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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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Archive for the ‘Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

As with anything else, sooner or later you have to pay the bill for the commercial printing services you have purchased. Since printing involves both services and materials, there are certain established rules for payment as well as preferences among certain vendors. In your own print buying work, what is reasonable?

An Example

As a custom printing broker, I regularly negotiate payment terms for my clients with the printers I frequent. Most payment agreements are similar, but some are very different.

Net-30 is a common example—payment within 30 days. Some printers offer a discount for payment before the 30-day limit. (This would be for a credit account rather than a cash account, which is why payment can occur after the completed job has been shipped rather than before it leaves the printer’s plant.)

And here are a few other examples of negotiation terms (these terms, in contrast to those above, would be for non-credit accounts, which is why payment must be completed before the printer ships the job):

  1. 25 percent, 25 percent, 25 percent, and the final 25 percent after viewing samples but prior to shipping
  2. 1/3, 1/3, and a final 1/3 payment at specific points in the manufacturing process, prior to shipping
  3. 50 percent before the printer starts the job and the final 50 percent before the printer ships the job

Establishing Credit

One of the services printers have offered my clients is the ability to pay up to a certain amount of time after delivery of the printed products (i.e., the printers I work with bill the clients directly). I will start with this option because it is the most convenient for most printing clients.

Although it is much easier once negotiated, this option requires a credit check. Some of my clients (particularly individual freelancers and small publishers, or even self-publishers) have chosen to forgo the credit check and just pay by Visa or electronic transfer of funds. (If they pay by Visa, they usually need to pay the 3 percent service fee levied on vendors by credit card companies.)

In contrast to the small publishers and self-publishers, most of my clients in large organizations operate on credit terms, and in some cases if they pay quickly they get a discount. Paying early, particularly for multiple jobs over a length of time, will also give these clients more clout with the printers. That is, the printers have more of an incentive to keep prices low to ensure repeat work, and to quickly correct any problems if a job goes south. After all, nothing beats a customer who keeps coming back with more work and keeps paying on time or early.

If you’re an art director at a large for-profit or non-profit organization, and you plan to do a lot of work with a particular vendor, you might want to look into this.

Alternatives to Credit

One of my clients always arranges for an electronic transfer of funds from his bank to the printer before the printer starts his job. In fact, a prior printer of his required 110 percent payment prior to the onset of the job. Is this reasonable?

To answer this question, consider first that a commercial printing supplier has to do a lot of work before sending the finished product to the client. This is a labor- and materials-intensive field. A lot of people need to get paid for everything from prepress work to binding to carton packing. Plus there’s the cost of shipping. But beyond all of this, a printer has to buy paper (and other supplies that will go into the manufacturing of the client’s project). If, for instance, the project is a long-run print book, the printer’s cost for paper might be sizable, and he might have to pay for this up front.

To get back to my client, the book printer required prepayment of 110 percent of the estimate to cover any overage. That is, a printer is usually allowed to bill for up to 10 percent more copies than you order (this is often negotiable). Printers produce more copies than needed to allow for spoilage in subsequent operations. That is, if they printed text blocks for exactly 1,000 books (of a 1,000-copy print run), and then 50 books were damaged in the bindery operations (spoilage), the total number of copies they could deliver could be fewer than requested. In most cases, if you read the small print of a commercial printing contract, you will see that there is a range (called overage and underage) that the printer can deliver and bill for. Industry standard is 10 percent over or under the requested press run.

So in my client’s case, he was paying 110 percent in advance to cover any possible overage as well as to prepay for the paper and for all printing and binding operations.

Now the printer in question could not arbitrarily overcharge, of course. At the end of the process, sometimes my client had a credit in his account. He could then have the printer send him the funds or keep them on account for the next print run.

Cash Customers Pay Before the Ship Date

In most cases, with most of my clients, who at the moment are micro-businesses and therefore are paying cash (rather than going through a credit check to “secure terms”), the printers (many of which I frequent for various jobs) all require a certain amount of money before any work starts and then the balance of payment, including freight, before any boxes of print books (or whatever printed product) leave the printing plant. This is the norm. My clients understand this and abide by it.

But Some Printers Don’t Work This Way

I work with another printer that just bills my clients. This is unusual. But it’s the printer’s choice. This vendor just takes my word that the client will pay. That said, this is a mom-and-pop operation, a very small commercial printing establishment. Presumably, they are willing to take the risk of nonpayment from time to time to bring in the business.

As you see, everything is negotiable.

Paying Earnest Money

Over the past several years I have been frequenting two book printers, one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast of the United States. Recently, both have gotten very busy. Their schedules have tightened up and their lead times have lengthened. During the same period I have brought in three titles from a small publisher. Based on price and the quality of prior jobs produced by these two printers, I have asked my clients to accept the longer than usual schedules. I have also asked that they sign contracts early in the process and even put up “earnest money” in the form of deposits on the three print books.

Is this reasonable? They think so. I think so. Some would say absolutely not; just go elsewhere. My approach, and the sales rep’s approach at this particular vendor, is that earnest money makes a job “real.” These three jobs can be put in the printer’s schedule early, and the printer will have an incentive to do a good job on time.

Keep in mind that this is not the first job for this printer. I have done a lot of work with this particular vendor, so I was able to pose this as an option and get both the printer and my client to agree. What makes this so important in this particular case is that my client’s (the small publisher’s) print book distributor will reject the book outright if the printer delivers copies even a day late. The schedule is firm and non-negotiable. In this case I think it’s reasonable to “sweeten the pot,” to give the printer the incentive to provide the best possible work within the schedule, when so many other customers have strained this printer’s capacity in the near term.

Others may disagree.

The Takeaway

Paying for a print job is probably one of the least glamorous or creative aspects of the job, along with perhaps arranging shipping terms. However, nothing gets done unless both the printer and the client are happy. So, in your own work, it behooves you to think like a business person and to consider your goals and the printer’s incentives to meet those goals.

Here are some further thoughts:

  1. Negotiate only after you have developed a good working relationship. Prior to this, I would just ask about payment terms and options. Everything is negotiable, but it’s easier to successfully negotiate with a long-term business partner than a vendor who has never seen you before—or may never see you again.
  2. This is a good time to ask about allowable overage and underage amounts. Don’t let this slide and be surprised by the extra costs on your final bill.
  3. Consider your goals. If the job deadline has wiggle room (unlike my client’s print books that will be useless if the delivery date slips and the distributor gets the product late), you may want to choose another printer rather than pay a deposit a month or so ahead of the job.
  4. Remember the hidden payments. A 3 percent fee to use your Visa can really add up if the job is an expensive one. An electronic transfer of funds (which is often, if not usually, free) might be a better choice.
  5. Get in the habit of reading the small print in the contract. If your printer doesn’t provide a contract, you may want to ask for one. I personally do a lot of business just based on emails. More often than not I just receive contracts for large book printing jobs for my clients. But I do keep all of the email threads, in which everything is clearly spelled out, from the project specs to the freight costs, from the overage specifications to the schedules. Be safe. Do the same in your own work.

