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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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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Custom Printing: The Print Job Is Not Over Yet

Three of my clients have print jobs in some stage of production at commercial printing shops. One client just uploaded stationery materials to one printer. Another client has a perfect-bound print book of essays on press. And a third client has a color swatch book at a third printer.

If you are a print broker or designer, you may be in a similar position. It is all too easy to move on to other work and take your eye off the ball. These jobs may be done in terms of your designing and producing press-ready art, but there are still a lot of things you need to attend to in order to ensure success.

The Book of Essays

One client has produced a print book of essays for a local university. Actually, I myself designed the book for her and also brokered the custom printing. My client has a firm deadline for delivery of final books. She has a public reading of her students’ essays in early December. (As I write this, it is early November, and the proof will be in my hands tomorrow.) The printer committed to a five- to seven-day turn-around for the proof, and a seven- to ten-day turn-around for the final print books.

This schedule seems wonderfully short for a perfect-bound book, but it bears close attention. It is also a good object lesson for PIE Blog readers. The scheduled five to seven days for a proof began when I uploaded press-ready files to the printer’s FTP site. If my files had included any errors (incorrect creation of PDFs as per printer’s requirements; problems with fonts, bleeds, or resolution; or even presentation of pages as spreads rather than individual pages), the printer would have flagged the book files and requested changes. The five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have actually begun until all PDF files for the book were correct.

Moreover, the five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have included weekends, and would not have included a two-day shipment time for sending proofs from the printer to my house. The same will be true for the seven- to ten-day turn-around on printed books, starting from the date of proof approval. Although this schedule will begin upon my (and my client’s) acceptance of the proof (plus its return over a one- or two-day period by USPS or FedEx), I must also factor in a shipping period after the ten-day period for books to leave the vendor and arrive at my client’s office.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Build in plenty of time when estimating the overall production schedule by the printer. This may be particularly true for book printers (such as the one producing my client’s book). Fortunately, this printer will schedule a press date as soon as he has received the approved proof. From this press date, he can estimate the bindery date, shipping date, and potential delivery date. In your own work, request not only a general time frame for production by the printer, but also a specific press date and ship date as soon as you have approved the proof. If you have a fixed deadline for delivery and receipt of the books, brochures, or any other printed product, this schedule will keep both you and your printer on track.

Then, as the date approaches, follow up with your printer to make sure everything is on schedule. This is particularly important if your project includes a lot of steps (laminating, round-cornering, packaging in a specific way). If there are problems (for instance, if the printer is waiting for materials to be used in your job), it’s better to know early. So ask your CSR (customer service rep) before the shipping date. In the majority of cases you will get a more complete and accurate answer from your CSR than from your sales rep, since the CSR works with production schedules every day and therefore will usually have the most up to date information.

The Color Swatch Book

I just asked the CSR for an update on the schedule for another client’s book, a color swatch book used in selecting make-up and clothing colors based on one’s complexion and hair color.

This is a complex project often (depending on the printer) involving multiple vendors. This is because after the printing process, it requires laminating the pages, round-cornering the pages, drilling the books, and inserting a metal screw-and-post binding assembly into each print book. It also involves collation (there are 28 master books with between three and six copies to be printed from each master copy).

So a few days prior to the scheduled ship date I called the customer service rep and asked the status of the job. She told me the screw-and-post binding assemblies had not yet arrived. They should be there the following day, she said. I will have to keep in touch, since my client has been waiting a long time for this project. Her last printer had not done a good job, so my client’s clients have been waiting patiently. My client’s brand is on the line.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As with the prior job, it’s essential to keep up with your printer. He may have subcontracted out the binding of your book (many printers do not have in-house binding; even fewer have in-house case binding). Or he may have “jobbed out” your die cutting. Maybe you also need screw-and-post binding assemblies for your job. If your printer must rely on an outside vendor, this may affect your schedule. It is better to learn about this early. Be proactive. Contact your CSR as your estimated ship date approaches. Don’t wait for her/him to contact you.

The Stationery Package

This job involves flat cards, envelopes, and #10 envelopes. I solicited pricing from three vendors on behalf of my client. The list included the prior commercial printing vendor (this is a repeat job from several years ago). However, I made it clear to my client that this printer had been overwhelmed with work recently and therefore had not been as responsive as I expected a printer to be. I considered this to be temporary, but I did need to disclose this to my client.

Based on pricing, but even more so based on prior, positive experiences with this particular printer, my client’s client specifically asked to send the job to the printer I had been worried about. Fortunately, both I and my client had been completely clear about the risks (not in terms of lower quality but in terms of a longer-than-usual turn-around time). My client’s client had been apprised of our concerns.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes you will put a long-standing relationship with a printer above a current “bump in the road.” Perhaps the printer is overbooked, but you still want that particular printer to do your job. This is a risk. In my client’s case, all parties have been clear about the risk. Moreover, the job is a simple one involving no work subcontracted to outside vendors. Unlike the color swatch book described in the prior case study, it does not involve acquiring supplies not normally on hand (like the screw-and-post binding assemblies). Therefore, it is less of a risk than some jobs might be.

In your own print buying work, consider all the steps in such a job and be proactive. For instance, if the job takes longer than agreed upon to complete, will this be a problem? Do you have a hard deadline for your delivery? If not, and if the job is simple, you may still want to send your job to the printer. If not, you may want to pay a little more for another known vendor, or you may want to keep looking for a new vendor.

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