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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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Brochure Printing: Case Study on Paper Options

Commercial printing reps can provide a veritable fountain of knowledge and information. However, when you start asking the same questions of different vendors, you’ll soon see that different printers offer different skill sets and often approach jobs very differently.

Back-Story and Specifications for the Brochure Printing Job

My print brokering client recently approached me with a brochure printing job: a flat 17” x 11” sheet folded to 8.5” x 11” and then folded again (at a right angle) to 5.5” x 8.5”. She wanted to print the job on 80# silk cover (a nice, tactile compromise between a gloss and dull sheet) in process color. An 8.5” x 11” slip sheet would be blown into the brochure. It would be printed in black ink only on 50# white offset stock. Once printed, the job would be folded (with the blow-in insert in place) and then tabbed (wafer sealed) in preparation for transport to a mailshop (and from there into the mail stream).

The Printers’ Responses

I sent out bid requests to three commercial printing vendors. What was interesting was their response to the paper choice. Two were concerned that the 80# cover stock would fold unevenly (bunch up) and look ugly—even if scored. One of the printers declined to bid on this stock and substituted a 100# silk text sheet in the bid (thinner than the 80# cover and less problematic for folding).

When I asked the second printer about the potential for folding problems, he agreed. He had had the same concern but had not voiced it, assuming the scoring would avert the problem.

The third printer said he could print the job on 80# cover stock and fold it without incident. He was confident that scoring the sheet would eliminate the chance for problems, and he offered to score the job for free if any problems arose in the folding operation.

What We Can Learn

Wow. Whom can you trust in a case like this? Ultimately I chose to trust all three printers. I took this to mean that two of them were uncomfortable with printing and right-angle folding an 80# cover sheet, so I wouldn’t ask them to do it.

The third was comfortable with the specifications. He was also the low bid, and since I have a long-standing professional relationship with this commercial printing company, I know that if the job doesn’t work on the stock, the owner (who also runs the presses) will do whatever is necessary to make it right.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust and confidence, and that takes time to develop.

The Brochure Printers Made Some Suggestions

I like it when a printer’s rep makes suggestions for doing a job better, faster, or for less money. It makes me more confident that he’s thinking of things I haven’t thought of—of better ways to meet my clients’ needs.

One of the brochure printers suggested (or, rather, bid on) a lighter stock—as noted above. That was a good option to bring back to my client. Another printer suggested producing the entire job (brochure and slip-sheet application) all on the same stock. He said my client would save approximately 25 percent of the total cost by printing the job as a six pager, wrap folding it, then slitting the extra black-only sheet and folding the job with the application in the center. This would allow for one press run on one kind of paper rather than two press runs on two different press sheets.

What We Can Learn

A good print rep will often make suggestions that will provide better value and higher quality—even before you ask. So it’s prudent to involve the printer while the piece is being designed and to keep an open mind when reviewing your printer’s suggestions.

More Information on the Paper Stock

The only problem my client found with producing the slip sheet application and main brochure on the same stock was that the black-only page (the application form) would need to be scanned or faxed back to the client’s office. It would need to go through a roll-fed scanner or fax without moving or jamming the machine. Moreover, it would need to go through any fax or scanner. We couldn’t just test the paper in one fax machine.

In light of this, one commercial printing supplier suggested producing the job on an 80# uncoated text sheet. The rough paper surface would make the paper more likely to go through the roll-fed scanners or faxes. Unfortunately, the uncoated paper would also dull down the intensity of the process color inks. The paper would absorb the ink. It would not have good “holdout.” My client needed the job to look slick and corporate.

Another printer suggested a 100# text sheet, but could not guarantee that this would go through any roll-fed scanner or fax machine. So the idea was no longer as attractive.

What We Can Learn

If you can’t prove that any potential client interested in contacting you by faxing a form back to your office won’t encounter problems, stop and reconsider the job. My client opted for either the 80# cover or 100# text sheet (silk coated for texture and to provide good holdout for the process inks). The application form would therefore need to go on a 50# offset press sheet. It was worth the extra cost. It was worth two press runs.

But What About the Mailshop Tasks?

If you’re involving multiple vendors, make sure the pricing reflects the various component parts of the job. Who would insert the application into the main brochure? That’s a mailshop function, but apparently all three printers could do it.

Who would add wafer seals in preparation for mailing? The mailshop. All three custom printing vendors agreed. One of the printers also explained why. The wafer seal machine is part of the inkjet addressing equipment. If the printer were to add wafer seals (using the addressing equipment without turning on the inkjet function), the job would cost more overall (two runs on the same equipment: one by the printer and one by the mailshop). Clearly it would be better to have the mailshop tab the job while addressing it.

What We Can Learn

Don’t make assumptions. Ask what all elements of the bid—such as mailshop—actually include. And remember that it helps to have a printer as an ally, and this kind of partnership takes time to develop. So nurture your relationships with your vendors.

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