How to Make a Mail Order Catalog

Catalogs should inform, educate and motivate customers to buy.
Catalogs should inform, educate and motivate customers to buy. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

A mail order catalog allows a small business to connect with customers who may not have access to the Internet, or who do not feel comfortable making online purchases. With readily available software and digital photos, any small business can create a mail order catalog that looks professional and is inviting to the customer.

Things You'll Need

  • Digital photos or graphic representations of your product line
  • Word processing software
  • Desktop publishing software (optional, but strongly suggested)
  • Digital copier with duplexing and saddle-stitch capabilities (optional)
  • Adhesive tape

Organize product lines and groups logically so that customers can find products easily. Develop an outline of the catalog’s contents that includes major categories and subcategories, and identify which products should go into each. For example, a business specializing in art supplies would have major headings that include: painting, drafting, sculpture, etc. The subheadings under painting would be: pigments, canvas, brushes, etc. If a customer wanted burnt umber watercolor paint, he would look in the "Painting" section, and then jump to the "Pigment" section.

Organizing graphic elements into separate folders marked with the catalog categories is also helpful as it will speed the page layout process and ensure that products are placed under the proper heading.

Assign catalog numbers to your products. This allows customers to save time ordering and permits customer service personnel to enter the order, generate a pick list, packing list and invoice quickly. Catalog numbers also expedite inventory tracking and purchasing, especially if the catalog numbers correlate to the vendor’s product or item numbers.

Write product descriptions and save as either .txt or .rtf formatted files. The product description should describe the physical characteristics of a product and include its benefits or selling points.

Create a document template, or download one from a reputable source. The most economical design for a catalog is the saddle-stitched booklet. Booklets should have a page count that is divisible by four (e.g., 12, 24, 32). The page size should either be 5 1/2 inches by 8 1/2 inches (half-letter) or 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches (letter). Include the cover, index and order form in the page count.

If you are using MS Word or Publisher, Microsoft offers catalog templates for download on their website. If using desktop publishing software, create a set of master pages. Make the margins 0.50 inches all the way around. Turn on page numbering. Save the template or the master document.

Lay out the catalog pages using the outline for guidance. Import graphic elements, and either import or copy and paste the product description into the document. Format text and resize graphics to fit the pages. Use the "Book" or "Publication" function to assemble pages or sections into one complete document.

Use the Index feature available on most software and build an index. The index can indicate page numbers for specific products or page ranges for product groups.

Save the document and convert it to a .pdf file.

Print a proof copy. If using a multifunction copy machine, then

  1. Turn on duplexing and saddle stitching
  2. Set up the paper trays with stocks for cover and insides. Select the "Use Different Stock" option for page 1 of the document on your Print menu.

Examine the proof copy and ensure the pages print in the proper order, the photo quality is good, all copy fits on the pages, and there are no typos. Make any changes to the native files, save and export again. Make as many proof copies as needed to ensure that the final copies are satisfactory. Once a proof is finalized, the catalog is ready to print.

For outsourced printing, print a proof using any good laser printer and check it for typos, photo quality and accuracy. Make any needed changes, then save the corrected file as a .pdf. Print a final proof copy and make a mockup of the catalog using tape to assemble pages into the right order. Take this example to the printer with the .pdf file.

Most printers will offer a press proof. Examine it carefully for quality and postscript errors. If the proof is acceptable, continue with the print order.

Tips & Warnings

  • Unless it is essential to highlight the product, avoid using color photos or text. Color printing costs more than black and white, and pages need to be assembled manually.
  • Use an easy-to-read font such as Times Roman, Ariel, or Helvetica. Avoid point sizes lower than 9.
  • Make it easy for the customer to order. List your phone number and your business hours, website and fax number as well as the mailing address on the order form.
  • Use a good quality, bright white bond for the catalog. Catalog covers can either be bond, glossy coated paper, or lightweight index. Keep weight and mailing cost in mind when choosing stocks.
  • Consider splitting the product lines up and producing several small specialty catalogs if the catalog pages number more than 64. This reduces overall printing and mailing costs and help to target niche markets more effectively.
  • Before printing, have someone not involved with creating the catalog proofread the text and copy. If errors are printed, a business can lose money and credibility.
  • If pages aren't printing in the right sequence, create a printer's dummy and use this to reorder the pages in the native file. A printer's dummy is a booklet composed of blank paper on which page numbers are added. Once the dummy is disassembled, the page numbers that need to be on the sheet front and back, and right and left of one another, are visible.
  • Print catalogs in short runs. Pricing may change every few months, necessitating catalog revisions.

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