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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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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

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Custom Printing: How to Approach a New Print Job

What do you do if you’re faced with a new kind of commercial printing you’ve never seen before? Or at least maybe you’ve seen it but certainly not specified or bought printing for such a project.

This happened to me just this week, and I’ve been in the field for 44 years. When a client approached me with a request for a vinyl binder that will hold 32 stained wood samples, I had to decide how to proceed. I thought this challenge might be of interest to you since for everyone, at some point, everything is new. The big question is how you will apply your prior experience to make sense of the new job and find vendors who can manufacture it.

The Backstory

A friend and colleague in the printing industry encouraged the new client to contact me, saying I would be a good resource and ally. The client initially wrote an email describing the product. Needless to say, without photos I was at a loss, so I wrote specs for what I did understand based on prior jobs. My initial version of the specifications was essentially for a laminated press sheet (with the thickness of a menu and with the 2” x 4” x .5” sample wood pieces hot melt glued to the makeshift folder). This, if I recall correctly, is what I had seen at a flooring store at some prior point in time.

My new client then sent me photos of all pages of the sample wood binder. This clarified matters significantly. The client was more interested in a high-end binder, a double gatefold, with two pages side by side to the left of the (approximately) 3” spine and two pages to the right of the spine. These would fold in (page over page) to a thick, 8.5” x 10.5” binder. Only the interior pages would have wood samples (two samples across for each page and four samples down for a total of eight wood samples per page). When these book pages were folded in, the back of the pages would be visible, and these would only have a printed sheet of text attached. When folded up completely, the book would have a photo inset into the front cover and more text inset into the back of the book.

Within the book, each sample page would be covered in vinyl (with open windows for each of the inset wood samples). Inside the book (the sample pages) text would be printed in white, and on the covers the logo and some text would be white, raised printing.

How I Approached the Job

The photos gave me a clear picture (literally) of what my client wanted. So I amended my overall description of the project as well as the precise binder specs. These I had taken from another client’s book specifications as a template to which I could add all of the unique attributes of this new work. The spec sheet template ensured that I would not miss anything (like delivery specs, proofing specs, etc.).

I approached the book printer I trusted the most first. I sent him the specs (which by then my client had approved) and the photos my client had sent me. By then my client had also sent me a video of the book being opened and closed, showing exactly how each page looked, how the book was constructed, and how the various panels folded over each other.

Opening the Bid to Other Commercial Printing Vendors (Online)

Once I thought I knew what I wanted, based on what the customer had requested and how the customer had clarified things for me with the photos and video, I submitted the specs to the Printing Industry Exchange website.

(I know this sounds like a commercial, but I thought it would actually be quite helpful. Even if I didn’t wind up going with a vendor based on the specs I had uploaded to the PIE website, I would still learn something. I would also get a sense of the trending price for such a job, of how different custom printing vendors might approach the job, and what they might offer that I hadn’t considered: i.e., their own version of such a book. And I knew I might also find a good new vendor this way as well. After all, over the years I have found a number of good vendors online through the PIE server.)

My friend and colleague also suggested two vendors that specialized in unique bindings, and I contacted both of them immediately. So at this point I had two serious contenders for the job who would be actively bidding (one of the two vendors my friend/colleague had suggested and the vendor with whom I had had a long-term professional relationship). Granted, they might still need to tweak the specs to match their own capabilities. But they were especially good leads.

So I updated my client and waited. I also received photos from one of the printers, almost immediately, of what she could do (which was slightly different, but still attractive to my client).

What’s Next?

Hopefully I will soon have pricing from both of the most promising custom printing suppliers. If either declines to bid the job, I will ask what they can offer instead. If they still can’t help, I will ask for referrals. After all, a referral from a trusted print supplier holds a lot of weight. As noted, I will keep my client apprised of any progress.

With all prospective printers, I will ask to have samples of this particular kind of work sent to my client. I don’t want her to have any surprises. The first printer I have known for a decade. The second vendor I have not known for long, but she has been immediate in her email responses, and that goes a long way with me. I will ask both for samples. In the final analysis, my client can make a decision based on both the pricing and the samples, so she will know exactly what to expect.

And I still may get feedback and pricing from the two custom printing suppliers who approached me after I had uploaded the job specs to the PIE website.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This process actually illustrates a number of teaching points regarding how to approach such a complex, unique print job. I would think that each of you who is either a graphic designer or a print buyer may well have faced such a situation.

Here are my thoughts:

    1. Nothing communicates a client’s needs like a photo or, even better, a video. If you can’t get the actual product, ask for photos or a video, particularly if there are moving parts and other complexities in the product. And once you start approaching vendors to discuss your project, send them the photos as well as the written specs. Then ask for feedback before requesting prices. (After all, if you wind up making changes to the overall design, it’s better to do this in general terms before requesting a specific estimate.)


    1. Work through current vendors and trusted colleagues to get names of custom printing suppliers. These referrals will increase your level of confidence in the vendors, and you will be more likely to find high quality, appropriate printers.


    1. Point #2 above illustrates why it’s so important to cultivate honest, mutually beneficial working relationships with commercial printing suppliers throughout your career.


    1. See what you can find online with a service like the Printing Industry Exchange. You can always request samples and references from new vendors. And you might develop an important, new professional relationship.


    1. You may not have all vendors bidding on the exact same thing, because they may have different equipment and therefore different offerings. Focusing on what the product does, more than on whether all vendors offer the same product, might be a prudent approach. For instance, my client is looking at binders with foam inserts that hold the wood, with a vinyl covering on each sample page to surround and secure the samples. Each vendor’s offerings may be different. And the prices may vary. But the goals are to make sure the book looks professional and to ensure that the wood pieces cannot be easily removed. Sometimes there’s more than one way to achieve the same goals. It may serve you to be open to various options.


  1. Ultimately it all comes down to reliability (i.e., trust) and the vendor’s skill. No low price will make up for a product that isn’t stellar.

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