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Customers frequently ask us how to save money on their projects. One of the best ways is to create documents that use paper efficiently. In this article we discuss methods of saving money on multiple-page projects by considering the page count.

Let's start by defining a page. Imagine you are reading the front page of a newspaper. You turn the page and are now on page 2. Both pages are part of a single sheet, or "signature." A signature is a press sheet whose pages are positioned so they can be printed, folded, and bound into a finished book. Printers often refer to 8- or 16-page signatures (meaning the press sheet has 8 or 16 pages printed on it.)

The most common sizes for books or publications in the United States are 8 1/2" X 11", 5 1/2" X 8 1/2", and 6" X 9". These page sizes fit efficiently on the paper sizes produced in North America (23" X 35" and 25" X 38"). Chart A below lists the number of pages that will fit on each of the press sheets. (See Illustration B for examples of these common layouts.) A 23" X 35" press sheet can accommodate 16 pages that are 8 1/2" X 11" or 32 pages that are 5 1/2" X 8 1/2". A 25" X 38" press sheet can fit 32 pages that are 6" X 9."

Chart A

Press Sheet Size
Total # of Pages
Page Sizes
23" x 35" 16 8 1/2" x 11"
23" x 35" 32 5 1/2" x 8 1/2"
25" x 38" 32 6" x 9"

Projects that use the press sheet efficiently-using either a full press sheet, one-half of the sheet, or one-quarter of the sheet-save money by reducing the number of steps required to complete the job. Chart C shows the number of plates, press forms, and bindery operations, along with relative costs, for a sample booklet (8 1/2" X 11").

The 16-page project is very efficient because it uses the entire press sheet. However, if four pages are added to go to a 20-page booklet, the press work becomes less efficient and more costly. An additional press form would have to be added just to print these four pages. Plate costs and set-up time on the press would increase, and the press sheet would need to be cut into 4-page signatures after being printed. In addition, the folder would have to be set up to fold the 4-page signature and the bindery operations would increase from two to five steps.

Illustration B

If another four pages are added for a total of 24 pages, the added costs, over and above the 20-page booklet, are minimal. The additional plates and press set-up time used for the four pages in the previous example would print eight pages instead of four. The sheet would still have to be cut and folded separately from the 16-page signature, but the 20-page project would have about the same fixed costs as the 24-page version.

Note that the 32-page project is less expensive than the 28-page project. Because a 32-page book is comprised of an even number of 16-page signatures, there are fewer bindery operations and hence a cheaper cost.

Chart C

Press Forms
Bindery Operations
Relative Cost*
16 2 1 2 100% (base)
20 4 2 5 132%
24 4 2 5 145%
28 4 2 5 163%
32 4 2 3 159%

*The 16-page booklet has been assigned a relative cost of 100% for this example. Actual percentages depend on quantity.

This theory holds true for any size book. A 5 1/2" X 8 1/2" book will be printed in 32-page signatures on a 23" X 35" sheet. A 6" X 9" book will also print in 32- page signatures, but on a 25" X 38" sheet. All other book sizes have optimum page counts for each signature.

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