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Archive for August, 2020

Custom Printing: Vivid3D UV and Foil Embellishments

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

A short while ago I wrote a PIE Blog article about “Sleeking,” a digital commercial printing embellishment process that allows you to add foil to a printed product without making a metal die (hence saving money and time, as well as allowing unlimited personalization). I also discussed hot and cold foil stamping as well as the Scodix process and Vivid3D (which in my opinion produce similar, striking effects).

As a happy accident yesterday, a Vivid3D brochure arrived in the mail. So now I can share with you my opinions on the visual, aesthetic qualities of this process, which I may be using for a client’s upcoming flooring-sample binder. Hopefully, this discussion will enhance the more technical information I shared in the prior article on Sleeking, hot foiling, and cold foiling.

What I Received in the Mail

Anything I might want to know about Vivid3D, at this point, is contained in this single-page flyer. The front of this marketing piece displays 3D type, 3D art, and background coatings in silver, gold, 4-color builds, and holographic imagery. Each rendering of the four Vivid3D logos and logo marks is accompanied by notations describing how the effect was achieved.

The back of the flyer is equally important to me since it lists facts about the Vivid 3D equipment (and the integrated Konica Minolta KM-1 UV inkjet press), ranging from its 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution to the maximum sheet size, maximum paper thickness, etc.

One of the things I see right off the bat (on the sample side of the flyer) is what looks like embossing. The type for each of the four Vivid3D logos is raised, as is the splash (water imagery) logo mark. However, unlike traditional embossing (done with a metal embossing die), when you turn the single-page flyer over, there is no indentation behind the raised print on the front of the paper.

(Traditional embossing/debossing dies work with pressure. The embossing press forces each half of the two-piece die assembly against one or the other side of the paper, yielding a raised image on one side and correspondingly lowered image on the other side. In this case, there is no corresponding indentation on the back of the paper, since Vivid3D is an additive manufacturing process that digitally builds up polymer layers on the press sheet. Actually, for such a two-sided flyer this is a benefit, because the lack of an indentation affords a pristine surface on the back of the sheet for artwork and copy.)

All four sets of typescript in the Vivid 3D logos are crisp and attractive. They have more of a sense of being thick ink, in contrast to the more defined edges of traditional hot foil stamping (also done with a metal die). Another way of saying this is that there’s no chance that the edges of the foil will peel up because there is no gold or silver foil adhered to the substrate with heat and pressure.

Moreover, since the Vivid3D logo includes a splash of water, the four logo treatments display various levels of depth. In one image, the water is flat, while in others there is more of a varied depth in the splash of water. In fact, in one of the logos, the highlights of the water are treated with silver over the light blue of the water. I can’t see how you could ever produce this kind of tight trapping (with one foil touching another) with traditional hot foil stamping.

Another logo treatment (both the logo type and the water splash logo mark) is holographic. The logo reflects a rainbow of colors as you move it back and forth under a good light.

The three remaining logo type treatments are, as noted before, presented in gold, silver, and a build of light and dark blue (presumably combining the printing of the Konica Minolta KM-1 UV inkjet press and the embellishment of Vivid3D). The process color treatment is bright, crisp: vivid, just as the company name suggests. If you look closely with a 12-power printer’s loupe, you can see the minuscule overlapping spots indicative of inkjet printing. In contrast, the silver and gold seem to be solid colors, brilliant but without the dithering effect of the light and dark blue colors.

Behind the logo treatments, the background presents a contrast (over black ink) between a raised gloss finish composed of random spots of various sizes and a matte background. When you run your hand across the page you feel the raised dots, a little like grains of sand. In good light you can see these random grains against the undercoating of a matte finish.

Notations on this sheet, beside the four Vivid3D logos, describe the multi-level raised type and imagery as “multi-level sculpted UV.” That is, the Konica Minolta KM-1 UV inkjet press and Vivid3D embellishing process build up the varied levels (the word “sculpted” refers to the multiple, nuanced levels of the 3D effect). The notations also reference the PMS colors the digital custom printing process matched and whether the effect is two-dimensional or three-dimensional.

