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Every now and then I am called on to design a booklet of some sort (reader, dissertation, etc), and I am always tempted to use color for subtle highlights until I am reminded of the difference between printing black and white and full colour.

What I would like to do is to print booklets (around 200 of them, of 100 to 300 pages) in two colors: black and let's say a deep red. When I try to find prices with standard printers, it seems that this can't be done at a significantly lower price than full colour, mostly because printers are set up for CMYK printing, and changing to black-plus-one requires cleaning the machine between jobs, and perhaps also because there isn't much demand for it.

But it still seems to me that it should be possible to do this in a cost-effective way, for a price that isn't much greater than printing just black. Perhaps if I'm less picky about the extra color I want, there might be some international business that can do this cheaply.

Am I dreaming, and can this kind of design only be accomplished at larger volumes, or is this doable for someone like me?

  • I think you kind of answered your own question here: changing a press to 2/2 (as opposed to 4/4) takes time and effort, and thus 2/2 is generally more expensive than 4/4. What keeps you from using a single spot colour and rendering it in CMYK? All you need is a printer who guarantees a decent registration. – Vincent Dec 5 '14 at 15:33
  • @Vincent, costs. I feel like I should be able to print a whole booklet black-plus-one for almost the cost of just black, but in reality, any use of color (on all pages) means I have to pay full color prices, which means the price per booklet jumps from 5 bucks to 20 (roughly). I'm wondering if there's some process or option that I've missed. – Peter Dec 5 '14 at 15:39
  • That sounds expensive. I know of some (Dutch) internet printer who can make a 60-p 4/4 A4 booklet for ~€1000 per 500 pieces. – Vincent Dec 5 '14 at 15:43
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    You need to find a local mom and pop shop. That is where you'll see cost reduction for 2 color work. Someone who doesn't even have a 4 color press. – Scott Dec 5 '14 at 16:20
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You need to find a printer who has a 2-colour press on which they print different colours each day of the week — this used to be a common practice. Neat thing is, you can get duplex printing w/ a single plate charge by using a “work-and-turn” (or similar flipping) if the piece is half the plate size or smaller.

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    'zackly so. There are still smaller shops around that do this kind of work in the LA metro area, and I would assume the same is true elsewhere. OTOH, they tend to be significantly more expensive than standard 4/4 work from the big online-ordering shops, even going through a broker. – Alan Gilbertson Dec 5 '14 at 20:45
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The problem with short runs is that setup costs for offset printing are a significant part of the cost, particularly for work involving spot color.

Two approaches worth considering are

  • Digital Print-on-Demand shops, even including such services as Lightning Source, CreateSpace and Smartpress. These are set up for short runs, have good bindery operations, and can be very cost-effective for runs of 250 or so. Most cities have POD providers, but they may not be as economical as the bigger online companies.

  • Rather than use a spot color, use something like a 60% screen for your accents. The grey can give the effect of a spot color without the additional expense.

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