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What size should a catalog be for printing?

What Size Should a Catalog Be for Printing? The Complete Guide

You just finished designing an awesome catalog to showcase your products. Now it’s time to send it to the printer. But before you export that PDF, you need to decide on the catalog size. Catalog size has a big impact on cost, mailing requirements, and even how easily customers can handle your catalog. So making the right choice here is critical.

In this complete guide, as a professional China catalog printing manufacturer, I’ll walk you through the most popular catalog sizes along with the pros and cons of each. I’ll also give you 7 tips for choosing the ideal size for your specific needs.

What size should a catalog be for printing?

The 5 Most Common Catalog Sizes

Here are the catalog formats you’ll see most often along with examples of when to use each one.

1. Standard (8.5″ x 11″)

The 8.5” x 11” size is considered the standard for catalogs in the printing industry. It’s the same dimensions as a standard US letter paper size.

Standard size catalogs strike a nice balance between having enough room for product images and descriptions while still being convenient to handle and mail.

Unless you have specific reasons to choose a different format, 8.5” x 11” is typically the best catalog size option.

2. Digest (5.5” x 8.5”)

Digest-sized catalogs measure 5.5” x 8.5”, which is half the size of a standard 8.5” x 11” catalog. They’re thin enough to staple bind along the 8.5″ side.

Because digests take up less space, retailers often use them to split up their main catalog. For example, sending seasonal digests that focus on specific products.

The small size also makes them affordable to mail. Digest catalogs can mail at US letter rates if they contain at least 3 sheets (6 pages).

3. Oversized (9” x 12” – 12” x 18”)

Oversized catalogs range anywhere from 9” x 12” on the small side up to 12” x 18” or larger. They’re popular for making a big visual impact with your branding and product photography.

You’ll often see oversized catalogs referred to as “coffee table books” because they’re large enough to catch people’s attention as decoration pieces.

Of course, the extra size comes at a cost. Oversized catalogs have higher printing and mailing expenses. So you need make sure you have an audience that will appreciate the grandiose format.

4. Shape (Square, Unusual Dimension)

Shape catalogs come in square formats or other unusual dimensions like very wide or tall sizes. Choosing a non-standard shape is all about standing out from other mail pieces.

For example, pizza companies often use square catalogs that look like open pizza boxes. And some fashion brands design tall, slender catalogs that resemble magazines.

Creative shapes work well when you have a niche audience who will “get” and appreciate why you chose that format. But unusual dimensions can jack up printing and mailing costs. So shape catalogs are best for targeted mailings.

5. Postcard Mailers

Catalog postcard mailers condense your product images and descriptions onto cards that are mailed individually. Postcards sizes can vary but need to have a height and width between 3.5” x 5” to 6” x 11” to qualify for US letter postage rates.

Postcard catalogs allow you to split up your catalog into mini-catalogs focused on specific products or categories. They work for showcasing a handful of products at a time. But they lack the comprehensive range that full catalogs offer.

7 Tips for Choosing the Best Catalog Size

Now that you know the most common options, here are some tips for narrowing down the best catalog size for your specific needs:

1. Catalog Page Count

Catalog page count plays a big role in determining size. Each printed page requires one sheet of paper.

Standard binding methods require page counts in increments of 4 pages because catalogs print 4 pages per sheet (front and back). So you’ll need your total page count to be 4, 8, 12, 16, etc.

Here are common catalog page increments:

  • 4-8 pages = Flyers, mini-catalogs
  • 12-16 pages = Small catalogs
  • 32-48 pages = Medium retail catalogs
  • 60+ pages = Large catalogs, publications

Choosing a size that aligns with your desired page count will maximize paper usage and lower printing costs.

2. Visual Impact

If showcasing photography is important or you have intricate product details to display, go with a larger format. Larger catalogs allow you to scale up images without losing quality or having them feel cramped.

Whereas if maximizing product range is more important than massive product imagery, a more compact size can still get the job done.

You can always add samples, swatches, etc. to enhance the product experience if visuals are lacking. But you can’t add real estate pages if a small catalog feels visually crowded.

3. Distribution Method

Distribution has a major influence over ideal catalog size. Direct mail is the most popular distribution for catalogs. So if mailing is part of your strategy, cost and postal regulations need to be considered.

The maximum dimension for US letter-sized mail is 6″ high x 10.5″ wide x .25″ thick. Plus your catalog needs to weigh less than 3.3 ounces.

Standard letter mail costs much less than larger mail dimensions. So the distribution method will play a role in whether you can size up.

4. Audience Expectations

If your customers or audience has set expectations for your catalog size and layout, diverging too far from that norm could backfire.

For example, let’s say you operate in an industry where the standard is digest-sized mailers. If most of your competitors use that format, suddenly shifting to oversized catalogs might confuse people.

Whereas if no industry standard exists, you have more flexibility to create the format you envision having the biggest impact.

Analyze what sizes seem to resonate best with your customers and market before straying too far off course.

5. Brand Messaging

Your brand messaging, personality and the experience you want customers to have can guide ideal catalog size and style.

For example, if sustainability is part of your brand promise, people might question why you’re mailing large, lush 12″ x 18” catalogs. But if luxury and indulgence are your pitch, then maybe the jumbo size complements that vibe.

Evaluate whether your desired catalog design elements align with or contradict your brand image before settling on a size.

6. Budget Parameters

And of course, catalog dimensions play a significant role in production costs.

  • Printing cost: Size affects the number of pages that fit on a press sheet. Maximizing press sheet usage reduces waste and cost. Jumbo 12×18 catalogs can’t fit as many per sheet compared to 5.5×8.5 digest catalogs that pack more onto the print form.
  • Paper cost: Smaller catalogs require less paper to produce the same number of pieces. So the smaller you go, the lower your paper expenses will be.
  • Mailing cost: Oversized mail dimensions weigh more and cost exponentially more in postage. USPS letter mail rates offer the most affordable delivery compared to packages and large envelopes.

Decide how much you can allocate for production costs before finalizing catalog size and quantities to print and mail. Those factors determine your budget minimums.

7. Order Fulfillment Processes

If showcasing product details is a priority for your catalog, make sure your order fulfillment can meet expectations set by the images and descriptions shown.

For example, if you’re drop shipping products, the images from manufacturers might look different than physical products once delivered. False expectations created by your catalog creative can increase returns.

Whereas if your warehouse handles fulfillment using the exact product batches shown in the catalog, you have confidence in consistency across marketing imagery and customer orders.

Carefully review order processes before determining catalog content and quality to ensure actual product representation.

Key Takeaways for Catalog Printing Dimensions

Choosing catalog size and dimensions requires factoring in variables like page count, visual elements, distribution plans, industry norms, brand imaging, budget constraints and order fulfillment capabilities.

When determining what size your catalog should be for printing, keep these core considerations in mind:

  • Standard 8.5” x 11” suits most catalogs with room for visuals and usable page real estate.
  • Align page count increments to print production requirements for maximum efficiency.
  • Prioritize visual elements for products that require big, bold imagery.
  • Keep distribution method regulations and costs in mind if mailing pieces.
  • Stick to reader expectations for commonly used formats specific to your industry.
  • Maintain consistent branding and messaging based on catalog style and dimensions.
  • Carefully assess production and mailing budgets to choose affordable dimensions.
  • Verify order processes can meet visual product representations featured.

Now that you know how to evaluate the critical factors that determine ideal catalog size, you can zero in on the perfect format to meet your business needs.

The next step is bringing your catalog vision to life! Follow these design and printing tips to create an eye-catching catalog bound for success.

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