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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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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for April, 2021

Custom Printing: Packaging and StealthCode® Technology

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

I just read an intriguing article on www.packagingeurope.com (2/13/18) entitled “ToBeUnique: Packaging Becomes Interactive Thanks to StealthCode® Technology.”

Basically, the article is about a new technology created by Tubettificio Favia that turns “aluminum tubes with StealthCode® technology…into a precious tool of corporate storytelling.”

This is a coating applied to the entire surface of aluminum packaging tubes. Using the StealthCode® mobile app downloaded for free from Apple or Google, one can use a smartphone to read the code and be directed to additional content, whether in the form of a website, a video, or any other online destination.

This application is based on Digimarc Barcode® technology, created by BeeGraphic.

So what does it do? How is it different from older technology? When I did some research, I found that the predecessors of StealthCode® technology have included the QR Code, which was revolutionary in its time, but which cluttered product designs and didn’t always work, particularly with non-linear surfaces. The StealthCode® is invisible to the eye and is active in the coating that covers the entire packaging tube (as opposed to a single location on the packaging on which you have to focus the smartphone camera).

According to the packagingeurope.com article, the StealthCode® “can’t be duplicated and is protected by sophisticated IT systems that protect its authenticity, preventing it from being read if it’s not compliant with the required standards.” What this means is that the StealthCode® is a strong deterrent against counterfeiting efforts, thus protecting the integrity of both the product and the product’s brand or website. And it does all of this while providing the customer with access to a wealth of product information not printed on the packaging.

Implications for Packaging Design

“ToBeUnique: Packaging Becomes Interactive Thanks to StealthCode® Technology” suggests a number of uses for this technology:

  1. In the food industry: “the tube ‘links’ to a food blog or to a video recipe, or even to a page with some advice for the correct use of the product or its storage”;
  2. In the cosmetics industry: “the tube refers to a beauty blog or webpage, to a video of make-up tips”;
  3. In the pharmaceuticals industry: “the app allows you to go beyond the classic ‘patient information leaflet,’ linking to a page with medical advice for the correct use of the drug or for leading a healthy and active life.”

All of these links provided through StealthCode® technology can direct the customer to a manufacturer website, social media website, video, contest, game, or event. The list is endless. But regardless of the destination, the technology offers additional opportunities for customer involvement with the product and the brand. The customer can interact with the manufacturer using this technology as a jumping off point.

How This Will Make Marketing More Effective

Everything I have read about contemporary marketing theory suggests that nothing works as well as multi-channel promotions for connecting with a prospective client. Each time a customer sees a logo or some other reflection of a manufacturer’s brand, he or she becomes more emotionally bonded to both the product and the values the company espouses.

For instance, if a customer hears a radio ad for a product, then sees a billboard with the same message, then reads a social media posting touting the benefits of the service or product in question (such as positive feedback from peers through a Yelp review), the bond grows.

So in the case of StealthCode® technology in particular, this non-intrusive (i.e., invisible to the viewer) technology can provide such a connection and satisfy a prospective customer’s need for more information. As noted in the article, if he or she sees something of interest on the aluminum packaging, there can be an immediate connection with the company’s website.

In some ways this reminds me of NFC (nearfield communications) technology. I had read in the past about large format print posters, for instance, that included NFC chips. Someone interested in more information could bring his or her smartphone (presumably with a downloadable app) close to the poster and then download information that would complement the content of the printed poster.

I’m sure that other technology exists (or soon will exist) to bridge the gap between static commercial printing technology and the Internet: technology that goes beyond the QR code on the side of a building, the StealthCode® accessible on an aluminum packaging tube, or a NFC chip in a poster. But even with the current state of the technology, in all of these cases the customer can access information about the product or company, and the manufacturer can initiate a dialogue with the potential customer.

