With a small printing press in your garage, basement or shop --
accept and contract (at first) for printing jobs that are too
small for your competition. The possibilities include doing jobs
for stationery stores, advertisers, sub-contract work for larger
printers and the local newspaper, as well as custom retail orders
such as wedding announcements, personalized greeting cards,
advertising flyers and the like.
Most printers, including many small town newspapers have a
problem with very small (less than 1,000) orders because of their
set-up costs and the fact that their system is geared towards
large order (small ones can actually be a nuisance).
They have acquired presses, typesetters, computer oriented
equipment at a very high cost -- so they can do the big jobs
efficiently. In most cases, their fancy equipment requires a lot
of work, time and expertise just to set up a job regardless of
how many copies are to be printed.
Offset printers may waste several hundred copies just getting
their equipment properly aligned! That's why they may charge
$250 for 100 copies and only $300 for a thousand.
Some commercial printers would be happy to sub contract their
small jobs. They can probably make more profit -- and keep their
customer too! Of course, you would return the favor by referring
or sub-contracting jobs that are too large for you.
Actually, there are three basic types of "printing". Although
our concern here is with the printing press (the old-fashioned
way), we should be aware of the basics of the other two methods.
Copy centers nowadays offer "printing" services -- they can print
in several different colors, reduce and expand, and they can
provide excellent master copies by the "cut and paste" system
(glue text, illustrations, logos, onto "masters" and then copy
Desktop computer systems are also fast coming onto the scene. A
computer system costing as little as $5,000 can produce finished
pages that look almost like magazine pages. Although both of the
above are used to produce "copy ready" masters for copiers and
photo-offset printers, these are normally very large jobs that a
small printer couldn't handle anyway.
The smaller printer's only real competition (aside from other
small printers) is the copy service and desktop publisher, both
of which are fairly expensive.
A desktop publisher would probably charge $25 to $50 to design a
master for a single page flyer. The customer would take the
finished flyer to a copy service and pay about 5 cents per page
to have them copied ("printed"). Total cost for 1000 flyers:
$75 - $100.
In contrast, a small printer could set the type in a few minutes
and run off 1,000 copies in an hour -- at a total cost of about
$5 (paper and ink) plus labor.
Obviously, the small printer can do the job for considerably
less, therefore, he can charge less and still make a good profit.
And, the customer only has to make one stop!
Small printing is an interesting and potentially profitable
business that is well adapted to a garage or shop operation.
One large room is usually adequate and it is an art that most
people can learn in a very short time. Kelsey (see Sources)
offers an impressive "Printer's Guide" for $2.50 that should be
especially helpful to the novice.
New printing press outfits start at around $300 for small (3" x
5") printing capacity and go on up to well over a thousand
dollars. Used ones are much cheaper and are becoming more
plentiful as more of the "biggies" upgrade to sophisticated
equipment and computers to go after the large jobs.
You should be able to find a suitable used press at a very good
price if you look around. Look under Business Equipment in large
city want-ads, where complete outfits are sometimes offered
(retirees, companies that are updating, as well as those that
Some of these outfits will include variations that can result in
increased opportunities. A printing operation that must get out
a paper every day and two magazines a month is concerned with
speed, capacity and labor costs.
When they upgrade, their old equipment has usually already been
depreciated out (the entire price they get for the equipment is
considered "profit" by the IRS). And, they need the room for the
new presses NOW -- so they are usually anxious to sell!
With their old equipment, a small business person (like you!) can
learn the business, do a variety of profitable jobs, and make a
very good living in the bargain. One of the first things to
learn is to maintain contact (business friendship) with one or
two larger printers.
Usually, they will be happy to advise you (after all, printing is
their "first love", too) as well as take care of any jobs that
are too big for you. Learn their rates -- what they can and
cannot do, and how long it will take them to do a job.
This is not only to get an idea of how you should operate, it is
also so you can still accept work that you cant' handle and "farm
it out" to the larger printers, who will give you a discount
(your commission). This way, you make a little profit instead of
none -- and keep your customers!
Another trick is to work with your customers to help them get the
most for their money (especially when it doesn't hurt your profit
For example, it is much cheaper to use one color ink on colored
paper than two colors of ink on white paper -- yet the effect is
virtually the same. Quite often, saving the customer a small
amount here and there will build customer confidence that no
amount of advertising could accomplish.
A printer is also concerned with "cuts". These are metal dies
that produce illustrations, logos and decorations other than
type. Most printers soon accumulate an assortment of cuts such
as borders and corner embellishments -- many of which are
available at a very low cost from printer supply houses.
When a customer wants his logo to appear in print, you will have
to send out the illustrations to have a cut made. Many large
printers make cuts and charge $5 or so per square inch. The
supply houses do too, but printers are cheaper (and faster, if
there is one in your own area).
The general rule for a logo is that the customer pays the entire
cost (sometimes the small printer adds a little for his trouble);
the printer keeps it, and all future use of it by that customer
is at no charge.
