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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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Commercial Printing: Problems, Problems, Problems

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

When It Rains, It Pours

A little while ago I wrote a blog post about a client’s problemmatic proof of a floor sample presentation binder. My client’s situation showed just how important an accurate proof is, as a preview of what you can expect when the final job arrives. In short, my client had submitted final art files she thought matched the blue in her client’s logo, but the hard-copy proof came out a muddy (4-color) black. Because she had been explicit in her written instructions, and because she had described (and demonstrated) what she wanted in a short video, the printer fixed the files and sent out a second proof. He charged my client nothing.

Such is the benefit of proofs. What if my client had not seen the problem until the final presentation binders had been delivered to her client? Ouch.

So a colleague of mine commented on this PIE Blog article, saying, “When it rains, it pours.” How true.

Not a day later, two other incidents occurred to reinforce his point. Here’s what happened and how the problems were solved.

The Case-Bound Book

Another commercial printing client of mine provided new PDF art files for a foil stamping die for a case-bound print book. The online proof was accurate but incomplete (showing only the top half of the proof and omitting some of the wording on the spine). The client checked the proof hastily and missed this error.

Then things got worse. Due to the lateness of the case-making process relative to when the print books were needed, the client did not request a sample case for approval. Production continued. Then the book printer contacted me asking about what looked like Morse code on the spine. This turned out to be the bottom portion of the book volume number expressed in Roman numerals. It had become only a series of horizontal dots and dashes foil stamped on the case-side.

I brought this to my client’s attention, and she said to go ahead with the print books due to the impending deadline. Then she asked for a discount in the price.

So I contacted the book printer with my client’s request.

I sent the printer a copy of the online PNG proof, as well as the original PDF art file and the CSR’s photo of the spine with the gold foil series of dots in place of the volume number. I also noted in the email that I had brought to the CSR’s attention the lack of printer quality control regardless of what had or had not been in the art file.

Ironically, before hearing back from the book printer regarding the discount, I learned that the books were complete and ready to ship. All my client needed to do was pay the remaining 50 percent of the bill, and the shipment would proceed. Since my client had a firm deadline on book delivery, I advised her to not wait. Holding payment until resolution of the dispute over the discount would do nothing but ensure a late delivery.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Before making this decision, I asked my client about the severity of the foil stamping error on the spine of the case bound print book. That is, what were its implications? Did it look ugly, or at least like a mistake? Yes. But did it render the book useless for any reason? Since it was an omission of the volume number, did it compromise the book on a copyright, cataloging, or other publishing or sales level? Did it reflect badly on the company brand? Would clients complain, and/or would this detract from sales?

(I realize that according to the trade customs of the commercial printing industry–as usually expressed in the boilerplate of the printing contract–incidental damages would never be covered. The only money recoverable from a printer would be related to the physical problem, not the incidental effect on sales. Nevertheless, I thought my client’s qualification of the problem would still provide leverage.)

My client noted that the only problem was the potential damage to her company brand. The print books were very expensive due to their highly complex, proprietary content ($600 each). The ugly spine reflected poor craftsmanship, and this might be interpreted by some clients as potentially extending to the accuracy of the book. (That is, if the publisher can’t ensure the quality of the book printing, why should I trust the accuracy of the facts it contains?)

So, to summarize, the events and issues were as follows:

  1. The printer had omitted all but a trace of the volume number.
  2. This was ugly, or at least confusing.
  3. The problem had not shown up on the proof. Nevertheless, the proof had been incomplete. However, the client didn’t question the proof.
  4. The error did not render the book unusable. It did, however, reflect poorly on the client’s brand image.
  5. Withholding final payment would have ensured the lateness of delivery.
  6. So the only thing to do was to pay the printer, release the book for shipping, and then, after the books had been delivered, pursue a trade credit.

Although my client’s request for a discount has not yet been resolved, we can learn from this case study to do the following:

  1. Always ask for a proof.
  2. Always check the proof carefully. If anything seems amiss, don’t assume the proof is flawed and the art files are correct (i.e., don’t assume the final output will still be right). It’s better to query something, even if it turns out to be just a proofing flaw. (For instance, I used to circle all of the dust specs on proofs made from printer’s films, before the advent of digital proofing. Most were flaws of the proof, but the printer checked every one.)
  3. Determine whether the printed product is unusable and therefore must be reprinted. Be realistic. No commercial printing process is perfect. (In my client’s case, the flaw could be covered by the dust jacket and did not compromise the publishing or sales requirements of the print book.)
  4. Keep written records and photos of everything, and if problems arise, share these with the printer and ask about options.
  5. If you want to see exactly how a case-bound book cover will look, ask for a sample case (as a final proof before binding). The online soft-proof of the foil stamping on my client’s print book would not have reflected the error. However, on the actual foil-stamped binding case it would have been visible. In my client’s situation, there was no time. In you own commercial printing work, if you have the time, ask (and pay a little bit extra) for a sample case.
  6. You can do the same thing for the text. You can request F&Gs (folded and gathered but unbound print book press signatures). These reflect any problems that occur after proofing and during printing (such as overinking of halftones, doubling, slurring, etc.).
  7. All post-press review samples take extra time (and often cost money). If you have the time, consider spending the money.
  8. Familiarize yourself with the trade customs of the printing industry online, or on your commercial printing contracts. What you learn will give you leverage with printers and in the long run will save you money.

In my client’s case, the printer has been paid. The books will ship out shortly, and they will arrive on time. In my client’s case, the requirement for timely delivery took precedence over pristine quality.

Another Client’s Problem

Not two days after this happened, I heard from the printer producing the floor sample presentation binders for my first client. Her client had ordered 100 presentation binders, and the printer, who had produced the artwork for these binders digitally (due to the ultra-short run), had just heard from the laminator (an outside vendor). Their equipment had spoiled 18 of the 100 copies of the digital printing sheets during lamination. Therefore, the binder manufacturer presumed they could provide 75 final copies (82 initial printed and laminated pieces less spoilage of 7 copies during the final binder manufacturing processes).

I told the printer this was unacceptable and didn’t conform to industry standard. Then I asked the printer for suggested options. She then offered to reprint the remaining copies, have these laminated, and start with a full load before the inevitable spoilage that would occur during the remaining steps of presentation binder production.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

There were several reasons that this was the best outcome.

  1. My client’s client, the flooring manufacturer, had only requested 100 copies. That’s not a lot. I could distribute that many in an afternoon. So the prospect of receiving only three-fourths of the requested total was unreasonable. In fact, printing trade customs suggest that acceptable overage/underage (the reasonable number of copies that can be provided in addition to or shorted from a print order) is 10 percent. (Many printers specify an even lower percentage.) In my client’s case, that would be 90 copies (underage) up to 110 copies (overage).
  2. All post-press operations damage some printed press sheets (this is called spoilage). It’s your printer’s responsibility to produce enough printed products that final delivery falls within the customary range of overage/underage.
  3. In my client’s case, digitally printing enough new copies to cover spoilage (and going back and laminating these) would require only minimal time and money when compared to offset printing additional copies to make things right. (So even for the printer, this was a minimal loss to ensure client satisfaction.)

Needless to say, the presentation binder manufacturer agreed.

So the takeaway, for your own print buying work, is to be fluent in the trade customs of the printing industry noted online and on your commercial printing contracts.

If this sounds like contract negotiations and business law, that’s exactly what it is.

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