What This Means for Commercial Printing Technology

In everything I’ve read in the trade journals, I have seen confirmation that multiple exposures to a brand through multiple media create brand loyalty. In the case of commercial printing (either ink or toner on paper), the printed product can be a stepping off point into a more expansive digital realm. This can include virtual reality and augmented reality (which the packagingeurope.com article does not reference) as well as the videos, contests, and such that the article does mention. It can also involve games (now known as “gamification”), which have been shown to also increase engagement between a potential customer and a brand.

In all of these cases, the tactile nature of print can be exploited. People like its permanence, which they may subconsciously interpret as its having more authority than digital media. People like the feel and smell of the paper, and many are still more accustomed to reading physical print book pages than computer screens. But if the various computer technologies such as NFC, QR Codes, and StealthCode® technology can facilitate a customer’s access to a personal website or some other interactive experience, this will surely bring more customers into the fold than will either print media alone or digital media alone. Each can augment the other by involving more of the potential customer’s senses and providing more and increasingly varied experiences.

These technologies are new, and there are a lot of them. One or another technology becomes obsolete quickly as new ones are developed. However, the goal of bridging the gap between ink on paper and bits and bytes on a computer screen makes it very clear that both are essential.

3 Effective Tips for Magazine Printing

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

Magazines are a great way of sharing new creative ideas or concepts on a weekly or monthly basis. Magazines have the potential to hook readers and turn them into regular customers. A magazine has so many elements such as content, images, design, etc. that adds up to the quality. Before you dive into the results and benefits that magazines can bring to your brand, there are many other things to consider during the magazine printing that will make it worth reading.

Like any other marketing collateral, magazines are also an essential part of any brand. They not only connect readers to your brand but also establishes your brand personality in the market. To make sure the quality of your magazine turns out to be the best, it is important to consider few tips at the magazine printing stage. Let us discuss some of them.

 Define the Layout

The very first step is to decide the layout of the magazine. Planning is the key to success and the key to design a beautiful magazine. Defining the layout refers to creating grids and frames. Grids with specific tags puts a raw visual of the magazine in front of you that can be easily edited and planned. It also consists of page numbering, fonts, texts, and styles. There should be a consistency in the layout of your magazine.

A Great Cover Photo

The first thing a reader gets to see as soon as they pick up a magazine is the cover photo. Most of the time, visually appealing cover photos become the deciding factor for buyers to buy the magazine. Considering the importance of the cover photo, it is essential to design a cover photo that makes a lasting impression on every reader. A great magazine cover photo can boost sales. Besides that, make sure the cover photo is related to the content of your magazine. It should reflect the strongest story of your magazine well. It is also important to choose a photo that is high quality in resolution and rests pleasant colours. Headlines of the front page is the second thing that grabs the attention of readers after cover photo. Headlines of your magazine should stand out from the background. As most magazine editors suggest, you must avoid green, black, and white in magazine headlines.

Perfect your Content Page

Right after the readers open magazines, content page will be the one that gets attention. Mainly, the quality of magazine depends on the quality of content that it provides. The content design of a magazine should be highly creative, functional, and most importantly allow the readers to find articles easily. Do not try to stuff your magazine as it might confuse the reader. If the content part of the magazine is going to be large, spread it into full two-page without restricting it. The content should be aligned well with perfect headers and interesting images to complement it.

Apart from all these factors, paper quality that the magazine will be printed on, its size, the inks used, and the glue that binds it together, play a very important role in deciding the final quality of a magazine.

Custom Printing: Inkjet vs. Dye Sublimation for Fabric Printing

Monday, April 19th, 2021

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

First of all, textile custom printing is getting to be very big (and colorful, if you note the vibrant hues in the photo above). Whether it’s direct-to-garment imaging, or printing on fabric and then converting the bolt of material into garments, commercial printing on cotton, polyester, and other textiles is starting to get a lot of press.

(Every night I get a Google aggregator feed of articles pertaining to offset and digital printing. For a while now, the subject matter yielding the most articles has been split between package printing and textile printing.)

