By Nani Paape, independent project facilitator
Have you ever found yourself sifting through a bulging file or computer folder full of print estimates, trying to remember which option was which? Juggling a big pile of options and estimates can be an unwieldy mess!
Print Estimate Strategies
To head off estimate chaos–and lessen the hours this part of the print management process will take–I work with the designer and account manager to plan a print estimate strategy. Ideally, this conversation takes place before pricing and initial design directions are developed and presented. It’s best to share and discuss the plan with the client early on.
I suggest starting with three options: Think of them as the economy car; the mid-size sedan; and the luxury model.
Reviewing these three price points can help the client zero in on their price range. When I’m pricing these first three design options, I also ask for a range of quantities to be priced, as it’s easy for printers to price all the quantities at this time.
Zeroing In, Narrowing Down
The first round of price-range bids is a good time to compare pricing from more than one printer. I will often award the job after this initial round of bidding, and then work with the selected vendor to fine-tune the pricing on the selected direction. Although competitive prices are important, I also take into consideration vendor skill set and creativity, a proactive, partner-like approach, and the amount of work the printer has done on the project during the estimating phase.
It’s far easier to zero in on finalized pricing after the number of options and bidders has been narrowed down. And, knowing they have won the job, quality reps will throw themselves into the fine-tuning with enthusiasm!
Of course, the tricky part comes when a client falls in love with the luxury model design, but wants to pay the economy car price! That’s OK, though. Brainstorm with the rep and designer to find ways to achieve the more expensive look with creative price-cutting techniques, such as using 4-color-process builds instead of spot colors where feasible, substituting a less expensive paper, or changing the size slightly for the most efficient fit on press.
Trust is Key
Chaos can sneak back into the picture if the client wants another revised estimate for every small design change. This is less likely to happen if you’ve built expectations early and reassured the client that finalized bids will be presented once the design details are near-final or final. Many clients are comfortable with this approach, especially when they see evidence that the design team is being careful to work within the defined budget constraints.
In my experience, trust grows when everyone is upfront about costs. Talk about money early and often so there are no surprises, and estimating chaos will likely be averted.

—Source: Nani Paape is an independent project facilitator providing print production management, marketing writing and editing, and creative project planning to design firms and creative companies. Read more about Nani’s print management philosophy on her blog, Printing Disasters–and how to avoid them, at  
© 2009 Nani Paape