, such as business cards – where the company colors are printed on a very large run, making the color cost small. But, the information is left blank on the press (if you have some that you need, by keeping the name, information, etc in one color and on one plate this can make it easy for the press man to literally wipe the information off the plate. And continue with the color run for future press runs.)

    The benefit of this is when you need a business card quickly – the colors are already printed and ready to go through a smaller press and you simply pay for a 1 color run instead of paying for all the colors at one time. This can also be used for stationery where people have their name/information on there – as well as brochures – have the background printed but keep the information one color – this way if something (such as pricing) changes you are only paying for that one color run.

    It can help IF you know the client will be staying with a certain style for a while – if not everyone gets burned on this. but there are always pros and cons to each decision :)

  30. Sharon,

    The use of shells in printing is something I’ve not come across before, so thanks for describing it for us! Anything legit that saves the client money will always go down well. I’ll have to refer back to these comments in future.

  31. Again, an excellent set of points to take on board when deciding on print. One thing I might add would be “Can it be printed on a more eco-friendly stock without compromising the project or budget”. Recycled papers and vegetable inks have come down to a more competative prices and are more widely used. Its something companies and designers should consider when they are getting any print work completed.

    Like some of the people here have commented – its a must to find a good printer who works with you on projects rather than just churning out the job without even looking at it, which believe me some of them do! I havea great printer I work with and we fully discuss projects and they make suggestions and comments of what may work better in terms of stocks used and processes, this can save money/time and enhance the final result. So find a great printer!

    This is a great blog David I look forward to coming back more often and reading through your articles and other peoples comments!

  32. Gareth,

    Looking out for the environment is a great addition, thanks. I’m glad you like my blog, and thanks for taking the time to comment on a few of my articles.

  33. For checking a PDF prior to sending to a printer, an invaluable tool is Adobe Acrobat Professional. The Output Preview function alone is worth the money, allowing you to accurately see exactly what is going to be printed on each colour plate and checking overprints, etc.
    This ‘separation preview’ functionality has been in high-end reprographic software for years, but now it’s available off the shelf for few hundred quid or as part of the Adobe Creative Suite bundle.

  34. This is a great article for anyone getting ready to submit a job for print. On question #2 it tipically goes the other way on full color jobs. Most of our clients save lots of money by having their small items printed on our large press. If we can fill the press sheet with our current jobs everyone wins. So the client gets a very high end print on a press run that they could have never aforded on their own.

    I agree with what Allen said on checking colors in Acrobat. I do this all day long. It’s very easy to spot issues like RGB Black or spot colors that shouldn’t be there. In addition to this I would recoment utilizing the built-in Pre-Flight using the profile that coresponds to the type of press you are sending the job to. Acobat does a very good job on what used to only be availble with a 3rd party program. Of course one of the best ways to make sure everything goes smothly is getting the printer involved early reviewing drafts so problems are caught early on.

    Last but not least is turnaround time. Leaving plenty of time will not only save you loads of money on your projects but will minimize the chance of error.

  35. it is also recommended to double check if the mistakes/typos noted by the proof reader were corrected.

    We designed some calendars and I was told to make a correction. And I really thought I did, until our client called us pointing out that April had 31 days!!!

    Luckily he took it very lighthearted and we had no problems.

  36. Hi there,
    Really educational post about printing. I work in a small size printing company and i can share with you some simple tips to get the most of your printer.
    1. If you walk for the first time on a printer and everyone looks extremely busy and there is a great mess in the office that means they are really busy try to avoid them except if you know them, they could do your job very quickly and do not pay the attention you expecting.
    2.Be friendly with them try to create a close relationship even be friends going for a drink, invite them to your gigs and of course on the guest list .Always a ‘mate’ can put a priority on your job and be flexible to meet your tight budget.
    3.Be in touch with them, be ‘fussy’ for the quality of the finishing, try to be on their cases,probably the stuff could dislike you a bit but your job will be treated with respect and more carefully.
    4.Be a ‘gentleman’ with the payments, always let them know if there is a problem, willing to pay a deposit and the start is a ‘good’ start for your ‘relationship’ with your printer.For the printers is very valuable to have reliable costumers on payments.
    5.Be there when they printing your stuff to check the colour on the first ‘pull’
    and demand to be the same.
    6.Knowing the actually printer(the guy who runs the press) is really good. These people they are skill full artists of the printing art. Most of them they have developed a sixth sense of observing letters and colour, probably they are the best people to check your final proof, they will be willing to do it that is their nature!!
    Finally I want to say that digital printing is so developed last years and litho is dying, but nothing is more ‘classic’ and ‘authentic’ of litho printers. The noise of the machines, a lot of ink on the walls and people with coloured uniforms and hands!So classic.
    thank you

  37. They’re good tips, Yannis.

    I completely agree about offering to pay a deposit. Printers are just as worried about losing out as anyone else, and they’ll feel more at ease if they see you’re serious (obviously this point is more important for first time customers). Even if it’s not required, it’s good to offer.

  38. I think these are great tips for anyone preparing to print a large volume of items. I wish I had followed a couple of these before I sent some items to Kinko’s electronically. I could have saved myself SO much hassle!

  39. Hi Sarah,

    That’s a shame you were hassled by the process. I’m sure you learnt a thing or two though (I know I have when dealing with printers). Thanks for the visit.

  40. Hi David,

    Great article you have here. I have worked in sales in a mailing house and have to agree about proof reading. A past client of mine didn’t proof read, they had the wrong date on the brochure they were mailing out, and had to reprint all the brochures, very costly error. In relation to cost savings, one thing that comes to my mind was another client who wanted to save money on the envelopes, then wasn’t happy with the quality of the print job on them due to the quality of the paper. So always good to keep that in mind as well.

  41. “Always ask the printer if there’s any space left on the printing plates for extra work. You could, perhaps, print some extra business cards on the same printing plate as a batch of brochures, saving you money.”

    As a prepress operator this is something that wouldn’t be able to get done.
    Business cards are done on 12 /14/ 16pt cardstock, while Brochures are done on 80/ 100 txt.
    Different types of paper therefore different plates.

    Not sure if this was previously mentioned, but this is the first time on your website and figured I would mention something.

  42. Your tip to get a quote for multiple weights of paper was really useful. Sometimes it may be worth paying more to have it printed on higher quality paper. If possible, it would help to have a sample of your design on the different paper weights to help you decide.

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