High-end production values on a budget

01. Milk your contacts
There's no better way to find a reliable printer than a glowing word-of-mouth recommendation from a fellow designer, who may already have learned the hard way who to avoid. "We're regularly approached by print reps wanting to introduce themselves, but trusted recommendations can save you considerable time," advises Studio Output's Michelle Jamieson. "Paper merchants can also give you an unbiased opinion on who's reliable or is currently producing good work."

02. Make the most of special finishes
Special techniques such as foil blocking, spot-UV and metallic or fluorescent Pantone inks can actually be relatively inexpensive if you use them wisely - a lot of foil coverage on one quarter of your cover, for instance, will be much cheaper than spreading the same amount of foil over the whole area, because the plate is smaller. "Used subtly, foil can add class," argues Elliot Jay Stocks, creator of self-published typography magazine 8 Faces. "Extra finishes require extra work, though: you need to prepare files differently. Your printer will usually be happy to help."

03. Find an ambitious printer
Many printers specialise in a particular type of output, such as simple stationery, small brochures or flyers - and any bespoke requirements may need to be outsourced on your behalf, at extra cost. "Others invest heavily in machinery to enable them to achieve the best results," explains London designer Radim Malinic, whose series of perfect-bound, foil-blocked folio books have led directly to client commissions. "Do your research, and request samples from each company to see what they're capable of in-house."

04. Pitch for sponsorship
If standards are high but budgets are tight, ask your printer or paper merchant if they'd be interested in sponsorship in return for a credit and a logo. It worked for Amelia Gregory, creator of Amelia's Magazine - a title synonymous with experimental treatments, from glow-in-the-dark ink to scratch-and-sniff, during its 10-issue lifetime. "You may have to contact a lot of companies before you find one that's interested," she admits. "Try looking at other similar publications that have been sponsored first."

05. Challenge your printers
Good printers love to be challenged, and might even knock something off the price if you produce something valuable for their portfolio as well as yours. If you want to try a new idea or technique, get them involved and excited about it too. "Make sure that everyone knows exactly how the finished product should look, even if it means making a rudimentary mock-up," adds Michelle Jamieson. "It's easier to explain this way, and can save you valuable production time."

06. Get the best you can afford
Don't be tempted to scrimp on paper or print quality if you can help it - it'll result in a more impressive end product that people are prepared to pay more for. "There's no point cutting corners," argues Elliot Jay Stocks. "If you're going to take the plunge and print something well, you might as well print it really well."

07. Use the rule of three
Never accept your first print quote - try to get at least three for the same specs, and compare them. Even if you prefer a more expensive printer, you've got the leverage to ask them to match their competitor's costs, which they often will. "If the print costs are unusually high, ask how they can be reduced or whether any other methods can create the same effect," says Jamieson. "Rather than negotiate costs for every job, I choose the projects that it'll have the biggest effect on, and push them harder."

08. Keep an eye out
If you spot a beautiful piece of print that demonstrates a finish you like, find out who printed it and contact them. If it's anything particularly bespoke or unusual, keep their details on file. "I found my printer in the credits on For Print Only, a blog everyone should read," reveals Stocks. "A representative was happy to come to my office just to discuss the potential of us working together - never underestimate the importance of customer service."

09. Understand economies of scale
Generally speaking, unit costs will decrease as your print-run increases, particularly when printing lithographically rather than digitally. For relatively expensive treatments such as foil blocking, you can also save a fortune over time by keeping the foiled area consistent from issue to issue - for the logo on your cover, for instance. That way, the printer only has to produce one plate that can then be reused, with the cost per unit decreasing each time.

10. Start high and work down
When specifying a job to your printer, start at the very top end of the scale - the absolute best-case scenario for paper stock, bindings, inks and any special treatments you'd like to use. Then gradually de-specify or negotiate until it hits budget. "Every project is different, but decide what makes it unique and therefore must stay, then look at reducing or losing the other finishes or elements first," is Jamieson's approach.

11. Support local suppliers
While it may prove cheaper to bulk-print in China, you won't have as much control - and mistakes could be far more costly, as they won't become apparent until the final printing is done. "It's better to develop a personal relationship with a local printer, who will let you okay the final proofs before production," believes Gregory. It's also kinder to the environment - which you can shout about in your publication: "Recycled paper and vegetable-based inks are easy to come by too, and place less stress on dwindling resources."

12. Be sparing with your proofs
The first issue of 8 Faces was produced digitally as a showcase piece for Stocks' printing firm - who gave a sizeable discount in return for a credit. For lithographic printing, however, ordering accurate proofs can stack the costs up: "Keep costs down by proofing everything digitally, and then ordering 'wet' litho proofs for select pages right at the end of the process," is Stocks' advice.

13. Stick to your guns - to a point
Once you've worked out the budget you're willing to invest in good-quality printing, make an effort to stick to it - but be realistic, and never cheeky, as this can be counterproductive. "I've seen paper stock get cheaper literally overnight, simply because the printers wanted to carry out my project, and commissioned extra copies for their own promotion," reveals Radim Malinic.

14. Get hold of samples
When choosing a paper stock for your self-publishing venture, bear in mind function, form and budget. What will be printed on it - glossy photography or simple type? Do you want a tactile experience throughout, or to throw all your money at the cover? And, crucially, what can you afford? "Always request paper samples or dummies," says Jamieson. "A swatch in a brochure is not sufficient, especially if you're unfamiliar with the stock."

15. Make every page count
If you're investing your hard-earned cash in a stunning piece of print, make sure you do it justice - especially if it'll double as a piece of self-promo. "Printers can give you a blank mock-up for your reference, so you can plan each page before the ink hits the paper," says Malinic. "Fill it with work that'll stand the test of time."

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