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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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Commercial Printing: How to Approach Printing Errors

I just received an unsettling email from a print brokering client today. She is a designer, and two small problems had occurred with a set of identity materials for her client.

The designer (we’ll call her Cheryl) had printed a business card (500 cards each for four principals of the business), 500 5” x 7” flat notecards, 500 A7 envelopes for the notecards, and 500 #10 envelopes (28# white wove). All of these jobs were 4-color process, and due to the short run size, I had asked the custom printing supplier to produce the jobs on his HP Indigo press.

The Problems That Occurred

First of all there had been some discussion as to whether the jobs would be printed on Classic Crest or Classic Linen stock. When the completed job arrived, the business cards had been printed on Classic Linen and all other components of the identity package had been printed on Classic Crest.

So the printing stock was inconsistent, and the requested specs had not been followed. (I rechecked the email noting the final specifications.)

Secondly, the art looked a little fuzzy compared to the proof, with a yellow halo around the logo printed on the A7 envelope. (When I received copies of the three pieces in the mail, I noted that the type was out of register.)

Why This Worried Me

First of all, having any job arrive at a client’s office with any flaws whatsoever is problematic. I always want clients to receive exactly what they expect: the highest quality custom printing.

Secondly, my client’s client is new: to her as a designer and to me as a commercial printing broker. My client and I have even more than the usual desire to ensure absolute perfection in any job for this firm because we both want to nurture this new client relationship. Starting off on the wrong foot is a big deal.

Thirdly, the materials in question comprise an identity package, so my client’s new client needs the job to be exemplary in order to present itself in its best light.

But problems do happen from time to time. It’s the nature of custom printing. How they are resolved is crucial and can be the determining factor in successful customer relations. Stated more simply, fixing a problem can cement a client relationship.

How I Plan to Proceed

My first instinct was to call the client, which I did. I apologized and asked for details. I also planned to approach the printer immediately, but my client raised a few interesting points:

  1. She actually liked the business cards printed on Classic Linen (due to the cross-hatching texture of the linen stock). Her client planned to print many more jobs, and she intended to shift all future identity materials to the new Classic Linen rather than the originally specified Classic Crest (smoother, with no cross-hatched texture).
  2. She wanted to look at other samples to make sure the registration problems were reflected in all copies and not just a few.
  3. She wanted to hear her client’s feedback before she and I discussed the job and determined what to request from the printer.

So my client and I agreed to check all email correspondence to ensure that the printer had in fact made the erroneous paper substitution (the emails confirmed this). We also agreed that she would send me a sample of the fuzzy A7 envelope art, and that I would give her feedback on what might have happened. Then, after she heard back from her client, I would approach the printer, noting what problems had occurred and how the client wanted to proceed.

At this point I want to note that my client has been unbelievably reasonable. Not all clients are. Some will respond with anger and blame rather than a desire to identify the cause of the problem and determine what it would take to resolve it.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Even though this isn’t settled yet, it’s already a good point to learn from this error. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Problems occur, period. It’s a fact of life. If you buy commercial printing, you are buying a process, not just a product. All jobs involve multiple rounds of communications and specifications, and things invariably go wrong, even with the best printers.
  2. Always put everything on paper (or in an electronic document). List all specifications needed for your job; from press run to paper brand, weight, and finish; to color usage to delivery. Make up your own specification sheet, and then spend the rest of your career as a print buyer tweaking and improving it. Note any changes to the initial specs in emails, and keep the emails. You may need to send them back to the printer as you determine the chain of events.
  3. Go slowly, even if your first impulse is to call up the printer and scream. After all, you may have created the problem yourself, inadvertently, and even if the fault lies with the printer, you don’t yet know its extent or how it happened.
  4. When you do speak with your printer, have a paper trail of the specs, and make sure the flaw didn’t show up in the proofs (hard-copy and/or virtual proofs). In essence, if at all possible determine where the error originated using your spec sheets, emails, and proofs.
  5. Determine just how bad the problem is. This includes its extent (spot check multiple boxes of printed materials to see how many copies were involved—some or all). It also includes the level of importance of the error. (Does it render the job unusable, or is it merely an annoyance?)
  6. Then, and only then, can you approach the custom printing supplier from a position of strength, able to describe the problem and its extent, to note its importance, and to request either a discount or a reprint.
  7. Your printer will want you to be happy. Take my word for it. He wants your repeat business. If you approach a custom printing error rationally, with specifics and a plan, in most cases your printer will step up to the challenge and make things right.

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