Part II: Cheaper Printing

This is a seven-part series on how to lower the prices you charge for 9×12 spaces.

Part 1: Selling Cheaper Than Ever
Part 2: Cheaper Printing
Part 3: Cheaper Postage
Part 4: Cheaper Design
Part 5: Affordability
Part 6: Building Your Perfect 9×12
Part 7: DFY Pricing Models

Cheaper Printing

Getting the best overall deal you can get on printing is important because it makes up for such a huge part of your raw costs. It’s also important you make sure it’s done right and not just done cheap, so don’t  always confuse ‘best deal’ with ‘best price’. A good example is turnaround:  you can almost always get lower pricing in exchange for a longer turnaround; but if that means your card goes out a week too late, it could piss off quite a few of your advertisers!

ALWAYS Go Online For Printing

You almost always want to go with an online printer (preferably a ‘trade’ printer — like … ahem …  me) rather than a local print shop. I’m all for supporting local business but online printing is so much better in almost every aspect due to the lower costs, faster turnarounds, better print quality; local printers simply can’t compete. Plus you’ll probably have to pay sales tax with anyone local and by going online the chances are your printer will be in a different state and won’t have to charge you it.

Here’s the Different Options to Reduce Your Printing Costs

Assuming you’ve figured out the best source for your printing … here’s some various options to lower your costs further and thus give you an ability to drop your pricing while keeping the same margin:

  1. Longer print turnaround
  2. Thinner paper stocks and coatings
  3. Not having them pre-bundled
  4. Smaller size dimensions
  5. Smaller volumes

Many 9×12’ers who don’t want to charge $500 per space simply switch to a 5,000 piece mailing instead of 10k in order to reduce costs and bring ad prices down to $300 or less. That’s definitely a valid option for keeping margins high and lowering price but it’s not the only option. Is cutting the quantity in half just to reduce price the best value for your advertisers?

Ponder This Printing Dilemma …

What happens if you don’t want to sacrifice the quantity of the campaign but you want to charge lower prices.  This is where you need to put your thinking cap on and factor in different options. For example, you could print it on a thinner stock, and/or a smaller dimension, which might do the trick without cutting out half of your mailing quantity.

I’m not telling you what you should pick or what you should do, (because everything within the pillars works!), I just want you to think it through more thoroughly. Say you want a $300 price point … would it be better for the advertisers to get 10,000 mailed but on a thinner stock, like say thick 100lb AQ gloss flyer paper … or would it be better to keep the 14pt UV cardstock and reduce their mailings by half? Tough decisions, but ones you’ll need to ponder!

Think about yourself in their shoes … would you rather get 10,000 mailings on flyer paper or 5,000 mailings on cardstock? Or would 8.5×11 make a big difference to you than 9×12? It’s a judgment call you’ll have to make if you want to optimize the pricing you charge for the value they get for the margins you want.

Remember in the first part of the series, I mentioned the successful pizzeria. They’re the ones who usually have figured out the right ingredients to use for the price and value. When you start cramming too much value for too low a price, or too much value for too high a price, or too low a price, or too low a value for too high a price (whew!) is where trouble arises.

See how important it is to weigh all options and come up with what works for you!? Everyone is different. You may want to keep the quality of the piece high and lower the quantity while someone else is fine lowering the quantity but can’t fathom the idea of using a lighter stock or smaller piece.

Or you can take the Steve Jobs route and figure out how to figure out seemingly impossible solutions (the route I tend to take!).

A quick primer on paperstock and coatings

Paperstocks are really wacky when it comes to classifying them. Here they are explained in simple terms even an idiot like me understand:

—- Postcard (semi-rigid) Stocks —-

16 point. This is typically the thickest stock you’d choose for a 9×12 or any postcard. It’s the same stock that premium greeting cards are printed on. You can’t fold it cleanly because it’s so thick it just kind of bends, so it’s usually scored before folding if that gives you a clue as to how thick it is. Most people would not be able to tell the difference between 14pt and 16pt however, so I generally suggest 14pt if it’s cheaper or faster to receive. Only once you’ve handled postcards a lot will you be able to tell the difference.

14 point. I probably print 90% of all postcards on 14pt. It’s an oustanding thickness, much thicker than most people ever see come in the mail because it’s considered a premium stock for most local printers so they rarely print on it, instead favoring 12pt, 10pt, or 7pt stocks that are much more common and cost effective for local printers. Online printers however, because of the volume we do, use 14pt as our ‘house’ stocks. For reference, regular greeting cards you’d find in a store are mostly printed on 14pt stock. It’s definitely an impressive thickness for a postcard, that’s for sure.

