Don't Sell Prepress Short

Printers are focused on their prepress departments this summer because of changes made by Microsoft and Apple to their operating systems. On the heels of Microsoft ending support for Windows XP, Apple announced it is no longer supporting OS 10.6 Snow Leopard. For a number of printers, this means a new investment in hardware and software to deal with the upgrades. It also means new procedures for work-arounds to deal with problems created by the move.

Because of the upgrades, some printers are finding older equipment and software won’t run properly on the new operating system and must be replaced. Some vendors have been slow to adopt the new upgrades and printers are still waiting for new drivers and other upgrades. In most cases, it means that printers will have to spend money and it is more important than ever that their prepress department is profitable.

Printers must revisit their pricing procedures. Average prepress hourly rates used by successful printers have risen to over $100 an hour, with design work priced even higher. More printers are building standard prepress support pricing into their print prices to help assure margins are met, especially when using customer-created files. Handling and preflighting fees for customer-created files are now common even if they are hidden in the overall price of the job.

To assure profitability, printers should:

• Review overall prices. Are profits low because you aren’t charging enough? Typesetting and design are a labor-intense function using highly skilled labor. Are you giving it away? When was the last time you raised prepress prices?

• Charge more for design work. There is a different because customers will pay more for original created design work and perceive it has a higher value than typesetting.

• Compare total selling price of prepress functions to prepress wages. Successful shops typically have sales four times higher than the prepress wage. It depends on the product mix, but shops with more design work and database management support for VDP usually see much higher sales in prepress.

• Separate negatives, plates, and other prepress work from typesetting and design. Sales may be good, but you want to make sure simple work hasn’t hidden the fact you aren’t charging enough for typesetting and design.

• Review pricing strategy for customer-created files. Print shops lose money in small increments here, but it mounts up quickly. Add $10 every job that goes through prepress and see if anyone even notices.

• Compare the selling price to the time spent on the job. Printers should have a procedure to capture time spent on unique work done by the prepress department staff. The prepress staff should measure the time it takes to do the unique design or prepress work to help determine the price.

• Charge for author alterations. Proofs are to help correct any errors made when typesetting and assembling a job. If a customer uses the proof to redesign the piece, copyedit the text, or any other task that changes the original order, the printer should charge for the time to make those alternations. There is no charge to correct typos, but a customer should be paying if they design to redesign the original work.

• Train the CSRs and sales staff how to price prepress, typesetting, and design. Learning to price still takes time after the pricing procedures are in place. The production manager and the prepress manager should be reviewing the pricing done by the sales staff to make sure it follows the company’s pricing procedures. The production manager needs to assure the additional costs over the estimate are included on the final invoice. Reviewing and providing feedback from prepress to the sales staff helps assure the printer is getting paid for the work done.

Companies do make money in selling prepress, typesetting, and design services. With the proper pricing discipline, your company can too.


John Giles is a consultant and the 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 at @JohnG247 and His blogs can be found at and at To order John’s books, visit