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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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Book Printing: Always Respect Book Print Schedules

I am brokering the custom printing for a 272-page, 6” x 9” perfect-bound textbook, printed on 70# opaque text paper with a 12pt UV coated cover. The press run for the print book is 3,000 copies.

Initially, I negotiated a three-week schedule with the printer and my client. The cover of the book would be ready on a Friday, and the text would be ready early the following Monday morning. Three weeks from the initial Friday start date, my client would receive her books.

Once the job had been finalized and awarded to this particular book printer (who was actually among the higher bids, and was chosen primarily on a past record of quality and timely delivery), there was a delay. Both the cover and the text were uploaded to the printer’s website on Monday at close of business. (So the clock really started on Tuesday morning.)

The first thing I did after confirming that the book printer had received all files was to confirm that the slight delay would not jeopardize the three-week printing and delivery schedule. Since this particular printer had in fact successfully met a two-week schedule in prior years, our customer service rep was not worried. However, it was important to have confirmed this.

The printer’s rep delivered text and cover proofs about 48 hours after my client had uploaded the print book art files. This was a quick turn-around. Normally, my client would have shipped the proof back to the printer the following day (a Thursday) for receipt on Friday, but she needed the approval of a supervisor who was away and who would return the next day. My client wanted to return the proofs on Friday for a Monday (8:00 a.m.) delivery. She asked me if this would compromise the schedule.

I checked with the printer’s customer service representative and was told that plating of the files was scheduled for Monday afternoon, so an early Monday receipt of the marked-up proofs along with resubmitted PDF pages (three corrected pages, it turns out) would leave time for corrections, revised PDF proofs, and plating.

What Does All of This Mean?

As mundane as all of this talk of schedules may seem, it illustrates the tight coordination of time and processes within a book printer’s plant. Here are some thoughts:

  1. First of all, your job is not the only one your printer is producing. Therefore, it is extremely important to discuss any changes to the schedule with your customer service rep as soon as possible. If the schedule is tight (for example, prior years’ two-week press schedules for my client’s book had no room for an extra day for proofing), this is doubly important. After all, your book and other clients’ books must all go through the manufacturing process and must all fit in the time allotted based on available equipment and labor.
  2. That said, there is usually a little wiggle room built in. The book printer’s schedule for my client’s job had plating scheduled for a week after submission of final art files. Since my client didn’t need all of this prep time, her late submission of files by a day and her late return of the proof by a day (to allow for her supervisor’s oversight) didn’t break the schedule. In some cases it’s possible to make up time.
  3. Some of the more tightly scheduled vendors might not have been able to hold this schedule. Many of my client’s other estimates were lower, and in some cases these vendors would have had more jobs coming through the pipeline. Even a day’s delay in these cases might have broken the schedule.
  4. If you have a long-standing relationship with a book printer, you are more likely to be able to overcome a delay. That’s not a guarantee, but your vendor wants you to come back with more jobs. So he will usually do whatever is humanly possible to accommodate your scheduling needs.
  5. If things get tight, your printer may be able to send you some advance copies, or a partial shipment. This comes with limits, however. Keep in mind that in addition to vying with other clients for time on press and post-press equipment, you are engaging in multiple complex processes (more so for books than for brochures and other small projects). For example, printing the book has to be done all at once, as does binding and packing the books. You can’t economically produce a portion of the press run and then go back to complete it later.
  6. Your book printer assumes that your final files are accurate. My client was a little late in submitting her files, but she only had three corrected pages (out of 272) that needed to be replaced in the printer’s imposed, press-ready files.
  7. When all else fails and your schedule has been compromised, you may be able to make up time by forgoing hard-copy proofs. In my client’s case, she received the proofs 48 hours after submission of files. The book printer delivered her the hard-copy proofs, and then she returned them via either FedEx or UPS. This added a day. If the schedule had been compromised, there would have been the option of handling all proofing virtually through an online server. This may not have been as precise as a hard-copy proof, but virtual proofing does eliminate any proof-shipping delay since the proofs are transmitted online instantly. In your own print buying work, you can always request a hard-copy proof for color work (like the cover) and then rely on virtual proofing for less critical pages.

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