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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 ‘Printing Contracts’ Category

Custom Printing: Case Study on Scheduling and Payment Terms

Tuesday, October 24th, 2023

Photo purchased from …

The Printing Industry Exchange Blog is #12 of the best 40 digital printing blogs, as selected by FEEDSPOT.

A relationship with a printer is just that, a relationship. To move forward, it must involve mutual trust. You need to know the printer will produce your job in a satisfactory way, and your printer needs to know you will pay as agreed.

This PIE Blog posting is a case study about agreements and expectations, and how there can unfortunately be a perfect storm when everything goes wrong. At the same time, there are ways to minimize this chance, and to understand the spoken and unspoken agreements with your commercial printing vendor based on accepted industry standards.

The Backstory

I am currently addressing a payment situation with a client for an annual report promotional mailing.

This is the job: a 24-page annual report in 4-color process ink, trimmed and saddle stitched; a 4-color letter on 60# offset stock; a 28# open-side envelope (which opens on the long side and is therefore “machinable,” which means it can be stuffed on a machine rather than by hand); and all mailshop work to prepare 1,500 copies of the aforementioned package and enter them into the mail stream.

All of this was produced over the course of the summer, which is prime vacation time for both commercial printing vendors and my clients–which led to people not being present to read and sign contracts, cut and sign checks, and respond to emails. Fortunately, the printer had enough staff to keep things going at all times, and I made sincere attempts at all times to contact my client (and/or her boss) in a timely manner with all contracts, schedules, and requests for payment.

The Schedule

The long and short of the matter is that a contract was drafted and signed in late May, and an initial request for half payment was made in early June. The half payment was not made in a timely manner, and at the end of the third week the printer put the job on hold, moved the annual reports, envelopes, and promotional letters into storage, and requested full payment plus estimated postage in order to continue.

(Keep in mind that my client is a “cash” client, not a “credit client.” Therefore it is within industry standard for the printer to require half payment before work starts–to cover the direct cost of buying printing paper, for instance. And it is within industry standard for the custom printing supplier to require final payment before shipping, unless the client has established credit terms. Postage is a direct cost, up-front, paid to the US Postal Service, so it is within industry standard for the printer to request and receive this estimated payment before the mailshop preparation or mail drop: the entry of the product into the mail stream by the Post Office.)

With that in mind, I encouraged my client to pay by electronic funds transfer rather than by check to eliminate any chance of delay in the mail delivery. I also explained in writing the reason the printer now required full payment, rather than half payment, to proceed.

By the end of a week’s time my client’s accountant (outsourced, not in-house) had sent out two checks (half payment and full payment) in error—and without using the faster option of the electronic transfer of funds. The process would have gone more quickly if two of the three participants had not been on their summer vacations.

I asked the printer to let me know when the checks had arrived, to destroy the check for the lesser amount, and to let me know when the remaining check had cleared (and therefore when work on the job could resume).

The job went into the mail as soon as it could. Unfortunately, this occurred about two days after the US Post Office raised postage rates, incurring just under $400 of additional charges for my client.

Needless to say, my client refused to pay the surcharge and said the printer was responsible because they had held up the job. This is where things are now.

What You Can Learn to Avoid This

All of this was the perfect storm of miscommunication augmented by key people being out of range of communication (due to summer vacations). I have drafted a letter to my client including a timeline of all activities, from the signing of the contract through billing, and including all invoices from the printer and the US Postal receipt (Form-3600R) for the mailing.

I have not heard back yet, but the bottom line is that since I had kept all relevant emails describing what was agreed upon and what had happened (plus references to the standard printing industry terms and conditions), I expect an eventual positive resolution. We’ll see what happens.

That said, this might happen to you (maybe once in your career as a designer or print buyer), so you may want to consider the following to help you sidestep such a nuisance:

  1. First of all, postage estimates from the printer are just that—estimates. The printer will bill you for additional costs or refund to you any credits you are owed.
  2. You can pay by cash, credit, or Visa in many cases. Payment by Visa will probably incur a 3 percent surcharge. “Cash” terms will require a down payment and a final payment before the job can be delivered to you or mailed to your clients.
  3. I particularly like the option of electronic funds transfer for payment. Funds go from your company’s bank to the commercial printing vendor’s bank without any chance of delay or loss in the mail. The transaction (and the clearing of funds) will go much faster than the check writing, mailing, and bank-clearing process. In most cases this service is offered for free and sidesteps the 3 percent credit card fee.
  4. You may not want to establish credit terms. Not that your credit is bad, but I believe an inquiry may affect your credit score. That said, if this is not a concern for you, you may appreciate being billed and having 30 days to pay.
  5. Your custom printing supplier has to charge you up front because he must buy paper, and this is a major expense. He can’t be expected to front the money for paper, or for postage for that matter.
  6. Charging you before releasing your job ensures your full payment in a timely manner. After all, the printer can’t front all monies and then come to you for reimbursement.
  7. Schedules are important. Printers take holidays, too, and count workdays as Monday through Friday only, not Saturdays and Sundays. If you need rush services, this may be negotiable for a higher cost (i.e., to hire more staff to complete your job more quickly).
  8. Good planning and communication with your printer are essential. If a company’s accounting services are outsourced (which is the case with my client), in slow times (such as late summer during vacations) unforeseen delays in payment can occur.
  9. It’s important to keep records (written notes as well as a history of relevant emails) to explain your workflow should something go wrong.
  10. No one wants to be considered a difficult client. The preceding list shows the importance of requesting a bill once you have signed the printer’s contract, and then paying it promptly on the agreed-upon schedule. Nothing will better ensure the timely delivery or mailing of your print job.
  11. It would be wise to read the “Terms and Conditions” page of your printers’ contracts and familiarize yourself with the customs and standards of the commercial printing industry. Getting It Printed by Mark Beach and Eric Kenly is an outstanding book on custom printing, and it includes a copy of these in the text. (This may be out of date, since my personal copy of the book is a number of decades old. So you may want to Google these printing terms and conditions as well.)

