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Overage / Underage in Printing Industry

From the perspective of the offset printer, producing a particular quantity of printed pieces is not an exact science. For one thing, a printing press is not like a light switch. It cannot be turned on and off to print exactly 50,000 copies, so the printer almost always either prints too few or too many copies.

In addition, there are many different manufacturing activities within the production process. For instance, one side of a press sheet is printed, then the other side is printed after the first dries. Once the presswork is complete, the printed press sheets are transferred to post-press for trimming, folding, collating, stitching, etc. Ink-jet addressing and other lettershop activities may follow. In the course of each production task, printed sheets are wasted. This waste is called spoilage. To eventually hand off to the client a completed press run of 50,000 copies of a publication, a printer must start with many more copies, assuming he will destroy a certain number in each step as part of the manufacturing process.

Within the printing industry, a membership organization of printers called the Printing Industry of America has developed a series of trade customs. Among these is a standard for overage/underage. This is the terminology for the copies of your publication that exceed or fall short of your requested press run.

According to these trade customs, a printer charges a customer for the actual number of copies produced, up to 10 percent more or less than the requested amount. The key here is the word “actual.” This is not an arbitrary number. The printer can only charge for what he hands off to the customer.

There are a few “rules” that expand upon/modify this trade custom:

  1. Less overage/underage can be expected for longer runs. Another way to say this is that by their very nature, longer runs tend to be more accurate, with the necessary allowance for spoilage being a smaller percentage of the entire run. For instance, you might expect 3 percent overage within a 100,000-copy press run.
  2. You can negotiate overage/underage limits with your printer. A printer I once worked with agreed to charge for only 2.5 percent overage/underage. However, this was for a weekly magazine. The printer and client had a contract and a long history of working together.
  3. You can request “not less than” 50,000 copies (or any other number), as well. However, to guarantee that you will receive not less than 50,000 copies, the printer can provide (and charge for) up to double the usual amount, twenty percent more (in this case 60,000 rather than 55,000 copies on a 50,000 press run). In this case, the printer makes sure that far more copies than needed are produced to ensure that not even 10 copies fewer than the requested limit are handed to the client.

When in doubt, talk to your print provider. Remember that ongoing negotiations regarding printing services and fees should be included as part of the relationship you develop over time with your printer.

Folding Tolerances

When designing a publication involving folds, such as a brochure or a book consisting of folded signatures, keep in mind that folding equipment is imperfect. There will always be a tolerance for error. In the past few years, folding equipment has improved, and the tolerance, according to a local printer I work with, is now plus or minus 1/32”. This means that if two halves of an image come together (as in a gatefold), there is a possibility that the image may not line up exactly across the fold (or page break). In fact, the match may be off by plus or minus 1/32” (or a total of 1/16”). In addition, the more folds your job has, the more this tolerance will add up (1/32” plus 1/32” plus 1/32”). If the fold is misaligned initially, it will get worse with each successive fold. It is therefore prudent to discuss your job’s folding requirements with your printer and ask for suggestions about designing your job to minimize this inevitable problem. Designing signatures of a publication with this limitation in mind (for example, placing an image that crosses from page to page in the center spread of one signature rather than with half of the image on the last page of one signature and half on the first page of the following signature) can maximize alignment accuracy.

Export File Formats for Process Color in Pagemaker

The following are a few case studies involving desktop publishing software, image processing, and file formats. They may be irrelevant to many readers, although some may find them invaluable.

The first case study comes from a local prepress operator who had trouble placing a 4-color TIFF image into a PageMaker layout and then exporting this file as a PDF for final printing. The image converted to grayscale, deleting all process color information. To avoid this, he instead saved and exported the file as an EPS, maintaining accurate color information. Apparently the artwork separates properly if you output film directly from PageMaker. The switch from process color to grayscale occurs only if you create a PDF from PageMaker and then output the separations from the PDF.

The second case study is similar and has the same solution. It comes from a designer who notes that when he colors and crops a sepiatone in Photoshop and then creates a PDF of the file, the result is a shift in the color balance from a beautiful red/orange sepia to a tacky green. According to this designer’s print provider, sepias--especially dark sepias--are very delicate. He also notes that his offset print provider always converts his TIFFs directly to EPS format.

Given the dramatic effects of even a tiny shift in color balance, you should give your printer a hard-copy proof of your file with actual colors as you want them. Also ask your printer to check for color shifts during the press run. And, if at all possible, ask for a press check in which you can make sure for yourself that all colors print as you expect them to. Although this requires more time and effort on your part, you will be more likely to avoid unpleasant surprises. There are no short cuts, and it is far better to be safe than sorry.


[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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