In a "typical" sheetfed printing job with stitching, how does the cost break out by percentage?

In a "typical" sheetfed printing job (40" press) with stitching, approximately how does cost break out by percentage for each part of the job (prepress/proofs, print, paper, ink, cutting, packaging, stitching, etc)?


What is a typical print job for a 40” press for one buyer or printer is completely atypical for another. The buyer would first need to answer a lot of questions to determine what typical actually means. What is the paper? What is the quantity? What is the finished size? One color, two color, four color? Saddle stitch or prefect binding? Varnish or lamination? Spot colors? Turn-around time? How will the job be finished? Any scores or perforations? How will it be packaged?

Paper is one of the more fixed costs of printing. Just about everyone pays the same price for the same sheet of paper, although there are certainly some economies of scale. However, the cost per sheet can vary by huge amounts depending on color, brightness, finish, weight and other factors. Paper is usually a substantial part of the total price, but if you are printing 100 copies of a job, pre-press costs could be an even larger percentage of the total than the paper.

For example: suppose you have a 36 page 8.5 x 11 4/c job and you requested high resolution color proofs on each page. That might cost you close to $1000 for proofs alone. If a low resolution proof is suitable, it might cut your proofing cost in half. On a short run job, that is a far more significant percentage of the total cost than on a long-run job.

In the same way, as the number of impressions for a job go up, the relative percentage of pre-press costs goes down considerably. If you are paying $25 a plate for a 4-color job, that $100 is a fixed price for 100 copies or 100,000 copies. It is a much higher percentage of the total cost of a 100 run job than of a 100,000 run job.

But there is another way to answer the question. Typically, printers establish hourly rates for each facet of the production operations, which depend largely on the cost of the machinery being used and the cost of labor. As a ballpark figure, many printers charge around $100/hour for pre-press production, perhaps $300/hour to run a 4/c 40” press, and maybe $60/hour for machine binding and $40 for hand binding. Knowing the actual figures your printer uses for each separate step of the production process could help in evaluating the percentage of costs applied to each job.

There are dozens of specific factors that could skew the costs of each process on any print job, so there are no real rules of thumb for determining what percentage each part of the job would be.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at
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