Printing and Design Tips: October 2011, Issue #123

Printing Your Job Outside Your Immediate Locality

In the best of all worlds, it would be ideal to print all your jobs nearby. After all, you can walk through the plant to gauge whether you want to work with the printer, based on everything from the equipment he has on the pressroom floor to the attitude of the workers toward their jobs. And if something goes wrong, you can show up on the printer's doorstep to work out steps to correct the problem.

It's ideal. Granted. But sometimes you will miss an opportunity to get an equally high quality product while spending less money if you limit yourself to your immediate locality.

When you're choosing a printer for your job, consider starting with the kind of job you need printed: brochure, textbook, magazine. Then starting with local printers, expand outward 50, 100, 150 miles. Visualize the rings of a target, and move out from the bull’s eye to the outer rings. Use the Internet to research printers at various distances. Larger cities will probably have more printers (more price competition as well as more printers from which to choose, if you don't mesh with one or another for some reason).

Larger cities will also have more kinds of printers (sheetfed offset, web offset, large-format digital, small-format digital, letterpress, diecutters, embossers, etc.). This is where the kind of job you have will come into play. For instance, if you're printing a long-run magazine, you will need access to a web press. However, if you're printing letterhead, you'll be looking for small-format equipment (perhaps a 20” x 26” press).

Consider how you will get the job from the printer to the intended recipients. If you're printing a monthly magazine that goes to subscribers across the country, you really needn't care where it's printed. The printer can mail it out from the East, Midwest, South, or North of the country, possibly for the same price.

In contrast, if your job is a hardcover textbook run, the freight cost to ship the book back to your local warehouse may be prohibitive. Then again, if your printer is in a part of the country with low overhead costs (relative to your own), the discount on printing the book may offset the increase in freight costs. You may still pay less than you would at a local print shop.

Several years ago, for instance, the exchange rate between Canada and the United States favored buying in Canada. As a printing broker I was able to bring five catalogs to a Canadian web printing vendor and pay less (even including freight costs) than the total cost (printing and delivery) that I would have paid either locally or at any of the print vendors I work with elsewhere in the United States. Now the exchange rate has changed, and this is no longer fiscally prudent.

(Some may consider this to be outsourcing work that should be kept in the United States. I can respect that view. I presented the option to my client in order to save him money, and he chose the Canadian printer.)

One time when you should focus on local vendors, or vendors within a limited radius from your target distribution locale, is when printed material is time sensitive. For instance, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are coming up soon in preparation for the presidential election. They will be in Tampa, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Many publishers of daily news magazines in Washington, DC, will need to cover these conventions for their DC readers. In order to keep the publications open late into the night during the conventions, it will be prudent for these publishers to choose printers local to Tampa and Charlotte. After all, when the magazines close their editorial deadlines, the printers will need to produce the magazines, and the distributors will need to pick up the publications at the printers and deliver them to the convention sites and local hotels.

Another time to choose a local printer is when you will need to do a press inspection and you don't want to travel. Let's say you are printing a coffee-table art book. You may need to see both proofs and press sheets for most, if not all, pages. Some print buyers travel long distances and camp out at printers in such a situation. You may not want to do this. But also keep in mind that with improvements in proofing and printing technology, in many cases you won't need to attend a press inspection. You may choose to receive digital, hard-copy proofs, or you may choose virtual proofs (soft proofs sent to your computer screen). Your printer may have proofing devices “fingerprinted” to their presses in order to keep very tight control of color accuracy. Press inspections may not be necessary at all.

Faux Textures

Paper texture is a very large part of paper selection for a print run. It is often a subconscious awareness (albeit a powerful one), but how a paper stock feels will affect your reader.

Creating a “faux” tinted sheet by printing a process color build for a beige background rather than specifying an actual beige-tinted paper stock may work very well. It may expand your design options. It may also cost less to print a beige screen on a white press sheet rather than print four-color process ink on an opaque white ground on an actual beige tinted text sheet.

However, I'd encourage you to think carefully before printing a “faux” texture. For example, there used to be a textured sheet called “Elephant Hide.” (It may or may not still exist.) This heavily textured sheet used to give the impression that you were running your finger along the back of an elephant. It was impressive.

A designer I knew chose to have a few pages of Elephant Hide stock photographed and scanned into the computer. She then used the pattern as a background to simulate the Elephant Hide texture on a gloss coated sheet. You could see the texture but not feel it.

The designer made this choice in order to use only one paper stock throughout this job (an annual report). Looking back, I'd say that it would have been worth the extra cost to print and bind the Elephant Hide stock for the text of the annual report and then shift to an entirely new paper stock for the annual report financial section.

When a paper simulates something, but doesn't actually deliver, that can leave the reader feeling a little cheated—even if the awareness is only subconscious. As you can see, selecting paper for a creative print job requires many higher-order thinking skills.

[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.]