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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: What Does a Print Broker Do?

A few days ago a potential client of mine asked what my fee would be to coordinate a job with the commercial printing supplier. I thought about the question, and after reassuring her that I had already included my fee in the total price (i.e., she would owe nothing extra), I realized that a lot of people don’t know what a print broker is.

What Is a Print Broker?

I think of a print broker as an “outsourced print buyer.” If you need a knowledge base that goes beyond your professional experience, or even if you are just so busy that you don’t have time to research the best avenues for a custom printing job, a trusted broker may be a valuable ally.

A reputable commercial printing broker will provide the following services:

Finding the Best Vendors

Let’s say you’re producing a direct mail package that includes a series of diecut keys printed on card stock, hooked together on a keyring, inserted in a polybag, and mailed out to your prospects. Last year a client of mine did a job exactly like this. For such a complex job, you may need several vendors to produce, assemble, and ship the direct mail package.

A good commercial printing broker will discuss the job with you, draft a list of specifications, and then go to work finding the best equipped and most economical vendors. Some printers will specialize in offset printing, digital printing, large-format printing, or even letterpress. At this point it’s important to find several vendors specializing in the specific kinds of work you need, distribute specifications, solicit pricing, and vet the vendors to put together a team that will make the job happen on time and within budget.

A good printing broker will come back to his or her client with a short list of potential vendors that can do either the entire job or the individual components of the job (printing, assembling, mailing). The broker should be able to provide not only pricing but also samples and relevant personal experience with the vendors to justify choosing one over another. A printing broker’s long history of working with the various commercial printing suppliers is his/her greatest asset at this point.

Managing All Components of the Print Job

Let’s go back to the initial example of the diecut keys on the keyring. Last year I found the best printer for my client. The vendor specialized in high-profile marketing materials. While most printers can do such work, some focus on simpler jobs like brochures and postcards, and others regularly produce jobs involving intricate work, including diecutting and foil stamping.

In addition to finding the most appropriate printer for the marketing piece, I also found a source for the rings that would hold together the printed, diecut keys. And I found a source for the custom envelopes. In the process, I had the vendor send my client mock-ups of her assembled job (which she had provided) in various kinds of envelopes to see whether one was better than another for protecting the contents. After all, a banged up set of cardboard keys on a ring would reflect poorly on my client. If the keyring had punched a hole in the envelope during transit through the mail, that also would have been problematic. It was important to test everything. This is the kind of service a reputable printing broker provides.

When the keys had been offset printed and diecut, I made sure the individual elements were hand-assembled correctly and then transferred to the mailshop (a separate vendor). It was essential that all variable data digital custom printing work supporting the mailing was accurate as well. In short, I had to ensure timely production of all elements of the job by all vendors, and then coordinate a mailing that would put the keys in the hands of prospects exactly when my client needed this to happen.

A reputable print broker will make sure everything goes as planned.

But What If It Doesn’t Go As Planned?

I had another client that same year whose print book started to delaminate. It was a crisis. The coating started to bubble and peel off on all copies of the book.

As a custom printing broker, I made it my business to collect samples, take photos, research the problem, and present all of this information to the printer with my client’s needs for remediation. The printer stepped up, figured out what had happened, and offered a solution. He would remove the covers, reprint and laminate the covers, and affix and cut them by hand, carefully trimming the job to make sure it was perfect. He also provided a schedule for the reprinted job that would accommodate my client’s print book orders from her clients.

In the case of a job gone bad, it is the responsibility of a good printing broker to step up, find out exactly what happened, and mediate a solution that will satisfy both the printer and the client.

It gives a whole new meaning to the term “honest broker.”

So for some commercial printing jobs, you may want to consider bringing a print broker into the mix.

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