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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 ‘Negotiations’ Category

Custom Printing: What Does a Print Broker Do?

Friday, June 14th, 2013

A few days ago a potential client of mine asked what my fee would be to coordinate a job with the commercial printing supplier. I thought about the question, and after reassuring her that I had already included my fee in the total price (i.e., she would owe nothing extra), I realized that a lot of people don’t know what a print broker is.

What Is a Print Broker?

I think of a print broker as an “outsourced print buyer.” If you need a knowledge base that goes beyond your professional experience, or even if you are just so busy that you don’t have time to research the best avenues for a custom printing job, a trusted broker may be a valuable ally.

A reputable commercial printing broker will provide the following services:

Finding the Best Vendors

Let’s say you’re producing a direct mail package that includes a series of diecut keys printed on card stock, hooked together on a keyring, inserted in a polybag, and mailed out to your prospects. Last year a client of mine did a job exactly like this. For such a complex job, you may need several vendors to produce, assemble, and ship the direct mail package.

A good commercial printing broker will discuss the job with you, draft a list of specifications, and then go to work finding the best equipped and most economical vendors. Some printers will specialize in offset printing, digital printing, large-format printing, or even letterpress. At this point it’s important to find several vendors specializing in the specific kinds of work you need, distribute specifications, solicit pricing, and vet the vendors to put together a team that will make the job happen on time and within budget.

A good printing broker will come back to his or her client with a short list of potential vendors that can do either the entire job or the individual components of the job (printing, assembling, mailing). The broker should be able to provide not only pricing but also samples and relevant personal experience with the vendors to justify choosing one over another. A printing broker’s long history of working with the various commercial printing suppliers is his/her greatest asset at this point.

Managing All Components of the Print Job

Let’s go back to the initial example of the diecut keys on the keyring. Last year I found the best printer for my client. The vendor specialized in high-profile marketing materials. While most printers can do such work, some focus on simpler jobs like brochures and postcards, and others regularly produce jobs involving intricate work, including diecutting and foil stamping.

In addition to finding the most appropriate printer for the marketing piece, I also found a source for the rings that would hold together the printed, diecut keys. And I found a source for the custom envelopes. In the process, I had the vendor send my client mock-ups of her assembled job (which she had provided) in various kinds of envelopes to see whether one was better than another for protecting the contents. After all, a banged up set of cardboard keys on a ring would reflect poorly on my client. If the keyring had punched a hole in the envelope during transit through the mail, that also would have been problematic. It was important to test everything. This is the kind of service a reputable printing broker provides.

When the keys had been offset printed and diecut, I made sure the individual elements were hand-assembled correctly and then transferred to the mailshop (a separate vendor). It was essential that all variable data digital custom printing work supporting the mailing was accurate as well. In short, I had to ensure timely production of all elements of the job by all vendors, and then coordinate a mailing that would put the keys in the hands of prospects exactly when my client needed this to happen.

A reputable print broker will make sure everything goes as planned.

But What If It Doesn’t Go As Planned?

I had another client that same year whose print book started to delaminate. It was a crisis. The coating started to bubble and peel off on all copies of the book.

As a custom printing broker, I made it my business to collect samples, take photos, research the problem, and present all of this information to the printer with my client’s needs for remediation. The printer stepped up, figured out what had happened, and offered a solution. He would remove the covers, reprint and laminate the covers, and affix and cut them by hand, carefully trimming the job to make sure it was perfect. He also provided a schedule for the reprinted job that would accommodate my client’s print book orders from her clients.

In the case of a job gone bad, it is the responsibility of a good printing broker to step up, find out exactly what happened, and mediate a solution that will satisfy both the printer and the client.

It gives a whole new meaning to the term “honest broker.”

So for some commercial printing jobs, you may want to consider bringing a print broker into the mix.

Book Printing: Polybag Scuffing Problems in the Mail

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

For the past few years I have been designing, laying out, and brokering the printing of a non-profit educational foundation directory. For the most part, the process has gone like clockwork. It’s good money, and I enjoy working with the organization.

This year, when the job was complete and I had just submitted my invoice, I received an email and attached photographs showing damage to the polybags in which sample copies of the book had been mailed. Ouch.

Other than that, the book was great. My client was happy. However, polybags with little holes and tears didn’t showcase the design of the book in the best light. I agreed heartily. So I called the printer and asked some questions.

Specifics of the Book Printing Job

Let’s step back a bit. The directory in question was a 216-page, 8.5” x 11”, perfect-bound book inserted along with a promotional letter into 1.3 mil polybags and then mailed. The book covers had been UV coated for protection.

My client had sent several copies of the book to other employees in order to see exactly what subscribers would receive in the mail.

The six photos I received (which were incredibly helpful, both in terms of what I learned and in what I could easily communicate to the book printing vendor) showed various levels of damage. Four of the photos showed damage to the polybag material, one showed a damaged label attached to the polybag material, and one showed actual book cover damage through the plastic in which the cover of the book was either torn or the ink had been scraped off.

