How to Make Your Print Marketing More Affordable

Print newsletters have been the default communications tactic for nonprofits forever.  Even though I now believe the default should be an e-newsletter, and we are seeing more and more nonprofits drop their print newsletters in favor of email,  print still remains an important tactic for many organizations.

If you decide that sending a print newsletter or other print communications really is the best approach for your audience and for your organization, consider these five steps to reduce your costs. (I’ll share more money-saving tips during Wednesday’s webinar, Nonprofit Marketing on Next to No Budget.)

Ask Your Printer to Recommend Changes. One of the best untapped resources for lowering your print budget is your printing provider. Call up your account representative at your printer and tell him or her that you are considering dropping the newsletter entirely because of the expense of producing it (you won’t be the only one).

Explain that you would like to keep sending it out, but you need to make some changes to make it more affordable. Ask for suggested changes to the paper, format, length, inks, etc. that could bring down the price. Most printers will jump on this right away; if they don’t, take copies of your current newsletter to other competitive print shops and see what they’d suggest.

Reduce the Size. Paper is a huge portion of your printing costs (typically 30-50%), so cutting the number of pages and reducing the size of the pages can significantly reduce your printing costs. The pieces of paper that are run through the printing press are much larger than what you end up with in your hands. Reducing the finished size of your publication by as little as a half-inch can change the way your individual pages are arranged on those bigger sheets of paper, which means you have to pay for fewer of those big sheets.  Changing the size of your document can also reduce your mailing costs. If your printer is also your mailhouse, ask for revised mailing estimates as well.

Use Thinner, Off-White Paper. Changing the weight of the paper (how thick it feels) and the brightness of the paper (how white it is) can also reduce the cost. Just how white does the paper really need to be, especially if you are covering it mostly with text? Subtle changes in brightness that few people will notice can save you quite a bit of money long-term.  And just how heavy should each sheet feel in your hands? The brighter white and the heavier a sheet of paper is, the more expensive the paper will be. The difference in cost between the same sheet of paper in a different weight can be as much as 10-15% of your paper costs. One cost-effective approach for annual reports or other larger documents is to use a heavier, more expensive paper for the cover to give the document the right look and feel, but to use a more affordable house sheet of paper for the insides.

Don’t Be Too Picky About Colors. The more colors you use in traditional offset printing, the more expensive your print job will be. Even if you decide to print in full-color, you can still reduce your expenses by printing strictly in four-color process, rather than requesting full-color plus specific PMS colors. Instead, convert all of your PMS colors to their CMYK equivalent. You can use the Pantone Color Bridge to see the differences in the colors using the two different processes.

The only time this has been a real issue in my experience is when a nonprofit is working with a corporate sponsor that insists their logo appear in certain PMS colors.  Depending on the actual colors, conversion to CMYK may not be a big deal and the sponsor may be just fine with that. But if they insist on the additional PMS colors, you may want to consider asking that sponsor to cover the cost difference, if it really is a significant increase in cost (ask your printer to provide specifics).

Prepare Your Files Correctly. The further along in the printing process that you get, the more expensive it is to make changes. Make sure your documents are proofread several times and approved by everyone who needs to see them well before you send them to the printer. Also ensure that you have prepared your digital files properly for your printer. It’s not as simple as handing over the file from the computer program you used to create the document. You’ll also need to supply copies of fonts and high-resolution images.  Using the wrong or mixed color profiles is another common problem. (Don’t know the difference between RGB, PMS and CMYK? Talk to your printer or a graphic designer before submitting your files to a printer). When your printer has to fix any of these problems with your files, you get billed for them.

What tips can you share for reducing your print expenses? Leave a comment on the blog.

P.S. Join us on August 12 for Nonprofit Marketing on Next to No Budget for more money-saving tips.

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  • Sheila Sky

    The largest savings can be had by gang-printing. Many printers run multiple projects for different customers on a single sheet once or twice a week. You must adopt a standardized size and paper as well as accept scheduling constraints, but it can cut costs significantly.