So, overall, between the logo type treatments, treatment of logo images, and descriptions, this side of the flyer gives you a comprehensive view of what the Konica Minolta KM-1 UV inkjet press and Vivid3D can offer a designer or art director.

Benefits of Vivid3D

If you flip the flyer over, the custom printing and coating descriptions of the equipment are informative and intriguing.

  1. Everything is digital: no dies are necessary. This means you can produce an embossing, foiling, and UV coating effect for less money in a shorter time.
  2. You can print and embellish up to a 23” x 29” press sheet. This means the throughput (efficiency of the entire process) is respectable. Furthermore, given the large sheet size, you can produce larger custom printing projects on this equipment (like pocket folders, presumably).
  3. You can produce VDP (variable data printing). So every sheet that leaves the equipment can be entirely different from the prior sheet.
  4. Instant-drying UV inks allow for immediate use of any further post-press equipment.
  5. Paper thickness can range from .06 to .6mm on various textured press sheets including linen, canvas, synthetic, and more. So you can achieve a wide range of tactile effects just with the paper, even before embellishment.
  6. You can layer one foil over another. This is very unusual (or even extremely rare), and unusual products grab the reader’s attention.

The Takeaway

The takeaway is that digital printing OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are focusing on post-press work now (as opposed to just digital commercial printing), and are simulating the more traditional (labor-intensive and higher cost) methods of achieving tactile effects in custom printing work. In many cases these are almost completely indistinguishable from the products crafted on the older equipment, and at the same time they can be infinitely varied or personalized. This is good news indeed.

Book Printing: Visually Organizing a Print Book

Monday, August 24th, 2020

People’s attention spans seem to be getting shorter. Too many things to see. Too many things to read. All these visuals coming at you at once.

When I was in school, textbooks had a few photos, charts, and graphs, but mostly I read page upon page of straight text.

In total contrast to this, I found a fascinating print book at the thrift store this week. It’s essentially a sociology textbook for those who have already graduated (laypeople rather than students). And it does a masterful job of visually organizing a vast number of complex topics into timelines, charts, and bite-size chunks of text. Exactly the way we consume material on the internet. Visually and spatially.

The book is entitled The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained, and it was curated (edited, compiled) by the following contributors: Christopher Thorpe, Chris Yuill, Mitchell Hobbs, Megan Todd, Sarah Tomley, and Marcus Weeks.

The Key Is the Visuals

Since graduating from college, I’ve learned more about things I didn’t study in school than things I did. Everything from economics to history, to all the other subjects I avoided. In the last 40 years these subjects have become interesting to me because they have become relevant to my daily life. There are probably many other people out there who could say the same thing.

In those 40 years (and before), experts have learned a lot about how people consume and master information on new subjects. In addition, between the ‘90s and the present, the internet has created a shift in how people consume content from a linear reading style to a more random, or at least spatial, approach that favors images, video, sounds, and short chunks of copy (such as bulleted lists).

This is not to say that “long-form” (the current name) journalism and literature have disappeared. The more spatial way of consuming information (like jumping around among a stack of books collecting facts and quotes for a term paper) has just grown exponentially in part because of our exposure to the internet.

The other point to consider is that you can consume and retain information more efficiently if it is presented in an organized manner. When you see how large concepts are connected, you can understand them and remember them better.

The Sociology Book

All of this information on how people learn (based on my reading in psychology, human perception, blog and other marketing, consumer behavior, and advertising) leans toward a more visual treatment of content. This includes an increasing use of photos, captions, call-outs, quotes, time-lines, and flow charts. The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained is replete with all of these, and the book employs them masterfully.

I’d even go further in my description. This print book contains fire-engine red, full-bleed divider pages to set apart one section from another. It also includes screened sidebars describing the influential social thinkers (who would be called “thought leaders” today). And there are full-color photos and also infographics to visually show how concepts are related and how one event or process leads directly to another.

There are also screened “In Context” sidebars that place the concepts discussed (such as globalization) within a setting of historical events.

Finally, in describing the organization of The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained and how this organization facilitates learning, here’s a description of a sample chapter. Keep in mind that after the front matter of the print book, each article (instead of chapters) follows this graphic presentation.