Custom Printing: The Print Job Is Not Over Yet

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Three of my clients have print jobs in some stage of production at commercial printing shops. One client just uploaded stationery materials to one printer. Another client has a perfect-bound print book of essays on press. And a third client has a color swatch book at a third printer.

If you are a print broker or designer, you may be in a similar position. It is all too easy to move on to other work and take your eye off the ball. These jobs may be done in terms of your designing and producing press-ready art, but there are still a lot of things you need to attend to in order to ensure success.

The Book of Essays

One client has produced a print book of essays for a local university. Actually, I myself designed the book for her and also brokered the custom printing. My client has a firm deadline for delivery of final books. She has a public reading of her students’ essays in early December. (As I write this, it is early November, and the proof will be in my hands tomorrow.) The printer committed to a five- to seven-day turn-around for the proof, and a seven- to ten-day turn-around for the final print books.

This schedule seems wonderfully short for a perfect-bound book, but it bears close attention. It is also a good object lesson for PIE Blog readers. The scheduled five to seven days for a proof began when I uploaded press-ready files to the printer’s FTP site. If my files had included any errors (incorrect creation of PDFs as per printer’s requirements; problems with fonts, bleeds, or resolution; or even presentation of pages as spreads rather than individual pages), the printer would have flagged the book files and requested changes. The five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have actually begun until all PDF files for the book were correct.

Moreover, the five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have included weekends, and would not have included a two-day shipment time for sending proofs from the printer to my house. The same will be true for the seven- to ten-day turn-around on printed books, starting from the date of proof approval. Although this schedule will begin upon my (and my client’s) acceptance of the proof (plus its return over a one- or two-day period by USPS or FedEx), I must also factor in a shipping period after the ten-day period for books to leave the vendor and arrive at my client’s office.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Build in plenty of time when estimating the overall production schedule by the printer. This may be particularly true for book printers (such as the one producing my client’s book). Fortunately, this printer will schedule a press date as soon as he has received the approved proof. From this press date, he can estimate the bindery date, shipping date, and potential delivery date. In your own work, request not only a general time frame for production by the printer, but also a specific press date and ship date as soon as you have approved the proof. If you have a fixed deadline for delivery and receipt of the books, brochures, or any other printed product, this schedule will keep both you and your printer on track.

Then, as the date approaches, follow up with your printer to make sure everything is on schedule. This is particularly important if your project includes a lot of steps (laminating, round-cornering, packaging in a specific way). If there are problems (for instance, if the printer is waiting for materials to be used in your job), it’s better to know early. So ask your CSR (customer service rep) before the shipping date. In the majority of cases you will get a more complete and accurate answer from your CSR than from your sales rep, since the CSR works with production schedules every day and therefore will usually have the most up to date information.

The Color Swatch Book

I just asked the CSR for an update on the schedule for another client’s book, a color swatch book used in selecting make-up and clothing colors based on one’s complexion and hair color.

This is a complex project often (depending on the printer) involving multiple vendors. This is because after the printing process, it requires laminating the pages, round-cornering the pages, drilling the books, and inserting a metal screw-and-post binding assembly into each print book. It also involves collation (there are 28 master books with between three and six copies to be printed from each master copy).

So a few days prior to the scheduled ship date I called the customer service rep and asked the status of the job. She told me the screw-and-post binding assemblies had not yet arrived. They should be there the following day, she said. I will have to keep in touch, since my client has been waiting a long time for this project. Her last printer had not done a good job, so my client’s clients have been waiting patiently. My client’s brand is on the line.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As with the prior job, it’s essential to keep up with your printer. He may have subcontracted out the binding of your book (many printers do not have in-house binding; even fewer have in-house case binding). Or he may have “jobbed out” your die cutting. Maybe you also need screw-and-post binding assemblies for your job. If your printer must rely on an outside vendor, this may affect your schedule. It is better to learn about this early. Be proactive. Contact your CSR as your estimated ship date approaches. Don’t wait for her/him to contact you.

The Stationery Package

This job involves flat cards, envelopes, and #10 envelopes. I solicited pricing from three vendors on behalf of my client. The list included the prior commercial printing vendor (this is a repeat job from several years ago). However, I made it clear to my client that this printer had been overwhelmed with work recently and therefore had not been as responsive as I expected a printer to be. I considered this to be temporary, but I did need to disclose this to my client.

Based on pricing, but even more so based on prior, positive experiences with this particular printer, my client’s client specifically asked to send the job to the printer I had been worried about. Fortunately, both I and my client had been completely clear about the risks (not in terms of lower quality but in terms of a longer-than-usual turn-around time). My client’s client had been apprised of our concerns.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes you will put a long-standing relationship with a printer above a current “bump in the road.” Perhaps the printer is overbooked, but you still want that particular printer to do your job. This is a risk. In my client’s case, all parties have been clear about the risk. Moreover, the job is a simple one involving no work subcontracted to outside vendors. Unlike the color swatch book described in the prior case study, it does not involve acquiring supplies not normally on hand (like the screw-and-post binding assemblies). Therefore, it is less of a risk than some jobs might be.

In your own print buying work, consider all the steps in such a job and be proactive. For instance, if the job takes longer than agreed upon to complete, will this be a problem? Do you have a hard deadline for your delivery? If not, and if the job is simple, you may still want to send your job to the printer. If not, you may want to pay a little more for another known vendor, or you may want to keep looking for a new vendor.

Custom Printing: A Trip to the Modern Printing Plant

Monday, October 1st, 2018

I’ve been attending press inspections at commercial printing plants for almost thirty years. Each time, I learn something new, so even now I get excited when I get a chance to go on a plant tour.

I had lunch this week with a friend of mine who is the CEO of a large, local custom printing company with a number of offices in the local DC Metropolitan area. Before we ate, we went through the new plant he and his company had just acquired (he had bought another commercial printing supplier’s business). I found it to be a most intriguing and educational experience.

What I Saw: An All-Digital Workflow

First of all, I saw relatively few people and a lot of equipment. When I started in the commercial printing field as a graphic designer and photographer, there were many more people in prepress. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, men and women at light tables manually stripped together large negatives shot from pasted up “mechanicals.” The mechanicals held the type and patches (called windows) for the photos, and negatives for these page elements were combined into the large flats (usually a press form of eight pages for printing one side of a press sheet). Passing bright light through these negatives “burned” printing plates that could then be hung on the cylinders of offset presses.

Today, in this particular printing plant (as well as others across the country), I saw almost no one in this department because all of the manual activities were now performed on computers, and the files were directly output to platesetters. Lasers burned the images of each eight-page side of a press form right onto the plate material with no intermediate film-based step. In fact, my friend’s platesetters didn’t require chemistry to develop the plates; the printing plates could just be washed with water on press, and they would be ready to print.

