Getting the Most Out of Your Catalog Printer

Marketing via catalog can be a daunting task.  Just printing a catalog has it’s own set of core competencies that you’ll need to develop.  Here is some information you’ll need in order to start…

Getting Print Bids From Catalog Printers:

If you look at a catalog printer’s price quote, and you’re not already in the catalog business, you may be awfully confused. I know I was the first time I got a catalog print quote.

The thing is, with a catalog printer you’re not just getting a quote on printing alone. The most efficient catalog printers — and the only ones from which you should get quotes — also do the following:

* Bind the catalog and any other materials, such as an order form, together. Many times I’ve had materials printed in addition to the catalog that were bound or blown in. Most companies don’t bind in order forms anymore. However, other inserts, such as special offers for different market segments, still get bound in. Many times this printed material gets printed elsewhere and shipped to the printer for binding.

* Print the customers’ names, addresses and associated postal barcodes on the outside of the catalog and inside the order form. They also print additional messages and special offers on the outside of the catalog and the order form.

* Sort the catalogs out to take advantage of postal discounts, and then palettize them based on this sortation.

* Truck the catalogs closer to the end reader by delivering them — on the same truck as other catalogs to save money — to the Bulk Mail Centers (BMC) and Sectional Center Facilities (SCF).

All of these processes, plus plate making, shipping bounceback copies to your offices and other miscellaneous charges, get line items on your price quote. 

Which is why I say that it’s a good idea to make friends with your printer. 

Seriously, a good printer rep will be looking to mail your catalog in the most efficient way possible. Work with it to determine the most efficient trim size and number of pages.

Catalog postal rates are determined by the weight of the catalog. Also, since catalog printers have different press efficiencies, ask yours whether plates of eight, 12 or 16 pages work better. Also, ask which trim size fits its presses for the best pricing.

Once you’ve discussed all of the possibilities with your potential printer, have it take the quote and put it in a spreadsheet, projected out by the amount of catalogs you’re planning to mail. I regularly plan out an entire year in advance, but for the purposes of long-range planning, I’ve had printers develop print models for three to five years out.

When getting print quotes from multiple vendors, take the first quote you get and use that as a standardized form. Get each printer to follow the same format.

As always, please feel free to fire off a comment using the form below.  For more info see next weeks article.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing and a professor of direct marketing at Miami International University of Art and Design. He can be reached at

One thought on “Getting the Most Out of Your Catalog Printer

  1. Frank Casale says:

    Hi Jim,

    Read your Nov 14th and thought that you may want to clarify the explaination of the way postal rates are charged. Some readers may think postage is only determined by weight.

    Most catalogs are classified as either flats or letter rate, the size being the determining factor of which base rate is used. The flats rate for a catalog is substantially more than the letter rate.

    Enter the variables of machineable vs non machineable, automatable, postal sorts, addressing, compliance, etc and you have the start of the US Postal Rate structure.

    A common flat size is approximately 8.125″ wd x 10.500″ ht and can vary somewhat in either direction. Weight can be no more than 3.3 oz and must comply with the USPS physical standards, which can be found in the USPS Domestic Mail Manual, Section 301.

    Letter Rate
    The letter rate catalogs, commonly known as “slim jims” can be no more than 6.125″ wd and can be of varing heights. Unlike the flat piece weight of 3.3 oz, “slim jims” can be no more than 3.0 oz. There are additional requirements for “slim jims”, that if not adheared to will result in them being charged at the flat rate. (Caution: some of the letter rates that appear in the Domestic Mail Manual show 3.3 oz for some letter rate products – “Slim Jim” catalogs are 3.0 oz)

    The Post Office does a pretty good job of explaining it all in the Domestic Mail Manual, which has a full description of rates and pecifications on their website:

    Section 201 deals with letter rate mail and section 301 deals with flats. There is a blue drop down menu along the left side that will take the reader to the rate charts.

    One important item that will lower overall postage cost is the ability to co-mail with other catalogers. There’s too many areas to touch on that subject here, but I’d be happy to discuss it with you. Maybe that’s a good topic for a future article.

    Hope that this is helpful – I’m in business to help catalogers and direct mailers reduce wasted dollars.


    Frank Casale

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