Solutions (Alternate Polybag Material)

In addition to sending the photos to the printer, I asked about using thicker plastic for next year’s polybags and also about other options for cover coatings for next year’s book.

The commercial printing sales rep researched the plastic material and came back to me with an option. Although 1.3 mil plastic is standard for such a job, the book printer could provide 1.5 mil plastic for next year’s mailing of the directory. He would also provide samples to my client as we got closer to the next version of the book.

On a side note, the sales rep did note that the extent of the scuffing of the polybag material and the book cover suggested heavy treatment during mailing. In other words, this was unusual. He did not think this problem was widespread.

Solutions (Alternate Cover Coatings)

The printer’s sales rep also offered suggestions about the coating applied to the cover of the directory. In this case the book covers had been UV coated. This had been applied at the printer’s shop. A thicker coating could have been applied—lay-flat laminate or liquid laminate—but this would have required subcontracting this part of the job and would therefore have added time to the schedule. It would have also increased the cost by approximately $600 to $800 (or about $.30 to $.50 a book).

(One thing you might want to consider in your own print buying work is that different commercial printing and book printing vendors have different equipment. Another printer might have had in-house laminating capabilities. However, I’m satisfied enough with the overall skill and responsiveness of this printer after three years’ of producing this book that I would not change vendors for that reason alone. But if you’re looking for a new printer for a job and you want to add a cover lamination, it may pay to ask about the printer’s in-house capabilities.)

I asked the printer’s rep about other cover coatings, just to be sure. He mentioned varnish, aqueous, UV, and laminate in the order of durability, from least durable to most durable. (I also knew that in addition to being the least durable, varnish can also yellow over time or even change the color of the ink below the cover coating.)

No Discount Requested

I believed the printer’s comments about rough handling by the Post Office. For one thing, we had developed a relationship of trust over a number of years’ worth of book printing work. In addition, I had not heard from my client in years past that any problems such as these had occurred. Finally, my client had made it clear that he only wanted to improve the process for the following year. He was very satisfied with the end product. He did not hold the printer responsible for the damage (particularly since only the polybagging—and one book cover–had been damaged). My client also trusted the printer’s word (and this speaks highly for the value of long-term relationships with custom printing vendors).

One Final Suggestion (Padded Envelopes)

The printer made one final suggestion, which might increase the price a bit. He suggested including the printed directory and the accompanying promotional letter in an addressed padded envelope. He said this would be the safest mode of transport, providing the greatest protection for the print book.

Custom Printing Case Study: Delivery of a Damaged Print Job

Friday, August 31st, 2012

I recently brokered a calendar printing job for a client of mine. I received my sample copies today and they were breathtaking, so I contacted my client who was not at all happy. A portion of the 200 copies had been damaged in transit.

Specifications and Background of the Job

To give you a bit of background, the job was a 200-copy run of a 4-color calendar bound with white metal Wire-O binding coil. The commercial printing vendor had produced the job on an HP Indigo to accommodate the short press run while ensuring brilliant color for the large images in the calendar.

My Immediate Response to My Client and the Printer

I called the custom printing supplier immediately and explained the situation. The printer was supportive and not at all defensive, asking me for a description of the damage and its extent as well as photographs of the damage (small JPEGs that could be easily sent as email attachments). The printer needed these to substantiate a claim to the third-party freight carrier that had damaged the three cartons of calendars in transit.

At first my client just sent me photos of the boxes. It turns out that the printer had double boxed the calendars for protection, but the delivery carrier had dropped the boxes and in one case punctured the cardboard of both the exterior box and the interior box.

I asked my client to take some additional photos. Apparently, when the boxes had been dropped, the edges of the calendars had been bent, and the Wire-O binding coil had been pulled out of its holes in some calendars. I wanted my client’s photos to reflect the type and extent of the damage, so she photographed several stacks of about ten calendars each.

Interestingly enough, in reviewing the damage, my client found that the calendars had been stacked on end in the cartons rather than flat. Granted, since each carton of calendars had been placed in a slightly larger carton for protection, it was not possible to determine whether the calendars in the interior box had been intentionally or inadvertently placed such that the calendars were upright. That said, it seemed that when the boxes had been dropped by the freight carrier, the weight distribution caused the edges of the calendars to be damaged. Had they been flat (parallel rather than perpendicular to the ground) the damage might not have been as great.

As I was composing a letter of explanation to the commercial printing supplier, describing the damage to the calendars and substantiating this with my client’s photos, I heard back from my client again. Out of a press run of 200 copies, she had found 47 damaged copies and 153 salable copies. I passed this information on to the printer.

Two things are important to note. My client is a professional photographer. Therefore, the quality of the final custom printing job is of utmost importance. Less than perfect calendars cannot be sold. In addition, my client had a backlog of orders for the calendar. Fortunately, she had 153 salable copies with which to fulfill these orders, so the commercial printing vendor would have a little time to reprint the 47 copies.

