Printing & Design Tips: JUNE 2006, #59

Nothing Remains the Same, Including Your Printer

Many years ago, I used a high-end local printer extensively to print the posters and brochures for a company at which I was the art director/production manager. Their work was stellar. I was always impressed with their printed product. When I stopped being an art director, I stopped using this printer. Five years later I heard they had been sold and were no longer providing a premium product. I learned this from friends in the printing field. The moral? Don’t expect the printer you love to work with to always stay the same.

Another printer I currently use extensively used to produce 4-color work on a 2-color press. Their artistry was superb, but they couldn’t handle long runs competitively. Then they bought a 5-color, 40” press, and their prices dropped significantly. They produced work faster, and the quality actually increased. Recently, they bought a digital press. I used to buy almost everything but my digital work from this printer. Now I can buy both. The moral? The same as before. Print providers may change, often for the better.

Even if you love to work with a particular printer, keep the following in mind. The quality may improve if your printer upgrades equipment. It may take a while for your printer to become conversant with the new equipment, but over time he may bring in more of your work, and the price you pay may even go down in certain cases. For example, if your printer acquires in-house bindery equipment, he will no longer need to pay a surcharge for outsourced work, and he may pass this discount on to you.

Alternatively, a shift in ownership can adversely affect your buying experience. The immediate service you had received may slow to a crawl if new management takes control of the press. For instance, if your mom-and-pop printer sells its facility to a consolidator (and becomes one of five or ten printers in a chain), you may go from being their largest customer to their smallest customer overnight, and the new management may no longer consider your work to be top priority.

Your printer may also change his pricing structure from time to time. The reality is that printers can raise prices when there’s an abundance of work. They can only handle so much (law of supply and demand), and they will be equally likely to lower prices when they’re hungry.

How can you deal with all these variables? Stay informed. Get to know your printer. Tour his facility and ask about new equipment. Also, keep in touch with your printer’s other clients, and share your feelings about the quality, service, and price you received. Word of mouth goes a long way. If time permits, it’s always best to get two or three bids for any one job.

Relationship with Your Printer

This actually segues nicely into a novel concept in today’s economy. Price isn’t everything. The relationship you develop with your printer over time is more important than saving a little money. You may not always get the best deal on every project (there will always be a printer that can do it for less, but probably not as well), and if something goes wrong, or if you need a job printed by yesterday, your printer will reward your loyalty. Your printer will make it right. Peace of mind, dependability, and responsiveness are worth a lot. It’s also important that you and your vendor communicate well.

Printer Communication Styles

Closely related to the above is the communication style of your print provider. Your favorite customer service representative may take a new job, and you may be faced with someone you find unpleasant, someone who doesn’t understand your needs or speaks to you abrasively. Does this mean you should walk? Not necessarily. If you like the printer overall and you see eye-to-eye with the people running the shop, just make your feelings known to them—graciously—and ask for another point of contact. Some people just clash. It’s human nature; it’s no one’s fault.

Printing Outside the USA

Up until recently, I always worked with local printers. I hesitated to even go one state away, let alone half-way across the country. I wanted to be able to walk into the shop if anything went wrong, talk to the CEO, and ask him or her to make it right.

Recently, though, I sent a job to Canada. I took a chance, opened my mind, and thought “outside the box.” Mind you, I did do my homework. I got samples (which were stellar). I called the references I was provided and asked many direct questions and got very good answers. I had been impressed with the customer service representative’s demeanor and knowledge, and the prices couldn’t be beat. Ultimately I decided to give this printer a try. His location in Canada was no farther away from me than parts of Texas. I let go, and I had a good experience.

Will I send everything there? No. Is it a risk? Yes, compared to working with my favorite printers, whom I’ve known for fifteen years, and especially the one who gets me prices sometimes in minutes. But for some jobs, this new printer is perfect. Technology helps bridge the distance: cell phones, Internet, and FTP sites. This, combined with good communication with the printer and a good quality press-ready document file, makes all the difference.

Sometimes it pays to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone.

[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.]