Where the Most Activity Was

I saw a lot of activity in large format inkjet printing and in laser-based digital printing. Again, relatively few people operated the handful of huge flatbed and roll-fed inkjet presses. One of these was a Mimaki. It printed the large vinyl banners, building wraps, car wraps, and magnets, while another flatbed router cut out the decals, window clings, and any other irregularly shaped, digitally printed jobs. (I knew from experience that other Mimaki equipment could actually inkjet print decals and then cut irregular outlines around the printed material using the same machine.)

The router I saw could also cut thick metal letters for signage with a different cutting tool (a plotting knife was all that was needed for the vinyl, paper, plastic, and other, less rigid substrates). I noted to my friend, the CEO, that I had seen videos of lasers cutting through large format print signage, and we agreed that this seemed to be the wave of the future.

What I took away from my visit to the grand-format inkjet press room was that marketing materials were a large market segment for commercial printing sales within this company. I also saw that items such as magnets could be inexpensively printed on huge sheets of magnetic substrate that could then be easily cut down as needed. These seemed to be very popular, as were the hemmed and grommeted banners made of scrim vinyl. Clearly they could be inexpensively produced by only a few inkjet printing press operators, and these simple products could pack an effective and memorable marketing message.

Digital Flat Sheet Presses

The CEO and I then walked through a room with both a Kodak NexPress and an HP Indigo. (I’ve often written in these PIE Blog articles that I consider the HP Indigo to be a superior digital press, and clearly my friend the CEO would not have otherwise purchased it.) But it was interesting to learn that he could laminate press sheets printed on the NexPress but not press sheets produced on the HP Indigo. It was my understanding that the fuser oil used in the HP Indigo did not readily accept film lamination. I thought this was particularly interesting since I knew of (and worked with) another printer who was in fact successfully laminating Indigo press sheets. Perhaps there are differences in the laminating film used by the two vendors, or maybe there are other factors of which I am unaware. Nevertheless, this piqued my interest.

Other digital presses in this commercial printing plant were more focused on black-only text. These were also laser-based. Interestingly enough, my friend the CEO spoke of the upcoming transition from digital laser printing (also known as xerography or electrophotography) to digital inkjet printing. He noted that both web-fed (roll-fed) presses and cut sheet presses might replace the Indigo and other laser-based custom printing equipment for printed book work as well as large format graphics.

My response was to ask if the quality was there yet, in his opinion. The CEO noted that no, it wasn’t. However, most people could not tell the difference. Others thought “good enough” was good enough, as long as the marketing message came through. For high-end work, such as fashion, food, and automotive advertising, the CEO did say that higher quality (better color fidelity and higher resolution) was needed and that certain digital equipment could provide this.

Marketing Work

At this point I also found it interesting that marketing work was in such high demand. Apparently people still responded to direct mail pieces discovered in their mailbox. With hundreds of emails showing up every day in computer in-boxes, it seems that the handful of paper direct mail pieces in the physical mailbox have a more immediate appeal. They are tactile; real, as opposed to virtual (existing only on the computer screen).

This particular printer also had hybrid presses. He had mounted inkjet heads on offset presses, so it was possible to print variable data (inline, right on the offset presses) directly onto offset printed marketing materials. He also had inline inserting equipment that could collect a number of personalized, digital or hybrid-printed pieces, and insert them into a mailing envelope.

And to speed up the mailing process, the CEO had on-site US Postal Service personnel doing all of the presorting and labeling, as well as bagging, tagging, and paperwork, so the direct mail pieces could ship right from his commercial printing plant.

What I found especially interesting, though, was a room with two roll-fed, laser-based presses. A roll of printing paper went through the first, which printed one side of the paper. Then this roll fed into a second press (the exact same model). The ribbon of custom printing paper turned this way and that (using turning bars, or rollers that could reposition the moving paper at right angles).

When the paper entered the second digital laser press, the opposite side of the roll could be printed. Then the paper was wound up into another roll, a receiving roll that could then be folded, trimmed, and inserted into envelopes. To me this was especially interesting, since I had been used to either cut sheets coming off a sheetfed press or completed and folded press signatures coming off a web press, but not a roll of commercial printing paper at the delivery end of the press.

But apparently this was an efficient way to process all of this direct mail: feeding it from a roll of paper, printing it, winding it into another roll, and then finishing it (all of the sheeting, folding, and trimming steps) from a roll instead of from press sheets.

And all of this was happening on a digital level, so the printed marketing materials I was seeing could be personalized as they traveled through the two presses as a single ribbon of paper.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Everything is automated. Some of the equipment needs far fewer operators than before. Other equipment can be operated remotely (with no on-site operators), except for loading and unloading the machines.
  2. Some of the digital presses are being built onto sturdy metal frames. That is, the build quality of offset presses is being introduced into the digital presses.
  3. Marketing is the main focus, at least in this plant. Managing databases of customers and potential customers drives the process. With this in mind, the digital marketing data and the creative art files are fed into offset or digital presses and then sent directly into the USPS mail stream.
  4. Large format printing is also hugely popular. Marketers want to grab your attention by wrapping buildings and vehicles with their imagery and tag lines. This way they get you to see their marketing message first.
  5. Digital inkjet is the coming wave, and it may eclipse digital laser printing.
  6. Acceptable quality for a particular job may not be the highest possible quality. “Good enough” may be good enough. That said, for certain markets (such as fashion, food, and automotive) only perfect color matches and the highest image resolution will do.
  7. Everything is changing at a blinding pace. Printers need to buy the latest equipment to stay competitive, but this equipment often becomes obsolete quickly. What this means is that large printers will get larger, and many smaller printers that can’t keep up will disappear.

Custom Printing: Bleeds and Multi-Signature Printing

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Two of my print brokering clients came to me with similar questions/problems this week. Both are producing print books, but the issues in question would be equally relevant whether they were producing catalogs, magazines, or any other multi-signature custom printing jobs.

First of All, What Is a Press Signature?

A press signature is a collection of pages that the printer imposes (positions in a computer file so all pages will be imaged onto a large custom printing plate and then printed onto a large press sheet). For offset printing, the press sheet sizes might be close to 25” x 38” or even 28” x 40” or larger depending on the printing press. All of these pages are then printed at the same time (often with four book or magazine pages lined up above four other book or magazine pages on one side of the press sheet, and with the same configuration on the opposite side of the press sheet). (Many presses will only allow for printing one side of the sheet. Then, after the ink is dry, the opposite side can be printed.)

When the pressman has printed both sides of the sheet, he can fold the sheet multiple times at right angles to come up with a booklet of folded and attached pages that can be perfect bound or saddle stitched into (potentially) a much larger print book, magazine, or catalog. These folded signatures are either nested into one another (and then stapled) for saddle stitching or stacked (and then glued into the spine of the cover) for perfect binding.