What Will Happen?

This is actually a fortunate (or, at least, less dour) occurrence for the printer. It would be significantly more expensive and time consuming for the printer to go back on press and reprint damaged copies of an offset printing run. Reprinting 47 copies digitally will cost the printer a certain amount of money, but he will undoubtedly recapture this from the freight carrier that damaged the boxes. In addition, it is fortunate for the printer that my client has enough copies to fulfill advance orders for the calendar for a few months (although I’m sure the custom printing supplier will still want to remedy the problem immediately).

What Can You Learn from This?

  1. First and foremost, this is why developing relationships with printers works better than just buying printing based on price. Printing is not a commodity service. Things happen. The cheapest printer might not step up and correct the problem when he has made a mistake.
  2. Respond immediately. Check selected samples of a job once the cartons have been delivered. If you see any sign of damage, alert the printer at once.
  3. Check the entire press run. If there are thousands of copies, randomly check a number of copies within each carton.
  4. Both describe and quantify the damage. Then back up your claim with photographs.
  5. Ask the commercial printing vendor for what you need to be made whole (a discount, a partial reprint, or a full reprint). Also, negotiate a schedule based on when you will actually use the product.
  6. It is human nature, if you are angry, to ask for more than you actually need. This is why the first item in this list is so important. If you have cultivated relationships of mutual trust with your custom printing suppliers, you will have confidence that they will correct any problems that arise to your satisfaction.

Commercial Printing: Case Study in Negotiating Skills

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I had a rather intense discussion today with a custom printing vendor who had offered to trim a step-down brochure printing job by hand to save my client the cost of the die, but who was now having trouble due to the complexity of the job.

The Specifications for the Job

The custom printing job is a booklet with thumb tabs. The front and back cover extend a full 6” x 9” to allow for tab closure to meet postal regulations. Starting with the first page spread, and proceeding throughout the 16-page booklet, each right-hand page has a diagonal cut-out thumb tab. And each cut-out is slightly less deep (by about 3/4”) than the following cut-out. To complicate matters, there are diagonal, printed color bars, one on each right-hand page thumb tab. Turning the pages of the book reveals the color bars one at a time.

The Custom Printing Supplier’s Dilemma

This is an exceptionally difficult job to trim, particularly by hand, particularly without a die. So when the printer came back to me and asked to raise the price by almost $500.00, I sympathized with him. After all, with a press run of 2,500 and all these diagonal cuts on each press sheet, trimming the job would be torture.

That said, I knew the client would not go for the additional cost for the following reasons:

  1. The printer had been explicit about not needing a die and instead trimming the step-down pages by hand.
  2. Although the designer had changed the specifications after the initial bid by increasing the number of pages that would need to be trimmed, the designer had provided a PDF of the job and the printer had increased the cost to cover additional hand-trimming and stitching. The client had accepted the charge as necessary and reasonable. At this time, there might have been an opportunity for the printer to acknowledge the increased complexity of the job and request the cost of a die. But he did not do this.
  3. The client had found it challenging to acquire additional funding to meet the increased cost. This involved a bit of fundraising. Alternatives such as design changes and a reduced press run were even considered before the client finally committed to the total cost and specifications.
  4. The commercial printing vendor’s request for additional funds came at the color proof stage, after the job was already under way.

My Response to the Printer

I made it clear that I understood the printer’s dilemma. I even reminded him of my initial concern with foregoing the die and trimming by hand. I noted that I did, however, trust his skill completely based on prior complex jobs, so I had deferred to his professional assessment.

I told the printer that I could not “go back to the well” under the circumstances. I asked what he could do.

He thought for a moment. He then said that his initial plan to hand-stitch the books might not be necessary. He had reviewed the job and could do this portion of the work on his finishing equipment rather than by hand. He thought this savings would cover the additional cost of the die for the step-down tabs. The printer said he understood why I could not ask the client for more money at this point. He was very reasonable, in addition to being creative in finding a solution that would not add to the cost of the commercial printing job.

Plans for Future Commercial Printing Jobs

Each of us—the printer and I–saw the other’s dilemma, and we found a solution that would meet each of our needs. This supplier’s integrity and willingness to compromise makes me want to bring many more jobs to his commercial printing shop.

After we had resolved this difficulty, we worked out a plan to identify potential problems that might increase the cost of similarly complex jobs in the future.

The printer had reviewed the digital file provided by the graphic designer, but there had been some confusion. I suggested that, in upcoming jobs of this complexity, the designer be asked to provide not only a digital file but also a folding dummy. This would show exactly how the thumb tabs would work and how each page would cover the color bar at the diagonal trim of each successive page. The printer agreed. This would avoid assumptions and clarify any points of confusion. We had a plan for future work.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Print Buying Work

  1. Question everything. If the bid seems to leave out a critical element (such as a die for die cutting), ask the printer to explain. Review the bid several times. Questions may arise, or you may catch errors, on each pass through the estimate.
  2. Understand that the printer may need to adjust pricing when he sees the actual artwork. This is reasonable. However, at this point you can negotiate alternatives and compromises with the printer.
  3. Once the job has actually begun (at the proof stage, for example), it is reasonable to push back if the printer requests more money. Do this forthrightly but respectfully, asking for specific reasons for any cost overruns.