Moreover, one of my larger customers, a fashionista who prints a color swatch book (like a PMS book) for picking clothing and make-up colors based on one’s complexion, hair color, etc., has begun to expand her proprietary color line from these color swatch books to actual clothing lines using digital fabric printing technology for custom printing and dyeing cloth.

So what does this mean for you?

I think it means it’s prudent to study everything you can about all possible facets of fabric printing: the technologies and the trends. If you’re a designer, it may mean studying the technologies and trends so you can expand your business to include fabric design (just as many designers expanded their print design businesses to include web-page design). Education in new technology is always a good investment.

The same goes for offset and digital printing companies. If you’re just putting ink and toner on paper, perhaps it is time to consider putting dye and ink on textiles, just as you may have added large-format inkjet signage to your business offerings a while back.

Regardless of your particular trade, it’s wise to keep abreast of expanding trends in a commercial printing environment in which some sources of business opportunity are drying up (newspapers, for instance).

Products, Workflow, and Technologies

One of the best ways to focus your education on recent fabric printing trends is to consider the following list:

  1. The products
  2. The workflow
  3. The technology

I will focus primarily on the third item (technology, pros and cons), but first I want to describe the kinds of products you may want to design. On a promotional level, there are soft signs (everything from banner stands and table throws for conventions, to large-format signage for the sides of buildings, although some of these are vinyl, and the real focus of this article is on fabric).

On the level of interior design, digitally imaged textiles can be converted into uniquely printed sheets, towels, bed covers, upholstery, wall covering. The list goes on (even lampshades).

On the level of clothing design, you can find everything from bathing suits to scarves to tank tops. What used to be the realm of only vinyl appliques affixed to t-shirts with heat and pressure has expanded into detailed photographic imagery printed on every possible clothing substrate. For instance, shirts for sale at the beach now have intricate art across the entire surface of the garment, in contrast to prior designs that were confined to a small rectangle on the front of the shirt. Keep in mind, also, that these new printing techniques can also be used for hats, messenger bags, and other promotional give-aways (emblazoned with your logo) for distribution at trade shows.

Regarding workflow, some items are printed directly. Shirts and hats are examples. If your product is small and can lie flat, you can print directly on the item.

In contrast, for larger items (large fabric wall coverings, for instance, or long runs of pattern-printed fabric destined for designer dresses), you may want to print directly on the rolls of fabric and then convert the printed textile to usable items after the custom printing stage.

Finally, there’s the technology, which is the main point of this blog article. Here you currently have two options: inkjet and dye sublimation. In large measure, which of these you choose will depend on the material on which you’re printing.

Inkjet Is for Natural Fibers

If you’re printing on cotton, you will choose direct inkjet printing. The nozzles of the inkjet printer will spray droplets of ink onto the surface of the fabric. Pre-treating the fabric before the application of ink and post-treating the fabric with heat will help bond the ink particles to the substrate, whether a pre-made t-shirt or a bolt of fabric.

These are the pros and cons of this technology:

Pros

  1. You can print on cotton. You really cannot use dye sublimation to print on cotton unless you first add a polymer coating to the cotton.
  2. You can print larger substrates (Reid Broendel of Ironmark notes in “Advantages of Direct Printing vs. Dye Sublimation” that the inkjet maximum width is about 16 feet, whereas the dye sublimation maximum width is closer to 10 feet. What this means is that you have fewer sewn-together sections of the printed fabric with inkjet printing.)
  3. You can easily gang up multiple inkjet printing jobs, allowing faster throughput, lower costs, and the ability to do short print runs economically and quickly.
  4. Like dye sublimation, direct inkjet printing allows for incredibly detailed photographic imagery at much higher resolutions than possible with screen printing (another alternative for printing on fabric).
  5. The process is faster than dye sublimation.

