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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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Book Printing: More Thoughts on Printing Overseas

As with anything else in life, a discount often comes with a cost. Maybe not in cash, but in time, effort, and diligent study.

I’m brokering three jobs for three clients at the moment. All three jobs are books (two case-bound; one perfect-bound). In light of their due dates, I am entertaining the possibility of printing one or more of the jobs abroad, in the Far East. This would be my first time. One of my clients has been printing in China for a number of years, successfully. She gets unbeatable prices.

However, she has voiced a number of considerations, which I want to share with you. While I am not averse to printing any of these three jobs overseas, I think it is prudent to take a long look at these issues and learn as much as I can before venturing into new waters.

In no particular order, here are the areas to consider, as presented by my client. I’m sure there are many other considerations to address. This is just a starting point:

Printing Schedule

To put this in perspective, one of the US printers I’m considering can ship the job (a case-bound book) 15 to 20 days after proof approval. The books will then take about two days to deliver by truck.

In contrast, my client’s current Chinese vendor can produce the print book within two weeks (10 days) including the case binding work; however, the completed books will then need to travel from Asia to the East Coast of the US.

Another vendor who bid on my client’s print book is in Korea. In his emails to me, this book printer estimates a 25-day ship time from Korea to New York. In addition, this printer says it will take 5 to 7 days for US Customs clearance and ground delivery to my client. All of this is in addition to the print book production schedule in Korea.

So while the Chinese, Korean, and US production end of the schedule is an important aspect of case-bound book manufacturing, delivery of the finished books from the Far East to the US East Coast makes the overall turn-around time (manufacturing plus delivery) much longer than for most US vendors.

Holiday Schedule

My client prints a case-bound book early each year. The Chinese New Year holiday schedule therefore has an impact on when she must submit art files for her book in order to allow sufficient time for both production and delivery. A Korean printer might not have the same Chinese New Year schedule, but he may have other scheduling issues that will affect a job’s submission and delivery date.

In my client’s case, her case-bound book includes a lot of four-color ads. Therefore, presumably the earlier she must upload art files to her current Chinese book printer, the less chance she will have to accommodate those advertisers who might only be able to meet a later ad deadline. In some cases this could be the difference between having, or losing, an advertising client.

Issues Relating to the Importation of Goods

Most or all of these issues involve time, knowledge/attentiveness, or money. My client mentioned Customs (on both ends, Korea or China plus the US), including sea clearance and bond expense/paperwork.

She also mentioned the “Vasis cost,” which she described as having the shipped cartons of books x-rayed in US Customs. This might involve additional fees depending on whether the books are just x-rayed or both x-rayed and physically inspected. With books, many boxes may need to be opened, so there may be additional fees for restacking and repalletizing them. This would be in addition to the basic Vasis fees. This doesn’t happen on each import, but it is a consideration, particularly if a book printing job delivers “LCL” (in less than one shipping container). More than anything, this means you need to be both knowledgeable and on top of the delivery process.

My client also said she has been advised to not have the foreign business in control of getting the product on the ship. She says you should use a US broker with an office in the departure port.

In addition, my client notes that there should be someone on this end to handle Customs clearance and any associated items that might arise, such as port fees, dock fees, and bonds. Also, there is always the possibility of a dock strike. My client notes that in a case like this you can sometimes divert the load to another port, but you really need to be watching the process closely (from your end, in this country) to ensure successful delivery.

A Response from My Client

Prior to completing this blog article, I contacted my client for her input. She noted that in spite of the challenges, she has successfully printed overseas for six years. In that time she has not had any problems dealing directly with the printer.

She had also mentioned challenges with color proofs with one book. She notes that in this case she received immediate and continuing help from her Chinese printer (and even from one of the owners of the printing plant) until all issues had been resolved and there was a plan in place to successfully proceed with printing the book. She was especially pleased with the smooth collaboration.

To quote from my client, Sandy Phillips, an Ocean City, MD, publisher, “While there are a number of moving pieces regarding printing overseas and the potential for things to go wrong, with the number of hands your job passes through, a carefully executed plan can yield excellent results.”

The Take-Away

By no means would I encourage you to not print your book in Asia. My personal experience of producing catalogs in Canada was much simpler. At the time the exchange rate was good, and the Canadian printer made the whole process easy. I would be comfortable printing in Canada again.

But Asia is farther away, and there are more areas in which you must become fluent. You need to understand the intricacies of importation (all elements of the process plus the costs) or have a trusted agent to handle these for you.

You need to understand the overall price and the overall schedule, not just the manufacturing price the printer quotes and the production schedule prior to the ship date.

And you need to closely monitor the entire process.

All of this is a completely separate arena of commercial printing that goes far beyond presses and inksets. But it doesn’t really matter how great the custom printing job is if you can’t get the print books to your client in good condition.

In this particular case, the more you know about international trade and the import/export business, the better able you will be to ensure your success.

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