Book Printing: Compromising to Gain a Price Advantage

Monday, June 11th, 2012

They say that everything is negotiable. As a commercial printing broker, I would agree, but I would also add that sometimes negotiating involves compromise. If the three variables are quality, cost, and schedule, it stands to reason that you may choose to compromise on one of these to attain the others.

Case Study: The Backstory

I recently negotiated a contract for a short book printing run for a client. The requested press run was 500 copies of a 202-page “zine,” a perfect-bound book with a 5.5” x 8.5” trim size. The cover would be 4-color (4/0), and the text would be black only.

When I learned that the book would be a “zine,” I did some online research. I wanted to get an idea of what kind of “look” my client might want.

Wikkipedia defines zine as “a small circulation publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier.” Furthermore, Wikkipedia notes that “topics covered are broad, including fanfiction, politics, art and design, ephemera, personal journals, social theory, [and] single topic obsession.”

From the online description, and from samples I had seen, I sensed that a zine should look “edgy” and “raw.” So I suggested an uncoated cover and text stock to my client for a softer, more environmentally conscious feel. I specified a 100# Finch Opaque cover as an alternative to the more common 10pt C1S. I also specified 60# Finch Opaque text for the interior, and asked for hard-copy proofs.

Sending Out Bid Requests and Vetting Estimates

I chose three custom printing vendors with appropriate press equipment. I chose companies based on my prior working relationships with them. Pricing fell into a range from $3,500.00 to $4,000.00, expensive for 500 copies, but since the commercial printing suppliers would produce the print books via offset lithography, I was not surprised. In addition, the bids were reasonably consistent from vendor to vendor. (This is always a good sign that the specs have been accurate, and that the vendors have considered all specs in computing their estimates.)

Based on the short press run, I asked about digital printing as an option to lower the overall cost. One of the printers has an HP Indigo. Another has a Canon digital press. Neither could do the job economically on their digital equipment due to the length of the run (202 pages of text multiplied by 500 copies or 101,000 pages).

The Third Custom Printing Vendor Offered Digital Output at a Sweet Price.

The third printer is huge. It’s actually an organization, not an individual vendor in a single building. It has various shops all over the country and one in Mexico. I go to this printer for good pricing and high quality, knowing that they have access to pretty much all printing and finishing equipment in existence.

The third printer offered to produce the job via offset lithography. Their pricing fell in line with the other vendors. However, this printer also offered a digital printing option for approximately $1,000.00.

That said, there were stipulations:

  1. The cover would be 10pt C1S. There was no option for 100# Finch Opaque Cover.
  2. The text would be of a slightly lesser quality: an offset sheet (not opaque). It would be 50# Thor Plus Offset rather than 60# Finch Opaque.
  3. The book would be 208 pages, not 202, since this printer’s digital press works with 8-page signatures.
  4. The proof could not be hard-copy. It would be a soft-proof (on-screen PDF image).
  5. The cover coating would be UV coating, not varnish.

Why the Stipulations?

This custom printing supplier could do anything for a price. However, to provide the $1,000.00 estimate that severely undercut everyone else’s price, this printer had to avoid special order paper stocks (hence the 10pt. C1S cover rather than the 100# Finch Cover, and the 50# Thor offset rather than the Finch Opaque text sheet).

The printer also had to use the available equipment. That is, the particular printing plant through which this printing organization could offer such low prices could not run 100# text in their digital press, and their in-house capabilities excluded cover varnish but included UV cover coating (which actually would have been glossier and more durable than the varnish, so I was happy and didn’t argue).

I requested printed samples, which both I and my client reviewed and thought were quite good. My client chose this option due to the price. I chose to include this commercial printing vendor in the bidding process due to its stellar past record of providing quality work for my clients. Therefore, my client and I chose to accept the limitations to meet the budget.

What We Learn from This Experience?

In your own print buying work,

  1. Consider large commercial printing organizations as well as small local printers. They have the economy of scale and in some cases can therefore be extremely cost-effective.
  2. But get samples and develop a relationship with the printer over time. It’s easy to get lost at a big printer.
  3. Consider compromising. Be willing to adjust your specifications to get a better price.
  4. Realize that different specifications are not necessarily worse specifications. Thor Plus 50# text is a bulky sheet. It mics to 440 ppi (pages per inch). Finch 60# Opaque mics to 426 ppi. Therefore, the thickness of a 208-page book printed on Finch would be .49” and the same book printed on Thor Plus would be .47”–just slightly thinner.