The Final Takeaway

If you understand the written and unwritten laws of conducting business in the field of commercial printing, you can see what your rights and responsibilities are as well as what your printer’s rights and responsibilities are. This will keep your response to any problems on a logical rather than emotional level.

I’m sure my client was completely authentic in feeling he had been mistreated by the printer and by the Post Office. That just happens to not be relevant to the agreements made with the printer and the rules pertaining to US Postal Service rate increases.

We’ll see what happens.

Custom Printing: Thoughts on Negotiating Jobs with Printers

Monday, October 16th, 2023

Photo purchased from …

The Printing Industry Exchange Blog is #12 of the best 40 digital printing blogs, as selected by FEEDSPOT.

A lot of these PIE Blog articles address various aspects of buying commercial printing. But really, if you have to start from scratch, how do you even begin to find good printers?

Since the onset of Covid, and with the rise in paper prices, I myself have had to revisit this question in my own print brokering work. So here are some of the things I consider when vetting a new printer and when deciding whether to continue with, or disconnect from, a printer I’ve been working with.

As I think about this, it sounds like pursuing a romantic relationship or letting one go. I think this is because, to me, it’s all about developing a mutually advantageous relationship with a custom printing vendor that is based on trust.

Draft a Written Specification Sheet

The first thing I do–and I have done exactly this since the early 1980s when I started buying commercial printing–is draft a specification sheet for the print job. I think of this as a blueprint for the job, a foundational document that will contain the words and numbers describing every element of the print job, from the dimensions of the product to the press run, from the date for upload of art files to the job delivery and/or fulfillment date.

Over the years I have devised a prototype of this form, which I adjust as needed for each new job. Keeping it in writing not only makes me more able to envision the job but also less likely to forget key elements. It also means that I have a single document to send to a number of printers. And all of these printers will be providing estimates based on the same specifications, the same details. Otherwise there will be no way to check and recheck to make certain that an individual printer has not inadvertently missed something.

And this does happen regularly. The challenge is to catch the errors and omissions and ask the printer for clarification. To do this I personally read over each estimate a number of times, comparing the printer’s bid to my own specification sheet. From time to time, in doing this, I also see other specifications I may want to add to my “master spec sheet.”

Choose Printers Appropriate for the Print Job

Keep in mind that not all printers specialize in the same things. Some printers are skilled in book printing. Others, called commercial printers, are more generalists. I personally choose these for promotional work such as brochures. There’s often some overlap, but I have found that book printers, for instance, offer better pricing on books than on other print jobs.

Often, if not usually, this is because they have not only the particular skill set and knowledge base, but book printers usually also have book printing and binding equipment on their pressroom floor and therefore don’t have to subcontract out portions of a book printing job. Some book printers, for instance, have perfect binding in house. Some even have case binding in house (but this would probably be a very large printing plant, since there’s usually not enough case binding work available to justify such an equipment expense).

In this light, about two years ago I needed bids on a scratch-off poster (similar to a Lotto card) with a coating that could be rubbed off to reveal printing underneath. I also once needed a printer that could die cut printed cards in the shape of house keys. In both of these cases I started my research with a local printer that produced specialized marketing initiatives for advertisers. They had the specialized knowledge, technical skill, experience, and equipment.

Another time I needed to have a wood sample box crafted to display flooring materials. In this case I went through trusted colleagues, asking them for names of vendors they might suggest. This was also helpful in finding custom screen printing vendors.

In short, referrals from colleagues are golden.

Details of Delivery, Printing Flaws, Etc.