100lb Cover. Do NOT confuse this with 100lb text or 100lb book stock. This is where printing stocks get really confusing … becuase cover stock means semi-rigid (postcard/greeting card stock) and text or book stock mean non-rigid (flyer/brochure/magazine stock). 12pt is pretty much the same as 100lb cover but you’ll see it written as 100lb cover most of the time. 100lb cover is what you’ll find most all of the postcards you get in the mail to be. They’re like a thin but slightly rigid paperstock that bends and creases easy but it’s more stiff than a piece of ‘paper’. The best way I can put it is that if you’ve gotten a postcard in the mail before and went “wow” when you felt it because it was so stiff … you were likely feeling 14 or 16pt.  Everything else you’ve felt is going to be 100lb cover or something even thinner like 10pt or 7pt stock. Does the fact that 100lb cover costs about 33% less than 14pt stock make it worth downgrading for you in order to lower your prices? I don’t know, you’ll have to factor it in to see if it’s something you can sacrifice to meet the pricing you’re shooting for.

10,000 9×12’s printed on 100lb Cover with AQ coating I offer for about $830 shipped. Compared to $1250 for 14pt stock, that’s a third less in cost … which could instantly knock off $20 or more per ad while still keeping your profits the same.To some 9×12’ers they could care less what stock it’s printed on and instead focus on other features they can’t sacrifice, while some feel that the tangible quality of the card can’t be tampered with and would rather cut costs in other ways. That’s all up to you my friend!

— Flyer (non-rigid) Stocks —-

100lb Text. Same as 100lb book, but some printers call them either or. 100lb text is a ‘thick’ flyer paper. It’s a nice premium feeling paper that I guess would kind of feel like if you took two regular sheets of paper and glued them together. Maybe a tiny bit thinner but hopefully that gets the point across. It doesn’t crinkle as easy as thinner paperstocks. If you need a sample of one, cover the postage and I’ll put one in the mail for you.

80lb Text. This is a step down from 100lb and is still fairly thick paper but it will crinkle pretty easily. It’s somewhat durable but not as much as 100lb.

—– Coatings —-

Aqueous Coating. Often called “AQ” for short is a water-based coating that gets applied to give the paper a slight sheen and glossy appearance. Most of what you see today that’s “glossy” is an aqueous finish. You can write on AQ gloss, which is nice for some applications.

Ultraviolet Coating. Usually called “UV” for short, it’s a coating that actually adds thickness to the card unlike AQ. The coating is spread over the paper after it’s printed and then ran under an ultraviolet light where it reacts and instantly cures into a hard, fully transparent coating. It’s like adding a thick perfectly level and flawlessly clear wax coating to a vehicle … not only does it protect it, but it feels ultra-smooth and slick to the touch, while making the colors underneath it slightly darker and more glass-like. I absolutely love UV coating and find it extremely impressive to touch and feel on a postcard when combined with a thick 14 or 16pt stock.

*a note about paper grain: Paper has a grain to it and the direction of the grain combined with the orientation of the card will actually influence how rigid it feels. On 9×12’s you can’t usually notice a difference much because it’s a relatively square-ish shape, but on a card that’s much narrower and rectangular, like a 6.5×12, the grain direction can influence the rigidity quite a bit depending on which way it’s facing. Unfortunately there’s no way to predict which way the grain will be so if you’re running a campaign with a size such as 4.25×12, 6×11, or 6.5×12, and you need it to be as “top quality” feeling as possible … go for 16pt instead of 14pt.

Why Mention Flyer Stocks for a 9×12 Business?

You can actually mail out 100lb AQ Text stock via EDDM so long as the stock is .007 inches thick (the 100lb text I print on is .0079 thick so it fully qualifies).

Why would you consider this much thinner and non-rigid stock? Well, it will drop your costs significantly if that’s what you need, maybe try it out. I’m not going to lecture or advise you on what to do … I just want to give you the options available.


Say your typical 10k, 14pt, 16-space mailer costs $3500 currently to print/design/mail and your average ad space comes to $430 (49% margin). By switching to 100lb Cover stock, you could lower your spaces to $379 and make the same exact profit margin. or only $344 if you used 100lb AQ Text.

Pre-bundle or no?

In most cases, shunning the cost of getting your printing pre-bundled isn’t worth it. At only about $6 per thousand, it sure beats manually bundling everything yourself. There’s some cases where cutting the cost is worth it though, say if you’re paying your kids to do it or if you just enjoy bundling for two hours while watching TV or something.

Switching Sizes

While the “9×12 System” obviously refers to the 9″ x 12″ size, the concept still works using sizes like 8.5×11, A4 (for my friends outside the USA), or even bigger sizes like 12×15. Changing the dimensions means a change in pricing so it’s definitely an option available to help you reach certain price targets.

Again, it’s a juggling act of designing a product that meets your target price while maintaining margin and still providing enough value to the buyer.

Next, we’ll tackle how to get the distribution costs down


Go to Part III: Cheaper Postage

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