Since this is a very visual process, I would encourage you to research press imposition and press signatures online, and look at the photos on Google Image. You can do the same thing by folding an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper in half, then in half again (at a right angle), then in half again (at a right angle). This will show you how a flat press sheet can be folded (by the folding equipment in your printer’s post-press, or finishing, department), and it will also show you why you need to prepare bleeds according to your printer’s requirements.

What Are Bleeds?

Images or text on your two-page “reader spread” (any facing pages you see when the print book is open in front of you) can extend off the page on the top, sides, or bottom. Or they can bleed across the gutter (the vertical line between the two facing pages in the page spread). If they extend off the top, bottom, or sides of the paper, these “bleeds” must also be extended (usually 1/8”) off the page in the InDesign art file, so they can print beyond the trim lines and be trimmed off after printing without any white edges showing.

This is because trimming equipment is not always precise. If you have a photo that just comes to the edge of the press sheet and is trimmed inaccurately, there will be a visible white line at the edge of the paper. “Bleeding” an image or solid color off the edge of the paper and then trimming the sheet on your printer’s trimming equipment avoids this error.

All of this would be easy to grasp if not for the fact that a “printer spread” (two pages side by side on a press sheet) is not the same as a “reader spread” (two pages side by side in a printed book). If you look at press impositions online, you will see that book pages next to one another on a press sheet are in fact not usually consecutive or even near one another. To turn a flat press sheet with non-consecutively positioned pages into a folded and trimmed 8-page or 16-page press signature, your printer’s imposition software (usually) places individual PDFs of each page in a specific location such that once the 16-page printed press signature has been folded and trimmed, only then will all pages be consecutive.

Because of this, setting up bleeds in an art file for a multi-page (or multi-signature) printed product can be a challenge.

This was the problem my clients were having. Both were producing print books with bleeds.

Bleed Issues with My Client’s Books

One of my clients is a “fashionista.” I have written about her color swatch print books before. They are small books that help women choose colors for fabric and make-up based on their complexions. The color books themselves are like the PMS color swatch books used for graphic design and custom printing. In my client’s books, each page has a color on the front and text on the back. All pages are drilled and then attached with a screw-and-post assembly.

My client was comfortable preparing bleeds for this print book in InDesign because all pages were separate and could therefore bleed on all four sides. There was no “gutter” between pages. But now she is producing a 116-page perfect-bound book with bleeds and crossovers (the technical term for bleeds that start on the left-hand page and extend onto the right-hand page). So she’s not sure how to proceed.

The other client just received an online proof of her client’s 8.5” x 11” perfect-bound book, which has bleeds around the top, bottom, left, and right trim margins as well as crossovers. The first online virtual proof she saw had problems with parts of bleed elements appearing on other pages or otherwise appearing to not bleed correctly.

So both clients were frustrated.

How We Addressed the Issues

The first client’s problem was easier to manage than the second’s. I simply told her that for any pages bleeding on the outside trim margins, she should extend the photo boxes in InDesign 1/8” off the page. For anything that didn’t cross over the gutter margin between facing pages she should stay in the “live matter” image area (i.e., within the visible columns on the InDesign page). And for anything that needed to cross over between pages, she should start the photo on the left-hand page within the image area, and end on the right-hand page within the image area. For an image that would bleed into the gutter and then stop, she should just end the photo box at the gutter margin. (Why? So a sliver of the image would not show up on the facing page or—based on the description of press signatures I presented earlier—on a page elsewhere in the book. This could be a disaster.)

The second client’s problem was harder to diagnose. Keep in mind that both clients (depending on what the particular printer needed) would most probably export a press-ready PDF from the InDesign file in which they had created their respective books. And even though they were creating the books with “facing pages” to better see how their double-page spreads would look upon completion, their printer most likely would have asked them to export the book as a PDF with single pages (not two-page spreads). These single pages would then be imposed into the press signatures of their respective books (for instance, each of the 16 pages in one press form would be individually imposed as single PDFs onto a computerized version of the press form, which would yield four printing plates to produce the 4-color press sheets).

When my second client saw her virtual proof with parts of photos extending onto other pages and what appeared to be missing sections of other bleeds, she panicked and called me. After my encouraging her to call the prepress technician at the printer directly, we discovered that the PDF proof had no trim marks. Therefore, extraneous images (and parts of images) that would have been trimmed away on the post-press trimming machine all showed up on the proof. That is, all of what appeared to be errors would have been removed, and the final print job would have been perfect. However, without the printer’s trim marks on the proof, there was no way to know this.

What We Can Learn from My Clients’ Jobs

    1. Most importantly, ask your book printer how he wants the InDesign files prepared and whether he wants to receive the final job as “native” InDesign files or as a press-ready PDF file. If it’s the latter, ask for his specifications. Not all printers have the same imposition software or the same workflow, so not all printers want their files set up in the same way.

 

    1. Particularly ask about how to address bleeds that extend only to the gutter. You don’t want part of the image on a two-page reader spread early in the signature to show up on a page later in the signature. (A good printer would catch an error like this, but you want to to make things as easy as possible for your printer.)

 

    1. Keep all text, images, or color solids either within the live matter image area or bleed them 1/8” off the page (top, bottom, right, and/or left).

 

    1. When distilling a PDF file of your InDesign artwork, make sure you set the export function to include the bleeds, or they will disappear at the trim marks and not extend off the page.

 

  1. When you have questions about any of these items, which are complex and often addressed differently by different book-, catalog-, or magazine-printers, ask for the head of the printer’s prepress department and voice your concerns. Your printer will appreciate this proactive stance, which will avoid later problems.

Custom Printing: Benefits of Being Alert and Nimble

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Two things happened this week with two separate print-brokering clients’ jobs, and yet I saw a connection between them regarding being aware and being flexible. I thought you might find these insights helpful in your own print buying work.

The Missing Specifications in a Print Book Estimate

The first incident pertains to the cheese cookbook I’m working on. To give you some background, I have been working with my client for over a year to develop and print a wealth of information on cheese-making. The book is now two volumes, Plasticoil bound, 350 to 400 pages per volume, 8.5” x 11” in format, with a press run of between 500 and 2,000 copies. It has a coated cover, but there will be additional plastic sheets covering the front and back of the book. The goal is to protect the books from moisture and food.

In this round of pricing I had received estimates from five of the seven vendors I had initially approached with more preliminary specs. My client is almost done now and ready to print. So we’re tightening up the pricing and making sure all specifications have been addressed.

This week I received prices from the fourth vendor. Initially they looked great. They were right in line with the pricing of the current low bidder, giving me some flexibility in choice. However, upon further examination of both my specification sheet and the book printer’s estimate, I noticed that three key items were missing. The printer had neglected to include the hard-copy proof (not a great expense), the shrink wrapping, and the outer plastic sheets to protect the covers. It was only after the second pass through the spec sheet and the bid that I saw what was not there. So I asked the printer if they had been included. A day later he said they had not, and he provided additional pricing for these items.

