Part IV: Cheaper Design

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

Graphic design makes up two parts of your 9×12 … the actual ad creatives and the design layout itself.

Pillar #5
“Plenty of spaces without too much dilution”

The goal is to have as many spaces as possible on your card but not too many.  You don’t want the recipient not being able to quickly process all over a short glance. I find that 14 is a really great number but 16 is my favorite. 18 is about the most I’ve seen that can fit on a 9×12 (or 8.5×11) comfortably. Even that is slightly pushing it but it’s still OK. 12×15 cards can accommodate 25 due to their larger space available.

More on layout in a bit, let’s talk about the artwork part:

The Cost of Graphic Design

The cost of design on average will usually make up for about 10% – 15% of your total cost. Most 9×12’ers outsource their design to proven designers such as the ones I recommend here. The going rate is $20-$25 per ad (including basic revisions) and maybe $25 to lay everything out when finished. I find those rates to be the most you should pay for a skilled print designer.

You can find cheaper sources through sites like fiverr, upwork, freelancer, or even craigslist, but be aware that in almost all cases, it will end up costing you much more in the end. While a $5 ad designer on fiverr may sound like a great bargain, I can almost assure you that it will not end up being $5. Trust me. And if you do find someone working that cheap, by the time they get halfway through your card they’ll be raising their prices or will skip town and disappear on you, leaving you to find someone else and start from scratch.

The best way to reduce graphic design cost is to keep advertisers recurring so their ads don’t cost as much to revise. But in general, one of the ways to lower design costs is to hire someone in-house or contract them for a long-term period at a reduced rate …. or do the design yourself (or by your partner). Doing it yourself is a quick way to knock a good 10% or more off your costs, just remember to figure in your time to the equation.


The layout of your card can have a pretty substantial affect on your pricing. The more spaces, the less the price you have to charge (or the more profit you can make). Also make sure you’re actually able to fill the amount of spaces you’re planning … and if you’re not sure, then price yourself so that even if you come up short you still make enough margin.

An example of the cost difference compared to say a 14 space campaign that might have a cost of $250 per space to you …  bumping it to an 18 space layout would lower your costs by over 20% to $197. That alone could translate to a price reduction of your spaces from $500 to $394 while keeping the exact same 50% profit margin.

Volume Dilution

Graphic design is a fixed cost regardless of quantity. That means it costs the same to design an ad that’s going to ten people as it would if it was going to 10,000 people. The design cost gets diluted the more quantity there is; this is why many 9 x 12’ers stick with 10,000 piece campaigns rather than 5,000.

That’s not to say there’s not plenty of successful people who run 5000 piece campaigns or even 2,5000pc ones.  Again, you’ll have to analyze what works best for your business and fits within your goals. Simply pick and choose what you can live with or without in order to reach the pricing you wish.

Strategic Solutions

There’s lots of strategic ways to price design as well if you want to factor it into your retail pricing. A fair design cost if you were to charge it to the advertiser would be $25-$35 retail, and some people do ask for it in addition to the ad space itself, but I recommend including it free for the simple fact it’s a good incentive to get them to sign up. And it’s also something that I don’t want to lose a deal over simply because of the added cost.

My column strategy is also a great way to use strategic pricing to keep prices attractive without screwing with the integrity of the card or losing out on missed opportunities.

Another great strategy is to make sure the advertiser knows that the free design is a basic design that you’ll do your best to create for them. If they need something customized or need stock images, etc. They would need to pay extra. 90% of the time they’ll just go with whatever you are offering to design for free. This keeps them from thinking that they can make all the changes they want without consequence. I learned this myself when I had an advertiser who dragged me through seemingly endless revisions and modifications until her ad was “perfect”… Only to find that she had also advertised in a crappy local magazine where her ad was something a third-grader could have put together. The fact that the other publication didn’t probably tell her they would design whatever she wanted simply forced her to take what they offered. Most people quickly accept what’s available if it means not having to pay extra and they’re fine with it.

Go to Part V: Affordability

Comments 2

  1. Extremely good information Jake. I just joined a few days ago, so I’m going over the information I need to get started and stumbled onto this training. I’ve been in digital printing for over 15 years and never seen anything like this.
    Thank You

    1. Post

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