Cons

  1. Colors are less intense than in dye sublimation printing.
  2. Sometimes the crispness of detail is less than in dye sublimation printing. (Reid Broendel of Ironmark notes in “Advantages of Direct Printing vs. Dye Sublimation” that this can also be affected by ink types, fabric types, pre-treatment methods and materials, and temperature.)
  3. Inkjet printing on fabric is less durable than dye sublimation printing. Inkjet printing applies ink primarily to the surface of the cotton fabric, whereas dye sublimation printing actually permeates and is bound to the polyester fibers. If you wash an inkjet-printed shirt a number of times, the printed imagery will fade.

Dye Sublimation Is for Polyester

As noted before, you can pre-treat cotton with a polymer coating and then do dye sublimation printing, but your best bet is to use dye sublimation technology to print on 100 percent polyester material.

In this process, you first print your image on a “transfer sheet” with special inks that can be “sublimated” with heat (that is, turned directly from a solid material into a gas, bypassing the liquid state). Then you put the transfer sheet on top of the fabric and apply intense heat to transfer the image deep into the polyester fibers of the fabric. (The process heats the inks, which boil and give off a gas that is transferred into the fabric.)

This firmly bonds the colors into the fabric, significantly improving durability. (It actually improves color intensity as well.) Interestingly enough, the same process can be used to print on hard surfaces such as the surface of drinking mugs, floor and wall tiles for interior design, and keychains for promotional work. This is in addition to dye sublimation’s use for soft signage, interior design textiles, and other fabric-based surfaces.

Here are the pros and cons of this technology:

Pros

  1. The colors are brighter than inkjet.
  2. The printing is more durable than inkjet. Colors won’t fade because they are a part of the fabric, not on the surface of the fabric.
  3. You can print continuous-tone imagery (unlike inkjet custom printing). Dye sublimation does not require any kind of halftone screening, so the colors can be more intense, and imagery will appear to be of a higher resolution.
  4. Ink dries instantly, unlike inkjet printing.

Cons

  1. The process is slower than inkjet printing.
  2. The equipment is expensive (even though the process is simpler than inkjet printing and therefore results in less maintenance and downtime).
  3. Final output cannot be as wide as inkjet. This means larger items need to be sewn together in sections.
  4. The printable substrate is limited to plastic: i.e., polyester fabric and such.

What’s Your Next Step?

Getting involved in this new technology is like stepping up onto a moving merry-go-round. You have to think about it and then do it at the right time. So the best thing I can suggest as a next step–if this interests you as a designer, printer, or print sales rep–is to read voraciously and learn as much as you can.

Printing on textiles is hot. This is definitely worth your time.

Custom Printing: Industrial Printing on Wood

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

About 30 years ago, when I was an art director and production manager at a nonprofit educational foundation, I worked with a designer and a book printer to reproduce the color and texture of a marbelized, textured paper. This was for an annual report, and the goal was to use a single paper stock for both the marketing portion of the book and the financials. We used a white coated press sheet for everything and printed a photograph of the marbelized paper as a background for all pages of the more elegant marketing section of the annual report. (We also moved the photo around a bit to vary the pattern from page to page.)

This process made an impression on me. I learned that you can make something look other than what it really is by using commercial printing techniques.

About 24 years later my fiancee and I had a house fire. While I didn’t much like the experience, I did learn something about custom printing as we chose materials to rebuild the house. One of these materials was flooring, and I was intrigued by the same process I had seen as an art director. Floor manufacturers were able to use commercial printing techniques to simulate wood grain on various materials and thereby produce flooring sheets and planks that were in many cases more durable and sustainable than real wood but still as attractive.

Initially, I found this somewhat objectionable on a deep level, because I had always been a purist. I always preferred to use real materials and make them look as they really are. Well I got over it. I remember the first time I saw a friend’s composite house-siding shingles. They looked “real,” like wood. But they were concrete, and they could withstand hurricane-force winds. By this time I was also a homeowner—and more frugal and less idealistic than before—and these three experiences came together for me as an “Aha” moment.

Digital Printing and Wood Surface Decoration

Whether it’s real wood with printed patterning or some printed, synthetic base, we are at a crossroads for industrial printing as it applies to the home décor market.

