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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: Polybagging Case-Study Redux

In an earlier blog posting, I noted that a client of mine who had produced a directory of non-profit educational organizations was having problems with the polybagging material in which the print books sent to subscribers had been wrapped.

Analysis (The Back Story)

My client had included his name and the names of a few other office staff members in the initial run mailed to clients. (This is known in marketing parlance as “seeding.”) The print book was mailed with a cover letter in a polybag. The copies my client and his office mates received suffered nicks and tears in the polybagging material but fortunately no damage to the books themselves.

As I mentioned before, I asked my client to send me photographs of the damage, which I passed on to the book printer. His mailshop acquired thicker polywrap material and sent new copies of the print books to my client and to me. The polywrap was thicker, but both copies arrived with slits in the polybags, from top to bottom, on the face margin of the directory. The books themselves received no damage.

The Process, and How You Can Adapt It to Your Print Buying

  1. I started the process of remediation immediately. I made it clear to the custom printing supplier exactly what had gone wrong. However, I did not lay blame. I merely asked his help in remedying the situation.
  2. The remediation process is happening now, not in the middle of next year’s print book production schedule. Therefore, we have the leisure of time to explore alternatives and their possible ramifications and extra costs.
  3. I documented the process with photos as well as in writing. Nothing communicates this sort of thing as well as a photo. I took photos at a number of different angles showing different kinds of damage, and I used a high-resolution digital camera. I lit the damaged polywrap with high intensity lighting to make the damage stand out clearly.
  4. The book printer had his mailshop send out books in the new polywrap material. It would have been way too easy to just send a swatch of the new polywrap material to my client and me. Everyone would have felt the difference in the plastic with their fingers and probably concluded that it would work. Next year the problem would have occurred again. By actually sending books in the plastic, we could test the product in actual use (a particular weight of book in a particular thickness of polywrap traveling through the US mail under normal conditions).
  5. The printer and I discussed the potential causes of the problem. Perhaps the weight of the book had made the wrap tear in transit (not necessarily the cause, since I have received thicker books sent in polywrap material). Perhaps the US Postal Service had handled the books roughly (not necessarily the cause, since both my client’s and my copies arrived with damaged polywrap).
  6. The printer and I discussed possible alternatives to polybagging. One would be to insert the printed directory and mailing letter in a padded jiffy bag. The additional cost for the padded bag would be just under $.50 each. In addition, a label would need to be printed and affixed to the bag. If we chose not to use a padded jiffy bag, we could insert the book in a Tyvek envelope. Spun olefin is nearly un-tearable. But, again, there would be the additional cost of the envelopes and the labels.
  7. The commercial printing vendor will now confer with the owner of the mailshop. They will come up with suggestions for the best and cheapest plan for next year’s mailing. For now my client and I are putting this on hold.

The Overall Approach to the Problem

The key to all of this is to proceed meticulously, and to document everything in writing and with photos. In your own print buying work, I would encourage you to approach the printer as a partner and approach the problem like a challenge. Blame does nothing to help. An objective attitude of working together to find resolution brings about the best result and actually strengthens your relationship with your printer. And if you have the luxury of time, this helps too.

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