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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: Small Business Printing Clients

Let’s say you’re an individual looking to buy custom printing for a small but complex job. What do you look for in a printer?

The Back Story

I have been working with a client for more than a year to prepare her fashion color book for press and to find a suitable vendor. I have written many blog articles on its unique qualities. Paramount among these is the number of original color books (small swatch books, like PMS color guides but for fashion) and the short run-length for each of the originals.

My client just asked me directly whether she would have to proceed with the job if she and her partner didn’t like the proof.

While frustrating to hear, this comment actually gave me some insight. I thought about the job through the eyes of my client:

  1. First of all, the prior iteration of the job had been done overseas. My client had had little control over the process and did not like the result. The color was off, and my client found she had no recourse. She paid for the job, but she was not happy.
  2. My client is not a corporation. She is an entrepreneur. She is producing the job with a partner, and they are financing the job themselves with the hope and expectation of making more in selling the color books than they will have spent in producing them. The job budget is about $6,000. To a corporation, this would be a minimal expense, but to my client it is a huge amount of money. She needs the process to work. She needs the color books to be spectacular.
  3. Not everyone wants to establish credit. Smaller clients may want to pay by check or Visa up front. My client was pleased that I could arrange this with the printer she and I had chosen for this digital job. Knowing how payment would be done seemed to increase her level of comfort.
  4. Given the prior job’s having had major problems, my client needed to see exactly what she would be getting. Therefore, after choosing the press (an HP Indigo at a local printer), I arranged for the printer to produce a single-sheet test run on this specific equipment. The printer would take a ganged-up file (8.5” x 11” sheet containing multiple pages from the color book) and provide a single sheet test on the chosen paper stock with a UV coating for protection. This way my client would see the color fidelity (her files compared to the printed product). She would also see the paper thickness, texture, and weight, as well as the effect of the coating on the final printed colors.
  5. My client was new to InDesign. She couldn’t afford to hire a designer, so I encouraged her to buy a Creative Cloud subscription through Adobe for one application (InDesign). I helped her get up to speed on its capabilities and use. I also created a template for her to follow in building all 22 color-book master copies. Doing the art preparation herself saved my client multiple thousands of dollars, which to a two-person small business (as opposed to a corporation) might be the difference between creating or not creating this print book. I also ran both the template and the sample PDF of a handful of pages through the commercial printing vendor’s preflight department for approval and suggestions. I wanted to ensure my client’s success and also make sure she was not going off in a wrong direction (and wasting her time creating 22 master copies with potential errors).

In short, I helped my client learn the page composition software that would allow her to save money by creating the job files herself, and then I had the printer check everything and provide physical proofs of her file (showing paper, color, and coating) so she would have no surprises. After that, I suggested that she submit the first 100-page color book alone for a complete proof, with the understanding that any color fidelity problems could be corrected not only for this book but for all the others as well, before any further proofs of the remaining 21 books were done. (Keep in mind that most books would include many of the same colors from book to book.)

Tonight she emailed me, asking how to proceed. She also noted that she had shown the test sheet to her partner and financial backer, who had been very pleased with the initial sample.

What We Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. In many cases, particularly in the case of a small business or individual, the commercial printing job in question has a lot riding on it. Financially. Emotionally. It’s your hard-earned cash, your hopes and dreams, and perhaps your reputation. Making sure it’s a stellar product, one that totally satisfies your expectations, is of paramount importance.
  2. Nothing helps instill confidence like seeing a sample, on the chosen paper, and then proofing the entire job in a way that will faithfully show the paper stock, the ink or toner colors, the images, everything that makes up the job.
  3. Discuss financial terms for a project early. Make sure you’re comfortable with them.
  4. It’s not about selling the job. It’s about satisfying your needs and expectations. If your custom printing supplier doesn’t demonstrate that your job is of prime importance, choose another vendor.

8 Responses to “Custom Printing: Small Business Printing Clients”

  1. You have made some decent points there. I looked on the web to find
    out more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your
    views on this site.

  2. Jordan says:

    I’m very glad that you were able to help your client so thoroughly. I think she’ll definitely remember all the extra work you put in to make sure she’d be satisfied with the final product. Sometimes it’s worth it to go the extra mile for smaller clients.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment and support. This is the approach I like to take with clients. It makes me happy to be able to help them.

  3. Alex says:

    Keeping up good personal relations is important for any client regardless of size. Having said that you present a good point that it might make a bigger difference to a smaller client..

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I agree. I try to give all my clients stellar service. In fact, I’d rather have fewer clients and treat them better, than have too many (particularly since I’m a small business myself). I think that other small businesses appreciate the support and acknowledgement. This kind of service fosters long-term professional relationships, and that’s what I strive for.

  4. Good blog post. I definitely love this site. Stick
    with it!


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