To make a long story short, the extra cost for the shrink wrapping ranged from $500 to $1,600 for 500 to 2000 books, and the extra cost for the plastic sheets for the front and back of the book ranged from $900 to $3400 for 500 to 2000 books. Depending on the press run, this was a huge amount of money, and it could have been easily missed and then only caught after the book printer had completed the job and submitted the bill.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

The moral of the story is: Look at what’s not in the estimate as well as what is in the estimate. This is why I’m obsessive about checking and rechecking bids. Moreover, I know that each book printer’s estimate will be presented in a slightly different manner (format, wording, etc.) and that most printers will include certain items but not specify them on the bid. So having such a moving target, such variety in the presentation and meaning of estimates, necessitates careful checking and rechecking. Better to discover the hidden costs now, early in the process—or before the job has gone to press—than to find them after the job has already been awarded.

A Proofing Dilemma with a Small Poetry Book

Being alert and nimble is essential to the successful print buyer. Here’s another example.

This week another client of mine, who is printing a book of poems in memory of her deceased husband, needed to receive and review a proof. I had designed and uploaded the press-ready PDF of her print book, and it was time to confirm that all was right with the printer’s version before proceeding.

To give this some context, this is a 28-page-plus-cover print book. It is very small in format: 4.5” x 6”, printed on 70# cream text stock with a 100# natural cover stock for the saddle-stitched cover. There will only be 20 copies printed. But what makes this unique and important is that it is an individual client’s print book, not a job for a business. It is a labor of love for her, so it has to be right.

This week my client called me to let me know that her email was down (it was a problem with her computer, not the Internet provider’s service). Therefore, we potentially would not be able to review the online PDF proof once the printer had made it available. (In this particular case, due to the simplicity of the book, I had encouraged my client to forgo a hard-copy proof and just review the book online. For a more complex job, I would have advised her otherwise.)

Thinking quickly, she and I worked out a plan: She would pay for a physical proof of the print book (plus the cost of shipping). The printer would make an extra copy of the proof (at his cost), so my client would not need to return her copy. I discussed this with the printer, and he agreed.

Changing the workflow for a print job is an occasional necessary evil in print buying, but in this case there were benefits as well.

First of all, custom printing produces a very tactile product, and this turn of events meant that my client would actually see a copy of her print book on her chosen paper stock prior to its being printed. I had sent her a paper swatch to show her the thickness of the paper and the cream colored tone, but it was really just a square of paper. I also did not have a corresponding swatch of cover stock paper to show her.

But the way things were happening–even if not according to plan–my client could feel the texture of the paper and see her own printed poems on the chosen stock in the correct 4.5” x 6” format. She could also see the brown color of the cover, and see whether she liked the tone when printed on an off-white press sheet. If she wanted to make changes to any of the physical attributes of her poetry book, she could. Had she only seen a screen proof, all of these physical production qualities would have been absent.

Granted, this poetry book has one quality that sets it apart from a lot of other print jobs. It will be printed on an HP Indigo digital press due to its ultra-short press run (20 copies). (Printing such a book via offset lithography would be prohibitively expensive for 20 books.) But, fortunately, a digitally printed book can easily be proofed on the specific paper stock you have chosen for the final press run. It will then look exactly like the final printed product.

(As a final note, after I had written this blog article, my client’s physical proof arrived. It was delivered to the wrong house, and the printer had used an earlier—and therefore erroneous–version of the text. Nevertheless, my client could see most of her poems on the correct paper—both cover and text. Shortly after I had brought this to the printer’s attention, he sent me a revised PDF proof for my client. So my client can now take the weekend to read the book cover to cover to ensure its absolute accuracy. Best of all, the printer will only charge $10 to $15 per new proof cycle.)

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Changing your process on the fly is not always ideal or comfortable, but if you’re alert, you can sometimes find benefits not otherwise available. For example, in your own digital print buying work, ask about proofing the job on the specific paper stock you have chosen. You will both see and feel exactly how the finished product will look. You will be able to see whether a cream coated stock will change the printed toner colors in adverse ways (for example, yellow-white paper can make people’s faces look jaundiced). It’s better to see this on the proof than in the final print books.
  2. Proofing on the actual stock (for a digital print job) can also be helpful if you have heavy coverage solids. You’ll be able to see immediately if the toner lays down evenly (or if there are holes or uneven colors). In this way you can see whether a coated or uncoated press sheet would be better for your particular artwork. You can even scratch the dry toner with your fingernail to see whether there will potentially be problems with scuffing and whether you should therefore laminate the print book covers.

Commercial Printing: Saving Money Buying Printing

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

“Saving money.” These words have a nice ring to them. Here are some ways to do this.

An Example: Using a Cutting Die More Than Once

A print brokering client of mine is about to (hopefully) award me a job she has been sending my way for a number of years. It is a small print booklet with diagonal, step-down flaps in the corners of the successive pages. Each is a different color, and together they provide an easy way to navigate through the sections of the booklet.

As a commercial printing exercise, however, this has been expensive and somewhat hard to accomplish. Since the divider pages step down (each is shorter than the next, all have solid colors printed on the tabs only, and each tab abuts exactly to the next without revealing the white paper below), metal cutting dies are needed. Fortunately, though, my client (a freelance graphic designer) and her client (a for-profit association) have maintained the physical structure of the booklet for several years and have just redesigned the graphics annually.

What this has done is the following:

  1. The first year was a nightmare. In spite of the dies, the job was new, and cutting the press sheets exactly, such that the step-down dividers abutted perfectly without any white space between them showing, was a very slow process. My client’s client had to pay extra for the die that year, and the printer lost money on the torturous die cutting work.
  2. The second year, the printer used the same cutting die. Therefore, the cost of the die was subtracted that year. The printer was also happy because by the second year he could do all the diagonal cutting more easily. He had had a lot of practice.
  3. Both the client and the printer were happy. And the client kept coming back to me (and the printer I represented) because the process was easy and cheaper than a new design. And even though the overall creative “look” changed from year to year, there was a recognizable brand consistency in the physical structure of the booklet with its step-down tabs.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

For recurring jobs that cost a lot (because they involve work your printer cannot do in-house), any processes you can repeat (unchanged) from year to year will save you money. Usually this involves a finishing technique rather than a custom printing technique (i.e., foil stamping, embossing, and die cutting all require metal dies that can be reused).

A Poor, But Artistic, Self-Employed Client

This client was a clothes designer. She needed some tags and booklets and business cards and other little paper items that would either be attached to, or that would accompany, her hand-made clothes.

Here’s how I saved her some money.

I went in the back of a commercial printing shop and dug through the boxes of partially used paper. I was looking for different colors and surface textures, but all with the same size (8.5” x 11”) and the same weight (80# cover stock). Then I created a single 8.5” x 11” art file with all of my client’s print jobs ganged up on the one sheet. I made the cut marks obvious so my client could take a ruler and a knife and cut the printed products out herself once the job had been printed.