First of all, let’s define some terms and processes. “Industrial printing” is a huge part of commercial printing in general. But it has nothing to do with marketing or education, brochures or books. “Industrial,” or “functional” printing is the utilitarian branch of custom printing. It includes the letters on your computer keyboard keys, the writing on your car’s dashboard, and the numbers on your microwave.

It wasn’t that long ago that industrial or functional printing depended primarily on gravure printing and screen printing. Both of these are labor intensive (i.e., costly) to set up, so for economic press runs, you need to print a huge number of copies. Custom screen printing and gravure also take a long time (for preparation and changeover of jobs), so two things you couldn’t get 20 years ago were immediate turn-around and customization of your simulated wood flooring.

Fortunately for consumers, both of these (speed and variety) have become the norm due to the rise of digital commercial printing, which is ideally suited for “mass customization” and “just in time” manufacturing. So, for instance, instead of needing to order one ton of flooring, a distributor might now be able to order a single, short-run design for one building. This is because of the infinite variability of digital printing.

Another benefit of digital printing addresses the dimensional limitations of the gravure presses that preceded digital technology. The press cylinders had a fixed circumference compared to the laminating presses. Now, on large-format inkjet presses you can produce much wider flooring designs (or designs that don’t repeat regularly).

Better Than Natural Wood

Why do people choose simulated wood products?

  1. They are more sustainable than natural wood.
  2. They may hold up better to the elements.
  3. They may last longer in a damp environment. (After our house fire our water heater developed a leak. The new synthetic basement flooring held up to the flood quite well.)
  4. They may be more resistant to insects (living in a log cabin is romantic until insects damage the logs).

So digital technologies, whether direct custom printing on wood or lamination, can simulate the color, pattern, and surface texture of real wood, but they can do this on vinyl, metal, or composite wood, in such a way that the floors are more durable, water resistant, and stronger than natural wood. (And having struggled with warped wood in furniture, I personally find that flooring that keeps its dimensional stability even in the bathroom—shower after shower–is a blessing.)

Equipment to Look for and Research

Here are some names of equipment for digitally printed wood decoration that you may want to research if you’re looking into this technology:

  1. Inca Onset
  2. Kodak Prosper
  3. Koenig & Bauer RotaJet
  4. EFI Cubik

Ask about flatbed inkjet printers that can print directly on thicker substrates (like doors). Ask about roll-fed, aqueous inkjet printers as well. Make sure the printer you choose understands the nuances of woodworking, cabinetry, flooring, and/or lamination. That is, does he understand how digital commercial printing technology for wood surface decoration supplements the more traditional processes?

Moreover, ask about your options. Will your flooring product be directly printed onto solid wood or a flat, thin substrate (lamination)? Will the flooring be impregnated (i.e., what kind of top coating will seal and protect the flooring)?

And here’s a new one to research: Some current flooring decoration technologies will not only print the simulated wood grain on the flooring substrate but will also add a raised surface texture that mirrors the underlying design. (So it not only looks like wood, but it feels like wood, too, and at the same time the flooring product is stronger than natural wood.)

How Can They Ensure the Quality?

Repeatability is of prime importance with flooring decoration. Where two pieces of flooring abut, the colors and patterns must be consistent, or the floor will be ugly.

I have read online recently about “Digital Twin” (cloud-based) technology that ensures the quality of the final product. The gist of this approach is that computers simulate the manufacturing process from beginning to end while monitoring and controlling all steps of the actual, physical manufacturing process. So in most cases they can predict and/or avoid problems. This allows flooring decoration printers to maintain both color and texture consistency while reducing equipment downtime. And the result is higher client satisfaction, increased production efficiency, and increased profitability.

The Takeaway

What can we learn from this new technology? First of all, sometimes you need or want real wood. But sometimes you don’t, and in fact real wood floors might not be as durable or easy to care for as you would like. So there is a real need for wood simulations, particularly since digital technology now provides not only a visual simulation but also a textural simulation. The products look and feel real, and they’re durable.

