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how to print a catalog

How to Print a Catalog: The Complete 2024 Guide

You just spent weeks (or even months) designing the perfect product catalog. The pages look amazing. Your product shots make your merchandise irresistible. And your copy is engaging AF.

Now comes the final step: getting that sucker printed. And even though printing a catalog SEEMS straightforward, it’s deceptively complex. Miss one little detail? And you’ll end up with a disappointing finished product.

As a professional China catalog printing manufacturer, I decided to create the ultimate guide to printing a kick-butt catalog that makes an impression on anyone who picks it up.

This step-by-step walkthrough covers everything you need to know, including:

  • Critical pre-print prep work
  • Key printing terminology you MUST know
  • Catalog paper stocks, sizes and bindings
  • Ways to get the lowest possible print pricing
  • Bonus pro tips for saving money AND impressing customers

Let’s dive in.

how to print a catalog

How to Print a Catalog?

Step #1: Get Your Files Print-Ready

Before you upload your files to the printer (or even get quotes), you need to make sure your catalog artwork is 100% ready to print.

(I learned this lesson the hard way MANY years ago when I sent off a file that I THOUGHT was print-ready…only to get back a PDF proof with a nasty surprise.)

To avoid corrections, reworks and extra fees, keep this checklist handy:

Format Your Document Properly

MOST printers prefer packaging all pages into one PDF file. So don’t upload 20 different JPGs or INDD files.

Save your doc as a High Quality Print PDF. Under the “PDF Preset” setting, choose “Press Quality”.

Use the Correct Color Format

You’ll usually have two options: CMYK or RGB.

CMYK is better for printed materials. The CMYK color gamut was specifically designed for print projects. Most printers require CMYK format.

Stick to RGB for digital-only catalogs. RGB has a wider range of colors suited for web and digital.

Pick The Right Resolution

For sharp, detailed images opt for 300 DPI at minimum. Anything lower can look pixelated or fuzzy.

Some images (like product shots on white) can handle 150-200 DPI without quality loss. But when in doubt, go no lower than 300.

Check Page Size and Bleed

What’s bleed? It’s extra image area that runs off the edge of the page. This prevents thin white lines if the catalog trims slightly off.

Most catalogs need 0.125 inches of bleed on all sides. So a 8.5” x 11” catalog would need to have art that extends 0.125” beyond the trim.

Add Crop Marks

Crop marks show the printer EXACTLY where to trim the paper. They look like little tic marks on each corner.

Without proper crop marks, your images might get trimmed off. No bueno.

Mind The Margins

Leave at least 0.5 inches blank on the inside edges. That gives you room for bindings without hiding content.

Check Image Resolution

Zoomed in product shots and lifestyle images should be AT LEAST 300 DPI. This prevents nasty pixelation.

For less critical images (like backgrounds) 200 DPI can be OK. But your hero shots need more resolution.

Step #2: Understand Key Terminology

Now let’s run through some common printing terms. Getting these basics down now prevents confusion (and mistakes) later:


You’ll often see DPI (dots per inch) and PPI (pixels per inch) used interchangeably. But they’re NOT the same.

PPI measures digital image resolution. It determines how clear or detailed an image looks on screens.

DPI is print image resolution, referring to how many ink dots are packed into every inch.

Bottom line? DPI is what matters for print quality.


Earlier I touched on CMYK vs RGB. But what do these color acronyms actually mean?

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These are the 4 ink colors that blend together to print all the gorgeous colors you see in print materials.

RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. Digital screens display colors by blending these three light colors together.

Raster vs Vector

You might hear your printer ask what types of images you used.

Raster images are made up of pixels, like JPG and PNG files. They rely on resolution for quality.

Vector images use mathematical curves, like EPS and AI files. They stay crisp and clear at any size.

Perfect Binding vs Saddle Stitching

These refer to methods for attaching pages together into a booklet.

Saddle stitching staples pages down the centerfold of a catalog. It allows pages to lay flat but isn’t suitable for thick catalogs.

Perfect binding uses a tough glue adhesive and is preferred for catalogs over about 64 pages. Pages don’t lay completely flat but hold up better over time.


This refers to how much of the paper’s surface is covered with ink.

Catalogs with lots of images or dark colors have higher coverage. Light, text-heavy pages have lower coverage.

Higher coverage costs a BIT more to print. But it’s not a significant jump in pricing.

Step #3: Select The Right Paper

The paper (or paper “stock”) has a HUGE impact on the look, feel and durability of a catalog.

You can go with a printer’s house stock (their standard paper). Or upgrade to thicker, glossier or brightly colored paper.

Here are catalog paper factors to keep top of mind:


This measures how much light reflects off the paper. Scale is 1-100. Higher numbers appear whiter.

Most catalogs print on 80-100 brightness paper. Anything below 80 starts to seem greyish.


Measured in “points” (noted with a # symbol).

70# to 100# is normal for catalogs. Thicker paper holds up better but costs more.


