14 Ways to Cut Design and Production Costs
by Dan Suzio
If you really want to know how to cut your direct mail design and production costs while increasing response, my best advice is to work as a printer for a few years. If you can't do that, maybe these 14 tips will help:
Get to know your printers as well as you can. Take a tour of the shop and meet the press operators and prepress technicians. Ask lots of questions; show them samples and sketches, and ask what you can change to make their job easier or faster (and therefore cheaper). If your printer isn't willing to help, find one who is.
Be available when the printer calls with a question. You don't want your job to get bumped from the press because you were too busy to take the call. And you especially don't want someone else to decide what you really mean when your instructions are unclear.
Learn as much printing jargon as you can stand. You might not need to know the difference between "work and turn" and "work and tumble," but you should know the difference between a monarch envelope and a #7-3/4 (they're the same size, but there is a potentially expensive difference).
Know what various kinds of presses can and can't do -- you should know the quality and cost differences between sheet-fed printing, open web, heat-set web, jet offset, flexographic, and any other kinds of printing that you encounter. You can often get surprisingly good quality with some of the "low-end" printing processes -- a good printer will be willing to experiment with screens, halftones, bleeds, etc., to get the results you want.
Know when to ask for bluelines, color keys, and press checks, and what to do with them. Don't waste time and money on a press check, or even a color key, when you don't need one. I don't have any set rule to give you, but in direct-mail fundraising bluelines are almost always good enough. (And make sure you've done your proofreading before the job goes to the printer. Making copy changes or corrections at the blueline stage is a waste of the printer's time -- and your money.)
Design a size that makes sense in terms of press size, paper size, personalization, and lettershop. Standard sizes are standard for a lot of reasons, not least of which is cost. For example: an 8.5 x 11" letter fits twice on an 11 x 17" plate, or four times on a 17 x 22" plate, but if you make it a half-inch bigger -- say, 9 x 11" or 8.5 x 11.5" -- it will fit only once on the smaller plate, or twice on the larger one, doubling the press time. (If you want a piece to stand out, and still be affordable, make it smaller, not bigger.)
When using laser personalization, how many pieces can you fit on a sheet? (It depends on your vendor's equipment.) Lasering 2-up saves up to 50%. For larger quantities, look into continuous-form laser printing -- but don't forget to add the extra cost of printing and bursting continuous forms.
Make sure all of the pieces fit into the outer envelope, with enough room to spare to allow for machine inserting. Use photocopies to make a sample, before it's printed, and ask your lettershop about the size and clearance requirements of their inserting equipment. (And make sure the response device fits into the reply envelope!)
If you design something with a bleed -- that is, the ink goes all the way to the edge of the paper -- it has to be printed oversize and trimmed. You may want to make the finished size smaller; ask your printer how much extra paper will be used by the bleed.
Printing a 3-color job requires two passes through a 2-color press, or using a more expensive 4-color press. Either way, that third color is going to cost you. For a cheaper alternative, use screens or overprints to make a third color with only 2 colors of ink. To see what screens and overprints will look like, check with a graphic arts supply company for the various color guides published by Pantone.
Some folds cost more than others; some are possible only by hand. Use your imagination, but then ask what it will cost.
Keep samples of everything you print, and label them with the weight of the paper. Use them to make weight samples; if your package is going to be overweight, you want do something about it before it goes to the printer. Remember that paper can absorb moisture, which adds to its weight. If you've designed a first-class mailing that's over 0.95 ounces, you should probably trim something -- otherwise you could get an expensive surprise when it reaches the post office.
Put it in writing. Your purchase order should include all of the printing specs, delivery date and place, quoted price, maximum overs and unders, proofs needed, samples needed, and anything else you can think of.
Mechanical artwork should have a tissue overlay showing all color breaks, screens, bleeds, etc. Artwork on disk should be accompanied by a laser proof that contains the same information. Folds, perfs, and scores should also be indicated. Don't leave anything to the printer's imagination.
More articles on resoliciting and renewing your donors
• 31 ways to cultivate your donors
• Mailing smarter means segmentation
• 9 steps to setting up a giving club
• 12 things to write in thank you letters to your donors
• 5 ways to conduct market research on a shoestring
• How long should your renewal series be?