So if this appeals to you as a designer, take some time to research the options: digital, gravure, custom screen printing. Consider the infinite variability (the opportunities for mass customization) digital printing provides. And think about whether you want to print directly on real, thick wood (doors, for instance) on a flatbed inkjet press, or whether you want to print on roll-to-roll inkjet equipment for follow-up lamination of the flooring product. All of these considerations will lead you to one or more digital commercial printing manufacturers.

And as with all other printed products, ask the suppliers for printed samples. Your eyes and your hands will make the final decision.

Why You Should Outsource Online Flyer Printing

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

Flyers are small but good looking printed materials that are very useful in printing businesses. Although they can be printed online, they are used on a physical basis. Handing these over to newspaper and magazine vendors is extremely helpful in carrying out marketing promotions. There are many companies which can carry out online flyer printing in bulk, and their contacts are available online. However, to be able to get through to a wide variety of companies, it would be suitable to look for a reliable print coordinator first, who can make the necessary links.

How Does The Print Coordinator Work?

The Print Coordinator has a specific network for all the online flyer printing companies present in different parts of the world. Print Buyers do not have to pay them for searches, as the member companies already pay them. These printing services are part of win-win propositions for all since Print Buyers get good quality work done at reasonable rates and print companies receive repeat business. Since printing is an integral part of several businesses, many of them are able to provide print designs as well.

There are very few companies that will provide only flyer printing services. In addition to these, they will have solutions for printing cards, posters, and more. Clients need to check the profiles of different companies before choosing one, but the best bet would be to check the coordinator’s suggestions and choose accordingly. Most often than not, a balance between price, quality and service is very important.

Using Flyers

Flyers can be beautifully printed and used for the following purposes:

  • Showcasing new price lists
  • Product sheet preparation
  • Preparing marketing collaterals
  • Printing different kinds of data sheets
  • Providing handouts at trade shows
  • Giving home descriptions to clients
  • Latest car schemes
  • Preparation of Media Kits
  • Printing new takeaway restaurant menus for localities

The text present in a flyer is always composed by copywriters. Content is put down in a way such that is grasps customers’ attentions easily in a short period of time. Those interested to know more will read further to find relevant information about products or services. It takes 5-10 seconds for a customer on an average to decide whether he or she will proceed or not.

How Should Flyers be Designed?

Certain tips are necessary to ensure that companies are able to gain maximum advantage from flyers. They are as follows:

  • Do not forget to put the company’s brand logo on the flyer. It is a symbol for the customer to link products and services.
  • The use of color images is likely to create a greater impact than black and white images. Therefore, a suitable budget must be available for this print.
  • Catchy messages are absolutely necessary in the flyers, motivating customers to pick them up. At the same time, there should not be any spelling errors. Even a small spelling error is likely to create a negative impression of the company in question.

Outsourcing print jobs to another company is most helpful since it frees up time for other jobs.

Cheap Printing Services as Long Term Solutions

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

Printing plays an important role in making elements of a business visible in front of consumers. These consumers do not always have to be end users, but could be representatives of other businesses. Different types of printed materials commonly required are brochures, flyers, books, posters, T-Shirts, key chains, and others. These days, suitable print coordinators who can get in touch with various print companies all over the world are available for such tasks.

Businesses have resorted to digital print services due to various reasons, one of them being cheap printing services. Technology has made it possible for printing machines and their related costs to be low, enabling companies to decrease their printing rates. There is no company which does not make use of digital print services at present. A Publishing House is an example of one such company. It makes great sense to carry out internal communication in the form of magazines and newsletters with the help of such printing services.

More About Digital Prints

In addition to providing cheap printing services, digital print enables companies to complete printing projects at a rapid pace. The print medium also helps a company clearly communicate with its target audience. Low volume print jobs like newsletters can be easily completed through digital prints. It is also suitable for proofing purposes.

