By Margie Dana

When you get something printed commercially, you can keep costs under control by paying attention to seven key things:

1. Work with the right print provider.

Printers are not created equal. Their capabilities are generally determined by what equipment they have (or have access to). Certain presses run certain types of products more efficiently, so choose your print provider carefully.

2. Communicate well.

You need to discuss a lot of things with your printer, including budgets, deadlines, specs, ancillary corporate materials, and your expectations for what constitutes a successful print job. The printer can't read your mind. Tell him everything you can about each job, and ask for his advice.

3. Plan early.

Work backwards from the desired delivery date when creating your job schedule. This will give you the time needed not only for printing, but also for post-press (finishing), delivery, and mailing/fulfillment. If you require special effects like laminating or embossing or engraving, your printer needs to know so that they're included in the production schedule.

4. Prepare complete job specs.

Printing is detail-driven manufacturing. Every job spec affects the final price. You have to prepare complete and accurate specs to get a reasonable estimate. When specs change (they always do), tell your printer. Put everything in writing.

5. Know that paper really matters.

Paper can account for about 30% of the cost of your print job, and there are lots of ways to save money with your choice and use of paper. Stick with standard sizes (multiples of 8 1/2 x 11"). Use house sheets if appropriate. Avoid bleeds. Talk with your printer about using the sheet efficiently so there's as little waste as possible. Go digital. Print only what you need.

6. Cross your own t's and dot your own i's.

It's your job to proofread your work before sending it to the printer. Take the time to do it right, because if you change copy once you receive a printer's proof, it will cost you (and possibly blow your schedule). Worse yet, if mistakes aren't caught until a job is printed, and you have signed off on the proof, it is your error, not the printer's.

7. Plan for mailing.

Is your job is entering the mail stream? Plan for this at the very beginning. Pay attention to the job's size, weight, shape, binding, packaging, and so on. Design the piece for maximum mailability. Take advantage of postal discounts - most of which are based on the level of sortation and depend on such criteria as volume and destination. Automation is the key when your piece is headed for the USPS.

In each of these seven categories, you have a lot of control over your printing costs. Over time, planning jobs so that they run efficiently and cost effectively becomes second nature to every professional print buyer. It's part of what makes this role so challenging, so creative, and so fulfilling.