The key word is flexibility.

Book Printer Resolves Lamination Debacle

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

When you’re a print buyer, nothing is better than a book printer willing to step up and make things right when a job goes South.

I received an email from a print brokering client recently. I was attending a baby shower when I read the dreaded words: “The lamination on the initial 50 sample copies is coming up off the cover stock, and the job must be reprinted.” I had visions of depleting my retirement savings to make things right as I called my client. The job was a large one, a photo book (professional quality photos of flowers) with a press run of 1,000 copies.

The Cover Film Laminate Did Not Adhere Properly

It seemed that the dull film laminate was not properly adhering to the hinge score (the vertical fold that runs parallel to the spine), causing intermittent air pockets between the lamination film and the cover stock, and peeling up off the edges of the book as well. To make matters worse, the book was a very small format (6” x 6”), and the cover had a heavy coverage black background. So the flaw was more obvious than it might otherwise have been. It was bad enough, in fact, to render the book unsalable. After all, this was an art book. It had to be perfect to justify its sales price.

Potential Solutions to the Lamination Problem

I discussed possible solutions with the printer. Then I discussed them with my client. The first option was to tear off the covers, reprint them, and rebind the book with the new covers. Unfortunately, in most cases this necessitates retrimming the book, which makes the book smaller. For a photo book such as my client’s, the balance of white space and images was crucial to the design. My client refused the option of a cover replacement and requested a complete reprint and rebinding at the expense of the book printer.

My Discussion with the Printer, and the Printer’s Suggestion

Before I asked the book printer to reprint the entire press run at his expense, I drafted a detailed email describing the problem and explaining why the client would not be satisfied with a replacement of the covers and a retrimming of the book, thus making it smaller. I supplemented my written information with a number of photos illustrating the problems.

The book printer took responsibility for the inadequate dull film lamination, and proposed a solution. He would carefully tear off the covers (a hand-work operation that would be done to all 1,000 copies). New covers would be printed, and the book printer would perfect bind these to the coverless book blocks. The book printer would then trim only the covers, and not the text. If the client was not satisfied with an initial 50 samples, the printer would reprint the entire book. I worked out a schedule with the printer. My client accepted the proposal and waited to see the results.

The Details: What The Printer Actually Did

The custom printing vendor reprinted 1,000 covers and sent them out to be dull film laminated. Then he sent the book blocks out to be perfect bound to the covers. To give my client a few options, the printer produced a deep hinge score in a few covers with his folding equipment prior to sending them to be perfect bound to the book blocks. He also had the perfect binder produce a sample with a shallow hinge score, and one with no score at all. Then the book printer sent my client samples of the three binding options for her to review.

To complete the job, the printer trimmed the cover right up to the text pages without trimming into the text pages themselves (as would normally be the case). To the credit of the printer, this reflects very precise trimming. Instead of using his three-knife trimming equipment to simultaneously effect a face trim, head trim, and foot trim (i.e., all but the bind edge), he used a single-knife guillotine cutter. He cut each side individually in three passes for each book.

Of course, compared to the time it would have taken to bind new covers and trim them on a three-knife trimmer, the procedure actually took a huge amount of time. Although it was not hand work, it still had to be done slowly and precisely to avoid damaging (cutting into) the text pages of my client’s book.

Therefore, I went back to my client to devise a mutually acceptable schedule. She needed books fast. She had numerous preliminary book sales and nothing to send her clients. However, she didn’t need all 1,000 books at once. In fact, she agreed to accept an initial shipment of 100 books. This would fulfill the first orders. It would also give the printer a reasonable amount of time to continue binding the balance of books. I didn’t want the book printer to rush or risk making mistakes. I only wanted a steady stream of books coming from the printer to my client, as she needed them.

The Final Books: An Analysis

I noticed a few things when I met with my client to review the sample books:

  1. My client pointed out that the dull film laminate seemed darker than in the original press run. I looked closely and realized that the film appeared darker because it had been bonded to the black paper stock of the cover far more securely than in the first run. This was a high-quality film lamination job. My client was very pleased.
  2. The covers extended a barely perceptible amount over the text pages of the book. To me it actually looked intentional, although I presumed that this had been done to avoid trimming the book block text pages. My client was very happy. So I asked the printer to proceed, and we negotiated a schedule for rebinding the balance of the books.

One Last Request to Protect the Books

I made one final request. I asked the printer to pack the books more carefully than usual since a few copies of the original press run had been damaged in transit.

A Point of Information from the Book Printer

The printer raised an interesting point. Very heavy ink coverage (i.e., rich black builds) will continue to give off gas for a number of days as the ink dries. If the lamination has not been applied with enough heat or pressure, that gas will look for the weakest point to escape, such as a hinge score or trim edge of the book.

What Really Happened, and What Can We Learn from This?

