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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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: Post Mortem on Color Swatch Book

I just received printer samples of my client’s color swatch book. To recap, I have been working on this job with my client for almost a year and a half now. It is a series of 22 swatch books not unlike PMS color pickers used in the graphic arts field.

However, in this case the print books help you choose fashion colors based on your complexion, hair color, and eye color. It seems rather scientific, although I couldn’t explain it when my fiancee praised the samples and asked how to use them. In addition to having different complexioned faces on their covers, all I see is a 60-color selection (per book) of swatches that seem to differ (from book to book) in terms of their color choice (for example, earth tones vs. bright warm tones) and intensity (saturated colors vs. more neutral colors).

The books look superb. Since I am a print broker, that’s what really matters to me. That the commercial printing supplier had sent me printed samples of the job made my follow-up conversation with my client much easier. After all, she lives almost halfway across the country. Fortunately, when we spoke, I learned that she thought the books were gorgeous.

Good Choices During the Production Process

Choice of Design/Production Workflow

My client was on a tight budget, and the initial pricing from the graphic designer was far too high for my client’s resources. So I suggested that she buy a month-to-month license to InDesign and learn to produce the art files herself. I made her a template to use, and then talked her through a number of rough points. But she did do it herself. My client made sure everything was exactly right, and saved a lot of money in the process. Of course, success in this area reflects her commitment to her work and her ability to learn new things quickly. Even though she had never done any design work, she did have an art background.

Choice of Printer

I had initially chosen another printer with a Kodak NexPress. Close to the beginning of the job, the printer confessed that his estimator had made a mistake. He had underpriced the job. It would cost at least twice as much. The estimator had been fired, but where did that leave me and my client?

Fortunately, another printer had been looking to me for new business. I listened to the sales rep’s pitch and also reflected on the fact that I had known her and another principal at the new printer for 17 years. Moreover, she was continuously offering suggestions on the other jobs I was sending her for estimates. When I made the switch from the first printer to the second (who also could meet my client’s budget), I thought it would be a good move. Looking back now, I think it made all the difference.

Proofing Continually

In producing the prior edition of the fashion color swatch book, my client had had a bad experience with an overseas printer. Among other things, she had not seen adequate proofs, and the final printed colors had been wrong. To remedy this, I made sure the new printer provided samples and proofs at all stages of the process: samples from the Indigo digital press, samples of the lamination, and samples of the binding materials. I didn’t want my client to have any surprises.

Fortunately, the printer was willing to slow down the process a bit to allow for the proofs. (Interestingly enough, my client only changed one or two pages, but seeing the various proofs and binding and coating materials gave her the confidence that the final product would satisfy her and her clients.)

What Went Right with the Job?

I’m going to start with the most recent choices, because these small details have made a big difference.

Round Corners

The client, the printer, and I chose 1/8” rounded corners instead of 1/4” rounded corners for the print books. This part of the process required making a metal die to cut the finished swatches after they had been printed on the HP Indigo digital press. Initially we had planned for 1/4” round corners, but the printer’s rep had seen samples and had thought that for such a small color book (approximately 1.5” x 3.5”) the 1/4” corners looked huge. To save time, she “texted” me photos of both options. I agreed with her assessment, and so did my client. Prior to text messaging, this step would have required several days to mail, receive, and check hard-copy proofs.

Lamination Instead of UV Coating

At the proof stage I had the printer send out samples of my client’s actual job produced on the HP Indigo press. The printer had also added a UV coating for protection. However, when my client ran her fingernails across the printed sheets, she could mark the printed color swatches below the UV coating.

My client’s clients would be paying a lot for these little swatch books, and anything that made them look old quickly would be a problem. So to remedy the situation the printer’s rep suggested 1.2 mil lamination instead of a UV coating. She sent me samples, and it seemed to be a much more durable option. I sent the samples on to my client, and she agreed. As I review the finished print book samples now, I see that this was a good choice.

A Metal Screw and Post Assembly

My client had mentioned that in a prior printing of this job, the print vendor had used plastic screw-and-post assemblies to bind the loose color swatches. Because my client (and her clients) had in some cases needed to disassemble the books to add or remove color swatches, these plastic screws had in some cases broken or become difficult to use. I had suggested metal assemblies for this second printing of the job. Now, looking at the finished product, I think that, in addition to the increased durability, the metal binding screws just make the job look more substantial. (And, again, for a high-cost product, a quality appearance goes a long way.)

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. First of all, do a post mortem on all jobs. Even if this just means that you reflect for five or ten minutes on what worked and what didn’t, you’ll learn a lot, all of which will contribute to the success of future design and print projects.
  2. Choose a good printer. Find someone interested in your job who will make suggestions and be flexible. In short, choose a partner, not a vendor. In many cases, it’s better to scale back the project goals to lower a printer’s price than to choose a low-cost printer just because he can meet your budget. After all, you get what you pay for.
  3. Ask for samples. Before you choose printing and binding processes and materials, it helps to actually see and touch them, to see how they work and feel. (After all, both printing and binding are physical processes.)
  4. Ask for proofs. Proof early and often. If something isn’t right in a proof, be thankful. It’s better to find the error at the proofing stage than to find it after your job has been delivered.

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