economical printing header

How to print economically

This may seem like a nonsensical thing for us to encourage you to do, but bear with us…


Horses for courses

Whilst we do encourage and appreciate working on and seeing the highest standards in design and print, pushing the boundaries and experimenting with finishes, we also respect efficiency and subtlety.  Of course, a full-colour, embossed, foil-stamped and die-cut folder will catch the eye and impress people, but the real skill is in achieving the same effect without simply throwing money at the project.

Coming out of a recession, people are either holding onto their money or they’re recognising the need to spend it and get it circulating.  Whatever your policy, we are able to tailor a design and print project to fit the bill.

The simple fact is that some projects call for flamboyance and special finishes, whilst some would benefit from simplicity and minimalism, and neither one is necessarily better than the other in all cases.  This article focuses on ways to keep the cost down.  It won’t neglect the more extravagant finishes but it will explain how to mitigate the extra cost involved in using them, if you decide that they are essential.


A simple concept

A well-known phenomenon is that purely conceptual designers are sometimes ill suited to designing for print.  They let their imagination run wild and envisage a creative masterpiece in order to wow their client and add to their portfolio.  It’s not their problem when said client gets the printing estimate.  Hey, designers design, right?  This is where an integrated service like FirstpointPrint comes in.  We know what can and can’t be done and what our printers can and can’t print.  When something doesn’t work as expected, we can immediately tweak a setting or a layer in the artwork.  We designed it, it’s our problem if it doesn’t print.  This is the first step in reducing your potential project bill.  Use a separate, conceptual designer and you will be back and forth between us and them and you’ll most likely be charged for amendments and corrections each time.

It’s not that we don’t flex our imagination and create something wonderful, but we do know what is practicable in the real world and we won’t promise beyond our reach.  Having the designer in the same office as the printer allows us to sit down with you and discuss the possibilities.


  • Conceptual designers often have no printing experience
  • Multiple phases of correction and adjustment will cost money
  • FirstpointPrint is an integrated service


Count ‘em

A very easy way to understand how to reduce the cost of a printing job is to work out how many stages will be required to create the job.  A folder which is printed in CMYK, then embossed, then die cut, then folded, will cost a lot more than a design printed in a single colour and having a design die cut to reveal an image or colour on the front page of the inserted document, for example.  That cuts out three printing plates and an entire embossing phase, possibly halving the total cost, and if it’s done properly it could look just as impressive.

Back to printing plates, if a logo has been created properly and supplied in an editable vector format, we potentially have more options when it comes to printing it.  Can the logo be printed using only one or two Pantone colours (therefore one or two plates)?  Can it be reversed out (white) of a single-colour background, requiring only one plate?  Can it be not printed at all but be blind embossed or die cut?

Each printing plate costs money to produce if the job is printed lithographically.  That includes the four CMYK plates and any additional spot (Pantone) colours and spot UV, embossing, foil block, etc.  Bear this in mind when designing the work – or instructing your designer.  If the printing is done digitally, this doesn’t really apply, unless it can be done in only K (black and white).


  • More stages = more money
  • Find creative ways to achieve the effect
  • Fewer plates is cheaper
  • Digital is different, except for B/W


Choose ‘em

Another factor in deciding on print methods and finishes is the relative cost of each.  It’s not a case of ‘choose your options and once charge covers all’.  

A little-known fact is that a specified Pantone colour costs more than the basic cyan, magenta, yellow or black.  This is because specific inks are not preproduced and stored in warehouses, bought in for each job, they are mixed there and then by the print technicians.  This is in contrast to the basic CMYK inks, which are premade and are usually on the rollers, ready to go.  So, if your intended Pantone colour is a deep pink or a bright blue, could you get away with using magenta or cyan instead?  Instead of a deep grey, could you use an 85% tint of black?

The common specialist finishes also have varying costs, according to various factors.  They are listed below in order of relative cost, lowest to highest, with a basic explanation below each.

Spot UV

Spot varnish is simply a glossy varnish that is run through the press in place of an ink, but it does mean either changing a print roller or at least priming the press for spot varnishing.


Thermographic ink is a special ink type, needing to be loaded into the press, as well as requiring a second stage in the process which heats the ink and raises it.

Digital Embossing

Digital embossing is essentially a modification of spot varnish, where the varnish is so thick and raised that it resembles embossing but without the need to deboss the other side of the sheet.  It requires more varnish than normal spot UV and the varnish itself is expensive, not to mention the new machinery required for this brand-new technology.


Embossing requires a metal block to be made and stamped into the stock itself.  This costs money as an initial setup charge and any mistakes require a whole new block to be made.

Die cutting

Similarly to embossing, a high-precision die with sharp edges is produced and is used to force a shape out of the stock.  Die cutting is often priced by area cut.

Foil blocking

Foil blocking requires a die as well, but it also uses actual metal foil, which costs money in and of itself, priced by area stamped.  Note that colours cannot be matched to the Pantone system, so a close match needs to be chosen.

Furthermore, extra cost has to be allowed for when combining the above effects.  One technique may require extra drying time before applying another, or perhaps the two finishes need to be registered very accurately and more ‘overs’ need to be printed to allow for trial and error.


  • Pantone inks are more expensive than basic CMYK inks
  • Special finishes vary in cost
  • Some are priced by area
  • Combining finishes may cost more



In most industries there is an element of economies of scale, where a greater quantity results in a lower cost per unit.  This rule certainly applies in printing, but there is a big difference between litho and digital printing, in this regard.  Litho printing benefits from massive economy of scale, as most of the cost is in setting up the plates; the rest is just ink and paper.  Digital printing may involve an initial setup charge but this will be low if the artwork is supplied ready to print.  With digital, double the quantity printed may be assumed to cost double the amount, give or take a small percentage as dictated by the individual printing firm and the specifics of the job.

This makes small quantities very economical if printed digitally and very expensive if printed litho.  This is made more extreme the more special finishes are used, as each one requires a setup charge.

So, if you want a special finish, plan to print lots, possibly more than you need, as the extras won’t cost you a lot and will avoid a second setup charge too soon.


  • Economies of scale in litho
  • Digital is fairly linear



This is an often-misunderstood point, because we don’t really deal with ‘bad quality’ stock or processes.  People usually talk about ‘good quality’ stock and actually mean ‘slightly heavier’ stock, which feels more substantial and is thus equated with quality.  Our 120gsm stock is the same quality and from the same range as the 200gsm, it just depends on the circumstances of the job.  Many pages in a brochure and 200gsm will be too thick, if you want to emboss a folder, the shape will be more defined on a slightly thinner stock than the usual 350gsm.

That said, cost does come into it to an extent.  Heavier stocks do cost slightly more, but the difference is slight between two adjacent stock weights in the same range.  More of a difference will be seen when going to a specialist stock such as Conqueror or a textured, recycled stock, where a large pack much be bought in just to run your one job.

However, if a certain off-white colour or a level of texture is required, go for it!  If it’s the only way to get a certain ‘look’, it’s worth it.


  • ‘Quality’ is not really a sensible term
  • Heavier is more expensive
  • Weights within a range vary little in price
  • Specialist stocks cost more


The bottom line_

As we started by saying, we’re not out to discourage you from creating something special – we’re a business, after all, and more money spent by you is more profit for us.  But we’d rather help you to creatively bring your project within affordable limits rather than see you walk away with nothing (and us end up without the work).  Perhaps that money saved can be spent on the design phase instead, giving you something really special, or you can use it to print a higher quantity, reducing the cost per unit.

Whatever the project, whatever the budget, just ask us and we can recommend the best course of action.