What is the optimal obsolescence rate for printed materials in inventory?

What is the optimal annual obsolescence rate for printed materials in inventory?


I doubt that you are implying that all printed pieces have the same shelf life. Aside from the obvious (dated material can get tossed with some precision), the temperature and humidity of the storage area and the type(s) of paper and ink are important factors. The colorfastness of the ink, need for color match and whether glue is used (as in packet folders or other assembled items and so on) are also significant. The amount and type of lighting in the warehouse can have a dramatic affect on shelf life.

If a precise color match is necessary, the shelf life will be considerably shorter. Pantone recommends that their color books be replaced annually and notes that color shifts over time are more pronounced in lighter colors. Weighed against that recommendation is the fact that they like to sell color swatch books, but also that they are printed on coated paper with high quality inks, and the critical color areas are generally protected from light and air exposure. In fact Pantone also recommends that their books be stored in a light-fast case.

Even more important can be the printer's warehouse capacity. In high rent districts, it can cost nearly as much to warehouse printed materials as to reprint them. This is one prime reason buyers and printers are seeing more frequent but shorter runs. Add to that the shortening shelf life of content. Specifications and pricing change so often that keeping printed materials around for any length of time is seldom cost effective. Computer manuals have a shelf life of about three weeks prior to the delivery of the computer. This is one of the reasons so many manuals are created as electronic files and never get printed until the user downloads the latest update.

For material that is not color critical and is printed on durable acid free, humidity resistant stock, printed with colorfast inks, and stored in low light temperature and humidity controlled space, the shelf life can be several years. Not many printers would want to be responsible for your printed materials for that long, and few print buyers would want to order materials that would stay on the shelf that long.

For specific jobs, your paper distributor probably has the best information on how long the printed material will hold up under storage conditions. But even then, he or she will want to know about the ink and coatings to be used and the specific storage conditions the material will be subjected to to give you a clear answer.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at stephenbeals@mac.com.
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