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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: Anatomy of a Shipping Pallet or Skid

There’s no better way to truly understand a process until you do it. This goes for custom printing and shipping as well as other business processes.

The Backstory

My fiancee and I have been doing freelance gigs recently for a company that installs displays for a national cosmetics, jewelry, and fashion firm. The displays are complete environments in which cosmeticians apply make up to clients, provide free samples as well as education, and hopefully sell a lot of products as well. The materials include large format print banners, carpeting, and tables and director’s chairs with custom screen printing detail work. We put everything together and get it ready for the event.

In an upcoming installation, an unexpected delivery glitch has brought my attention to a particular aspect of this environmental design assignment: the function of the “skid” or delivery “pallet.” All elements of the installation usually arrive on a wooden shipping pallet, yet due to construction within the retail store, for this particular installation the packed skids will not be allowed inside the building. Only the contents can be brought into the store.

What Is a Skid? What Are Its Benefits?

Our environmental design challenge puts a particular focus on the function and benefits of a skid. First of all, a skid is a wooden platform onto which materials are loaded. In my case they are related to environmental design. However, they might just as easily be boxes of print books or brochures delivered by your custom printing provider to your warehouse.

Without the skid, the boxes of print books or brochures (or interior design materials in my case) are a collection of loose objects, each of which has to be accounted for, and each of which can be lost or damaged. In contrast, however, the wooden skid provides space to stack all manner of book cartons, large format print banner stand boxes, or whatever, and then wrap the entire collection with clear plastic stretch wrap (not unlike the plastic wrap you use in the kitchen to cover leftovers).

The wrapped skid becomes a single object. It is no longer a collection of disparate parts. Nothing can get lost, since the skid is all wrapped up. And as long as the skid is transported safely with a fork lift (or a hand-operated, automated skid lift), nothing should get damaged.

When 20 or 30 cartons are brick stacked (set at right angles to one another, like bricks, to ensure rigidity), your skid can be brought into your warehouse and then lifted with a fork lift to the highest shelves of a massive shelving unit, or the skid of print books, brochures, or any other products can be brought down to the factory floor, opened, and put in other cartons for delivery to your clients. (Let’s say you’re “kitting”–which is the trade jargon for this operation—20 print books, a stack of three-part NCR snap form applications, promotional brochures, and large format print signage for a school that’s ready to bring a busload of students to your social studies program, and you want them to have related print materials.)

The warehouse can maintain an accurate inventory since it knows how many books (or any other product) are in each carton. As long as the skid wrapped in plastic has not been opened, the warehouse can maintain an accurate count—for a month, a year, or forever.

Back to the Skid for the Environmental Design Installation

To return to the skid of environmental design materials for the cosmetics exhibit, the skid will need to be broken down outside the building, and boxes, carpets, and, storage cases for the large format print signage and tables will need to be brought into the staging area individually.

Here’s the challenge. With a single pallet delivery to a loading dock (called “dock-to-dock” delivery), the freight carrier can back the truck up to the gate, and an electric pallet lift can remove one huge, wrapped item (the skid) and place it on the floor, ready for unloading. In the case of this delivery for this particular installation, individual items will need to be taken off the truck and brought into the store before being assembled. A key question will be, Who will do this?

It’s Just Like an Inside Delivery of Your Cartoned Print Books or Brochures

This actually may pertain to your print buying situation more than you might have imagined.

To avoid the problem noted above, in which the delivery service will leave the skids in the parking lot for us to unload and move, it is prudent—if your organization does not have a loading dock—to alert your commercial printing supplier as early as possible. In fact, I’d put it in writing on the printing specification sheet.

Your printer will need to arrange with the freight forwarder (more jargon) to unload the skid, and (perhaps) bring all cartons up an elevator to your office cubicle using a hand truck. This is back breaking work. Therefore, it adds expense, understandably. So it’s wise to let your printer know early.

An Epilogue

The installation of the cosmetics interior staging design actually just happened today, after I had written this PIE blog post. My fiancee successfully negotiated with the freight company to have the driver bring all materials into the store, directly to the staging area.

What you (and I both) can learn from this is to be proactive. Don’t assume your print job is complete when you have uploaded art files to your printer. Delivery is an important part of the entire printing chain of events. Specify your needs to your printer, negotiate the best deal, and then stay in touch with your printer during the shipping and delivery process to make sure everything goes as planned and there are no surprises. And make sure you set forth in writing exactly who is responsible for what.

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