Here are some random, general things to consider in your print buying work:

  1. Check the printed product immediately upon delivery. Getting It Printed (Mark Beach and Eric Kenly) says you should do this within 15 days. I still believe it’s best to do this immediately. If you see any flaws, check random samples from a number of the packed cartons to get a sense of the extent of the problem. Contact the printer and discuss what you found. Determine whether the job is still usable. (Be realistic about this; there may be alternatives to a reprint.) In one case, about 15 years ago, I had to have the printer retrieve the job and replace and re-trim the covers due to outgassing (air bubbles) that lifted the film laminate off the heavily inked cover (which had not yet dried sufficiently when it was laminated).
  2. Discuss overs and unders. The acceptable norm is 10 percent overs or unders (with the total printer’s charge to you adjusted with a surcharge or credit to account for these). That said, this is often negotiable. If you need “no less than” a certain number, the printer can charge for more overs (also often negotiable). Printing an exact number is not possible, since there is a waste factor inherent in the multiple processes of printing and binding. (Some books, for instance, get damaged when they’re being bound. If you print the exact number and lose copies through spoilage, you’ll always have too few copies at the end of the process.)
  3. Discuss the point at which ownership of the job passes from the printer to you. If the bid notes “FOB Printer’s dock,” this usually means the printer is using a separate freight carrier, and you take ownership of the job at the printer’s loading dock, where the subcontracted freight company picks up the job. If the printer uses his own truck to deliver the job to you, you take ownership at the delivery point (rather than the pick-up point).
  4. The printer’s liability for any problem is never more than the cost of the actual print job. The printer cannot be held liable for related problems (such as loss of your client’s business) that occur because a job is late or has flaws in the printing.
  5. Research printing trade customs in Getting It Printed (or online). Or look for these trade customs on the back of your printer’s hard-copy job estimates. These will give you an idea of what is and is not a reasonable expectation in the commercial printing trade. This includes who owns elements of the job, schedules, tolerances for various custom printing processes, liability, etc.

The Takeaway

So the takeaway at this point, regarding your own print buying work, is to:

  1. Draft a specification sheet for each job that sets forth every aspect of the project, from prepress to printing to delivery or fulfillment (in which the printer sends out printed materials to your clients). Make this as detailed as you can. Include scheduling information. I’d also encourage you to either purchase the current edition of Getting It Printed (Mark Beach and Eric Kenly) or search online for sample offset and digital printing specification sheets.
  2. Do research online. And ask colleagues and even other printers for suggestions. (That said, it’s better to ask printers for alternate sources for jobs that differ from what these printers themselves specialize in.)
  3. Make sure you’re going to the right vendors. Commercial printers print most kinds of jobs, often including digital and large-format jobs like banners. Book printers specialize in books. Web-offset printers produce long-press-run jobs like books and journals, while sheetfed printers produce jobs with shorter press runs. If you’re in doubt, share the spec sheet with a printer and ask whether this job matches his skills and equipment, and whether he expects to be competitive.
  4. Ask for printed samples. Granted, this will be the best work the printer has produced, but also pay attention to whether the printer can match the samples to the specifications for your specific print job.
  5. See how long it takes to get the estimate and the samples. You’re making a judgment as to whether you will be a priority. These intangibles are just as important as price and quality. You’re determining whether you can trust the vendor. In this light, it’s often smart to start a new printer off with a smaller rather than larger first job.
  6. Consider a service like the Printing Industry Exchange. When I need a new printer, I upload specs to the PIE server, and I’m often contacted by printers I didn’t even know existed before. Granted, I need to do my own research, vetting their pricing and samples (and sometimes even checking their references), but it’s a good way to make new connections. In fact, I’ve found many of the printers I now like and trust the most this way.
  7. Don’t let price be the absolute determining factor. There are intangibles that are at least as important as, if not more important than, price, such as whether the printer will maintain (or even beat) the agreed-upon schedule and whether the printed product will stand apart from (in terms of quality) other print vendors’ work. Granted, this is the kind of thing that one determines in the course of a long relationship with a printer. The little things count. You usually get what you pay for, so within reason it’s not wise to buy based entirely on price.

Three Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Online Printing Company

Saturday, January 30th, 2021
Finding a reliable printing company that addresses the needs of the business takes some time and effort. Also, one can’t deny that finding an ideal printing company is essential in enhancing the visibility of a business through digital and traditional printing methods. Therefore, the quality of the materials like brochures, flyers, logos, book covers, and t-shirts can make a world of differences between elevating the brand’s image and tarnishing its reputation. A reliable printing company works dedicatedly and professionally to prioritize different customers’ different needs to offer utmost satisfaction. However, most people aren’t aware of the tips to find the best printing companies and tend to make mistakes during the hiring process. Unfortunately, this can entirely damage a brand’s reputation if the quality of the print material degrades. So, there are a few questions that one must ask in the beginning before hiring the best online printing company. Let’s take a look at the following questions below:


Book Printing: Read the Fine Print in the Contract

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

It could be argued that nothing is more boring to read than a contract, except perhaps an insurance policy. However, if you buy commercial printing for a living, it behooves you to at least skim the contract looking for a number of key agreements between you and the custom printing vendor. It will save you money, undue surprise, and overall stress. (more…)


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