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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: Qualities of the Best Printing Companies

There’s more to a good printer than price. Printing is not a commodity. You’re buying a process, and that requires mutual trust and an understanding of the particular skills a printer can, and cannot, offer.

I’ve been working on a rather complex project with a print brokering client of mine. It will be an expensive job, so I’ve been discussing the design goals with many of the suppliers I work with: a letterpress shop, two printers that focus on high-end marketing collateral, a smaller print shop, and a mid-size printer. I want to make sure I can advise my client on the most striking, efficient, and cost-effective custom printing techniques and paper choices for this print project.

Here are brief descriptions of a few interactions I have had with these printing suppliers to illustrate qualities I seek in a good commercial printing company.

A Good Printer Makes Suggestions, Even If They Don’t Benefit Him

My client’s marketing design piece could be produced on a number of different paper substrates, ranging from an uncoated sheet like Cougar to a metallic sheet like Petallics to a gloss sheet with a UV coating. It could be a letterpress job or an offset custom printing job. The product will be 6” x 9” and will include about ten diecut pages (130# cover for the front and back and 100# cover for the interior pages). Here’s the rub: There will be 5,000 copies, so the total number of printed pages will be 50,000. It will be a large job, consuming a lot of paper.

The letterpress printer suggested producing only the covers on a letterpress due to the cost of printing three colors on so many sheets.

The high-end marketing collateral printer reviewed the paper choices with me, and in addition to bidding on the entire job, he disclosed the actual amount included for paper. It was about $3,000.00 to $4,000.00 of a $21,000.00 job, not an insignificant amount.

What makes this particular printer especially helpful in my opinion is that he also researched the price differences for alternative paper stocks. When I asked about making the front and back covers chipboard, for a more environmentally friendly look (and potentially to reduce the cost of the paper component of the job), he did the research and said it would actually cost more.

This commercial printing vendor also broke out the cost of the envelopes and envelope printing, as well as the cost for mailshop services (assembly of the job as well as inserting the job in envelopes, inkjetting the envelopes, and mailing the job). By doing so, he left open the possibility of my having him focus on what he does best (producing high-end marketing collateral), while having a smaller printer produce the simple, one-color envelopes and a mailing house prepare and mail the job. In this way I could potentially lower the overall cost of the project.

You might say that this printer was giving away the store by providing all this information. I would disagree. By working with me to meet my client’s budget, he cemented our relationship. I trust him more: for his level of knowledge and the expertise of his print shop. I know he will do a stellar job on the high-end work I send him, and I plan to send him a lot more work.

A Good Printer Is Candid

Two of the printers I approached expressed concerns. My client had wanted a metallic look in her design as well as die-cutting. This would involve dies, metallic foils, possibly even screen printing to ensure a thick, even film of color on the substrate.

Basically, both high-end printers acknowledged which portions of these services they would have to subcontract. Subcontracting work such as die-cutting, foil stamping, etc., lengthens the production schedule, increases costs, and decreases the custom printing supplier’s ability to control the work (it’s far easier to ensure quality for work done in-house). Both of these printers then went on to make suggestions that would provide a quality product, reduce the overall cost of the job, and keep the work under their roof. Basically, both printers said their “sweet spot” is work they can do in-house.

One might say this is compromising, and to some extent all print jobs require compromise. I prefer to look at it this way: The printers were candid about both their skills and their limitations, and they offered suggestions as to how they could provide their best quality product. It was then up to me, and my print brokering client, to decide which of the printers to choose (if any).

GD USA’s Views on the Qualities of Good Printers

In a GD USA article entitled “Print is Getting Smarter And 11 Other Things I Learned From Our Annual Survey,” Gordon Kaye lists the following top ten qualities the survey respondents look for in a custom printing vendor:

  1. “Quality
  2. Price
  3. Customer Service
  4. Trust
  5. Technical Knowledge
  6. Digital Capabilities
  7. Geographic Proximity
  8. Paper Knowledge
  9. Eco-Friendly Practices
  10. Company Reputation”

The examples I described in this article actually reflect a number of these qualities. I’d include quality, customer service, trust, technical knowledge, and paper knowledge as printer attributes I experienced in my initial foray into producing this high-end print project. And I would say that being candid, even when it doesn’t seem to benefit the supplier in the moment, reflects integrity, a quality on which any commercial printing company’s reputation must stand.

2 Responses to “Custom Printing: Qualities of the Best Printing Companies”

  1. mariam says:

    I have benefited greatly from your post. Good informative post on commercial printing and qualities of printers.

    • admin says:

      Thank you very much. I’m glad you found it useful.

      Please keep checking back from time to time, or set up an RSS feed.


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