February 2000
Fitting forms into the equation A review
Point to ponder when putting a price on this ever-popular print run
Next to business cards, forms are the most frequently-used printed products by most companies. One-person operations and multinational organizations alike need forms of one type or another. In this column, we will look at how commercial printers can either estimate form production or contract the function out to a commercial forms company.
Forms can encompass many documents, from a sheet of 20 lb. bond with fill-in-the-blank questions, to cheques, multi-part documents, snap sets, carbon and carbonless forms. For commercial printers with small offset presses or high-speed copiers, form production is not only possible, but likely a common practice, using bond and carbonless papers. Whether the xerographic process is suitable for the job depends on the intended application and the run length.

Short-run forms are becoming more common and are being printed on copiers with specially-formulated carbonless papers. (Regular carbonless paper does not work with copiers.) The copier-specific carbonless paper can be two or three times the price of regular carbonless stock but this additional cost can be offset with reduced makeready and prepress.

However, if the form is to be used in a laser printer, or in continuous-feed format, then the xerographic process is unsuitable. Laser printers apply a toner and heat to fuse the toner to the paper. If the form already has toner on it, the second pass through the printer will cause the toner to ‘offset’ to the transfer drum producing a ghost image on the next form.

Converting forms to a print-on-demand application is a major initiative for many organizations. Significant savings can be had from reducing inventory of pre-printed forms, eliminating obsolescence and applying distribute-and-print principles for multi-location organizations like financial institutions and retail outlets. I’m aware of several major forms companies that are promoting the application of print-on-demand and distribute-and-print principles as value-added services to major customers. This is how they will reduce the cost of forms in the long term. If they’re doing it, why can’t the commercial printers do it too?

One international forms company sold its division that produced credit card slips. Think of the number of times a multi-part carbon or carbonless form was used to imprint your Visa, MasterCard or AMEX card several years ago. Now consider how often you are presented with only two printouts of the billing summary—one for you and one for the merchant. If the past year or so is any indication, credit card forms are going to disappear before too long.

Your customers are looking for one-stop shopping

The strengths of others
So now you produce two-, three-, four-part carbonless forms, but what about snap sets, carbon forms, cheques, etc? Your customers are looking for one-stop shopping. So, how do you produce snap sets? This is a situation where a trade printer can give you that added edge over your competition.

We recently spoke to representatives from Sinclair Computer Forms Inc. to find out how business forms estimating compares to commercial print estimating. It turns out that estimating for forms production is much like estimating bindery and quick-print jobs. If you plan to cater to other printers and brokers, the key element is providing accurate estimates quickly. Sinclair has developed a program that allows estimators to calculate a quote based on relevant information collected during a telephone call with the prospective client. Customers are often surprised to receive a price as soon as they provide the job specs.

This is accomplished with a custom-developed estimating system that asks a few key questions at the beginning of the data collection process. The key information is then used to plug in “default” components into the data. If you require a tractor-feed form, then the default size is going to be a 9.5" form with perforations at 11" for a continuous feed form. They can easily override the data to reflect any differences from the default settings. As customers ask for two-, three- or four-part forms, the software prompts questions to define paper, ink colours, front and back images for each part and each side. Pricing formulae then apply the correct cost for each requirement.

There are some weaknesses in the price list approach

Finishing and in-line operational questions are prompted by the system. Numbering, punching, gluing, padding and packing questions will also produce appropriate cost factors. You can get these prices over the phone, by fax, or e-mail from a number of forms printers, but not all printers can provide instant pricing for the majority of requests. This gives Sinclair an immediate advantage. Some firms offer price schedules in an attempt to produce a quick quote. There are some weaknesses in the price-list approach. If you have any technical questions, or if there is a better way to produce the form, the price list will not help.

Should you leave it to the experts? In this time of specialization, this may be a good idea, depending upon your area of expertise and the level of service you want to give your clients. Trade form printers may help you appear to be an expert.
Bob Dale is the president of Pilot Graphic Management Services Inc., a company providing management consulting and custom training for organizations. He is also on the executive of the Toronto Club of Printing House Craftsmen. Bob can be reached at (416) 410-4096, or via e-mail at
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