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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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Commercial Printing: When Print Jobs Go South

Sometimes things just seem to go South from the beginning.

A print brokering client of mine is producing a large textbook. But it really could be any project, from a magazine to a catalog to a brochure. Printers have a series of written or unwritten rules that allow for a seamless hand-off of accurate art files; smooth proofing; and a printing, finishing, and delivery process that drops the printed product at the client’s doorstep, warehouse, or fulfillment center on time.

When these rules aren’t followed, the entire process suffers, and overall costs can skyrocket.

Background of the Digital Print Job

My client’s job is a textbook. It’s almost 600 pages, case bound. Last year it took six weeks to print and bind conventionally. This year the client needs it in three weeks.

Therefore, I found a commercial printing vendor with digital printing capabilities and in-house perfect binding, and we negotiated a schedule.

These were some of the the ground rules that would allow for such a tight turn-around:

  1. Submission date met by customer.
  2. Art files press-ready and trouble-free.
  3. Proofs turned around within 24 hours of receipt.
  4. Not more than five corrected pages (to be provided by client and replaced by the printer).

If these were not met, the schedule would need to be renegotiated.

This particular project is a book. However, the importance of following these rules would pertain to any multiple-signature job, including a catalog, a smaller booklet, or a magazine. Smaller jobs would also not fare well, but the scope and complexity of multiple-signature custom printing work can lead to a catastrophe if these rules are not followed.

What Happened to My Client

First of all, the press run was to be 650 copies delivered all at once. Because the initial copy submission deadline could not be met, the job was broken into an initial 250-copy delivery (what was needed immediately to fulfill orders) and a follow-up delivery of the remaining 400 books (inventory for future sales).

So the first rule was broken, or at least bent. Printers consider file submission to have been completed if the job is uploaded in the morning. If the job is uploaded in the afternoon or evening, the production schedule starts on the next day. This can be problematic for multiple-signature commercial printing work on a tight schedule.

The art files were press ready and trouble free when they were uploaded to the custom printing vendor’s FTP site. However, the printer noticed some errors. Primarily these included a bar code on the dust jacket and case stamp that did not match the ISBN number in the book. In addition, the book pages needed to be reorganized (and blank pages added).

The printer created a new pagination for the project (for my client to approve), which changed the page count and therefore the width of the spine (and therefore required adjustment of the dust jacket art and case stamping art). Fortunately the printer could fix this (and could also adjust the bleeds in the dust jacket art file that had been forgotten).

So now that I review this process, the files really were not trouble free. Fortunately, the printer stepped up to identify these problems and even remedy most of them. Many commercial printing suppliers will not do this. Many will just request corrected files.

Needless to say, the proofs (hard-copy proofs, which take longer to turn around, since unlike virtual proofs these need to be delivered—both ways) went out late, albeit just by a day. Only 250 books were needed within the three-week period, but custom printing processes that should have happened earlier were starting to creep into the second week.

Now the Proofs

The proofs arrived on a holiday, so no one was on-site to proof the hard-copy pages. Fortunately the printer had sent the proof to my contact’s house. She had reviewed them and had found errors. Therefore, she chose to send them on to the editors in the actual business location for receipt the next morning.

So we lost another day. The proof was to be turned around in 48 hours instead of 24 (see ground rule #3 above).

When I heard back from my client, she told me the editorial staff had found errors in eight sections of the book, plus the front matter. (See ground rule #4 above.) According to the printer, these author’s alterations might also require repaginating the book. If the repagination changed the length of the book, the case stamp art and dust jacket art would need to have their spine widths adjusted.

The printer had received multiple correction pages, which would need to be collated back into the book’s digital imposition and then rechecked for errors. This would take time and risk human error (mispositioned pages). So he asked for a complete, press-ready file from the client instead. Essentially, this meant starting over at almost the halfway point of the three-week schedule (which still included foil stamping the cover, case binding the books, and producing the dust jacket). Of course, reproofing the book would be necessary as well.

I asked if the schedule could be met. The printer said probably not. So I advised my client to work with the fulfillment house to make any necessary plans. The drop-dead date would be missed, and we needed to accept this and do damage control (i.e., come up with a reasonable Plan B).

What We Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. Many of the alterations were simply dates of the book, presumably in the running headers or footers. They were not substantive errors in content. So the first thing to learn is, “Proof early and often.”
  2. The next thing to remember is that when you have an impossibly tight deadline for the printer, you need to follow all of his rules to meet the delivery date. This is particularly true if the job requires extensive or elaborate finishing (like hot foil stamping, die-making, and case binding). The printer’s schedule is not arbitrary. It is actually in place to ensure that you get what you have been promised.
  3. Follow the printer’s preferred PDF creation steps (send a sample file for feedback—early—if you are unsure of how to do this). Also ask for a template for the cover and stamping die (if any) to ensure accurate spine width. When you have uploaded the files to the printer’s FTP site, alert him. Send him the name of the folder and files. Be proactive.
  4. Turn the proofs around immediately. This is a priority. Maybe you won’t catch any errors. But if you do, you’ll be thankful that you started early.
  5. Be in constant communication with the printer’s customer service representative. Be completely candid if anything goes wrong so any problems can be corrected.

Honor the schedule and the printer’s ground rules. They exist to ensure your satisfaction with the product, price, and timing of delivery.

2 Responses to “Commercial Printing: When Print Jobs Go South”

  1. Jordan says:

    Excellent points here. Even if something goes wrong, it’s so important to do everything you can on your end to make things work.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I think it’s very important to choose printers that can be partners, and then actually work with them as partners. It’s a two-way street. Both the client and the printer have to make and then keep all agreements.


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