  • Kivi, while lots of this is great advice as usual, you fumbled the ball on a couple of points. I admire and respect you expertise in the nonprofit field but some of the printing advice may mean well, but is not accurate. Too involved to get into here, so I posted a comments on my own blog (“Print 4A Purpose” @ since it would be such a long post. But for the most part, printers out there doing work for nonprofits are already doing it at such thin margins there is no room for “cut the price or else” negotiations. Fact is, many printers are running jobs at a loss just to keep the presses running.

    I hope you understand. Printing currently is a “nonprofit” business. But I still enjoy working on projects for Boy Scouts, Memory Walk, and Boys & Girls Clubs at reduced pricing. Sometimes reduces down to zero.

    • Hi David,

      No hard feelings at all! I’m thrilled that a printer is taking the time to actually talk to nonprofits about these issues and to supply your point of view, so kudos!

      On your points, the cold reality is that nonprofits ARE dropping their print newsletters left and right because of the expense. So my suggestion that they tell the printer that isn’t about throwing anyone under the bus, it’s the reality. If someone who normally prints a 12-page newsletter with you says they can’t do it anymore, I assume you’d want the chance to talk about doing something less than that, rather than doing nothing at all. That’s all I’m suggesting.

      As for your statements about older people preferring print, you are treading in dangerous waters on that one. It really, really depends who you are talking about. I admit I’m treading in equally dangerous waters by advocating email without getting specific, but I don’t think anyone can argue with the overall demographics trend. The best advice is for nonprofits to know THEIR lists and to ASK their folks whether they want email or print, and to do some testing. Older people use email! Of course, direct mail fundraisers can make their case too, no doubt.

      On the paper pricing, thanks for sharing your more current perspectives on that. My last big print buying experiences were about three years ago, and without a doubt I can tell you that our printer made the suggestions I’m passing on here. That very well may have been specific to our situation, so if I’m generalizing my experience where I shouldn’t be, my bad on that one (we did have some quirks given that particular client with recycled content, etc.).

      Thanks David!

      Here is the direct link to David’s response

  • Great article, print will remain important, it’s a great way to convey information, not all answers lie in the digital approach.

  • Ashley Smith

    Great article! I can sympathize with David and his concern over telling people to cut printing costs. I was in the print world (journalism) for a while myself, and I used to cringe when people said that they wanted to cut subscriptions to our paper because they can just get the info on the internet. But we have to face reality. Print will always have a place in the world, but printers must change their strategies and come up with new solutions for both nonprofits and for profit businesses. Instead of just offering print services, considering wading into the waters of email marketing. Offer a service that prints the company’s/nonprofit’s newsletter and takes that newsletter in electronic form and helps the company/nonprofit with their email newsletter as well. Most nonprofits (and even many large companies) don’t understand the digital world and if their printer offered digital/print services, many would jump at the opportunity as opposed to hiring a PR firm or an employee at $50,000 a year.

    I am the Director of Communications for a decent size United Way in North Carolina. I have had first-hand experience with this recently as we have looked at how to cut costs. All of our surveys and research locally have showed that almost 75% percent of our target populations prefer to receive information though either a website or email as opposed to print or mail. The world is going digital and if the print world can’t figure out how to cut costs and offer new and innovative services they will be left behind. Keep the articles coming.

  • Enjoyed the post! You’ve included some interesting cost saving tips. I couldn’t agree more with double-checking the CD before sending to the printer. It’s a small step, but so necessary to avoid having to go back and spend more time (and money) on a project.

    Another angle for non-profits to consider with regards to printing needs is to look at a social enterprise. We often promote the values of community, giving back and learning but do we always live those values as an organization? At Framework, we support the “Community Print Club”, which is encouraging 50 non-profits to join a print-club initiative (In Canada -with Phoenix Printshop, a budding Toronto social purpose enterprise). For those who might be interested, there is lots of information on the Community Print Club Facebook Fan page

  • A little late in the conversation, but a couple things come to mind. (disclosure first) husby and I own a printing company (Fieldstone Press).

    1) reduce size of paper – we did this for a client and result was that slicing a tiny bit off each side we reduced the weight so made the mailings fall into first class postage rates. 2) by printing directly to press using variable data there is no need to use a mail house, attach mailing labels etc. as the addresses are printed on the fly.


    ps – enjoy your blog

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