How much does Desktop Publishing cost?

by , HGPublishing Senior Editor

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DTP rates per page

DTP rates per page are difficult to determine, since desktop publishing is the process of designing pages with a combination of text and illustrations. The final product could be a single page poster, or a thousand page book. Magazines could have high quality full-color images, and newsletters could be printed in a single color. Since there can be so much variation in work depending on the complexity of the page and the number and type of illustrations, it is not possible to cite an average or typical desktop publishing rate per page. I produced a product catalog for one of my clients each year for almost 15 years. From two to five products were displayed on a page with associated descriptions. The catalog ran to about 100 pages in black and white, with a total cost of about $5000, which is about $50 per page. On the other hand, I've produced books, which were mostly text, for less than $10 per page. For books, the longer the book, the lower the per page cost.

Desktop publishing hourly rates

I started my career in desktop publishing at an hourly rate of $17 per hour, but things have changed greatly in 30 years. A wide range of people work in the pre-press industry, from Art Directors with 25 years experience and 4 year Graphic Design degrees to people who just bought a $500 computer with some free software and think they can now call themselves designers. You get what you pay for. Wages in the graphic design industry have been falling. Many jobs are outsourced to countries like India with highly skilled people who work for much lower wages. Entry level positions in North America might pay little more than minimum wage. However, skilled workers, as in any trade are valuable. People who know what they are doing and have experience should be earning up to $25 per hour or more. Their time will be charged out to clients at about double that. Many people are available for freelance desktop publishing work. The Freelancer Network has people offering services from $15 to $45 per hour.

Consider the final print job. Are you planning a full colour printing? Are you going to spend thousands on the printing? Don't scrimp on the pre-press; a mistake could ruin the whole print run.

A print job consists of several distinct parts.

  1. Writing & editing. Often this is done by the client. However, for the best results, the client works with an editor and/or a proofreader. Hiring a professional to manage the words is the most cost-effective way to ensure you will have the best result. Even if you are self-publishing a book, you should get a professional editor to work with you to polish the text. Click the link at the top of the page to see my rates.
  2. Text input. This can usually be done by the client and supplied to the desktop publisher on disk if it's more than a page long. If the client doesn't want to spend time inputting text, then they should hire someone specifically for this. It's a waste of time and money to get a desktop publisher, who is charging design rates, to be typing text into a word processing program. Some of my clients have wasted hundreds of dollars giving me hand scrawled text to input which I've had to struggle to read and type in. Frankly it's work I don't want to do and can be done more cheaply by someone who specializes in typing.
  3. Design. This is when typefaces are selected, grids are established and the rules for a publication are established; colour schemes; graphic elements are integrated. The desktop publisher/designer consults with the client and when good communication is established, the combination of the client's vision and the designer's skill results in a viable design plan.
  4. Production. A desktop publishing program is used to assemble the text and graphics into the final form. Efficiencies are created through the use of master pages and style sheets. This is where experience really cuts down on the time needed to complete a job.
  5. Pre-press preparation. In pre-press, an experienced desktop publisher makes sure the files are all assembled properly so the final printed product will be what is expected. A mistake here can ruin a print job. It requires knowledge of imagesetters and offset print production. Liaison with service bureaux and printing houses is essential.
  6. Proofreading. A professional proofreader is needed for proofreading. Make sure someone who is skilled in proofreading has a final look before it goes to the printer. Steps 1 to 6 are often provided by companies that assist authors who wish to self-publish a book. In addition to these steps, self-publishers need to get an ISBN number, which is necessary to sell your book on Amazon.
  7. Printing. Usually subcontracted, the client can handle this themselves, but for best results the desktop publisher must know the printer's requirements and the printer should see proofs while there is still time to make adjustments. The type of images on a page, the paper type, the number of copies being run, the budget; all must be properly balanced to get the best value for the money.

How to save money

  1. Plan ahead. The more changes you make while your desktop publisher is working on your project, the more they are going to have to charge you. Consult early with your designer and then stick with the plan.
  2. Type it yourself. Provide your desktop publisher with a text file on disk so they don't have to spend time typing it in themselves.
  3. Give your dektop publisher some idea of the design you would like. Draw it out on paper to scale. Show them some samples of similar work you like.
  4. If you want to include your own graphics, make sure you are giving them big clear ones. It takes a lot of time to re-create a logo from a business card or cocktail napkin. Once someone has created a logo for you, get a copy on disk in PhotoShop or eps format as well as a high resolution print. File these in a safe place.
  5. Be flexible. Allow your desktop publisher the freedom to make changes in order to make your project work. You will be able to veto the changes, but any good desktop publisher who has been listening to your needs will only make changes that improve your project and save time and money.
  6. Always get a written estimate of the total costs, and ask if that price is guaranteed. Don't hire a freelance desktop publisher based on hourly rates without knowing how many hours are going to be charged. It's easy to use up a lot of time. Don't pay for wasted time.
  7. While it is cheapest to do your own desktop publishing, you might want to consider hiring a desktop publisher to set up templates for you and show you how to use the software. You can achieve professional quality for every edition, but only pay for the initial set up.
  8. Ask if you should arrange your own printing. Your desktop publisher is charging you something for arranging your printing, either through time costs or a mark up on the printing costs. However, they may have negotiated a discount with the printer so this cost is coming out of the printer's profit, not your pocket.