  1. Each section begins with a double-page divider, with a red solid block of color bleeding off all sides and surprinted with the title of the section in all capital letters in an ultra-bold, sans serif typeface.
  2. The next two-page spread includes a red half-inch bar (a timeline) extending from the left page to the right, bleeding on both sides. Above and below the line are dates in a black sans serif type with arrows pointing to short paragraphs describing significant events. All of these snippets pertain directly to the subject of that section, such as “The Foundations of Sociology.”
  3. Each section then contains a handful of related articles (maybe 10). There is an opening “pictogram” for each article, printed in black ink over the local color. (By local color, I mean one of the many bright, saturated colors that distinguish each article from every other article. These colors do repeat occasionally throughout the print book.) The benefit of the pictograms is that they illustrate each concept in a simple, visual way, and they immediately grab the reader’s attention.
  4. To the right of the pictogram is the title of the article in the all-caps, sans serif font, printed in black. Below the title is the name of the sociologist under discussion, and above and below this title block is a 1/2” solid bar of the local color. The effect is that the reader’s eye goes here first, without question.
  5. Then there’s the “In Context” box immediately below the pictogram (all within a three-column layout) to give the historical surroundings of the key concept or subject.
  6. Some articles include quotes (to enhance the reader’s level of trust in the content of the book). Each quote includes large screened quote marks above and below the text and solid color bars (the local color again) to frame the quotation and the quote marks.
  7. Some articles include flow charts (hand drawn circles and arrows around short blocks of text, which are set in roman type with bold type highlighting the most important words).
  8. The book includes running heads at the top of the page, typeset in uppercase letters and screened to gray. You always know where you are in the book.
  9. Finally, the print book includes a three-column layout of text, which is still important in this visual layout. The text of each article begins with a drop cap in a heavy slab-serif typeface. The text itself is set in a small roman version of this typeface. With all of the sidebars and quotes, the solid bars of color, the duotones, and the pictograms, the reader’s eye–or at least my eyes–appreciate the white space (even if it is within the text columns).

What We Can Learn from This Book

This print book is a wonderful case study in how people learn today. And if you’re a designer or a writer, you can make yourself incredibly relevant by studying the design of print books like these and incorporating what you learn into your own design and writing work. Here are some observations:

  1. If you set up a design structure for a book that treats all chapters (articles or whatever else you call them) in the same way, your reader will understand that these are all equal-value components of the overall print book (i.e., design reflects function).
  2. Do the same with the cover, front matter, and section markers. In the sample sociology textbook described above, you can understand the book’s structure immediately. Whether you do this dramatically or more subtly than the book I described, create a consistent, overall structure for the book. Your reader will immediately know where she/he is in the text.
  3. Keep chunks of information short and self-contained (as in the sociology book’s sidebars and quotes). Bulleted or numbered lists are good, too.
  4. Be aware that people learn better if you show how the concepts are related. A flow chart is good for this. It shows how one concept or event continues into the next (cause and effect, if you will). Make sure the design reflects this.
  5. Pictograms (often used in infographics) are immediately recognizable because they are so simple in design. Think about the signs on bathroom doors. There’s no question about what they mean.
  6. Quotations (short ones are best) can capture the essence of an idea. They also add to the credibility of a book or magazine. (If such and such expert says so, it must be true.)
  7. Drop caps (initial capital letters) date way back to the illuminated manuscripts monks drew and painted by hand. They grab your attention. You immediately know where to start reading.

The Take Away

Increasingly, people prefer to learn from either videos or short bursts of information presented in a visual manner. This makes your job as a designer all the more important. Do research. Study how people are best able to digest and retain new information. You can learn this from marketing, advertising, psychology, and similar textbooks. If you are skilled at presenting information in an easily digestible way, your design skills will always be in high demand.

Custom Printing: The Importance of Adequate Lead Time

Sunday, August 16th, 2020


Purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

“The luxury of time.” Who has it anymore? Everything is a rush. Under the assumption that mistakes occur when you rush through something, if you buy commercial printing for a living, it’s vital to consider all facets of the job you’re producing and leave adequate lead time for each component.