One of the reasons why it is so efficient is because it can print to different media from digital-based images. It creates professional samples, allowing users to get detailed samples of their print jobs in a short time.

Yet another benefit of this technology is that changes with respect to colors, text, and photos can be made easily, but without slowing the process much. Businesses can benefit from customized marketing campaigns through this method. However, those who want high volume prints need to look for offset printing companies instead.

Kinds of Prints

While some companies look for specific types of printed matter, there are others who look for a variety of printing solutions. Common kinds of printed matter are as follows:

  • Letterheads
  • Notepads
  • Banners
  • Flyers
  • Standees
  • Pamphlets
  • Membership Cards
  • Brochures
  • Hologram Stickers
  • Leaflets
  • Posters
  • Plastic Cards
  • Mouse Pads
  • Grocery Bags
  • Car Wraps

Since printing coordinators can be contacted online, there is no need to travel to a new geographical location for finding a print vendor. Payments can also be made online, using wallets and payment gateways. It is possible to check the rankings of final print companies with the help of customer reviews on Google and other websites.

Print Offers are Available Online

Visits to various reputed print websites through the coordinators will help customers look at attractive discounts from time to time. Such discounts on good quality services are rarely available at offline stores. Quick delivery is also made possible, usually within a day or two, though this is based on the nature of assignment.

Print quality gives information about the nature of business. Therefore, it is important to choose reputed printing companies for the best results.

A Commercial Printing Match Made in Heaven

Monday, April 5th, 2021

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

A professional relationship with your key custom printing suppliers can and should be like a marriage, a non-zero-sum game in which both partners win (rather than having one win at the expense of the other).

Checking the Bill for a Direct Reprint of My Client’s Print Book

Here’s an example of a good vendor relationship. I recently received an invoice for a print brokering client’s job for approval prior to my forwarding it to her for payment. She and her husband, a publishing team, had just completed a 1,500-copy run of a print book and had immediately ordered a direct reprint of the text with an updated cover. It’s a 5.5” x 8.5” book of poetry, perfect bound with French flaps. She and her husband had ordered 500 more digital copies.

As is my habit, I checked the base price on the bill, about $2,100 for 500 copies, or $4.20 each. That part was correct, along with the 5 percent overage at the same per-unit rate. The unit cost was about $.50 higher than in the first print run, but that didn’t surprise me. After all, the preparation work amortized over a 500-copy press run vs. the initial 1,500-copy press run would explain the higher unit cost.

The overage didn’t surprise me either, since I know that up to 10 percent is industry standard, so I thought that 5 percent (or 25 extra copies) was very reasonable.

However, the next line item confused me. There was a $145.00 line item for cover corrections. Now I knew that my client had uploaded a revised cover for this print book, but it seemed that this cost would have been included in the quoted base price. Why? Because when asking for the initial reprint cost, I had stated that the text would be a direct reprint and the cover would have one alteration. So seeing a separate line item for the cover made me wonder.

In addition, the shipping cost on the bill noted a single delivery to my client’s print book distributor. That made sense, but the bill also noted that 895 copies would be shipped to the book distributor, and the total press run for the reprint was only 500 copies (plus or minus overage/underage). My assumption was that the printer had used the invoice from the original book print run (as a template) and had typed in changes for the reprint of the same book, forgetting to update the number of copies shipped. Furthermore, I assumed the $180.00 for shipping 895 copies of the first run and the same total of $180.00 for shipping 525 copies of the second (reprinted) run just reflected a minimum shipping/handling cost.

But since I don’t believe in making assumptions, I queried all of these concerns.

Now this particular printer has become a go-to vendor over the past several years, so I knew the representative I contacted would research every question and provide an explanation. He did exactly that, and removed the cost for the revised cover. He is still checking into the shipping information and cost. He stepped up.

This is an example of why it pays to nurture a good working partnership with one’s commercial printing vendors.