Then I gave the paper and the art file back to the printer for reproduction on his smallest press, an 8.5” x 11” single-color duplicator, if I recall correctly. Small presses like this one bill out at a lower hourly rate than a much larger press (a 40” Komori, for example). In fact, the job was dirt cheap, and there was no finishing (trimming or anything else). The commercial printing vendor gave me the printed sheets, and we were done. Then my client cut them herself and punched a hole in each (with a single-hole-punch) for the ribbon to tie the tag onto her hand-made garments.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Ganging jobs saves money. That is, if you lay out a rack card and a business card on the same press sheet, and your printer produces both jobs together, the overall cost will be less than if the two jobs had been printed separately. Be creative in applying this concept, and you can save some serious money. My client and I went even further and omitted finishing from the production steps the printer would otherwise need to do. In your case, keep in mind that anything you do will lower the overall cost. (But do realize that for anything but the simplest process, your printer will do it better.)

Another Ganging Example

My fiancee and I like to collect “fan” books. Not books for fans of certain artists or rock groups, but the kinds of books that can be fanned out (like a PMS color swatch book). We have collected and then given away to family members such books as an insect fan book, a mythology fan book, and a presidents’ fan book.

What makes these all very special is the intricately cut, printed image at the top of each long, narrow page. Plus the fact that the 100+ pages of each print book are all attached at the bottom with a screw-and-post assembly, which makes them a good learning tool. Kind of like a collection of flash cards, all attached at the bottom.

To go back to the intricately die cut nature of each book, as noted above, this is potentially an extraordinarily expensive product. My fiancee recently pointed this out, and I started to think about how the publisher could do this and not lose his/her shirt.

This is what I came up with. Granted, each die cut god’s or goddess’ head (or insect body, depending on the book) had to be die cut. And each metal die had to be created. However, I wondered whether all or at lest many of the various pages had been laid out on the same large press sheet in such a way that a single complex die could be used to chop out the contour of a large number of book pages. Presumably it would have been much cheaper to have made only a limited number of large and intricate cutting dies that would chop away the scrap around a great number of these die cut fan-book pages.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

The lesson is the same as in the last example. If you can “group” otherwise time-consuming and expensive processes in the commercial printing or finishing portion of your job, you can save money. Most likely your printer will bring up this subject. If not, ask him yourself about ways to save money by ganging up jobs or portions of jobs.

Custom Printing: The Web, a Great Way to Learn About Printing

Monday, October 24th, 2016

I was brought up on paper. I like print books and paper invoices. There’s something permanent and tangible about ink or toner on paper. Ironically enough, however, I have found the Internet to be the best place to learn about the new commercial printing technologies.

For instance, while reading about the most recent drupa printing technology exhibition in Germany, I learned about a lot of new digital equipment, but I found myself unable to fully grasp some of the physical processes described only in words. So I went to YouTube for help.

Highcon Digital Finishing

The first technology I researched through videos rather than written descriptions and fact sheets was the new cutting and creasing equipment produced by Highcon: the Euclid line.

I had been so used to the traditional method of cutting and creasing—the creation and use of metal dies and rubber components attached to flat wood sheets—that I could not quite wrap my brain around how to do this digitally without physical, metal dies.

My trip to YouTube led me to videos of the Highcon Euclid. I could see the equipment jetting polymer ridges onto the press drums such that they would score the paper substrate as it traveled through the machine. Seeing this happen made the process immediately understandable.

Then I got to see how lasers could cut the paper substrate, providing finished cardboard box blanks that could then be assembled. The video showed actual burn patterns of lasers quickly darting around the moving paper substrate as it progressed through the equipment. Who could grasp this process as fully from a written description as from a few seconds of video? Clearly if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is priceless.

Offset Printing on Bottles

I had been pretty clear that offset commercial printing was not an option for decorating plastic hair product bottles. My understanding of the process was that the heavy pressure of offset printing rollers would crush almost anything other than paper and packaging board. In fact, my understanding was that flexography or custom screen printing were the technologies of choice for any crushable substrate.

So when I read an article mentioning offset bottle printing, I looked to the Internet for video footage of offset printing being done on plastic hair product bottles. It was just like being a fly in the pressroom, witnessing from multiple vantage points exactly how the press blankets could come into contact with the bottles without crushing them.

Only a few seconds of video made the biggest impression on me, as I could see the chain operated conveyor bringing hundreds or thousands of bottles, one by one, to the rotating blanket cylinder of an offset lithographic press. I could see the exact point of contact as the rotating press cylinder deposited the inked graphics (and even the small descriptive type) onto the rotating plastic bottle. What could have been a mess was actually a never-ending line of bottles adorned with small, crisp type and graphics.

And again, I could not have envisioned this quite as well by reading a paragraph of text as by seeing even a few seconds of the video showing the operating press.

What We Can Learn from This Experience

Both of these experiences have taught me a few things about human psychology, the virtues of video as a learning tool, and the way print and digital media can actually complement one another. Here are some thoughts on the matter:

  1. I think people are creatures of habit. They see what they are used to seeing or expect to see, and they often can’t quite envision a new way of doing things. In my case, I was so used to the idea of hammering thin metal rules into wood to create both scoring (or creasing) dies and cutting dies that I couldn’t quite picture a machine that could use digital information to jet a fluid that could harden into a creasing rule—without the use of a metal die. In this case, a video made all the difference. It gave me the proverbial “aha!” moment of intuitively grasping the process.
  2. In understanding a physical process, such as commercial printing or finishing, even an amateur video is helpful. High-end video production values like professional actors, voice-overs, or music would have been unnecessary.
  3. Since I now understand the core manufacturing processes, if I want to expand my knowledge further, then a written document explaining the processes and reviewing the equipment specifications would be extremely helpful. In this case, print media and video would be complementary educational tools, each with its own strengths.
  4. My next insight pertains more to commercial printing than to digital media. I could see how inventive pressman can be. In producing the plastic bottles, the offset press actually printed a vertically oriented image, unlike that of any other press I have seen. The never-ending progression of plastic bottles dropped vertically to a position in front of the rotating blanket, which spun the bottles around at the precise speed to deposit the ink. (In most cases this would have been a horizontal process, and the rollers would have crushed the substrate.) The ingenuity behind this workflow is astounding.
  5. My fifth comment also pertains more to digital custom printing and finishing. Watching the lasers jet around the substrate cutting out blanks of cartons, and seeing the nozzle jetting a polymer material that would harden into creasing ridges on the rotating drums, made it clear to me that digital finishing—and not just digital printing—is coming into its own. Not that long ago, digital printing was more akin to laser copying. Then it improved, and the images were colorful and crisp, but you had to move the press sheets to traditional analog finishing equipment to complete the job. Now the manufacturers are getting serious and addressing all components of the manufacturing process, from laying down ink or toner on paper to cutting, creasing, and folding a job digitally.