This describes the paper’s texture. Here are finish options common for catalogs:

  • Gloss: Super smooth, shiny surface that makes images pop. Shows smudges.
  • Satin: Smoother than matte but not shiny. Provides a bit of texture.
  • Matte: Dull, textured finish. Hides smudges. Not overly reflective.
  • Uncoated: Absorbs more ink for bolder colors. Feels textured.


Most catalogs print on bright white paper. But you can choose colored tints like cream, tan or light blue.

Just keep in mind that color tints mute images somewhat. So your photos won’t be AS vivid.

Environmental Factors

Eco-friendly paper options include:

FSC-certified (sourced from responsible forests)

PCR (made using recycled materials)

Going green costs a bit more. But it can enhance your brand’s environmentally conscious image.

Step #4: Select Catalog Specs and Printing Options

With your files prepped and terminology down pat, it’s go-time.

Here are key decisions you need to make:

Pick How Many Pages

Page counts typically range from a simple bi-fold (2 pages)…all the way up to 500+ pages for monster catalogs like the IKEA book.

Aim for what’s needed to showcase your products…without going overboard. More pages drive up printing AND postage costs.

Determine Your Size and Shape

Standard sizes include:

  • 5.5” x 8.5”
  • 8.5” x 11” (Letter size)
  • 7” x 10”
  • 6” x 9”

Custom shapes and oversized catalogs (like 12”x12”) are options too. But they cost more.

Think about functionality. Do you need envelope-sized? Or something that packs in more detail?

Figure Out Quantities

Are you getting 50 copies to hand out at a tradeshow?

Or printing 50,000 to mail nationwide?

Print quantities dramatically impact pricing. But per unit costs drop as volumes increase due to economies of scale.

Pick A Coating (Or Not)

Gloss aqueous, satin aqueous and matte aqueous coatings add a shiny, smooth finish. This protects covers, makes colors pop and feels slick.

Coatings do add cost. But it’s relatively minimal, often only 10-20% markup.

Decide On Bindings

For moderate page counts under 64ish pages, saddle stitching is the most popular and affordable option. It’s also easy to lay flat.

For thicker catalogs, perfect binding with super-strong hot glue is better for durability. However, it costs more and can crack over time.

Select A Print Method

Digital printing is fast, great for small batches and can easily handle variable print jobs. But color matching can be trickier.

Offset printing produces mass quantities at the lowest cost-per-unit pricing. It also enables superior print quality and color control. But custom offset jobs require more time.

Step #5: Get Quotes (And Reduce Costs)

Now comes everyone’s favorite part: figuring out what this whole shebang is gonna cost.

Here are pro tips that can SIGNIFICANTLY cut pricing:

Audit Images

Hi-res product shots, graphics, expansive color blocks and photographs chew through expensive ink.

Where possible, strike a balance between image quality and coverage real estate.

Simplify The Design

Fancy foil treatments, high-coverage gradients, gold inks and a bazillion spot colors balloon rates fast.

If possible, design using common CMYK colors and minimize embellishments requiring special print techniques.

Standardize Sizes

Using industry standard paper sizes and binding options gets you MUCH better economy of scale savings. Think outside the bespoke box if possible.

Go Longer If You Can

Printers charge based on press sheet sizes, not your actual catalog dimensions. So a 8-page letter-sized catalog costs NEARLY the same as a 64-pager on 12×18” sheets.

That’s why printers encourage longer page lengths whenever feasible. More pages (within reason) generally means paying pennies more per additional catalog page.

Buy In Bulk

Just like toilet paper at Costco, massive print quantities score MUCH lower per-item costs thanks to economies of scale. Think thousands instead of hundreds if you have the budget upfront.

Use Standard Paper

Fancy paper tints, thick cover stocks and textured finishes add literal costs on top of the quote. Using a printer’s in-house paper keeps things economical (and still completely professional).

Step #6: Review Carefully, Then Approve Files

You did it! The hard work now gives way to the final lap.

After collecting quotes, pick a printer that seems reliable and reasonably priced. Upload your press-ready PDF and request a proof.

The proof shows how your catalog will print out. Carefully review for quality and accuracy. Only approve once you’re completely satisfied.

From there, your printer handles the heavy lifting:

Prepress preps digital files for the chosen press. This involves imposed layouts and preparing printing plates.

Printing runs the job based on your specifications and volumes. Expect anywhere from a few days to two weeks turnaround depending on quantities.

For offset printing, add more time (up to three weeks) for plate imaging and color separation steps.

After printing comes finishing where catalogs get trimmed, folded, bound, coated, etc.

Last comes packaging and shipping via post or freight carrier.

And viola…your hot-off-the press product catalogs are now ready to generate sales, inspire customers and do their marketing magic.

Key Takeaways

Just remember these pro printing tips:

  • Prep files to a “press ready” standard
  • Brush up on key terminology
  • Choose paper and finishes aligned to your brand
  • Standard is cheaper; bespoke costs more
  • Get quotes from multiple printers
  • Inspect proofs closely before approving

Do that and you’ll have a catalog that makes your products irresistible while minimizing spend.

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