I’m not sure anyone knows exactly why this happened. I’ve yet to work with a printer over a number of years without a major problem occurring. The ones I continue to work with are those who correct the problems that arise. Printing is not a commodity. It is an art and a craft with multiple processes that can and often do go wrong.

In the case of this book, the dull film laminate material may have been faulty. Or perhaps its application. The small size of the book may have contributed to the cover coating bubbling up when scored and perfect bound. And the heavy ink coverage may have given off gas as it dried, forcing the laminate to lift off the paper stock. Unfortunately this was not caught before the books had been sent out to the client. Or maybe it even occurred during the shipping of the books to the client (if the gas escaping from the heavy coverage ink had caused the problem during the drying process).

But the bottom line was that the book printer made the job right, and the client was far more than satisfied. Not only has she already sold books to clients pleased to see her beautiful photographs, but she also has many friends who want to produce books of their own. I’ll bet you already know where I’m taking the custom printing work.

Book Printing: Read Between the Lines of an Estimate

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Selecting a custom printing service and approving a contract involve much more than choosing the vendor with the lowest price. Of course, price (as reflected by the total cost of the estimate), and quality (as determined by a review of the book printing vendor’s samples and phone interviews with his references) are highly important, but here are a few other considerations. If you look closely, you’ll see them in the custom printing estimates or hear them in discussions with printer’s representatives. If not, be sure to ask.

The book printing and delivery schedule may or may not be flexible.

Last year for a small run of a perfect-bound book, a rather large printer in the Midwest provided the lowest price of all the custom printing vendors on my list. Unfortunately, this company needed four to five weeks to print and bind the job—plus a few days for delivery. My client needed the entire book printing run in her office in two weeks. She opted to pay more for the shorter schedule and printed the job locally.

Keep in mind, however, that a custom printing vendor may be able to produce a job more quickly than his initial offer might suggest. Of course, this could necessitate adding extra equipment and staff, which would be reflected in the total cost. In addition, the schedule the business printing provider offers might reflect the amount of work already in his “pipeline.” During a slower time, a printer might complete your work more quickly than during a busy period.

Delivery costs for shipping books from printing companies to your office add to the total price.

The printing cost is not the total cost. Your vendor must get the books from his plant to your office or storage location. If he’s a local vendor, this might be included in the cost (i.e., as a value-added service to remain competitive with other printing companies).

If, on the other hand, you have chosen a printer half a continent away since the printing cost was so low, you might be surprised by the cost of freight. Books are heavy, and mailing 100 cartons across the country can wipe out the savings of the lower printing cost. Then again, if your printer mails the books directly to your subscribers (a service called “mailshop” or “fulfillment”), freight might not be an issue. Or the book printing cost might still be low enough that the sum of the printing cost plus the freight cost might still be less than the total cost provided by a local vendor.

Terms of payment with printing companies may be negotiable.

A client of mine started a relationship with a local printer by producing a perfect-bound directory. Since this was the client’s first job, the printer requested half of the payment up front. This year, another printer is bidding on the work. This printer is willing to forgo requesting half payment up front and instead do a credit check and invoice my client after the job is complete. Last year, the schedule was more important than the terms. This year it may not be.

Keep in mind that many items are negotiable, and most will be on the printer’s estimate. However, some, like the payment of a portion of the job up front, may not be. So be astute and discuss terms with your printing companies.

The custom printing vendor may not have bid on the paper you specified.

You may have specified Finch Opaque for your book printing project because the whiteness, brightness, and opacity appeal to you. But maybe the estimate of a printer with an especially attractive price includes a paper substitution. Maybe this printer’s house sheet is of a lower quality than Finch Opaque. Maybe it’s not as opaque as Finch, leading to potential “show-through” of photos and solids (text and images visible from the back of the page when you are reading the front of the page).

Be astute in comparing bids from different printing companies, and be aware that some specifications may differ from those you requested. Be especially wary if a vendor just sends your email back with a price. After all, in that case, how will you know on what specifications the custom printing vendor has based his estimate?

Book Printing: Working with Your Printer to Correct Problems (Revisited)

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

I recently wrote a blog entry about a client who had produced a short, saddle-stitched booklet with an uncoated “Sand” (essentially beige) cover stock and white text stock. Things hadn’t gone as well as expected between the book printer and the client.

A recap of the goals and problems

My client had printed 4-color ink on the beige cover stock to simulate printing on a paper bag. She had accented various portions of the cover with opaque white ink (at the suggestion of the custom printing vendor), and had also printed both mid-sized type and small type in opaque white ink on the inside covers (C-2 and C-3). The white ink on the front and back cover worked well enough, although it was more subtle than expected and didn’t “pop.” Inside, however, the text was readable only under pressroom lighting (5000 degrees Kelvin, the same as sunlight).

My client, the designer, had not been happy with the results. She had expected more contrast between the small white type and the brown background in this book printing job. For the same reason, her client had not been happy. So I wasn’t happy.

