Paper Tips: Fit the Design to the Sheet
Debbie was the meanest art director I ever knew. She was a tough-talking blonde with two tattoos who played rugby for a local Chicago team. When she lost her temper, she would narrow her eyes to slits and begin waving her X-acto knife suggestively. Everybody cleared out on those occasions, even the publisher.
The thing that made Debbie maddest was change -- change to her designs, I mean. She couldn't abide them.
As the company's magazine production assistant, I was given the job of informing Debbie when the editors wanted to make changes. Not that I was any braver than the rest of the staff. I was just newer and dumber. Many were the explosions I set off as I told Debbie to move a headline or use a different illustration.
But all these paled beside the atom bomb I had to set off when the owners decided to reduce the trim size of the magazine. We were cutting costs. Among the many choice new concepts I learned from Debbie that day was one that has always stuck in my mind. "Don't you realize, you cretin," Debbie had snarled, "the magazine HAS to be a certain size. The design demands it."
Small is Beautiful
Since then, I have often heard designers say that. Sometimes it's even true. But more often, when designers make that argument, I suspect it has more to do with their ego than with ergo. And ego may a dangerous self-indulgence today. That's because during any recession, clients take a very hard look at their bottom lines. They begin to question the production costs that in rosier times just tra-la'ed their way through clients' checkbooks.
As paper costs are constantly rising, they are a big part of the bottom line. Experts estimate that paper costs account for, on average, 30 percent of the overall cost of a design project; on some jobs, paper can account for as much as 50 percent of the overall cost of a project.
How can you control the cost of paper for your designs and demonstrate to your clients that you are getting the best deals you can? There are two proven strategies:
- Make sure you've chosen the smallest size sheet you can get away with.
- Save money by matching your design to a standard sheet size. Although different kinds of printing papers have historically been manufactured in different-sized sheets, almost all the sheets that mills make revolve around the dimensions of 8-1/2 by 11 inches. Most paper sheets are much bigger than this, of course, so you can print multiples of 8-1/2 by 11 designs on them.
If your designs correspond to multiples of 8-1/2 by 11 inches, they will fit onto standard sheet sizes without wasting space -- and paper. However, if your designs require custom-sized or over-sized sheets, you're going to leave a lot of paper unused. When the designs are trimmed, all that unused paper goes straight into the dumpster. You might as well just burn your money.
Saving Inches and Pennies
How much can you save by fitting your design to a sheet size, rather than making the sheet size conform to your design? Here is one example. A roofing manufacturer recently rolled out a direct-mail piece on a fine-coated sheet. The final brochure measured 17 inches wide by 8-1/4 inches tall, with full bleeds all around. The bleeds required 1/8-inch trim on all sides. The trim between each brochure laid out on the sheet required 1/2 inch.
When the printer tried to lay out the design on a standard sheet measuring 19 by 25 inches (a sheet size based on 8-1/2 by 11 plus a little extra for trim), he discovered that he could fit only two brochures on the sheet. The layout left 8 inches of empty paper for the dumpster. The printer called the designer and told her that if she reduced the final height of the brochure by 1/2 inch, the job would print three-up on the sheet. This would produce paper savings of 33 percent. The designer said no.
Was the client well served by the designer's refusal to change the design? I don't know. All I know is that this is the question you should always ask yourself on every design job -- and the one you must answer with rock-bottom honesty.
Common Size of Available Paper Sheets (in inches)
- Bond: 8-1/2x11, 8-1/2x14, 11x17, 17x22, 17x28, 19x24, 19x28, 22x34;
- Uncoated book: 17-1/2x22-1/2, 19x25, 23x29, 23x35, 25x38, 35x45, 38x50;
- Text: 17-1/2x22-1/2, 23x35, 25x38, 26x40;
- Coated book: 19x25, 23x29, 23x35, 25x38, 35x45, 38x50;
- Cover: 20x26, 23x35, 25x38, 26x40;
- Index or board: 22x28, 22-1/2x28-1/2, 23x29, 23x35, 24x36, 25-1/2x30-1/2, 28x44.
Note: Not all printers carry all these sizes. Special ordering may cost you more, both in terms of money and time. Nor can all presses accommodate all sizes. Before you finalize your design, it's a good idea to ask your printer for the common sizes he carries and uses, and then plan from there. When I am especially worried about a tight design, I'll ask the printer for a dummy sheet lined out with all the trims and bleeds.
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