Interestingly enough, in spite of my client’s having requested a direct reprint of the text, with no text proof needed, the printer sent a PDF copy of the art file from which the first printing of the book had been done. My client actually did find one minor text correction on one page. My client’s book designer uploaded a revised PDF file of the book page, and all was good. Had the printer not provided a text proof, even for this direct reprint, my client would have missed the opportunity to correct an error.

So, again, it doesn’t hurt to have a printer who looks out for a client’s best interest, and this comes from repeat jobs over time. As with a successful marriage, mutual trust develops gradually.

What Can We Learn From This Case Study?

There are a number of object lessons within this simple interaction:

  1. Of course, the largest one is the benefit of developing mutually advantageous working relationships with a handful of vendors who produce the kind of print jobs you need.
  2. Trust, but verify. Look closely at the invoice. If anything looks the least bit odd, ask your printer about it.
  3. Pay particular attention to shipping addresses and costs. Compare these to the printer’s estimates and even consider comparing them to freight estimates from prior, similar jobs.
  4. It’s usually wise to review a proof even for a direct reprint. You want to make sure the printer is working from the most recent, most accurate version of your art files.
  5. As you can see, if you develop a working relationship with your print vendors, they will look out for your best interests as well as their own. A good printer can often bring to your attention something you would have otherwise missed.

Round Two: Another Example with the Same Book Printer

Immediately after this particular print brokering client had taken delivery of the first printing of the book I described and had ordered the 500-copy reprint, they (the husband and wife publishing team) requested pricing and a schedule for a new print book. The specifications were to be the same (a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book with French flaps) except for the page count and press run (longer book; longer press run).

Due to their book distributor’s schedule and the date the books would need to be delivered to the fulfillment house, the schedule was as important as the price and quality of the new print book.

The printer provided pricing that was commensurate with prior book estimates (as a baseline, I compared the total costs and unit costs to other, similar books my clients had produced with similar press runs and page counts). These new books were to be produced via web-offset lithography.

That said, the printer did not confirm the schedule I had requested. So I asked again. A few weeks passed, and the projected deadline for submitting the art files was approaching (I had drafted my own projected schedule based on the 5-week print window for the most recent book printing).

When I finally heard back from the printer, I learned that due to the increased workload (and Covid-19), the 5-week schedule had increased to 8.5 weeks. I knew this would create problems for my client, since their book distributor had strict requirements for delivery schedules.

Again, based on this particular printer’s long-standing professional relationship with my client, he offered a potential solution: printing the book via sheetfed offset lithography rather than web-fed offset lithography. He also provided prices for sheetfed work. They were higher than for web-based offset, but the printer could meet the schedule. Moreover, they were still better prices than any of the other printers I work with could offer.

Now my clients have two book printing options from which to choose (sheetfed vs. web-fed offset), and they understand the pricing ramifications. I even asked my client whether the schedule for delivery to the print book distributor could be renegotiated or whether the art file could be uploaded earlier. My client is considering these options as well.

What Can We Learn From This Case Study?

Here are a few more object lessons:

  1. Don’t make assumptions about print schedules. The date the custom printing project will be delivered is as important as the price and quality of the job. Tell the printer your required delivery date early, preferably when you request a bid for the print job. You can also provide your own projected schedule (based on prior work with the same vendor) and ask for feedback. However, don’t assume a printer will be busier or less busy than before (as in my client’s case of 5 weeks vs. 8.5 weeks).
  2. Consider sheetfed vs. web-fed offset lithography. Depending on the equipment your printer has on the pressroom floor, the schedules might well be different. Sheetfed usually provides better quality. It may also be more expensive. So don’t make assumptions, but do ask your printer about these options and their pricing and scheduling ramifications.
  3. All of this works better when you have developed a good working relationship with your print vendor over time. Your supplier will be far more likely to suggest alternatives.

A good printer seeks to understand your commercial printing needs, quality expectations, budget, and scheduling requirements, and to help you get exactly what you want and expect. This kind of working relationship develops over time. A printer like this is a “keeper.”

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