In some cases your delivery date is flexible. Great. That’s a relief. But in other cases, for example a marketing initiative, if your job finishes just in time to get into the mail stream late, such that your prospective buyers (let’s say attendees at a conference) get the self-mailers just after the conference ends, you’ve failed. You’ve done two things, actually. You have missed the chance to sell the conference to so many thousands of prospects, and you’ve wasted money on copywriting, design, production, custom printing, finishing, mailshop work, and postage.

The Article

In this light, I just read a blog article on IronmarkUSA.com, the website of a local printer. The article, “Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect,” was written by Samantha Philipson and published on July 20, 2020. It not only addresses the need to plan ahead and start early when you’re shepherding a commercial printing job through the manufacturing process, but it also provides some general time frames to get you started.

My best advice to you is to consider these times, most of which will vary based on options you choose (some printing and finishing activities take longer than others), but equally important, I would encourage you to discuss your personal print production needs with your commercial printing supplier. (If you have several, pick the one you trust the most.) Do this early in the process.

Trust me. I spent almost a decade as an art director/production manager, and nothing makes you lose sleep like getting behind on a print project. Talking with your custom printing vendor early also takes into consideration his schedule. Maybe his plant is busier than usual, and a job that took a week last year might take longer this year. Chances are, if you discuss your project early, he can put you in the schedule now, with a turn-around time even faster than you might expect. After all, he doesn’t like surprises any more than you do.

General Time Frames

“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect” addresses the following aspects of a print project:

“Design/Copywriting Services” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

The article suggests a month for copywriting and design. I would add to that commensurately if the job is longer (perhaps a print book). When I was an art director, the writers/editors took several months to write our nonprofit educational foundation’s government textbooks. Then the designers took a month to a month and a half to design the book and produce press-ready art files. (This included all of the various rounds of proof corrections.) Then the printer took six weeks to print, bind, and ship 60,000 perfect-bound print books.

Smaller jobs fit nicely into the time frame Ironmark printing suggests. I would just encourage you to separate the various elements: copywriting, design (and I would actually separate out final art file preparation, since it involves extra steps that go beyond the design component of the job), prepress, printing, finishing, delivery, mailing, etc.

Also, the best thing you can do is (once you have created a schedule) discuss the schedule with the designers, writers, and editors. Then amend it as needed based on their feedback.

“Paper Size” and “Print Quantity” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Samantha Philipson’s article doesn’t specify time for all print jobs in this section, but it does note that the size of the press sheet and the number of press signatures (let’s say one 16-page signature per press run, depending on the size of the page and how many pages will fit on a press sheet), will determine the amount of time the job is on press. (For smaller jobs, like a mailer, speed is all about how many copies of the mailer can fit on a single—hopefully large—press sheet.)

Going back to the textbook I used to produce (as mentioned earlier), this (approximately) 352-page, 6” x 9” perfect-bound book comprised eleven 32-page signatures. That’s eleven press runs plus the cover even before any binding work could commence. In contrast, Samantha Phillipson’s article mentions the printer’s producing 5,000 postcards in two days or 10,000 in three. So, you see, more complex jobs take much longer to produce. Again, this is the best reason of all to discuss your job with your custom printing provider early.

“Stickers or Labels” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

According to Philipson’s article, these add a day to the schedule. I would also add that other items that require a printer to order and receive supplies not normally kept in stock (such as a specific paper you want to use) will also add time. So ask your printer about this. In some cases, by using materials he already has on the pressroom floor, you can save not only money but also time.

“Number of Pieces per Item” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Philipson’s article suggests that you consider the number of items in a promotional mailing. If you insert an invitation into your envelope along with a reply card and reply envelope, plus an informational card, the “inserting” step of the mailing will take longer. In most cases, inserting can be automated; however, if there are unusual size or placement needs, this might become hand work, which not only costs more but also takes longer. If your press run is long, this could cause an unforeseen delay.

