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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Is the Job Your Printer Just Delivered Acceptable?

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“Acceptable” is a slippery word. In the case of offset and digital printing, acceptable delivery has more to do with whether you can tell your custom printing vendor that you are satisfied with the product and he can bill you for the job. It’s a question of quality, and you have an important decision at this point, which you should not make lightly.

With this concept in mind I thought back through my 45 years’ of buying commercial printing, looking for examples of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable quality, and I also found a list of things to check in Getting It Printed, by Mark Beach and Eric Kenly, one of my favorite books on custom printing.

What to Check Upon Receipt of the Job

“Completeness”(Getting It Printed)–If you collect prior mock ups of a print job and paper samples, you are in a good position to start your review. First of all, as Beach and Kenly’s book notes, check for completeness of the product. This is especially important for a multi-part project, such as a promotional package with multiple inserts in an envelope, but it also pertains to projects like books and brochures. Is everything as you expect? This includes tints, reverses, photos, trim size, everything you noted on your job specification list. Also check for any spot or flood coatings (like UV and aqueous). The goal is twofold. Did you get everything you expected, and did you get everything you’ll be paying for?

“Quality” (Getting It Printed)–Is the level of quality as you expected based on prior work from this printer and/or the printed samples the company provided? Look at the accuracy of colors in photos, consistency of tint screens, evenness of the trim on a page, thickness and consistency of the cover coating on a print book, quality of the binding, precision of register of each spot color to the others. This is not just subjective. There are tolerances that are considered “industry standard,” within the “printing trade customs,” and you may want to Google this or look for it on the back of your commercial printing contract in the terms and conditions section. Some post-press procedures such as trimming are not as precise as the press work, so you will need to be forgiving in some cases. Again, it helps to have a grasp of industry standards/tolerances. If you see something you don’t like, though, don’t make assumptions. Ask your printer about it directly. Also, if you find an error, check a number of random boxes of your delivery to get a sense of how extensive the problem is. Flaws may or may not be in every copy. Often they are not.

“Paper” (Getting It Printed)–Depending on what paper you have chosen, it may be easy to miss this one. Make sure the cover stock is as thick as you had specified. Make sure the interior paper of a print book is as you expect. Check whiteness, brightness, caliper. Is everything as you had requested?

“Quantity” (Getting It Printed)–Beach and Kenly suggest that you count the contents of one or two cartons to make sure you received the correct number of copies. Usually the total is also written on each box. Don’t assume you have everything. This is the time to check and to contact your printer if anything is amiss.

“Alterations” (Getting It Printed)–Whether you make changes on the proofs or request changes on press (if you attend press checks), all of these alterations will show up on your bill. It is a good rule of thumb to only make absolutely essential changes, ask about their cost prior to approving them, and then compare your final invoice to these agreed upon charges.

“Extra Charges” (Getting It Printed)–If any charges show up that you didn’t expect, ask about them. These may include higher freight costs (probably reasonable, but do ask for shipping manifests if anything seems amiss) and overage (can be up to 10 percent overs/unders according to industry standard, but this is usually noted on the printing contract).

“Schedule” (Getting It Printed)–Did the printer meet the agreed upon schedule? Your contract may stipulate a discount for missed delivery deadlines.

“Shipping” (Getting It Printed)–Beyond noting any discrepancies regarding shipping costs (as mentioned above), it would be wise to make sure all copies were delivered as expected (proper destination, proper copy count).

“Taxes” (Getting It Printed)–Some businesses will be tax exempt for various reasons. Maybe you’re selling the products and collecting the tax yourself. Or maybe you’re a tax-exempt charity organization. Make sure your printer has your appropriate paperwork and licenses early in the commercial printing process, and make sure the tax is noted on (or omitted from) the bill correctly.

“Arithmetic” (Getting It Printed)–Don’t assume that the printer’s math is correct. All it takes is an errant keystroke in a spreadsheet program to make a mistake. Add everything up yourself.

Beach and Kenly also note that paper prices fluctuate (paper is a direct cost, which can be passed on to the customer for the amount at which the commercial printing supplier bought the paper stock).

The “Analyzing a Job for Payment” list in Getting It Printed seems to me to be a good one. However, I’d also be mindful of your own situation and pay attention to any potential problems specific to you. Also, Beach and Kenly are approaching this quality check from the position of having both the product and the invoice in hand. In many cases, if you have established credit terms, your printed products will be delivered a while before your bill arrives. In this case, don’t wait to check and approve the job. Check it immediately for those items noted earlier in the blog. Then, when the bill arrives, recheck the relevant information.

What to Do If Something Goes Wrong

In my 45 years’ in the printing field a lot has gone wrong. In my experience, these are the best steps to take in such a situation:

    1. Contact the printer. If you’ve chosen the printer wisely (samples, references, as well as pricing), you will have a partnership relationship with your vendor rather than an adversarial relationship. This is why price is only one of many factors in choosing a vendor.


    1. Determine the extent of the problem. As noted before, check random copies in random boxes.


    1. Send your printer photos of the problem. You may want to follow up by sending him physical samples as well.


    1. Make sure no copies are distributed. If you have a problem with your job requiring a reprint (if it’s a printer error at the printer’s expense), and you use any of the bad copies, you’ll have to pay for them.


    1. Determine whether the printing problem makes the job unusable. Be honest with yourself and your printer.


    1. Ask the printer what he can do about the problem. Be open to a discount rather than a reprint.


  1. Focus on solutions, even though it’s easy to get caught up in blame.

Painful Examples

Here are some random examples from my 45 years’ in printing:

    1. I was producing a print book for a nonprofit organization about 30 years ago at a printer halfway across the country. They chose that instant to go bankrupt. Therefore, they couldn’t buy paper on credit. So my organization bought the paper and had it shipped to the printer. Then the book printer got behind schedule. So we agreed that for every day the book delivery was late, we’d discount the final bill by a certain amount. The job was completed and delivered. I never heard from the printer again after that.


    1. I received a box of letterhead for the president of the aforementioned non-profit organization. It was a new printer (the samples had been good). The register of the red and blue elements in the stationery was unbelievably bad. The sales rep was there when I opened the box. I asked him to take away the box and never send me a bill. I found another printer.


    1. A printer flopped a photo (printed it backwards, reverse image). The photo included text (on the person’s shirt). I asked for the delivered boxes to be retrieved and the job to be reprinted. Now, thinking back, since I’m 30 years older, I probably would have only requested a discount.


    1. A print brokering client called me and said the pages in all of his print books were wavy (not flat). Oops. I called the book printer, who said that storing the cartons upside down with weight on the books would remedy the situation. Thankfully it did. The waviness of the paper subsided.


  1. A client called me to say the film lamination on all copies of her print book was coming up off the paper. (I was at a pre-wedding event for my fiancee’s daughter. I remember it like it was yesterday.) Since I knew the printer’s CEO, who was reasonable, and since I had photos and physical samples, he had the covers removed and replaced, and the books retrimmed, at the printer’s cost. My client kept working with me, and I kept working with this printer.

The Takeaway

All printers make mistakes. All of them. It’s how they rectify the errors that makes you want to work with the printers again or move on. It’s like a marriage. Choose your vendors wisely, not just because their pricing is low.

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