In the event the customer wants a personal copy of the cut,
charge him at least double, because he probably wants to let
another printer use it.
When you use it, you only charge him "wholesale", but if he wants
it, he must pay "retail" for it! If the cut is copyrighted, it
cannot be used for any other customer -- if it's not, but is
associated with that customer, ethics demand that you not use it
for other customers in the same area.
Of course if it is simply a common illustration, there is no
problem with using it for other customers. The one who needs it
first pays for it.
When you get started, consider buying or renting a copy machine
for VERY small orders and to enable you to make up sample
lay-outs by the "cut and paste" method, run off a copy and show
the customer a "proof" of the order.
A copier is also an excellent device to attract customers into
your place of business. Also, for about $100 or less, you can
get a new "roaster" attachment for small printing jobs. This is
a heater system that uses special inks that expand (curdle) when
heated, to look just like those expensive thermograph print jobs!
This produces very high quality looking business cards, for
Another high profit potential is to offer pictures on your
printing jobs. Have a large printer (or newspaper) make
photoengravure cuts to fit your press.
In addition to doing sub-contract work for larger printers and
stationery stores, there are literally thousands of printing jobs
that can be done for private individuals. Especially if there is
a good deal of competition in your area, you need to look around
to see where a good market might be.
Note that all you need is an idea for a couple of products or
services that are not now being adequately provided, or if they
are, they are inadequate or too expensive.
Some examples are: business cards, advertising sheets (flyers,
mail-outs), menus, forms, announcements, cards, programs (sports,
school plays), tickets, letterhead, personalized note pads,
resumes, and don't overlook printing a few copies of the local
poet's works! One printer, located near a college, specialized
in printed resumes whose letterhead includes the client's
One additional, potential profitable option is to print your own
products to sell: booklets, maps, guides, coupons or even a
small advertiser (paper).
See also B223, Publish a Home Business Index for Fast Profits,
and B254, Starting Your Own Co-op Coupon Business From Home.
Any of these suggestions can be used in combination with others
shown here, or that you might come up with.
For example, you could print your own "product between custom
orders, add a fast copy service, or even your own computer
typesetter and/or desktop system. The main thing to remember is
to do quality work and keep your word -- produce what you promise
WHEN you promise.
Before you even solicit that first commercial job, be confident
that you have practiced enough and "ruined enough paper" to feel
confident that you can do it right. Your most severe critic
should be YOURSELF.
THE KELSEY CO., Box 941, Meriden CT 06450. Printing equipment
and related supplies (paper, fonts of type, inks, woodcutting
tools, hot stampers, presses). Old, reliable company.
GRAPHIC ARTS TECHNICAL, 4615 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15214.
Printing supplies for the home printer.
TURNBAUGH PRINT SUPPLY, 104 Sporting Hill Rd., Mechanicsburg, PA
17055. New and used printing equipment and printing supplies.
PRINTING INSTITUTE OF AMERICA, 1730 Lynn St., Arlington, VA
22209. Information on starting a printing business.
GRAPHIC INTERNATIONAL, Box 4639, Margate, FL 33036. Trade
magazine for printers; features new and used equipment for sale.
INNES CO., Box 368, Northbrook, IL 60062, 312/564-5490.
Publishes IN PLANT PRINTER, trade magazine for printers.
AMERICAN PRINTER, Box 132113, Whitehall, OH 43213. Wholesale
printing supplies; info on starting in the business.
LELLI PRINTING & ADVERTISING, 2654 Cr 175, Rt 2, Loudonville, OH
44842. 419/994-5302. Write for current price list.
CREATE-A-BOOK, 6380 Euclid Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45236. Home base
book binding business (investment = $4300).
PERSONAL PUBLISHING, Box 390, Itasca, IL 60143. Trade magazine
for desktop publishers, especially beginners (features MacIntosh)
- $30 yr.
MECKLER PUBLISHING, 11 Ferry Lane West, West Port, CT 06880.
Publishes SMALL PRESS, trade magazine for small printers and
EMPRINT, 329 Gunekel, Dayton, OH 45410, 513/252-1452. Offers
used small photo offset printing presses.
R.R. BOWKER CO (XEROX CORP), 205 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10017,
212/916-1887. Publishes SMALL PRESS, bi-monthly trade magazine
for small printers and independent publishers.
DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC., 31 East 2nd St., Mineola, NY 11051.
Discount books, clip are, stencils, etc.
QUILL CORPORATION, 100 Schelter Rd., Lincolnshire, IL 60917-4700,
312/634-4800. Office supplies.
NEBS, 500 Main St., Groton, MA 04171, 800/225-6380. Office
IVEY PRINTING, Box 761, Meridan, TX 76665. Low-cost printing.
Write for price list.
SWEDCO, Box 29, Mooresville, NC 28115. 3 line rubber stamps,
business cards, etc.
ZPS, Box 581, Libertyville, IL 60048-2556. Business cards
(raised print - $11.50 per K) and letterhead stationery. Will
print your copy ready logo or design, even whole card.
Free Newsletter about Web site positioning
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