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Obtaining an Accurate Cost Estimate for a Printing Job

written by: Haley Montgomery•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 11/12/2010

Do you need a cost estimate for a printing job? Obtaining printing quotes is a day to day part of a desktop publishers job. This article highlights the benefits of working with a contract printer and lists the information desktop publishers need to know to get an accurate printing estimate.

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    Working with Contract Printers

    Although desktop publishers have many desktop printing options at their disposal, some designs require the work of a contract printers to achieve the level of professionalism and quality that will make the project a success. It can be beneficial to consult with a professional printer before establishing the final specifications for a project. A printer may be able to suggest small design decisions that can net large savings during the printing process. Once a project has been designed, a printer will also work with desktop publishers to make sure the project is produced accurately and within the appropriate time frame. A contract printing professional can:

    • advise on a reasonable schedule for printing completion
    • provide a cost estimate for the printing job
    • offer size recommendations to cut bulk paper costs
    • locate paper samples
    • implement environmentally-friendly printing techniques
    • allow the use of pre-existing die cut templates
    • troubleshoot folding options
    • produce "dummies" of complicated projects
    • suggest color/paper combinations
    • provide press proofs
    • offer binding solutions
    • make last minute corrections

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    Requesting a Printing Estimate

    One of the keys to keeping a desktop publishing project within budget is to obtain a thorough and accurate printing estimate. In order to provide a correct printing quote, a printer will need to understand how the finished product will come together, as well as know the project's full specifications. A designer should offer the following information about a project to contract printers when seeking an estimate.


    Specify the flat and folded dimensions of the piece, as well as the number of pages, if applicable.


    Include whether the piece will be printed in spot color or the four-color process, and if the piece will be printed on both front and back. If spot color is used, indicate the color number from the standard Pantone Matching System (PMS) used by most contract printers. Also indicate whether printing will "bleed" or extend to the paper's cut line.


    Indicate the paper brand, color name, and weight. Contract printers can provide swatch cards or books for paper selection if necessary. A designer may choose between coated or uncoated papers in both standard and recycled versions. Most paper brands offer writing, text and cover weight papers.


    Specify any stapling, wire/plastic ring binding or glued perfect binding the project requires.

    Specialty die-cuts or folds:

    Folds or crops that are not within standard formats may require that a special "die" be made. Make the printer aware of specialty features like business card slits, fold and glue pockets, slits, specialty cut sheets, etc. Providing a sample "dummy" of the desired effect can be helpful in obtaining a cost estimate for the printing job.


    Determine if projects printed on coated paper will need an aqueous coating to protect against fingerprints or color bleeding, and indicate if any clear or tinted varnish is desired.

    Proofing requests:

    Most printers offer some sort of proofing method as a matter of course. Be sure to understand the printer's normal protocol and request any additional proofs the project requires.


    Let the printer know the number of pieces needed. Printers will often produce a small "overrun" of a project while fine-tuning the printing process. Usually only the desired quantity is included in the final invoice.


    Communicate expectations about when the project will be completed, and discuss a feasible time frame based on the printer's schedule.

    File Types:

    Make the printer aware of the software used to design the project and the file types in which it can be exported. Any prepress work on the file the printer is required to do might incur additional costs.

    Using these guidelines, contract printers can provide the most accurate printing estimate for a project. These printing quotes are a valuable asset for desktop publishers in communicating the real costs of a project with clients as well as in ensuring the project is completed in a professional manner.