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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: Choosing a Printer for Chin Cards

A commercial printing client of mine has been producing fashion color swatch books for a number of years through various printers with whom I have professional relationships. Recently she has expanded her product offerings beyond these small books (akin to PMS swatch books but for choosing fashion colors and make-up based on one’s complexion). She now wants to produce “chin cards.” These are similar to the color books but much larger (8” x 10” rather than the approximately 1.5” x 3” format of the swatch books).

My client’s chin cards are 14 pt. laminated stock with half-circle die cuts in the center of one 10” side. The goal is to be able to hold them up under the chin of a fashion client. The half-circle die cut allows the cards to be placed that much closer to the person’s face. This makes good sense, since the goal is to match the client’s skin tone and hair color to specific colors for clothing and make up. Unlike my client’s color swatch print books, which are bound with a metal screw-and-post assembly, these will be loose (with no binding at all). There will be 50 colors per set. Each set will just be printed, laminated, die cut, and collated.

Choosing a Printer

My client gave me the specs for this job recently and asked me to find a custom printing supplier. She wanted to know what it would cost to produce one full set (as a prototype with which to sell her concept) and how many copies she could get for $1,000.00.

This is what I learned from two of the three printers I approached. (The third printer’s prices were much higher than the prices of the other two.)

One printer could produce one set as a prototype for $101.00. Actually, this really surprised me, since I knew the die for the chin cut-out should cost about $300.00. I can only assume this printer has a similar die from another job.

The other printer would charge $433.00 for a single copy, more than four times as much as the first printer. To put this in perspective, the third printer, which had been high overall and higher in general on many other jobs, didn’t even bid the single prototype but did estimate a five-set press run (50 copies x five sets) for slightly over $1,000.00.

These were my thoughts in response to this information:

  1. The $101.00 price could be wrong, or, as I mentioned, it could be based on the printer’s already having the metal die. Plus, if the price is in fact wrong (I will probably ask, to avoid surprises), then the revised price may still be much lower than the second printer’s price of $433.00.
  2. Reviewing the pricing for the multiple sets (from all printers) was very instructive. The same printer that offered to produce the prototype for $101.00 could produce 20 sets of 50 chin cards for $1,000.00. In contrast, the printer that would produce the prototype for $433.00 could produce 25 sets of 50 chin cards for $826.00 ($174.00 less than the first custom printing vendor would charge for 20 sets). So this was a good deal. Unfortunately, it also meant that if my client wanted a single prototype and then shortly thereafter wanted a full press run (presuming the chin cards were a hit with her clients), she would be printing one job at one printer’s shop and the follow-up 25 sets at another. That is, to keep costs at the lowest level, this would be the prudent choice.
  3. I didn’t think this would be a deal breaker, however. My client needs “pleasing color,” not “critical color.” This means she will tolerate a little variation. Since both printers have HP Indigo digital presses, there would be a good chance that the initial prototype colors would be very close to the follow-up press runs, even if the two jobs were printed on different digital presses by different printers. I also knew I could make color matching easier for the follow-up printer by handing off the prototype (once it was no longer needed for sales) as a “proof” for the commercial printing supplier to match.
  4. As a side note, to put the pricing in perspective, the third printer would charge over $1,100.00 for ten sets of 50 cards, so their pricing was much higher than that of the other two printers.
  5. I thought about why the low bid (which was actually from a book printer and not a commercial printing supplier) would be so low. Based on the specifications for the job, I assumed that the book printer would have die cutting capabilities on their premises for book production (their bread-and-butter business). I knew that if they had in-house die cutting, this would not eliminate the need for a metal die, but it would keep the prices low and their control over the process (and turn-around time) high.

The next steps are to wait for my client to review the pricing (which I just sent her) and then to share my thoughts, as noted above, and see how she wants to proceed. She may in fact want to have one printer do both components of the job (the prototype and the final press run). We’ll see.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If you are doing a commercial printing job and you have a book printer with whom you’ve developed a close professional relationship, you may want to request a bid even if the job isn’t a print book. You may be surprised by the price, as I was. However, if your commercial printing job is complex, make sure the printer can handle it. Ask for samples.
  2. Even within the realm of commercial printing, not all printers are equally skilled in all kinds of work. Personally, I have a go-to printer whom I approach first if a client of mine is beginning a unique marketing project. After all, this is their bailiwick. None of the other printers I work with know more about this specific realm of printing. I also strongly believe in referrals from printers, if the printer I approach is not equipped to do the specific work I need done. Keep in mind that almost no printers have all equipment.
  3. On that note, think about the specific equipment that will be used for your job. My client’s job needs to be die cut. Many printers do not have this capability in house. If you can find a printer who does, the prices will be lower, and the schedule will be tighter.
  4. If you need critical color, it is usually wise to have the same printer do all components of a job, such as all elements of a marketing campaign. Others may disagree with me. After all, color has become more controllable and consistent over the years. That said, I personally am conservative in my approach. If you do want multiple printers (two or more) to participate in a multi-item print job, then provide a hard-copy proof as a color matching tool.
  5. If your job includes die cutting, keep in mind that if you reprint the job (or a successive year’s update of the job), you can use the same die (if next year’s version will be the same design as this year’s version). Therefore, you can back this price out of the total cost for successive years (although the cost for the actual die cutting will still be an expense, just not the cost for the die itself). And this could be a significant cost savings ($300.00 in the case of the die for my client’s chin cards, as priced by one of the vendors).
  6. Set aside time to do all of this preliminary cost comparison in a measured, thoughtful manner. Don’t rush. You could save yourself a lot of money while still ensuring a quality product.

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