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Economy of Scale, or "Why is printing so darn expensive?"

To understand how printing economy works, the first thing you need to do is understand a little bit about the equipment that we use. Unlike your desktop printer, a printing press doesn’t just get digital information fed into it and then it prints your piece perfectly on the first try. Setting up a printing press requires around 500 sheets of paper, and up to an hour of fine tuning for each job that is printed. Make sense why that first piece costs so much? Each additional piece costs next to nothing, so the larger the quantity of pieces (postcards, posters, business cards, etc.) that you choose to order, the lower the price per piece becomes.

Internet printers get around this problem by volume of orders. You may only need 500 postcards, but if they have a dozen or more other people who also only need 500 postcards, suddenly you have a very affordably priced press run for everyone. The disadvantage to this strategy is that each individual postcard is not going to look as good as it would if it were being printed by itself. Remember that fine tuning that the press man takes spends up to an hour on to get that first perfect piece? Well, the fine tuning for a picture of the moon surrounded by a jet black sky is very different from the fine tuning for a sunny beach in Hawaii. By combining the two into a single press run each one gets to split that initial setup cost (saving money), but at the cost of the fine tuning (and hence, quality) being averaged out between them.

Here at Savage Color we want to have a more personal relationship with our clients than the internet printing company model allows, and we take pride in the quality of our work. Unfortunately that leaves us asking the question of how we can serve those people that only need a relatively small quantity of materials. Digital production using high quality commercial laser printers is certainly an option for some jobs, but many of our clients demand higher quality than digital equipment can provide.

Many of our clients have a combination of large jobs and small jobs throughout the year. For them, we recommend combining their large and small jobs into a single press run called a gang run. Because it’s one company that we’re working with, we can ensure that their pieces won’t interfere with each other much, and since the large job has already paid for the setup, the only thing necessary for the small job is a little bit of extra paper and some cutting time. It’s basically free printing!

We’ve been working with Theatre Puget Sound, the theatre support organization in our area for a long time, and I recently spoke with their staff about how we could help some of the smaller theatres in our area to be able to afford to print locally. What we came up with is a variation on the internet production strategy, but localized and personalized for our area. Starting this month, once a month we will produce a press run of 1,000 or more postcards which can be purchased in shares by area theatres. Because we are keeping it local we can still maintain a personal relationship with the companies that we are working with, ensuring a better customer experience as well as a better quality final product. Because the cost of the press run is split between a number of different organizations in our community, each theatre only pays a fraction of the cost of the full press run.

Thoughts or comments? Email peter@savagecolor.com and let us know.