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July 6, 2010

Designing Print for Big Impact (On a Tiny Church Budget)

Your efforts can help you save money and design an attractive piece.

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If the word frugal conjures up images of your matronly aunt’s used tin foil collection, or the carefully washed plastic bags drying in her dish drainer you’re not mistaken, but being frugal is also simply being a good steward with the resources we are given.

When it comes to a church’s design budget, however, maybe we should be thriftier and less frugal. Though frugality is used with the best intentions, it has a negative connotation linking it with an effort to be simple, plain, and well, cheap. Simplicity in design can still be a great element in your creativity tool belt, but it is important to familiarize yourself with your cost-cutting options in order to stretch the limits of what’s available to you. Your design doesn’t have to suffer because of your lack of dollars.

A church has so many demands on a limited or fluctuating income that the budget for print communications, such as bulletins or flyers, is often minimal at best. How can you be creative and keep costs low for your print needs?

Investigate your local print options.
Using a local printer gives you the additional perk of investing in the lives of people living within your community, and it saves you money by eliminating shipping costs accrued from an out-of-town printer.

Search for a local printer who is eager for your regular business more than your money. This type of printer is more willing to discuss cost-cutting options with you, such as arranging for you to pick up the project instead of being charged for shipping or delivery. Additionally, if your bulletin and flyers are picked up unassembled, you may decrease costs of folding, stapling, or even hand packing (insertion of flyers).

Note: If this is an available option, you will need to pick up your project early enough so your church office group can assist with completing the assembly each week. You could also enlist a reliable small group to perform the task as a church ministry. Show your appreciation by arranging for snacks and fellowship to make the time more enjoyable and meaningful to those who participate each week.

How many colors can you afford?
Have your printer quote the following print options for the quantity you need:

1) Full color (which will likely be too expensive)
2) Full color cover with black and white interior pages (bulletins over 4 pages only)
3) Black & White plus a designated spot color
4) Black & White Only

Often the black and white plus a spot color is a nice middle-of-the-road option that people forget about. The spot color will often be pulled from the church logo. For instance, if your logo is a black cross with a brown crown of thorns shedding drops of blood. Your spot color will either be the brown of the thorns or the red of the drops of blood. Use your choice as an accent color throughout your publication in various percentages. Ask your printer for advice on how to do this with the software you will be using.

Don’t bleed off the page.
Keep your design items from bleeding off the page. By keeping all items within your printer’s requested safety zone for your print size (often at least .25 inches each side) it ensures that you have less paper waste and trims the cost from your printer.

Use your own photography.
Tap into photography talent that may exist within your church family. Find one reliable contact or initiate a small group and send them “on assignment” to events. Regularly create a list of photos you anticipate needing and give them as much time as you can to get the photos back to you. If you need to take photos yourself, and you are feeling untrained, search online for “photography tips” or “photography tutorials” and you’ll find plenty of information to get you started.

Use cheap royalty-free stock photography.
Sites such as istockphoto.com and stockxpert.com are great sources for quality photography at an affordable cost. Purchasing the quality/size you need for print (300 dpi) can be as cheap as $9 - 25 per image (less for online quality if you have website photo needs). Your photography club could even help the church earn money by selling their best photos on these sites and donating the funds from their commissioned photos. Crossdaily.com is an additional resource for selling and buying Christian photography. (Note: The difference with this site is that there is a tiered membership fee and not a pay-per-image system.)

Be creative with design and text.
Study magazine layouts at your local library and make photocopies of layouts you like. Even analyze the junk mail you receive and start an idea file. Examine why you like these design elements, and use the best of these design principles in your church’s publication.

Tip: I recommend designing many sections of your bulletin the same or similar every week. This allows readers to easily reference information. Leave a few areas flexible to allow for some creative freedom each week that will keep people interested in reading each issue.

You have to be thrifty to stay within a small church budget, but remember that the purpose of your printed materials is to communicate. Make sure all of your copy is legible and the writing is engaging. After all, your goal is that church members will enjoy becoming better informed about the activities going on at your church. Sticking to your budget ensures those activities will remain possible, thanks to your continued efforts to saving on print and design costs.

Editor's note: If you do have a little bit of a budget for special communication pieces at your church, you could go the route of using software like Quark Promote. It's a free, downloadable software that allows you to customize a professional looking template that you choose from the website. The software and design templates are free—the only cost is for the printed materials. This is a nice alternative to hiring a designer to do the work for you, even at a small price. Ideally—if you want a professional look at no cost—you'll want to look for a designer who attends your church who is willing to volunteer some time for special communication pieces, and those pieces can be printed at the church.

Suzanne Wesley is a freelance writer and graphic designer.

Related Tags: administrative assistant, administrator, newsletter design, office, printing, secretary

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If anyone has any questions about designing on a budget that I didn't cover - please ask away!

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