Custom Printing: Old, Old Time Printing

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

In the spirit of spring, with all the flowers and trees in bloom, I thought it fitting to discuss some primitive custom printing techniques that have been around (in some cases) probably since the Stone Age. They’re ideal for children’s art parties, and you may even want to do these projects if you have an artistic bent.

Anthotypes

The first technique is actually a photographic printing technique. It uses the juices of plants and the sun to make images. This is how to do it:

  1. You prepare the substrate with an emulsion made from the juice of plants, flower petals, or berries. You can grind these into a pulp by hand, using a mortar and pestle, or you can use a mixer. The mortar and pestle is easier to clean and more efficient for small batches, but the mixer is easier on your hands, and it’s more suited to larger batches. In addition, if you use a mortar and pestle, the skins of the berries will be strained away (you won’t be able to sufficiently pulverize them by hand). You can use any number of plants. Research the plants online, and take time to experiment and play.
  2. When you have crushed or mixed the flowers, berries, or plants into a pulp, strain out the liquid using cheesecloth or a coffee filter. (You can also dilute the liquid with denatured alcohol, olive oil, or distilled water, depending on the result you’re after.)
  3. Choose a substrate, like thick watercolor paper, and paint the liquid emulsion onto the material. Keep in mind that the paper will be outside for days or weeks, so it should be durable (not fragile, lightweight paper).
  4. Choose an object, such as a flower or plant. Place the object on the emulsion coated (dry) sheet of paper and cover the paper and object with a glass frame (a sheet of plexiglass will do). As the rays of the sun destroy the coloration in the emulsion, the object covering the emulsion will resist fading (since the paper underneath will get less light). In the course of hours, days, or weeks (depending on your choice of emulsion), you will get a positive image of the object. Remember to choose a positive rather than negative image (think photography) since the sun will lighten the emulsion rather than darken it (as would happen with traditional darkroom-based photographic printing).
  5. If you frame and hang your print, keep it out of the sun, because the fading process will continue in direct sunlight.
  6. For those of you with little patience (like myself) two good plants to start with are corn poppy and dahlia. I found these online. They produce very sensitive emulsions that react quickly to the sun.
  7. Totally unrelated to this process, but directly relevant to contemporary commercial printing, is the fact that even a commercial print book left in the sun will do the exact same thing. I have a number of books with dust jacket spines that are much lighter than the front and back covers. I had these in a bookcase for many years in an office that received intense afternoon sunlight. The sun lightened the ink on the dust covers just as it will lighten the anthotype plant emulsions.

Cyanotypes

You can produce a similar result to anthotypes with treated light-sensitive fabric (treated with ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide). This process was initially invented to produce photographic reproductions of plants, seed pods, etc., laid on treated paper.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Buy the sunprint fabric (i.e., specially treated fabric made to be light sensitive).
  2. Pin plant specimens–leaves, seed pods, etc.–to the fabric in an artistic design.
  3. Unlike the aforementioned anthotypes, this process goes fast. Once you have covered the fabric with leaves and petals, expose it to direct sunlight. It may help to use a light frame (such as a piece of plexiglass laid over the project). This will keep everything stationary.
  4. In about 15 or 20 minutes for cotton (less for silk), you’ll be ready to bring the fabric indoors. Rinse the material under running water until the water runs clear. The colors should set in 12 to 24 hours.

Hammering the Juice Out of Plants

A third way to do custom printing with plants and flowers is to lay the leaves on thick, absorbent watercolor paper, cover them with paper towels, and beat them with hammers. This releases the natural juices and creates a “contact print.” Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose a durable surface, like a cutting board, that will tolerate the abuse. Cover it with a paper bag.
  2. Place flowers on the watercolor paper. You can tape them down to make sure they don’t move.
  3. Cover the flowers and watercolor paper substrate with paper towels or some other form of blotter paper.
  4. You can mark on the paper towels with a pen to identify where you will need to strike the hammer to pulverize the flowers or plants to release their juices.
  5. Try different hammers (ball peen and cross peen hammers, for instance). Hammer across in rows, and then up and down in columns. You will need to hit every part of the underlying plant to release the juices that will print on the watercolor paper.
  6. You can check your work by lifting the paper towel. If you have a complete image of the flower or leaf on the paper towel, you are probably ready to remove the leaves.
  7. Peel, scratch, or rub the pulverized leaves or flower petals off the watercolor paper to reveal the printed images below, made from the juices of the plants.
  8. You will have more or less success with this technique based on the amount of water in the plant as well as the coloration of the flower and the stiffness of its fibers. The paper substrate and your technique with the hammer will also make a difference in the final product.

How Is This Relevant to Printing?

All three are traditional custom printing techniques. This is what people did before they could digitally inkjet images onto fabric substrates for their industrial design projects (presumably decorating their grass-thatched huts, tipis, and yurts).

Commercial Printing: Working with a New Printer

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

When you decide to work with a new printer, a moment comes when you just take a leap of faith. At this moment, and in the time leading up to it, what can you do to ensure success?

Backstory: A Case Study

I recently priced out a 4- or 8-page self-cover booklet to a printer I work with regularly. It is a short run (250, 500, or 1000 copies) of an almost square job (8.5″x9.5″ folded), so the printer has priced the booklet on his HP Indigo digital press. Based on the client’s description of the piece, I gave the printer the option of running the job using offset equipment (as a 2-color job) or digital technology, and he thought digital printing would be more cost-effective.

His prices were great and very much in line with my expectations. Given that this custom printing supplier is usually the low bid, I didn’t bid the job to any other commercial printing vendors. My client was happy with this plan.

However, my client’s client asked for a second bid (for due diligence), so I bid out the job to a new printer. I had been referred to this particular commercial printing shop. The reference had been stellar, but in my prior attempts to start working with this printer, his prices had been too high.

I therefore expected the second printer to come back with prices that were higher than the first printer’s bid. But they were significantly lower, and they were based on offset custom printing (2-color offset).

What could I do? I actually wasn’t prepared for success. This had been a perfunctory second bid.

Factors in Choosing a New Printer

As a printing broker, I had to decide whether to encourage my client to consider this new printer. The price was right (several hundred dollars lower). The associate of mine who had recommended the printer had done a lot of work with him. The printer was therefore a known quantity. I felt I could depend on him.

Still, I emailed the printer and asked for samples of comparable work, something in line with my client’s specs. Based on the samples, I’ll decide whether to share the new printer’s bid with my client. I will look for such things as even trims, pleasing color, and tight register (which will be visible under my 12-power loupe).

And then presumably I’ll have to take a leap of faith. Granted, it is a reasonably small job, and I usually like to start a new printer out with something relatively small and easy, and develop trust from there.