The solution the business printing vendor proposed

We worked out an agreement whereby the end-client would send all copies back to the custom printing service. The printer would tear off the covers, reprint them and rebind the book, trimming the book slightly smaller than before. To avoid the problems with the opaque white, my client created a blue process color mix for the small type and mid-sized type. She also elected to print a process mix to create the brown background color rather than using actual brown (or Sand-colored) paper. Any part of the overall design she wanted to “pop,” she just left white (the background color of the press sheet). That way she didn’t need to print white on beige and risk having the beige show through the white.

Regarding the cost, the custom printing vendor offered to charge just under $800.00 plus shipping. He noted that the list price of this remedial work would normally be $2,400.00 (that is, he offered my client a $1,600.00 credit).

The client’s reaction to the finished product

This is what the end-client said: “I think it was worth the time and investment to get it redone. The text pops more and overall just looks better. I think using the “faked” brown paper was a good solution. You really cannot tell unless you pay close attention to the edge of the paper.”

My analysis of the whole process

Many print buyers would have blamed the business printing vendor and demanded a credit. Then they would never have used this printer’s services again. I wanted to avoid this. The custom printing service had done outstanding work for an incredibly low price, on time, repeatedly, over the course of the past year and a half.

It could be argued that the printer should have questioned the light type in the prepress department. It could also be argued that the light type on the press sheet should have been a red flag. Even if the printer had been able to read the type under the 5000 degree Kelvin pressroom lights, the type was still very faint. The custom printing vendor even admitted this.

Perhaps my client should have brought to the printer’s attention early in the process that she intended to use opaque white ink for small type as well as for portions of the background illustration. Or she could have avoided using opaque white for type altogether, because it is risky (light type on a mid-toned background is seldom as readable as you might expect).

Regardless, both sides gave a little. Going back to the end-client’s response, (“…it was worth the time and investment to get it redone”), we see how a partnership between a client and a business printing vendor can allow a problem to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. The client found the payment fair and reasonable for the additional work and the improved design.

It is all too easy to blame the vendor and kick him to the curb. In fact, the total cost (initial printing plus the reprint) almost exactly matched the next lowest bid.

If the client had been adamant and had asked the custom printing service to shoulder all the blame and the entire cost, the client would probably have lost any future goodwill of the printer (if he had decided to use the printer’s services at all). Given the quality and overall price of the printer’s work, this would have been a shame.

Everyone makes mistakes, including printing companies. A custom printing vendor that is a good partner works with a client to achieve a mutually acceptable, fair resolution to the problem.

Book Printing with Online Printing Companies: How to Settle a Dispute So Everyone Wins

Friday, August 5th, 2011

No matter how long you’ve been buying custom printing servcies from online printing companies the time will come when something goes wrong. Online printing companies are staffed with human beings, who are fallible, so from time to time it will become necessary to work through a difficult job, to find a solution the digital printing service can provide that will satisfy your needs.

A client contacted me today, disappointed with a job that had just been delivered. I looked at the samples that I had received and noted that opaque white letters on the inside covers were barely visible on the beige uncoated cover stock.

Doing the research

I took a breath. Then I did some research. My client, the custom printing vendor, and I had discussed adding opaque white, but the two options the printer had proposed were to print the opaque white under the image on the front cover as a “ground” to keep the beige paper from darkening the transparent process ink, or to use the opaque white as an accent (spot placement within portions of the cover art). We had not discussed using opaque white for any text.

I reviewed the collection of sample promotional books that I had received from paper manufacturers, looking for information on (and examples of) opaque white usage. I found a sample of opaque white lettering (a large headline) on a deep blue stock, and a description of how to use opaque white as a ground for printing process color images. The white ground (or base) made the images “pop,” or stand out from the surrounding tinted paper stock. In both promotional sample books, the opaque white had been printed twice (a “double hit”), yet the effect was subtle. When I checked under a loupe (a high-powered magnifying glass used by printing companies to view fine details on printed press sheets), I could still see flecks of the blue substrate through the white headline letters.

Talking with the online printing company

I asked the printer why his prepress operator had not flagged the white type as potentially problematic, and why the pressman had not commented on the barely legible type on the beige paper during the press run. The surprised printer noted that the type had been faint, but still legible, under his pressroom lighting.

This got me thinking. Pressroom lighting is 5000 Kelvin (which is the same color as sunlight). It is not the same as the light emitted by my LED desk lamp or the fluorescent bulbs or incandescent tungsten filament bulbs in the house. I went outside. In sunlight, the text was light but readable. I went back inside and called the printing service. I explained my findings. The CEO agreed that the text was too light. He wanted the client to be happy.

Working together toward a solution

To keep costs down, and because the text of the booklet was beautifully printed, we determined that the best way to proceed was to reprint the covers, tear the old covers off, and attach the new covers. The online printing company agreed to do all work by hand to keep the variance in retrimming to 1/16” or less. (Retrimming a book that has had its covers removed and replaced risks making the head, foot, and face margin uncomfortably tight, since retrimming makes the book slightly smaller than it had originally been.)

