Print Basics Part 1: Requesting a Quote


Over the last couple of weeks I've worked on a bunch of print jobs. I've had to source printers, request quotes, build files, prepare them for print, upload them to the printer, and even go on a couple of press checks. I've spend the majority of my career in the print world so all of this is second nature, but I understand that it isn't that way for everyone. A basic understanding of the different elements of print design will help you achieve the final printed product you have in mind. I've put together a print cheat sheet, which I will post in parts over the next couple of weeks, to explain the basics and provide you with the knowledge to ask for, and get, the final product you want. 

A photo of printing supplies


Part 1: Requesting a Quote from a Printer

When putting together a print piece, it is important to get a quote from a printer (or even better yet, from multiple printers) to make sure the cost of what you want is within your budget. Doing this before getting too far down the design route can save you time and money. When requesting a quote from a printer the more information we have about the job the more accurate the quote will be. Providing us with as much of the following information as possible, will allow us to get you the best quote we can.

Printers often request:

  • quantity
  • size
  • page count
  • paper stock
  • ink colors
  • bleed vs. non-bleed
  • binding (if applicable)
  • turnaround time


Total number of pieces to be produced.



Providing the finished size to the printer is pretty standard, but if your job has folds involved, for example a direct mail piece, providing the flat size will give the printer a better idea of the scope of the project. Also, if your piece incorporates any non-standard cuts or shapes (die cut) this would be a good place to include that information.

A diagram of Size options

Finished Size
Size of product after production is completed, as compared to flat size. Also called trimmed size.

Flat Size
Size of product after printing and trimming, but before folding, as compared to finished size.

Die Cut
To cut irregular shapes in paper using a die (a device for cutting, scoring, stamping, embossing and debossing).

Page Count

Total number of pages that a publication has. When quoting a multi-page document, include the cover, inside front cover, inside back cover, and back cover in the total page count or specify the total interior page count plus cover.


Paper Stock

When quoting paper stock the printer will need to know whether or not you want a coated or uncoated paper stock and the weight of paper stock. If you have a specific color, brand, or type (ie. Recycled, newsprint, biodegradable paper embedded with flower seeds) paper in mind, this would be the time to tell the printer. Not only do different papers cost different amounts, but printers do not stock every type of paper in-house so it is important to make sure that they carry it or can special order it.

Uncoated vs. Coated Paper
Uncoated papers have a rough, more natural feel to them. Uncoated paper has not been coated with substances that improves reflectivity and ink holdout and therefore are nonreflective and soak up more ink.

Coated Paper
Paper with substances that improves reflectivity and ink holdout. Coated papers have a smoother finish than uncoated papers. Coated paper is produced in four major categories; cast, gloss, dull and matte.


Weight generally refers to the thickness of the paper.

Cover Weight
Heavyweight paper used for invitations, program covers, postcards, business cards, and paperback book covers.

Text Weight
Lightweight paper commonly used for letterhead, envelopes, program insert sheets, and résumés.


Ink Colors

The printing process uses subtractive color. Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are subtractive colors. When we print these colors onto paper they absorb the light shining on the page and since our eyes receive no refl ected light from the paper, we perceive black. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and black are combined to make up other colors. Spot (PMS) color is also used in the printing process and is essentially an ink that is one specifi c color and is often used for exact color matching.

In color selectors

Four-color Process Printing
Technique of printing that uses black, magenta, cyan and yellow to simulate full-color images. Also called color process printing, full color printing and process printing.

Abbreviation for cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black), the four process colors.

Spot Color
One solid color ink applied to portions of a sheet. Used for exact color matching.

Spot colors are often referred to as PMS colors. PMS is an obsolete reference to the Pantone Matching System.

4/4 (Four-over-Four)
This is a pretty common shorthand used when communicating ink colors to a printer. The first number tells the printer how many colors will be used on the front of the sheet and the second number tells them how many colors will be used on the back of the sheet. For example, a double sided postcard using four-color process printing would be refered to as 4/4: four colors (CMYK) on the front and four colors (CMYK) on the back. A one-sided postcard would be refered to 4/0: four colors (CMYK) on the front and no color on the back. A business card using spot color might be refered to as 2/1;: two spot colors on the front and one spot color on the back.   


Bleed vs. Non-Bleed

If any image or element on a page touches the edge of the page leaving no margin, you must include bleed. This means the printer prints ink past the edge (I like to think of it as bleeding ink over the edges) of the piece and then trims the piece down to size. Trimming is not always exact—bleed guarantees that there is no gap between the ink and the edge of the piece.

A diagram of bleed options



Two standard types of bindery are perfect bound and saddle stitch. Another more commonly known is spiral bound, also known as coil bound.

Perfect Bind
Method of binding magazines, books, and catalogs in which the pages are bound to the cover and held together by a thin strip of adhesive (glue). Also called adhesive bind, cut-back bind, glue bind, paper bind, patent bind, perfecting bind, soft bind and soft cover.

Saddle Stitch
To bind by stapling sheets together where they fold at the spine. Saddle stitching allows the booklet to open flat. Also called pamphlet stitch, saddle wire and stitch bind.

A diagram of binding options


Turnaround Time

How quickly you want the final product to be produced once the printer receives the final artwork. Printers will generally try to make all realistic printing deadlines, but it is important to remember that turnaround time depends on the scope of the project.


Printing Techniques

There are all sorts of special printing techniques such as embossing, debossing, lamination, varnishes, and foil stamping, that can be done to make a piece really standout.

This blog post is a good reference for different techniques:

A Guide to Popular Printing Techniques


Check back in during the next couple of weeks for Part 2, which will explain some basic print layout terminology.