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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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Archive for the ‘Info Tech’ Category

Custom Printing: Backing-Up Files to Avoid Catastrophe

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

I have mentioned in prior blogs that my fiancee and I experienced a house fire about three months ago. After the damage was done, I collected a number of items, including computers, external hard drives, CDs, and USB drives. My fiancee’s son, who was helping to collect undamaged items, uttered words I will remember forever: “Don’t save the computers; save the data.” He was referring to the fact that my hard drives, CDs, and other media held the most valuable part of my work: the spreadsheets, design files, and word processing files that represent the content of my work. Computers could be replaced; the effort reflected in the back-ups could not, without considerable heartache.

How I Knew I Needed The Back Ups—After the Fire

Now we are three months past the fire. This week a client came to me for an estimate on a design project. I knew I needed to hit the ground running. So I collected my media:

  1. I had USB drives that I had updated during the year on a daily basis, saving InDesign files, all of my PIE blogs and articles, and any spreadsheets and documents related to custom printing sales. Anything I had changed on the computer, I backed up that day. I kept these USB “keys” by the computer. Once the jobs were complete, I placed the disks into the fire safe (which is specifically rated to keep CDs and USB sticks safe). Needless to say, this would not have saved my data from the fire if it had reached my office. Therefore, I now copy all files to USB disk at the end of each work day, but I save all work weekly to a USB disk that I keep in the fire safe.
  2. I had an external drive that periodically—and automatically—backed up my dedicated design-work computer (an iMac). Unfortunately, this computer succumbed to the fire (actually to the smoke rather than to the flames). On this hard drive I had a copy of everything on my computer. This included all fonts, application software, and any design jobs I had not yet offloaded to DVD or CD.
  3. I had DVDs of the design applications I use: Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. These were in the fire safe with the USB drives. When I buy a new iMac, I can reinstall all of my programs.
  4. I had CDs of all past design work that I no longer actively used. This included my client’s 4-color calendar from a few years prior. Unfortunately, I also lost my CD reader, but I could replace this easily and cheaply if necessary.

Finding My Client’s Prior Year Job

I spread everything around me so I could access whatever I needed, but I started with the easy-access files first. My fiancee’s iMac had made it through the fire, so I reviewed the USB drives first. I also did some research into how I could access the iMac Time Machine back-ups on my external hard drive, if it came to that. Plan C would have been to buy a new DVD/CD reader to comb through my CD back ups looking for my client’s calendar from two years prior.

I got lucky. It was the last USB drive I plugged in (#7 of seven drives), but I found the file—with no photos. Not a problem. The calendar would have been for a new year and would have therefore needed new photos. I had a disaster plan (USB, external disk, DVD/CDs) and it worked, although I had gotten lucky as well. (For instance, what if I had needed the photos I no longer had?) If the fire had done extensive damage to the house, it would have been harder to easily grab, install, and open an InDesign file of my client’s calendar.

What About Off-site Copies?

I used to do these when I had two offices, but now that I have only one, keeping a back-up copy off-site is impractical. However, over the past few years the “cloud” has become a good repository for back ups. I wouldn’t use the cloud instead of saving files on a USB drive, DVD, and external hard drive, but even now I store some things on Google’s version of the cloud. I’m sure that numerous other options for cloud-based storage exist, for free or for a price.

Had my fiancee and I not been so lucky, the lack of an off-site back-up would have been a problem, but possibly not an insurmountable one, since I had back-ups in the fire safe. However, it might have taken longer to find a back up file I could start with.

The Outcome

My client actually awarded the calendar design to another professional. (I didn’t win the design job, but I will broker the printing.) It really doesn’t matter that much, though, because I was able to find the InDesign files, install them on my fiancee’s iMac, and be ready to update the design if needed—all in a half hour. That’s the power of a back up.

The goal is never to need to rebuild a job from scratch. That would have been tedious, unbillable design work.

However, I also learned that having a disaster plan needs to be a fluid process involving thought and review. Going forward, I will back up more religiously to the USB drives that I store in the fire safe.

Twenty-five years ago a colleague told me to save my work periodically when writing or designing. She said I should save my work every ten minutes or so. What she was really telling me was to never go longer without saving my work than I could tolerate recreating the same work in an emergency (i.e., a computer malfunction). The same thinking goes for a disaster plan for a computer.

Learn from my mistakes, and from my good fortune in only losing the computer and not the data. Back up your files, and avoid rebuilding a design for custom printing from scratch.


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