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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: What Print Buyers Look for in Printers

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

When it comes to print buying, I know how I choose a printer. What I don’t know is how others approach print buying. So I found it intriguing to read an analysis on www.piworld.com of NAPCO Research’s survey of 200 print buyers or print buying influencers. The article is entitled “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection.” Written by Lisa Cross, this article was published on PIWorld’s website on 11/23/20.

First of all, what is NAPCO? According to “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection,” “NAPCO and PRINTING United Alliance research teams develop research and economic models that solve customer business problems.” The article goes on to say that “NAPCO Media research teams survey, analyze, and monitor critical trends related to marketing, printing, packaging, non-profit organizations, promotional products, and retailing.”

So, essentially this survey analyzes and addresses both the printing and the (general) business technologies and processes the PIE Blog discusses every week. Therefore, for me, NAPCO is a “guru” to which I listen with rapt attention.

What makes the NAPCO survey interesting to me, actually, is that print buyers these days appear to be very knowledgeable, very savvy in terms of processes, technologies, and equipment. This didn’t used to be the case. Years ago when I started in the field, in the 1980s and 1990s, designers may have learned their craft of design expertly in college, but many if not most had little experience creating printable art files, understanding how offset printing was done, or knowing which technologies and specific printing equipment were appropriate to best (and most economically) print their projects.

Well that has changed, and Lisa Cross’ PIWorld article is very specific as to how. Here are some takeaways from her custom printing article.

Increasingly Savvy Print Buyers

According to Lisa Cross’ article, print buyers increasingly understand the processes they are buying from print sales reps. Perhaps this is through personal experience, but I would expect that having internet access (both to written descriptions of printing technologies and to online videos of these processes) accounts for a big part of this increasing knowledge.

Print buyers also learn online and in trade journals that they have multiple resources immediately at hand. They can buy these printing technologies and processes from any number of commercial printing vendors.

Because of this abundance of print buying options, “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection” notes that savvy print sales professionals need to understand buyers’ new-found technical knowledge, the buying options they have, and their expectations for the vendors with whom they work.

To quantify this, NAPCO Research, as noted in Lisa Cross’ article, says that “over two-thirds of survey respondents (67%) report being extremely familiar with the printing processes used to print their company’s materials.” And “86% of print buyer respondents indicate they specify print processes and/or brands of printing devices used to produce their print work” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

These findings by NAPCO Research are completely consistent with my own experience in selecting the best print vendors for my commercial printing clients. Let’s say I’m looking for a printer to produce a client’s short-run poster job. Since it is a short-run job with critical color requirements, I might want to print the poster on an HP Indigo press. I might know a handful of vendors who have this equipment. I might also know whether their particular HP inkjet presses are of sufficient size to accept a large press sheet (and not just the smaller 13” x 19” size many digital presses will print).

Apparently, other print buyers have similar experiences. According to the survey discussed in Cross’ article, “70% of respondents report that [the brand of equipment] is a key decision factor.” Presumably print buyers’ decisions are increasingly informed by their own growing awareness of current commercial printing technology, gained from readily accessible equipment specifications and product/process reviews, as well as their own buying experience.

Interestingly enough, according to “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection,” this means that savvy commercial printing suppliers are increasingly taking into consideration their customers’ requirements for such equipment when making purchases for their plants. To a good extent this is because knowledgeable print buyers know they have options. They can buy from outside vendors or perhaps even print their jobs on in-plant equipment. They can print jobs via offset lithography or via digital inkjet or electrophotography.

Focus on Color Matching and Color Consistency

“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection” also notes that savvy print buyers are increasingly looking for ways to ensure color consistency across multiple technologies (offset and digital, for instance, if they have both long- and short-run printing needs or a need for versioning and personalization).

When I was an art director/production manager in the 1990s, we used to attend regular press inspections for most of our high-profile custom printing jobs. Now, onsite press inspections are far less common (except, perhaps, for color-critical work like food, fashion, and automotive). To a good extent this is due to better on-press, closed-loop color control, which provides immediate feedback regarding color accuracy.

Nevertheless, print buyers still want assurances that the color will be accurate throughout a job and from one job to another, and since this depends on the skill of press operators (as well as the capabilities of their equipment), the new breed of print buyers looks for printer certifications. Two important color management certifications noted in “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection” are G7 and ISO 9000.

Cross’ article also references print buyers’ interest in sustainability certification (presumably, such as a printer’s use of FSC-compliant—or Forest Stewardship Council-compliant—commercial printing papers).

The Value of Educating Print Buyers

If you are a custom printing supplier, according to Cross’ article, it benefits you to generously share your technical knowledge with your clients. Clients are most interested, according to the NAPCO Research study, in information on “the print production process…digital printing technology, and improving color quality and consistency.” They also want to learn more about “preparing print job files, substrates, digital enhancements, and combining print with other media” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

If you are a commercial printing vendor, educating clients benefits both you and them. This fosters customer loyalty and also helps ensure accurate, print-ready files. It “enhances relationships, while increasing production efficiency and productivity” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

The Importance of Personal Connections and Vendor Reliability

Savvy print buyers expect and require outstanding, responsive service. Again, this benefits both them and the print vendors, since jobs get completed quickly and accurately. The NAPCO Research study makes it clear that print sales reps need to understand both the technology and their customers’ needs in order to efficiently and cost-effectively solve their problems.

Job Submission, Monitoring, and Control

Print buyers want to understand how to best produce art files that will work the first time. They want to know how a job is moving through the various print manufacturing processes, and they want to be able to control not only the quality but also the cost. Furthermore, they want tight control over their brand.

NAPCO Research’s study of 200 print buyers and influencers found this reflected in the fact that “81% of print buyers prefer working with a print service provider that offers an online ordering tool” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

The Takeaway

What can we learn from this article as print buyers and students of commercial printing?

  1. Study everything you can about custom printing. Start with online articles and videos.
  2. Then ask your print providers about anything you don’t understand.
  3. Ask printers for samples produced with the various print technologies. Closely observe any differences. (Look closely at the general color fidelity and intensity, tint screens and solid areas of color, photographs, type, etc.)
  4. Look for printer certifications, such as G7 and ISO 9000. Also ask your printers about the sustainability of their materials (FSA printing papers and soy-based ink, for example).

The more you know, the better you will be as a print buyer, and the higher the quality of custom printing you will get from your vendors.

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