Breaking out costs to compare bids

The answer is provided by Dennis Gobets, a production manager in Silicon Valley, California. Dennis has spent the last couple of decades serving in various positions at Intel, Apple, and Cisco Systems. His background also includes five years as a print sales representative for Graphic Arts Center and Anderson Lithography. Dennis is VP of Sales, Fineline Graphics, Santa Clara, Cal. You can reach Dennis at (408) 261-7691 or visit the Fineline Web site at

What’s the best way to break out a printer’s estimate to compare bids?

There is a saying among printing estimators: "One estimator knows exactly how much a job will cost, two estimators aren't quite sure."

The reason for this is that each estimator will make different assumptions when pricing a job. Even with very tight specifications, there is enough uncertainty to allow fairly wide room for interpretation. That interpretation, added to differences in workflow and equipment, can mean that the resulting competitive bids might not be comparable in a meaningful fashion.

One way to reduce the uncertainty is to ask for breakout pricing on paper, prep printing, bindery, and freight. If one plant is buying significantly more paper than another, or paying more for it, a careful buyer can factor that information into the buying decision or ask for clarification (Why are you using more paper than "brand X"?). Likewise, differences in prep, printing, or bindery costs can illuminate a plant's operation and allow a buying decision based on better information.

Furthermore, freight and the delivery schedule (which can affect the freight cost) should be addressed in the bidding phase to avoid surprises at the end of the job. Make sure the bid specifies "Freight on Board" (FOB) in the client's final destination and that the cost of freight is estimated in case you want to shop around for a better price.

These breakouts are extra work for your printing reps, so you might want to ask for them only on bigger jobs rather than on the run-of-the-mill projects. But the money you’ll save your company or client – along with the interesting information you'll learn -- make the extra time worthwhile.
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