Organisation of a Printing Office

Robert Smails Printing Works
Robert Smails Printing Works
Robert Smails Print­ing Works

Just to cla­ri­fy, there is still no agree­ment on what one should call an estab­lish­ment that pro­duces prin­ted art­icles.  My own view is that a Print­ing Works is the build­ing in which the print­ing is done; and a Print­ing Office is the build­ing in which that work is admin­istered and con­trolled.  Oth­ers, espe­cially small mod­ern private presses, use oth­er terms like: Stu­dio, Work­shop or even Labor­at­ory.

A print­ing office is neces­sary in even the smal­lest com­mer­cial oper­a­tion wheth­er a one-man out­fit or the vast thou­sand-plus houses of the last cen­tury.  Sales, plan­ning and oth­er pro­cesses are essen­tial along with some sys­tem to execute these pro­cesses.  The BFMP said that “…skill­ful and ima­gin­at­ive admin­is­tra­tion is essen­tial”.  The tasks can be divided and sub-divided and we look here at the major head­ings and the pur­poses of these.  Put to prac­tic­al use for the small print­er could mean the dif­fer­ent between mak­ing a profit or a huge loss.  Nat­ur­ally, the pro­cesses here can be tailored to high- or low-volumes of work and com­plex­ity.  The idea of admin­is­ter­ing work relies on a steady flow of sales and enquir­ies before any of these pro­cesses can be star­ted.


Most demands for work would be for a new prin­ted item (rather than a repeat of an exist­ing order), and so the estim­ate must take the inform­a­tion avail­able and turn this in to a real­ist­ic view of the charge to be made of the work.  Inform­a­tion might be scant, so the estim­at­or has to use some assump­tions and ima­gin­a­tion to flesh out some bare require­ments in to a fin­ished art­icle.  The estim­ate will have to take account of the pro­cesses, size, qual­ity, quant­ity and cost of mater­i­als as well as the type of machine to be used and time needed at each stage of the pro­cess.  Fur­ther work might be needed to encom­pass pro­cesses that have to be per­formed out­side of the firm: out­work.  Examples of this include bind­ing, foil­ing or emboss­ing.

Order Clerk

The order clerk’s role is to get the customer’s needs well-defined and then pro­duce a sched­ule or plan of how the work will be tackled.  They will take the over­all plan of work and break it down in to indi­vidu­al instruc­tions for dif­fer­ent depart­ments.  This role is the link between the dif­fer­ent depart­ments that execute the work.


The right mater­i­al at the right time on the best pos­sible terms is the pur­pose of the pur­chas­ing area.  They can be com­mis­sioned by the order clerk to buy mater­i­als for the plan; but they can also be used to buy equip­ment or make oth­er cap­it­al expense on behalf of the firm.  Examples of com­mon tasks here are the pur­chase of paper and inks; but also type and equip­ment.


Cost­ing is the alloc­a­tion of all expenses of the busi­ness incurred dir­ectly and indir­ectly in the pro­duc­tion of jobs.  Smal­ler print­ers were tra­di­tion­ally bad at this activ­ity because they could not gather accur­ate inform­a­tion about some of the indir­ect costs like rates, heat­ing and even jan­it­ors.  In miss­ing some of the less obvi­ous costs they under-priced their work and so gradu­ally made mount­ing losses that took the firm under.  While this was going on they were under­cut­ting lar­ger, but more effi­cient print­ers and they did not like this state of affairs.  The BFMP pub­lished a Fed­er­a­tion Cost­ing Sys­tem that went to incred­ible detail about identi­fy­ing, record­ing and alloc­at­ing costs to work.  They emphas­ised, though, that this was not an attempt to cre­ate uni­form pri­cing because they said find­ing the cost was one activ­ity but the price to the cus­tom­er also included profit for the print­er and that was to their dis­cre­tion.

The essen­tial prin­ciples of cost­ing, and some illus­tra­tions, are:

  • Identi­fy the dir­ect costs of a job.  Obvi­ous examples include time to print and set the work; along with paper and ink.  Less obvi­ous examples include stor­age costs for that par­tic­u­lar job (cov­er­ing space but also metal tied-up in that job) and pack­aging
  • Add to that a pro­por­tion of the indir­ect costs like interest on loans, salesman’s expenses, heat­ing and light­ing, canteens etc.
  • Indir­ect costs should only be iden­ti­fied where it is impossible to make the cost dir­ect. As an example, the floor space of each machine should be used to alloc­ate rent and rates to that machine so a com­bined cost of run­ning that machine for an hour is cre­ated includ­ing: cap­tial, space, man­power, main­ten­ance etc.  In this way there’s no pos­sib­il­ity of effi­cient, use­ful machines sub­sid­ising older machines without any­one know­ing

Pricing and Invoicing

This pro­cess is con­cerned with get­ting a price to charge to the cus­tom­er and invoicing the cus­tom­er accord­ingly.  The price will have to account for the costs, but also the ori­gin­al estim­ate and any vari­ation in the job as it flows through the works.  Vari­ation might come because another type of paper had to be used to meet the times­cales; or because the cus­tom­er asked for changes after a proof.

The typ­ic­al struc­ture of the activ­it­ies of the print­ing estab­lish­ment are shown in the table below.

Pro­pri­et­or or Board of Dir­ect­ors
Gen­er­al Man­ager
Sales Office
Office Man­ager
Works Man­ager
Sales Reps Estim­at­ing Orders Buy­ing Cost­ing Pri­cing & Invoicing Com­pos­ing Ware­house Machine Dept Bind­ery Des­patch Wages Cash­ier Accounts