Scissors Cuts Paper: 3 Ways Firms Can Lower Paper and Plotter Costs

by Curt Moreno
- Nov 13 2014 - 4 min read

When engineer, architecture, and other design firms go to cut costs, it’s usually free sodas, paid volunteer time, and other perks are first to go.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. One of those less-looked-to-but-very-effective areas lies in your firm’s paper and plotter costs.

These little-investigated budget areas include:

  • The total costs of your firm’s plot activities
  • The real-estate costs of storing paper archives
  • The costs of providing “less-expensive,” lower-quality plots

Any one of these areas could be the key to budgetary success you are looking for, but all of them together represent real and considerable savings. Here are three ways your firm can cut paper and plotter costs.

1. Count the Cost of Your Plots. The most obvious way to cut your paper costs is to get a handle on the costs related to your plotting activities.

When was the last time you took a survey of your current cost per page or per linear foot? Are you adding your reprographics costs into your cost estimates when you market projects? Perhaps you are adding what you think are your reprographic costs, but are you accounting for review sets, test plots, or those “extra one or two” sets that the client invariably asks for?

When it comes to adding up all of the pages that come out of your plot equipment, there is no substitute for simple, hard work. Take the initiative to launch a three-month effort to count all of the sheets that are related to your current projects.


For example: A small project may have 50 sheets in a plan set. At $0.08 per square foot cost (black and white) with 50 sheets per plan set and an average four “check” plots per sheet equals approximately $100! Plus a deliverable of two production sets and two check sheets for the record-drawing phase and you have a total of over $150. Add to that the monthly lease cost of the plotter, electricity, man-hours, and property insurance and you’re easily reaching $200, conservatively speaking, per project.

To get the truth about these numbers, you have to declare an amnesty for your staff to let them know that blame will not be assigned, whatever the totals turn out to be. The numbers are guaranteed to be more than you currently expect.

2. Determine What Storing Your Paper Really Costs. Not all of the cost related to your paper production is related to the production of paper plots. A good deal of it—perhaps even the bulk of it—is tied up in storing paper. Every project generates pounds and pounds of paper.

Contracts, costs estimates, marked-up “as-built” plan sets, receipts, survey logs, and all manner of other paper forms are generated by projects taken on by your firm. These pounds of paper remnants not only cost money to produce, but also to transport and store. Taking an account of the square-footage cost of your firm’s “dead storage” is vital.

Consider your office space dedicated to file storage, but don’t stop there. Add in the cost of any off-site storage, as well as the costs in transport and manpower needed to prepare, file, and maintain your firm’s dead storage. All of these, added together and averaged over the life of your firm, will help you fully understand the true cost of storing all that paper.


3. Determine Whether “Lower” Quality Is Worth the Higher Cost. One more factor to consider when searching for ways to cut paper-related costs is quality. The cost of plot quality is related to more than just choosing between color and grayscale plots. It is certainly true that color plots cost considerably more than grayscale, but it goes further than that.

Many firms have multiple plotters or multifunction printers. Often there is the “test-plot” and the “final-plot” machines. Or perhaps your firm has sought to save paper costs by keeping both “proof-quality” and “final-quality” paper stocks.

Plotters, separate plotter supplies, and various paper stocks are just a few of the items that can eat up square footage in your office. The costs to be cut in this area are related to the cost of the space all these things take up in your office. Ask yourself, “Is the cost per square foot that our firms pays to have ‘proof and final’ or ‘color and monochrome’ plots available worthwhile?” Perhaps your efforts to save costs by providing proof-quality plots isn’t a savings at all.

Take this example. If you have a cost of $35 per square foot, then your “check plotter” could be costing you over $50 per month just to have enough space for it. Add 4 square feet for supplies, 24 square feet for a layout table, and 36 square feet for walking space and now your monthly cost rises to nearly $240 per month. And that does not include the actual costs of the plots themselves.

For more information to help you determine your firm’s costs related to paper production and management, paper cost calculators are a great online resource. Go ahead and kick start your cost-cutting adventure!

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