The client would pay to have the books sent back to the business printing provider, and the printer would do all work “at cost” (about half the retail price). We also discussed the schedule. We wanted to make sure the client could mail the books in a timely manner.

In addition, the designer decided to change all white type to blue type (it is always a risk to print small, serif type in a light color on a middle-toned, tinted press sheet). She decided not to risk this. If she had wanted to keep the white type, the custom printing vendor could have improved the ink’s opacity by adding silver ink to the opaque white ink. He could also have used white metallic foil instead of opaque white ink for the text, but this would have required an additional stamping die (at the cost of approximately $500.00).

Unfortunately, the beige paper was a special order item, adding to the cost of reprinting the covers and also lengthening the schedule (acquiring paper would take three days). So I suggested printing the beige of the background as a process color screen on white uncoated cover stock. After all, there were no flecks in the paper. It was easy to replicate the “sand” text sheet with process color inks. The client and printing company agreed. The reprint cost and timeline were both abbreviated.

Working with online printing companies as partners

We all worked together as partners, finding a workable solution at a fair cost (shared by the custom printing provider and the client) within a workable time frame. It was clear to me that the client felt taken care of. And both the online printing company and the client can now work together comfortably in the future. Ironically, the printer’s prices had been so good that, even including the additional cover reprint cost, the total price of the job still matched the next lowest estimate for printing the booklet in the first place.

Custom printing is an art, as is negotiating. Problems occur from time to time. Approaching the business relationship as a partnership and seeking ways to resolve the problems yields the best results for all.

Custom Book Printing Estimates: Read Every Word Carefully

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Choosing the right paper for a custom book printing project is a subjective and important decision. It can also have financial consequences, since the cost of paper can be upwards of 30 to 40 percent of the cost of a custom printing job.

I recently requested bids for a client’s perfect-bound book. I specified a “70# natural white sheet.” That is, instead of specifying Finch Opaque Vanilla Vellum 60 lb Text, I opted for a more generic specification (70# natural white) to encourage the printing companies to suggest a house sheet. I knew this would save my client money on the cost of printing by allowing the book printing companies to match paper qualities rather than brands, and to make substitutions or suggest optional paper stocks, wherever possible.

Unfortunately, when I received the first estimate, I noticed that the book printing company had listed Finch Opaque in the specifications for the bid. This is a blue-white sheet, not a yellow-white sheet.

In some cases, cream stocks (yellow-white rather than blue-white) can be more expensive than bright white sheets. At the very least, and regardless of price, had I not caught the difference in the paper specification on the custom printing provider’s bid, the final product would not have been what my client wanted.

What can you learn from this? Several things:

  1. Check the bids your book printing companies provide very closely. They are contracts. Don’t assume that just because you specified a blue-white or yellow-white sheet, your printer has included these in his price calculations. Also don’t assume that the weight of the paper included in your custom printing provider’s bid will be as you had specified. After all, books are printed with 50#, 60#, 70# (and even higher weight) stocks.
  2. The shade of the paper (and even its finish, such as smooth, wove, or antique) will affect the price, particularly since some paper stocks will be on the printer’s factory floor for use by multiple clients while other stocks will need to be custom ordered.
  3. Always request samples. When I discovered the discrepancy in the specifications, I had my book printing vendor send me a sample of the stock he had included in the book estimate. I checked it under sunlight (Sunlight is 5000 degrees Kelvin—the color of the light, not the temperature–which matches the light used by printing companies to check proofs.) The printer’s paper sample was a much bluer-white shade than the paper in the sample book my client had given me to match. I asked my printer for warm-white (natural white, ivory, cream) stock suggestions, and also asked that he send me new samples.
  4. Using my caliper, I determined the thickness of the paper in the sample book and apprised my book printing company. I assumed the paper in my client’s sample was 70#, but I wasn’t sure. That said, printing paper receives different amounts of “calendaring” (being passed through sets of metal rollers during the paper-making process, which compresses the fibers while creating a smoother paper surface). What this really means is that multiple samples of printing paper with the same basis weight might have different thicknesses. To be certain, then, I wanted my book printing vendor to match the thickness of the paper in the sample book rather than its basis weight.
  5. You should consider buying a paper caliper, too. It will cost less than $50.00 and can be purchased from a scientific instrument vendor (check the Internet). This is the tool printing companies use. It’s a good investment, allowing you to communicate very precise paper thicknesses to your printer. One thing it will let you do is measure the thickness of the paper you want to match so you can give this information to your printer. It will also allow you to measure the thickness of paper in a paper merchant’s swatch book. For instance, let’s say you have a sheet that you know is 8 pts in thickness (using your caliper to measure it). A paper conversion guide (also available on the Internet) will tell you that it is probably 65# cover stock. While this is not always accurate (note the discussion above about calendaring paper), it’s still a good start for discussion with your custom book printers.

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