Printing & Design Tips: March 2001, Issue #8

Taking Delivery of a Print Job

Your job has been printed. The cartons -- or skids with stacks of cartons -- have just arrived at your loading dock. Is your job done?

No. Ensuring that the printer has met your specifications and delivered a quality product is a critical part of buying printing. But what do you look for, and within a delivery of tens or hundreds of cartons, where do you look?

First, check one sample for accuracy. Then, check several copies from a selection of random cartons to make sure the quality extends throughout the press run.

Make sure the printer has incorporated all changes noted on the blueline and color proof. Did the printer introduce any errors after the proof stage? Make sure the printer used the paper you ordered. Check the color for accuracy and also for consistent coverage.

Are all pages in the proper order? Are any pages missing? If your product is a perfect-bound book, do the pages withstand a reasonable pull? Check the placement and accuracy of folds, perfs, drilling, binding, and other finishing operations. Note any cracking of ink or varnish at folds. Do any of the pages in a multi-fold product bunch up or wrinkle (gusset)? Does the grain of the paper run parallel to the bind edge in a perfect-bound or saddle-stitched publication? Are all the folds square with the copy? Are the covers and text pages aligned squarely with one another?

Check reverses and tints. Are screens too heavy? Are they mottled? Make sure ink coverage has been crisp, with no streaking or other blemishes. Look for over-inking or under-inking. Was the coating you requested, whether varnish or UV coating, applied as noted on your print order?

Make sure everything in the specification sheet you gave the printer at the start of the job has been addressed accurately (including packaging and delivery instructions). Also, make sure the packing/delivery slip matches the actual count, and that this number matches your requested print run.

After a while you will develop a sixth sense of where to look for potential problems. Remember, however, that no print job is perfect. Before you call the printer to reject the job, consider the seriousness of the flaw, as well as your schedule. If you do find a flaw in printing, check other copies in the immediate vicinity. Printing flaws tend to hang together in a group. So check more copies in the carton and perhaps a few other cartons close by. At this stage of quality control, checking cartons at random will not usually help you determine the extent of the problem.

Once you have a clear idea of the kind of problem and its extent, contact your printer’s representative immediately. It is his/her job to make sure the problem is resolved to your satisfaction.

When to Request Prices from Printers

Many print buyers wait until the last minute to request prices. The electronic mechanicals are complete, and the disk is ready for hand-off to the printer. A much more effective way to bid-out print jobs -- particularly complex jobs -- is to involve at least one printer at the early stages of design. Bring in a printer’s representative and hand him/her a mock-up, folding dummy, and perhaps some color swatches and paper swatches. Ask for his/her advice on printing, finishing, and even mailing. Are there comparable paper stocks that cost less? Are there ways to reduce postage costs? Are there limitations within the printing or finishing process you should know about? A good printer knows more than you do about what they do best—putting ink on paper. Listening to them can save you money, time, and aggravation. Then, once you have determined the final specifications, you can contact several printers for estimates.

[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.]