How to Lower Printing Costs, Part #5: It's all about Design

Posted by Sam Ricco

designWorking with great creative professionals is one of the most exciting parts of my job.  The magic they impart is incredible.  Hand them a creative brief and they come back with cool designs, unique formats, and fantastic use of color and paper stocks.   You may ask why a “printing and production” guy is working so closely with the creative team.  The answer is, as talented as these people are, they still need guidance and direction in order to keep within budget, meet postal specs and ensure their designs reproduce well on whatever medium you have chosen.

If you have been doing this type of work for a while I bet at least one of these scenarios is familiar:

  1. Your creative agency / designer presents a creative concept that you fall in love with and you pitch it to your boss or client who also falls in love with it.  The bad news comes when you find out 2-3 weeks down the road that the concept as presented is causing you to be over budget, exceed your production timeline or does not meet postal specs.    
  2. You get a call from your mailing provider (lettershop) saying that the 250,000 self-mailers you just printed do not meet the Post Office’s regulations and that you are being surcharged $.12 per piece.  Refer to my previous post: When a Self-Mailer is no longer a Self-Mailer for some examples.
  3. You are conducting a “press check” to watch the components of your package print on nice the textured stock that the creative team recommended.  When you see the printed piece you realize the “thin stroke” font is hard to read and the full color photo looks muddy and dark.
  4. You receive your sample printed pieces or seed in the mail and notice a typo that was not caught during the last minute edit that was made.   

These are just a few of the scenarios that happen every day when the design team is not provided proper guidance and direction from the beginning of the design phase to the end. There are very few creative teams and designers out there are have a solid grasp of the ever changing postal regulations, the ins-and-outs of printing, and how a lettershop works.  There are 10,000 details in producing a campaign and it just takes one missed detail for a program to fail.    

The good news however is that preventing these costly and embarrassing situations is easy with a little proper planning.  See below for some helpful hints. The goal is not to stifle or control the creative process, but to know beforehand the pros and cons of each creative package so you can properly present them so as to avoid surprises and pitfalls.

Here are 4 things you should do BEFORE presenting creative concepts to your client or internal team, every time. 


  1. If the package is going to be mailed, review the concept with the Post Office to ensure it is mailable and does not incur surcharges. Request full specifications and a sample PDF proof from the creative team that includes component sizes, folding or die cut requirements, paper stock, and ink colors.  Send the FULL specs to both your printer and lettershop to obtain pricing and a production timeline. Be sure share the full specs with both partners because while a piece can be printed, that does not mean the lettershop will not have problems with it.
  2. Review any applicable corporate branding guidelines.  Many companies have different guidelines depending on the medium / item being produced. 
  3. Enlist the help of a professional proofreader/proofreading service (I like after the creative has been approved but before you start printing.  It is the best $50 - $100 you will spend on the campaign.
  4. If the package you are printing has multiple components and budget is an issue (or when is it not) – mention to your creative team that if possible you would like to put the multiple pieces on the same paper stock if this works design wise. Tell your printer that you want to “gang print” the job (refer to my previous post: “Gang Printing” - Combining Print Runs for Multiple Items” for some helpful hints).
Of course, I am always available to review any designs that you may be questioning, or better yet, let BKM's creative team with their unique expertise handle the creative for you!

If you have any questions on the new self-mailer regulations from 2013, click here to download the Folded Self-Mailer Reference Materials today


Topics: Direct Mail Marketing, Direct Marketing