“Is a Die Required?” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

If your job has a unique shape (anything other than a rectangle), your printer will need to have a metal cutting die made. (Let’s say the cover of your perfect-bound print book has a cut-out rectangle on the front cover through which you can see the first page. This would require a die.) Philipson’s article notes that such die making would add a week to the schedule. I’ve found this pretty consistent among all the printers I’ve worked with. In part, the delay is due to die-making’s being subcontracted work. Again, it adds to both the cost and the overall time. Philipson notes that the extra week does not include the printing or finishing steps of the job.

“Digital or Offset Printing”
(“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Philipson’s article notes that three to five days would be reasonable for a one- or two-color offset printed job, whereas five to seven days would be reasonable for a digitally printed job.

I’d encourage you to ask your printer. The offset vs. digital turn-around times will depend entirely on the specific digital and offset printing equipment he has, as well as his schedule at the time. Some printers are set up to produce digital work faster than offset; for some it’s the other way around. That said, in my experience three to five days for a small job (simple with a short press run) and seven to ten days for a larger one (more complex but not a print book) would be a good place to start negotiations with your printer. Keep in mind that these are business days, not calendar days.

“Number of Folds” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

More complex folds take longer on the folder (part of this is making sure they are accurate, since the first bad fold makes the following folds even worse). Some complex mailers require multiple passes through the folder, and this also adds time.

“Finishing Options” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Philipson’s article notes that you should add one or two days for such finishing work as varnishing. To this I would add that complex varnishing techniques (like using both a spot gloss and spot dull varnish to make certain portions of a brochure cover stand out) also take extra time.

I’d also discuss binding methods with your printer. If you’re producing a textbook (as I did), perfect binding takes much longer than saddle stitching. In part, this is because a lot of printers don’t have perfect binding equipment in house and therefore have to subcontract the work.

Proofing

Philipson notes that her printer can turn around digital proofs in approximately eight hours, but a hard-copy proof will take an extra day. In some cases a digital proof (on-screen PDF proof, which requires no shipping time or expense) is not enough. You need to see the actual color of the job. But if you do need a hard-copy proof, you need to set aside extra time for the proof to be delivered, checked, and returned to the printer. (However, if there’s a second round of proofs, I usually encourage clients to request a PDF proof for the corrections.)

Finally, “Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect” ends with wise words: “Build in extra time for any delays” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”). These can include delays on your end. (What if the main person who has to see the proof is on vacation when it arrives?) Or it can occur on the printer’s end. (What if the press is down or there are delivery problems?)

The two best things you can do? Pad the schedule, and communicate early and often with your commercial printing vendor.

Glossy Or Matte: What Should I Know About Each Type Of Coated Paper

Monday, August 10th, 2020

When creating print media for your business, you often have the option to choose from three different types of paper. Most commonly you will want regular stock paper, but for publications that are made to impress audiences, you can also choose one of two types of coated paper; either matte paper or glossy paper.

Both matte and glossy paper are appealing in their own ways and are used for business cards, brochures, postcards, catalogs, calendars, stationary, and more. If you are gravitating towards using a coated paper for your materials but aren’t sure which one to pick, here are the key differences you would notice when printing with each from online printing websites.

Color

Both types of coated paper handle colors and pictures differently, and when it comes to using coated paper in general, the colors will be slightly different from the digital images that you are looking to use. This is important to keep in mind.

If displaying vibrant colors is what you are after, it would be wise to choose glossy. The sheen of glossy paper makes colors more saturated than actual, which is ideal if you are looking to draw attention with your graphics. Glossy paper is also great for images and graphics that are of high quality, as it is capable of displaying visuals with sharpness and clarity.

Matte on the other hand can work in subtle ways, as it’s smooth nature can highlight minor details better than glossy paper can, such as textures, accents, and more. Matte paper is ideal for photos and other graphics where lots of detail is required. Believe it or not, but it is matte paper that absorbs more ink than glossy paper does.

Text

When considering coated paper for print media, the use of text should not be overlooked. Words, sentences, and paragraphs all need to be easy-to-read, and the coating of your paper can actually play a part in the legibility of text.

If you want the short answer of which generally makes text more legible, the answer is matte. Matte paper has little to no sheen to it, so there will be no glare for those that want to read a publication in a lit room or in daylight. Matte coating also is not as easy to smudge as glossy coating, so you can also choose matte paper if you want text to remain clear and readable in that regard.

