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When do I pay VAT on printed items?

If you’re confused about which print items you need to pay VAT on, we don’t blame you, it’s a complicated business.

VAT is applied to some printed materials but not all so it’s best to ask for advice when placing your order to avoid a nasty (expensive) surprise.

HMRC Guidelines

There are two categories for printed items: 

Zero-rated which means they are exempt from VAT.

Standard-rated which means VAT will be applied. 

The HMRC website has a detailed page explaining this but let’s take a look at some common print items and their VAT status (this should be used as a guide only).

Print items that are zero rated:

  • Catalogues
  • Directories
  • Reference books
  • Manuals
  • Brochures
  • Children’s books
  • Recipe books
  • Journals
  • Magazines
  • Sports programmes
  • Pamphlets
  • Printed music
  • Publications

Print items that are standard rated:

Exceptions to the rule

Whether or not VAT is applied to a print item can depend on its end use, the materials used and its size.

According to HMRC guidelines, brochures and leaflets aren’t defined in law, they are as they say, “a matter of fact and impression”.

Brochures can be exempt from VAT providing they are single sheet or “wallet” type brochures designed with a flap and comply with the following:

  • They convey information.
  • They contain a substantial amount of text, with some indication of contents or of the issuing organisation.
  • They are not primarily designed to hold other items.
  • They are supplied complete.

Leaflets are generally exempt from VAT if they are designed to be read and then thrown away.

However, if they are designed to be kept and used, then VAT will apply.

Items printed on laminated paper or stiff paper/card are considered to have a use and be kept so would have VAT applied to them.

With regards to size, leaflets must be A4 or smaller to be VAT exempt.

Do charities pay VAT on printing?

If you are a charity or a business which makes supplies for charities, there may be VAT exemptions on goods otherwise considered as standard rated. Guidance on this can be found here.

Happy to help

We’re always happy to help with any print enquiries so please get in touch.

You can contact us by phone on 01952 884 556 or by email at [email protected]