Digital Original: How to Make Prepress Profitable

Prepress has always been a black hole of profits for printers. It is easy to determine if you are making money selling desktop publishing and design services. How much did you pay your prepress/designer this month and how much did you bill? Did you charge more than it cost you to produce?

There are two reasons that printers lose money in prepress: either they don’t charge enough for the services they provide or they don’t charge at all. Sadly, many printers believe that prepress and desktop publishing services have to be loss leaders to get the printing work. What they lose in cutting their prepress prices is rarely made up in the press work margins.


Charge for Value

What do you have to do to make money with desktop publishing and design? Charge a fair price for the services and monitor the time spent on each job. Profitable printers are charging $75 to $150 an hour for their prepress work. They charge more for a job if it requires custom design. They know the difference in value to the customer between simple typesetting and custom design.

Profitable printers actively go after customers who need good design. They call on prospects who are involved in marketing their products and services and who understand the value of custom design. These printers don’t design business cards—they create corporate identities. When they provide a customer with a unique and memorable design, they charge more for it.

Printers who don’t make money in prepress just throw a job onto the desktop publisher’s desk and expect it to be created or fixed as quickly as possible. Typesetting and design are treated the same and the salespeople charge the minimum because “this shouldn’t take long.”

Problem Prevention

Having production standards for design and desktop publishing would fix this problem. How long should it take for the different types of jobs to be completed in prepress? How much creative time should be budgeted for design work? What are the requirements for customer-created files? Once the production standards are set, then the owners and sales staff can teach the standards to the customers.

Customer-created files still cause the most problems in prepress. Unless the customers provide a print-ready PDF file, the printer will have to spend time and money getting the file ready for print. The result is usually a job that the customer isn’t happy with and that loses money for the printer.

Almost any customer can now turn a file into a PDF file on their computer. All the printer has to do is ask for it. Free programs are available on the Internet to help customers create good PDF files. Setting standards for photo resolution, fonts, and color can help avoid issues with these files. If problems do sneak by, they can easily be fixed with the proper PDF editing tools such as Adobe Acrobat and Enfocus Pitstop. There are also low-cost and free PDF editors available online. The free OpenOffice Draw has a PDFImport extension for common editing help. A Google search of PDF editing software will provide pages of PDF editing help at little or no cost.

Not having standards squeezes away the time the prepress staff should have for other profitable activities. Variable data printing could be a profit center if the prepress staff had time to learn it. Website design is another profit center being added by printers whose staff has time to learn and do it.


Commit to Profitability

My recommendations for how to make money in prepress are simple. Have standards and procedures for customers about what files you take, and charge more for customers who do not follow your rules. Train everyone who deals with customers to explain the prepress standards and procedures. Have proper PDF editing tools and provide time for your prepress staff to learn how to use them. Charge a higher price for custom graphic design. Use online typesetting and graphic design services to support your internal prepress staff.

Standards and procedures backed by staff training will quickly turn your black hole of prepress into a profit center that can drive the company. It is up to the owner to make the commitment that he or she no longer wants to lose money with prepress services.


John Giles is a consultant and technology director for CPrint International. He is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList”. He can be reached at 954-224-1942 or You can also find John on Twitter at @JohnG247 and LinkedIn. Read his blog at Order John’s books from Crouser & Associates (