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Does Your Print Provider Subcontract Out Work?

When your job goes to press, does your printer do all the work in house? You may be surprised by the answer.

This is not a problem if the process that is subcontracted out is a specialty task, such as die-cutting, thermography, or perfect binding. Most printers do not own all equipment needed for every specialty process, particularly if this equipment would be used infrequently. It’s not good business sense to have equipment stand idle. In cases like this, it can be to your benefit to have the outsourcing take place, particularly since the printer is then responsible for the quality of work the subcontractor provides.

In addition, your printer might subcontract out a complete, self-contained component of a larger job. For example, if you are producing a magazine at a web-offset printer, and you ask the printer to produce cover wraps or inserts for the magazine, this smaller job might fit better (more economically) on a sheet-fed press. Therefore, your printer might broker out this portion of the job.

The time to worry is if your printer subcontracts major portions of your job or the entire job, particularly if it is a high-profile piece that has to be perfect. Perhaps in this case you should look more closely at the kind of work in which this printer specializes to make sure this is a proper fit.

In general, consider the following:

  1. Do you thoroughly trust your printer?
  2. How long have you worked with this printer?
  3. Are you comfortable with your printer’s coordinating the activities of other supplier(s)?
  4. How much of the job will your printer farm out?
  5. Is your schedule so tight that outsourcing could put your schedule at risk?
  6. And is your printer willing to take full responsibility for the quality of the entire job?

If you can answer yes to all these questions, then your printer’s subcontracting elements of a job should not be a problem, as long as the total price of the job is acceptable.

Specifying Bleeds

Always remember to tell your printer about bleeds when you spec jobs for competitive bid. Bleeds require extra paper around the printed document that is then trimmed away to give the illusion that the ink goes past the edge of the page. If you spec a particular trim size for a job, and bleeds are not taken into account when the printer prices your job, you may get a nasty surprise when the final bill comes.

For example, a job that would have fit adequately on a 25" x 38" sheet without bleeds may need to be printed on the next larger-sized sheet to allow for bleeds, color bars, and trim marks. That larger sheet might no longer fit on the press on which the job was initially bid, and the next larger press will probably cost more per hour to operate. In addition, the supply of paper needed for the job (let’s say 1,000 sheets of 28" x 40" stock) will probably exceed the cost of the same amount of the smaller cut sheet (25" x 38") the job would have fit on with no bleeds. If the job has a long press run, the portion of the bill allocated to paper may be substantial. So what began as a design decision can quickly become a financial nightmare.

So always mention bleeds when bidding your jobs. Tell your printer how many sides of the job bleed as well as which sides bleed. Sometimes your price will change, and sometimes it won't. It’s a surprisingly easy specification to overlook, but forgetting to tell your printer could prove costly.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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