When I was in college, we had a sales rep from a paper company visit our class to discuss printing. I don’t think dentists see that many shades of white. In other words, my first exposure to the behind-the-scenes world of print was an intimidating one.

But that was quite a few years ago and since that time, I’ve been able to pick up a few bits of printing knowledge. We deal with clients from every industry and I’m amazed how many still believe that a short-run, tri-fold is all “they can afford.” Not true. Here are five tricks and tips to help you get more creative with your production and save some money along the way.

1. Quantity

Almost every commodity you buy offers some sort of volume discount or bulk pricing. Commercial printing is the same. The more of something you buy, the less it costs per piece. One of the main reasons for this is the time it takes to set up a printing press. Think about printing a document at work. Whether you print one page or five, you still have to find the file, make sure your printer settings are right, load the paper and click “print.” The majority of the work is in the set up. In printing, it can be just marginally more expensive to print more of something. A run of 500 postcards might cost $100, but it might only cost $125 to print 1,000 of the same postcard. It all comes down to knowing where the price breaks are.

As a general rule, print runs have breaks at 250, 500, 1,000, 2,500, 5,000, 10,000 copies and so on. You may only want 2,000 copies of that postcard, but it might be a nominal cost to get 2,500 copies. Ask your printer about where the breaks would be.

2. Size

Size counts for something, but not as much as society might tell you. Unlike quick-run printers like FedEx Kinkos, commercial presses use huge sheets of paper to print multiple copies at the same time. As long as you can fit that 11×17 brochure on that large sheet an even number of times (for front and back printing), you’ll still have a good price per piece.

Obviously an 8.5×11 brochure uses less ink and paper per piece than an 11×17 brochure, so the cost will be lower. But, if you remember that the majority of printing costs come from the set up, the difference in costs between printing 500  8.5×11 brochures versus 500 11×17 brochures might not be so significant on per-piece pricing.

3. Folds

To make a fold, your printed document has to run through a special “folding” machine.  Generally speaking, the more folds your piece has the more it’s going to cost. But don’t let folds sway you from finding creative solutions to get your message across.

Think about a standard, tri-fold brochure. That document has two folds, so it needs to run through the folding machine twice. If it’s already running through the machine twice, why limit yourself to the tri-fold shape? Use a z-fold to expand your message like an accordion. Try two half folds to unveil your message sequentially in quadrants. Experiment with a gate fold that opens to show one, large panel if you want to build up and then reveal one strong message. A limited budget does not limit the possibility of making great work.

4. Commercial Versus Quick-Run Printers

Quick-run printers have their place. Like their name states, quick-run printers produce your materials fast – usually within 24-48 hours. They also work well for print runs under 250 copies. The pitfall to quick-run printers is that many have a set rate per sheet of paper. And often times, that $.49 per sheet is significantly higher than what a commercial printer would charge for a higher volume of the same piece. There are a number of reasons for this, but it all comes down to volume and handling of ink and paper.

Most quick-run printers simply don’t have the printing presses capable of printing large sheets. Instead, they have to use regular 8.5×11 or 11×17 sheets of paper. That means that when they order paper, that paper needs to be cut and processed more at the paper mill. Because of the nature of small runs, quick-run printers don’t use the same amount of ink as commercial printers. The additional handling and volume costs eventually get passed down to the consumer.

5. Brokers

Loyalty is important and a strong relationship with a single printer can relieve a good deal of stress. But this article is about price. If you don’t have a relationship with a single printer, it may be a good idea to find a print broker. A print broker is someone who shops around to find the best deals for its customers.

No two printers are alike in terms of capabilities, price, delivery or specialization. A smart broker knows how to leverage a company’s strengths to get the best price with the best turnaround. And since a broker is price savvy, the broker’s gross price is often lower than what the end user would receive if he or she were to shop around.

To review, here are the five ways to produce great print materials without a hefty price tag.

1. Quantity. Ask your print representative or broker about price breaks and crunch the numbers based on per-piece pricing.

2. Size. Explore options and prices with various sizes. An additional nickel per piece may give you the real estate to deliver a more memorable message.

3. Folds. Think about folds during the design phase. Use their uniqueness to tell a stronger story without raising the costs.

4. Commercial vs. Quick-Run Printers. Plan ahead and work with a commercial printer to get better rates.

5. Brokers. Let someone do the shopping for you to get the best price and turnaround.

Printing is a crazy world of inks, paper textures and whites – a whole lotta shades of white. But if you know the basics and can understand the printing process, you’ll be money ahead – literally.