Other New Printers I’ve Chosen This Year

I have also thought about the two other new printers I have added to my list this past year. Here’s how I made my decision to hand over a real job, to take the leap of faith:

Printer #1

The first one, a book printer, had been courting me for a year. I had seen samples and had liked them. The pricing was good, but for almost a year I didn’t have a live job that fit this printer’s equipment. I had spoken with the sales rep on the phone numerous times, and I trusted her. Again, it was an intuitive thing, a gut feeling. But the book printer’s website, equipment list, samples, and references were good. Even though the printer was halfway across the United States, I eventually had an appropriate job and gave it to this printer. In some ways I think the sales rep made the ultimate decision easier. I liked and trusted her. I had based my decision on the quality of the samples and the pricing, but I think on some level we all choose vendors based on our feelings of trust and connection with them. I was very pleased with the final print job, a digital print book with a case binding. I plan to go back to this book printer as soon as I have another appropriate job.

Printer #2

I chose a second printer last year based on a 17-year business relationship with the two principals of the commercial printing firm. At the time, they had been working for another print vendor, but I had developed a high level of trust with them over the prior 17-year period. Granted, I also visited the new printing plant, solicited a number of bids on selected jobs, and closely checked a number of printed samples. But on a certain level, I was willing to take the leap of faith and send the printer a live job (a rather complex one for a first job) based on the personal and business relationship I had developed over the years with the two principals (i.e., the level of personal trust).

I think that ultimately, after I have vetted the samples, estimates (for completeness, accuracy, and attractive pricing), and references, I select vendors with whom I have a feeling of personal rapport and trust. That is the ultimate deciding factor, particularly when selecting a new vendor. It’s an intuitive decision, ultimately, but not one based entirely on feelings. Rather it is based on a mass of data that comes together in a gut feeling of either wanting to work with the vendor or not wanting to work with the vendor.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Start with measurable qualifiers. Check estimates carefully. Look for errors and omissions from the specs you submitted.
  2. Look closely at printed samples. Check the printer’s attention to color register. Are all the plates aligned? Is the folding neat and precise? Are trims and margins accurate? If any of the samples are problematic, bring this to the sales rep’s attention.
  3. Check references.
  4. Consider visiting the printing plant. Look for happy workers and a clean pressroom. It’s a good sign if the presses are running rather than idle, and it’s also a good sign if the lighting is good, the workflow of the machinery makes sense, and there is an attention to cleanliness and order.
  5. Think about how you would feel working with the sales rep. Do you trust her/him? Answer this carefully, since he/she will be one of your prime contacts at the plant: i.e., your lifeline. Do the same with the customer service rep.

Custom Printing: Address Delivery Requirements Early

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

I’m helping a commercial printing client of mine produce an 88-page-plus-cover perfect bound book of poems. It’s gratifying to assist in the creation of a literary work in a world where we seldom have time to pause and reflect.

The final details, prior to submission of InDesign files, have included such items as my client’s transferring funds to the book printer (to cover the paper purchase), confirming the book length and press run, and getting my client to think about delivery.

Delivery is usually not a concrete enough concept at this early stage, but it still helps to get my clients thinking early, since it will be all too real in about a month. Today I found a delivery manifest from a book printed for the same client about a year ago. I’m using it as a starting point. It actually raised some interesting issues I wanted to share with you.

Structure of the Delivery Form

When you think of the number of cartons needed for a 1,500-copy, or 10,000-copy run of a paperback book, it starts to make sense why you should draft a detailed delivery manifest. An error can require a lot of physical labor to fix.

In creating this delivery manifest the first items I added were the following four headings: “Number of Copies,” “Destination,” “Carrier,” and “Due Date.”

Number of Copies

Among other things, I made sure all of the deliveries added up to the total press run, no more, no less. You laugh, perhaps, but it’s easy to make a mistake here. This also forces you to think about the books (or other printed products) as complete, individual units. Prior to this, they may have been a collection of specifications including page counts, page sizes, paper choices, etc. Now they are individual units, and their distribution must be accurate.

Destination

Destination is a more complex item. Here I put not only the complete street address but also names and phone numbers of people responsible for taking delivery of the job. In many cases these contact people will need to know the delivery date and time prior to the truck’s arrival (by a certain number of hours or days).

Carrier

In some cases the printer will want to deliver the print books. In other cases, the printer will want to hire a separate carrier to deliver them. For my particular client, based on the location of the printer, the fulfillment house (rather than the printer) will drive to the printer’s factory, pick up the books, and drive back to the fulfillment house. It pays to spell all of this out on the delivery form. (It keeps you focused on the details of all of the deliveries, and it provides a single document that all participants in the production and distribution process can refer to—repeatedly.)

I also like to give the book printer the option of choosing the best way to deliver the job instead of making this decision myself. This is particularly true if the printer is far away geographically. No one knows better than the printer’s customer service representative which local trucking companies are the best, what their routes are, and how the job has been prepared (i.e., the number of cartons and whether the job will require a full truckload or an LTL—less than truckload—delivery). If this sounds complicated, what it really means is that the customer service representative can get the best deals, so it’s prudent to let her or him do the research. Just make sure he or she lets you know the options.

Mostly, the choice of carrier will depend on the delivery location, due date, and number of cartons and/or skids of print books (or other printed products).

Due Date

If you look closely at a printer’s estimate, you’ll see that some printers include the date shipped while others include the date delivered. Your main concern will be when the completed job will arrive at your warehouse. So make sure you discuss the due date early and include it on the delivery form, where all participants can see it. In most cases, the fulfillment houses, warehouses, etc., will want sufficient notice as to the window of time in which the delivery will occur.

Extra Information

I always ask all of the freight carriers for their own specific packing instructions. These can include the following:

  1. Fulfillment houses may want all print books to have specific barcodes that display the U.S. price and ISBN.
  2. Warehouses and fulfillment houses may want the book cartons to be marked with the book’s title, ISBN, carton quantity, and carton weight in both readable and barcode formats.
  3. Warehouses may want shipments to be accompanied by a packing slip that indicates the quantity by title, the number of cartons on each pallet, and the number of pallets. They may want the packing slip attached to the pallet or inside an accessible carton marked “packing slip enclosed.”
  4. They may require shipments of more than a limited number of (for example, 10) cartons or a certain number of (for example, 300) pounds to be palletized and shipped by truck to avoid rough handling and potential damage. They may also require that pallets not be double-stacked in the truck.
  5. Warehouses and fulfillment houses may stipulate that shipping charges for books are the responsibility of the publisher, and that all shipments must be sent prepaid.
  6. They may have requirements for the size of the assembled pallet (for instance, 40″ x 48″ x 48″ high).

It is wise to do everything these warehouses and fulfillment houses request in order to ensure accurate shipment of the proper number of books, undamaged in transit, and accurately accounted for throughout the delivery process, the inventory, and the pack-and-ship fulfillment process.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to be precise, comprehensive, and accurate. Once you have a delivery form like this, you essentially have a contract. All participants at your place of business (in marketing, new product development, etc.), as well as the printer and the distribution facility will have a physical document to which they can refer, and which they can amend if necessary.

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