There is one scenario in which companies might choose glossy paper if they have readable copy, and that is if their text is light and their background is dark in color. This would actually make their text more clear and brighter compared to matte paper.

Manufacturing And Costs

Both coated paper types are made from the same chemical coating. The difference lies in how much coating is on each type of paper. Matte paper will have enough coating to make a paper look smooth, but not enough to be reflective. Glossy paper will have a thicker coating that makes it shine, but it can definitely cause smudges, fingerprints, and oil-based stains.

As mentioned before, matte paper will use more ink over glossy paper, so printing costs will generally be higher for materials that use matte paper. Typically, though, if businesses choose a paper based on low costs, they will choose an uncoated paper.

Summary

Alternatives to regular paper for printing include glossy and matte paper. They both handle ink differently and contain different properties to make them either shiny or smooth. We do not consider one coated paper to be generally better than the other.

Commercial Printing: Four Print Jobs, One New Client

Sunday, August 9th, 2020

I recently had the opportunity to provide pricing for four new custom printing jobs for a prospective client. It’s a writers’ organization that provides educational and promotional services. This group was open to my interest as a commercial printing broker since I have produced perfect bound print books for one of theipackager members for almost ten years now.

My Prospective Client’s Printed Products

This particular client has an interesting mix of products:

  1. A twice-yearly catalog. Currently it is 8.5” x 11”, saddle stitched, 40 pages, with a press run of 11,000 copies.
  2. A twice-yearly perfect-bound book of poetry, in 8.5” x 11” format, with a length of 140 pages and a press run of 1,000 copies.
  3. A once-yearly, 80-page, perfect-bound book with a format of 5.8” x 8.3” and a 150-copy press run.
  4. A twice-yearly promotional letter with a #10 envelope, a #9 envelope, and a business reply card (BRC). The press run is 3,000 copies with a match mailing.

The first thing my prospective client asked was whether I could suggest a single printer that could do all of these jobs. I said I thought that would be unlikely (or at least somewhat limiting) for the following reasons:

  1. When I looked closely at the sample catalog, I saw that it had been printed on what looked like a newspaper stock (rough and a bit dingy; that is, the whiteness and brightness of the stock, along with the coarseness of the halftone screens and occasional press roller marks, suggested that it had been printed on a dedicated newspaper press, not a conventional offset press. Most printers that own a newspaper press focus exclusively on groundwood products like newspapers and catalogs.
  2. The book of poetry was easy. Almost any printer could produce this print book, although based on the press run I assumed it would be printed most economically via offset lithography.
  3. The 80-page book would need to be produced via digital custom printing, since it had a press run of only 150 copies. To use offset printing for such a short run would make the unit cost prohibitive.
  4. The promotional letter required a lettershop. A lettershop focuses (often primarily) on producing large volume mailings (3,000 is small) along with inserting services, addressing via inkjet, processing the mail, and entering sorted and metered promotional pieces into the mail stream.

Under the circumstances, my client understood that I could find a better match for the jobs if I found the proper printer for each job (with the best equipment and pricing) rather than looking for a one-stop shop.

How I Approached the Bidding Process

As with anything else in life, the best approach is to break down a complex job into successive logical steps. So that is what I did.

  1. I identified at least two printers I trusted to do each of the four kinds of work. In some cases I chose three, but I also was on a bit of a schedule, so I wanted to get at least something back to my prospective client relatively quickly. I knew I could do more shopping if I could keep my client’s interest (i.e., provide good initial bids and quality samples).
  2. I composed a list of specifications for each job, everything from the finished size and press run to the paper specs and use of color, binding, etc. I sent these to my client for her approval and additions or changes.
  3. I composed a spreadsheet noting the overall price (including shipping) and unit cost for each vendor’s job estimate. I did this so I would have one spreadsheet with which I could determine both a cost comparison and also a comparison of the specifications. (Different printers provided not only different pricing but also slightly different specs on the jobs, and I wanted a way to see exactly how the costs—and what they were based on—compared. That way I could determine what additional information I would need from each vendor.)
  4. I sent an RFQ (request for quotation) to each printer and waited for their response.

