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Choose Your Paper Size Wisely and Save Money

Paper can account for thirty percent of the total cost of a job (or even more for longer-run, large-page-count publications). Therefore, to save money printing your piece, always consider the most efficient use of the press sheet early in the design process.

How do you do this?
First, remember that your printer(s) have presses (sheetfed presses in this case) that will accommodate certain cut-size sheets most efficiently. These sizes are also noted in paper sample books you can get from your paper manufacturer. Since the sample books note many more sheet sizes than most presses can accommodate, make sure to discuss sheet size with your printer once you have chosen your paper stock.

Usually the sizes of sheetfed paper are based on multiples of a standard 8.5" x 11" format with room for bleeds, color bars, etc. Different kinds of paper come in different standard sizes. For instance, the commonly available sizes for coated book paper might include 19" x 25", 23" x 35", and 25" x 38". Other kinds of paper include bond, cover, board, uncoated book, and text. Each of these categories comes in a variety of standard sizes. Some will fit your printer's presses; some won't.

If you are designing a brochure (for instance), the next step would be to lay it out flat (opened to its unfolded size) on a diagram of a press sheet. Note the placement of the panels, and leave room for bleeds (1/8"). If you can get two or even four copies of your brochure on a press sheet (leaving room for bleeds and trim, as per your printers' requirements), all the better. If you are willing to reduce the size of your brochure by half an inch in some cases, you will be able to lay out more copies of the brochure on the press sheet with less wasted space. This is the ideal case. Remember that you will still pay for whatever paper is trimmed away and thrown in the trash; therefore, maximize the number of copies of your brochure that you can print on a standard-sized sheet.

What about multiple-page publications? Do the same thing. With your printer's help, make a fold-up paper dummy of one signature of your book. Unfold it, and you will know how many pages you can get on a sheet. Then adjust the length and width of the individual pages so together their dimensions add up to the total area of the sheet your printer's press will accommodate.

What about web presses? Web presses use rolls, which are of a set width (20" or 35" for instance) and which have a set cut-off (let's say 22.75"). With this information, you can draw out on paper a comparable "sheet size" just as you did for the sheetfed press.

In all of this, your goal is to avoid waste. Also, your goal should be to use standard sizes that need not be specially ordered, since they cost more and take longer for your printer to acquire.

And as an added incentive, keep in mind that smaller publications (even smaller by only half an inch) often cost less to mail.

Keep the Post Office in the Design Loop

AIt is easy to design beautiful printed pieces that even fit economically on your printer's presses and then get a rude awakening when the US Postal Service either refuses to mail them or charges you a premium for so doing.

When you are determining the size, format, paper choice, and placement (and content) of type on a reply postcard, show either a hard-copy or a faxed copy to your local (USPS) business reply mail center. Postal representatives of this unit can provide you with books showing acceptable dimensions, requirements for contrast between paper and ink, textual requirements for a business reply card or envelope, and placement of all the elements on such a reply piece.

Save yourself time, money, and heartache. Share your design with the USPS before you pay to have it printed.

Postage Rates

This is somewhat belated information to share with you, but I think it is nevertheless quite useful for anyone who produces direct mail and/or periodicals.

On April 23, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Postal Civil Service Retirement System Funding Reform Act of 2003. This act will forestall postal rate increases until 2006. The new law was passed to allow the Postal Service to lower pension contributions to the Civil Service Retirement System since this system had been over-funded.

I would encourage those of you who mail printed pieces to do some research into how this act will benefit your budgets.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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