Printing-related choices and trade-offs

When you need one, a few, a few hundred or thousands of printed materials, you have to make some decisions which influence the time to produce and the complexity and budget of the process.

The most important decision with far reaching comsequences concerns black-and-white vs. colour printing.

The next decision which can limit have a limiting effect onto your subsequent choices is the size (physical dimensions) of your publication.

The next important decision decision is about the print run, or the number of copies you will need.

Your previous choices, the time frame, budget, and in-house (or personal) potential will all determine your next decision – about the printing technology to be employed. Your final concern is the binding and finishing of your printed materials.

In some cases discussed below you need also to decide on the media to be printed on and any protective or aestetic coating to be applied.

Black and white vs. colour printing costs

A simple rule of thumb is that colour printing costs approximately 5 times more than black-and-white printing. Of course, particular circumstances and prices may vary, but no matter how affordable it becomes with time, colour printing is still much more expensive.

The processes and materials involved in printing share the same proportional pricing: black-and-white prepress is simpler and cheaper than colour prepress, printable media for colour images is also of higher quality and, consequently – more expensive.

Publication size choice

The rule of thumb here is that the more voluminous your publication is, the larger physical size is to be recommended.

The rule of thumb here is that the more voluminous your publication is, the larger physical size is to be recommended.

The popular in Europe office-type formats are (smallest to largest): A6 (10.5 x 14.8 cm), A5 (14.8 x 21 cm), A4 (21 x 29.7 cm page), A3 (42 x 29.7 cm). (British and US standards differ: e.g., letter, legal, ledher/tabloid.)

The locally popular formats with commercial presses (also depending on country standards) are (the official designation is given first, followed by the physical dimensions of the publication after trimming): 60x84/32 (10 x 14 cm), 60x84/16 (14.5 x 20 cm), 60x90/16 (14.5 x 21.5 cm), 70x100/16 (16.5 x 23.5 cm), 60x84/8 (20.5 x 28.5 cm), 60x90/8 (29 x 21.5 cm), 70x100/8 (33 x 23.5 cm).

Print-run decision

The desicion about the number of copies needed is determined by your intended audience. A few examples. If you need only one copy for yourself or your boss, then the print-run is 1. If you need to distribute handouts among the pre-registered participants, who will attend your workshop or seminar, then the number of registered persons (e.g. plus 10% for late comers, and for reserve) is the print run you need.

Printing technology choice

Your general choices are: in-house office (home) printers, copy-shops (print-shops), digital printing providers, and commercial presses.

These choices are limited further by the decisions taken on the previous steps. E.g., colour printing and size of A3 will rule out most home and office printers. Print-runs of thousands are a clear choice for commercial presses. Print runs of a few dozens or at most a few hundred favour digital printing.

Further consideration is the total number of pages to be printed (note, that print run means e.g. how many book you will need, but total number of pages to be printed is the number of books multiplied by the number of pages in a book). If the number of pages to be printed is more than a few thousand, then the home printer is ruled out, since typically its recommended MONTHLY usage is a few thousand. Try to score that in a day and you can easily damage your printer. 50000 to 100,000 or more pages point clearly to a commercial press.

Home vs, office printers

Your home printer can be considered if the total number of copies is no more than, e.g., 1000, since its recommended monthly usage is only 2000, or 3000.

Your office printer can easily manage up to 5000 or even 10000, since its technological monthly usage is on the order of 100000 or 150000.

You will be better off both financially and time-wise if you outsource still larger quantities to a print/copy shop or a digital printing provider / commercial press.

Laser vs. inkjet

The rule of thumb here is that inkjet printing is substantially more expensive than lase printing, both black-and-white and colour.

As often in similar cases, the dependency between the prices of the printers themselves is just the opposite.

Office vs. production printers

Production line printers or copiers, employed by printcopy shops and digital printers can handle tens of thousands of pages. For hundreds of thousands consider commercial presses.

They can also easily do that at a price lower than the per-copy price on your home or office (even laser) printer.

Copier vs, mopier

There is a subtle difference between copiers and mopiers (as coined by HP to promote their high class office printers). Most of you are familiar with the slight or often clearly visible difference in quality between an original printed on a laser printer and a copy made in a copy shop. The fundamental reason is that copiers first scan the original you provide (with some degradation in quality) and only then print the required number of copies of the scanned inferior image.

In contrast mopiers skip the scanning step and simply print the required number of copies with copier-matching speed. The gain in quality is that in fact all copies are actually printed originals.

Copy-shop vs. digital printing

Digital printing is geared towards printing tens, hundreds and even thousands of copies. Typically the price for 1, 2 or 5 copies is higher than that at the print /copy shop. In the tens and hundreds segment, however, they already beat the prices of the copy shop. The quality of the digital printouts is also higher.

Digital printing vs. commercial presses

Digital printers are best suited to print-runs of tens to a few hundred. Speaking of thousands, commercial presses are still unbeatable. However, if lack of time is your primary concern, digital printing may be the right choice, regardless of the higher costs.

Binding and finishing

Depending in your printed materials you might need stapling, creasing, trimmimg, folding, cutting, comb (metal or plastic) binding, spiral (metal or plastic) binding, thermal binding, gluing, sewing and hard covers, etc.

Special requirements: media, coating, etc.

Your intended use may demand the application of protective or aestetic covering to your printed materials, e.g., lamination, UV-covering.

You may also need special media and inks if your poster or banner is to be subject to the atmospheric conditions outside. You may also need some kind of sticker film, e.g., to decorate your company's car(s), or some special film for backlit ads.

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