Can You Really Resist Color?


Times have changed. When AlphaGraphics opened 9 years ago, we had a Canon color copier. It was whiz bang! It printed beautiful color, mostly on uncoated laser bond (spruced up typing paper), one side only and you couldn’t get the same piece to print the same colors two days in a row no matter how much you calibrated the thing.

And color copies were expensive! In those days, grandmoms would come in with photos of their grandchildren. They’d want to play with the size and color and get it all just right. We’d explain to them that each copy was $1.45 and they’d fall out on the floor. They’d pass out right there in the middle of the printshop, flowerdy print dresses, funny hats and all. We’d get ’em up with some smelling salts, encourage them, and walk them out to their cars.

The Canon was good for entertainment, but not for much of anything else. It printed at 6 pages per minute top speed, but it jammed every 3 sheets. We had one grandmom go completely senile waiting for copies of her grandkids. She forgot why she had come into the shop, wandered out the door and we never did see her again. She left her car in the parking lot and they found her in Unadilla the next day, asleep in the back of a school bus.

In those days we did a lot of 2 color printing for businesses. Process color was only done by the big shops on big presses and it was REALLY EXPENSIVE. If a small business wanted a brochure, it was usually 2 color or black and white. We had an advantage in Middle Georgia because our press could handle gloss paper with little difficulty.

Times have changed. Today’s audience expects color on almost everything. And with the evolution of technology, prices have come down amazingly. Our digital color press prints at over 10 times the speed of the old Canon and we do 4 color press work in house almost every day. We don’t have a way to make color copies any more, so we’ve lost the grandmoms’ business.

Some of our customers haven’t figured this out yet, though. This post is for them.

Here’s a chart:

This nice graph shows the price of a “typical” trifold brochure, printed all different kinds of ways. Don’t try to figure out too much about the prices from this . . . the prices on an actual job will vary with paper, design time required, and about exactly 273 other factors that are way too complicated for this post. There are a couple of things to notice here:

  1. Color prices are still higher than black ink or 2 color, but not by an awful lot. The prices have come down dramatically. It is possible to print, cut and fold 5000 brochures for around $1000. That’s $.20 each.
  2. Digital color (the green line) has made it possible to print even very small quantities at a reasonable price. The digital price for 500 gloss trifold brochures is less than $500. You can double the quantity for around $250 more.
  3. Because every impression costs the same on a digital machine, the prices get out of line around the 1200 quantity mark. But this is where the printing press kicks in. Small format 4 color presses are competitive and practical from about the 1000 sheet range and up.

Here’s another chart:
This chart shows the price gap between the 2 color version and the full color version of the same trifold brochure at various quantities. The line shows the price premium for the full color job. The bars indicate the additional cost of each piece. A few more things to note:

  1. Noted market researchers and nine out of 10 dentists cited on television commercials agree that color attracts more attention than black and white.The extra “bang” for the buck doesn’t cost much more.
  2. Even at small quantities, the cost of adding color isn’t much. It’s approximately 1/3 more at 1000 copies of this brochure.
  3. At larger quantities, the cost/piece to add color is low. On our press, it’s in the $.03 to $.06 range. Would you spend 6 cents more to attract a good customer?

So what’s the point?

Secretly, Poor Richard has always wanted to be an economist and this was a chance to play with graphs and make a point, too. If you’re going to spend the money to create marketing or communications pieces for your business, do them in COLOR . Honestly, with the Internet and all of the color marketing collateral that’s out there now, black and white looks kind of cheezy. We can do a lot with 2 color, but there is nothing like a full color brochure or sell sheet to get the message across.

And it will make your printer happy.


2 Responses to Can You Really Resist Color?

  1. Pen says:

    Yeah, but… color can be overdone.

    There’s a zombie project — the project that won’t die and eats your brain — I have been working on that proves that color is not always a good thing. At one point, I had envisioned a nice two-color piece with crisp black and white pictures on a sumpuous stock… but, alas, they wanted color… glossy freakin’ color.

    So, I had a nice color palette picked out based on some other publications from this client. But that wasn’t enough… they wanted a different color for every section.

    I cringed. I did the job how they wanted it. I looked at it and thought to myself, “Wow, this must be what it looks like when Rainbow Brite vomits.”

    Color is nice… within limits.

  2. poor richard says:

    There is no accounting for taste . . . or the lack thereof.

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