What I Received from the Printers

The first thing I found was that one of the newspaper printers I had chosen “no bid” the job. It didn’t fit their schedule or equipment. It is possible that the size of the catalog was a problem (8.5” x 11”), since the other printer offered 8” x 10.75”, full color throughout, saddle stitched, as an alternative.

I knew which newspaper press my client was currently using (she had told me), and I also knew that local newspaper printers were few. Therefore, I chose to accept this printer’s specifications and pricing for my vendor pricing grid.

Depending on my client’s reaction to the price and the format, I knew I could always expand my search. After all, an especially attractive price might induce my client to change the format slightly.

One of the other printers (whom I had worked with for almost twenty years) didn’t respond to my initial RFQ or my follow-up email, so I assumed they were not interested (too much work or other issues). It was unfortunate, since this printer could have produced the offset work (the 1,000-copy poetry book), the promotional letter and mailing, and the digital perfect-bound print book.

A third printer offered especially attractive pricing on the promotional mailing and the digitally printed book, but unfortunately they were high on the offset printed poetry book.

A fourth printer was expensive overall.

A fifth printer that focused exclusively on print books was the low bid for the offset-printed book of poetry. Fortunately they were not just lower but almost half the price of the next lowest bid. My guess was that they did not have to subcontract anything (they had all necessary equipment in house), and since they are in the Midwest, they may also have a lower pricing structure based on their local economy.

Then I updated the spreadsheet.

Next Steps

It is a truism that almost every bid from every printer includes a mistake, an omission from the RFQ, or a substitution, so I went through all bids again and again. Then I went through them again, comparing everything to the original specification sheets my client had approved. Each time I found something else, and so I made a list of questions for each vendor. Some of these had to do with paper substitutions (not a problem as long as the paper specs–such as the brightness, whiteness, opacity, caliper, etc.–matched my requested paper). Other issues had to do with missing specs (including the cost of inserting all elements of the promotional campaign in envelopes, for instance, but not including the cost of address inkjetting).

I sent email lists of questions to each vendor, and again I waited.

Then I incorporated the adjusted specs and/or adjusted pricing into my master spreadsheet, so I could still compare each vendor’s price (overall cost plus unit cost) to the other vendors’ prices. When all was said and done, and when I had checked everything twice more, I wrote to my client. I presented the pricing spreadsheet and a list of specifications the winning bidder had sent me for each job (so my client would see any changes in specs the printer had made before bidding). I also listed the changes I had found plus my reactions to everything (random thoughts, views about each printer’s strengths, response to any changes printers had made to the specs, etc.).

If my client shows interest in the pricing, I plan to have the printers send out printed samples for her to review.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This is a complex process. That said, it may be a process you yourself must engage in during your work day. Consider the following:

  1. Not all printers will bid on the same specs. Look for changes in size, paper specs, color, cover coating, etc.. Look for any omissions, such as omitted physical proofs or missing shipping costs. Make sure you have composed a detailed, complete specification sheet (review it multiple times) before approaching the printers for the initial bids. Then compare the spec sheet to all estimates multiple times. Remember that your printers will probably provide their own version of your specs in their bids. Also, each printer will list the specs in a slightly different way (different wording as well as—in some cases—specs slightly different from the ones you had submitted for the bid).
  2. Quality is better than quantity. Only get bids from printers you trust completely.
  3. Realize that for specialty work—such as newspapers—your printer may very well change the specs. He may have a newspaper press that prints only certain trim sizes (for tabloid or broadsheet work). So keep an open mind. He may also be able to position full color on only certain pages of a newspaper as well. You may need to sacrifice color and page format for price, or you may choose to pay more (at another vendor) for more options.
  4. Remember that price is only a starting point. It is very important that you like the printed samples and that you feel comfortable interacting (via email and phone) with the printer. After all, you need to know that the final printed product will meet your needs.
  5. If possible, with a new printer, start with a small job and then build up to larger, more complex jobs once you and the vendor trust each other and have a good working relationship.

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