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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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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for the ‘Scheduling’ Category

Custom Printing: The Importance of Adequate Lead Time

Sunday, August 16th, 2020


Purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

“The luxury of time.” Who has it anymore? Everything is a rush. Under the assumption that mistakes occur when you rush through something, if you buy commercial printing for a living, it’s vital to consider all facets of the job you’re producing and leave adequate lead time for each component.

In some cases your delivery date is flexible. Great. That’s a relief. But in other cases, for example a marketing initiative, if your job finishes just in time to get into the mail stream late, such that your prospective buyers (let’s say attendees at a conference) get the self-mailers just after the conference ends, you’ve failed. You’ve done two things, actually. You have missed the chance to sell the conference to so many thousands of prospects, and you’ve wasted money on copywriting, design, production, custom printing, finishing, mailshop work, and postage.

The Article

In this light, I just read a blog article on IronmarkUSA.com, the website of a local printer. The article, “Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect,” was written by Samantha Philipson and published on July 20, 2020. It not only addresses the need to plan ahead and start early when you’re shepherding a commercial printing job through the manufacturing process, but it also provides some general time frames to get you started.

My best advice to you is to consider these times, most of which will vary based on options you choose (some printing and finishing activities take longer than others), but equally important, I would encourage you to discuss your personal print production needs with your commercial printing supplier. (If you have several, pick the one you trust the most.) Do this early in the process.

Trust me. I spent almost a decade as an art director/production manager, and nothing makes you lose sleep like getting behind on a print project. Talking with your custom printing vendor early also takes into consideration his schedule. Maybe his plant is busier than usual, and a job that took a week last year might take longer this year. Chances are, if you discuss your project early, he can put you in the schedule now, with a turn-around time even faster than you might expect. After all, he doesn’t like surprises any more than you do.

General Time Frames

“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect” addresses the following aspects of a print project:

“Design/Copywriting Services” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

The article suggests a month for copywriting and design. I would add to that commensurately if the job is longer (perhaps a print book). When I was an art director, the writers/editors took several months to write our nonprofit educational foundation’s government textbooks. Then the designers took a month to a month and a half to design the book and produce press-ready art files. (This included all of the various rounds of proof corrections.) Then the printer took six weeks to print, bind, and ship 60,000 perfect-bound print books.

Smaller jobs fit nicely into the time frame Ironmark printing suggests. I would just encourage you to separate the various elements: copywriting, design (and I would actually separate out final art file preparation, since it involves extra steps that go beyond the design component of the job), prepress, printing, finishing, delivery, mailing, etc.

Also, the best thing you can do is (once you have created a schedule) discuss the schedule with the designers, writers, and editors. Then amend it as needed based on their feedback.

“Paper Size” and “Print Quantity” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Samantha Philipson’s article doesn’t specify time for all print jobs in this section, but it does note that the size of the press sheet and the number of press signatures (let’s say one 16-page signature per press run, depending on the size of the page and how many pages will fit on a press sheet), will determine the amount of time the job is on press. (For smaller jobs, like a mailer, speed is all about how many copies of the mailer can fit on a single—hopefully large—press sheet.)

Going back to the textbook I used to produce (as mentioned earlier), this (approximately) 352-page, 6” x 9” perfect-bound book comprised eleven 32-page signatures. That’s eleven press runs plus the cover even before any binding work could commence. In contrast, Samantha Phillipson’s article mentions the printer’s producing 5,000 postcards in two days or 10,000 in three. So, you see, more complex jobs take much longer to produce. Again, this is the best reason of all to discuss your job with your custom printing provider early.

“Stickers or Labels” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

According to Philipson’s article, these add a day to the schedule. I would also add that other items that require a printer to order and receive supplies not normally kept in stock (such as a specific paper you want to use) will also add time. So ask your printer about this. In some cases, by using materials he already has on the pressroom floor, you can save not only money but also time.

“Number of Pieces per Item” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Philipson’s article suggests that you consider the number of items in a promotional mailing. If you insert an invitation into your envelope along with a reply card and reply envelope, plus an informational card, the “inserting” step of the mailing will take longer. In most cases, inserting can be automated; however, if there are unusual size or placement needs, this might become hand work, which not only costs more but also takes longer. If your press run is long, this could cause an unforeseen delay.

“Is a Die Required?” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

If your job has a unique shape (anything other than a rectangle), your printer will need to have a metal cutting die made. (Let’s say the cover of your perfect-bound print book has a cut-out rectangle on the front cover through which you can see the first page. This would require a die.) Philipson’s article notes that such die making would add a week to the schedule. I’ve found this pretty consistent among all the printers I’ve worked with. In part, the delay is due to die-making’s being subcontracted work. Again, it adds to both the cost and the overall time. Philipson notes that the extra week does not include the printing or finishing steps of the job.

“Digital or Offset Printing”
(“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Philipson’s article notes that three to five days would be reasonable for a one- or two-color offset printed job, whereas five to seven days would be reasonable for a digitally printed job.

I’d encourage you to ask your printer. The offset vs. digital turn-around times will depend entirely on the specific digital and offset printing equipment he has, as well as his schedule at the time. Some printers are set up to produce digital work faster than offset; for some it’s the other way around. That said, in my experience three to five days for a small job (simple with a short press run) and seven to ten days for a larger one (more complex but not a print book) would be a good place to start negotiations with your printer. Keep in mind that these are business days, not calendar days.

“Number of Folds” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

More complex folds take longer on the folder (part of this is making sure they are accurate, since the first bad fold makes the following folds even worse). Some complex mailers require multiple passes through the folder, and this also adds time.

“Finishing Options” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”):

Philipson’s article notes that you should add one or two days for such finishing work as varnishing. To this I would add that complex varnishing techniques (like using both a spot gloss and spot dull varnish to make certain portions of a brochure cover stand out) also take extra time.

I’d also discuss binding methods with your printer. If you’re producing a textbook (as I did), perfect binding takes much longer than saddle stitching. In part, this is because a lot of printers don’t have perfect binding equipment in house and therefore have to subcontract the work.

Proofing

Philipson notes that her printer can turn around digital proofs in approximately eight hours, but a hard-copy proof will take an extra day. In some cases a digital proof (on-screen PDF proof, which requires no shipping time or expense) is not enough. You need to see the actual color of the job. But if you do need a hard-copy proof, you need to set aside extra time for the proof to be delivered, checked, and returned to the printer. (However, if there’s a second round of proofs, I usually encourage clients to request a PDF proof for the corrections.)

Finally, “Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect” ends with wise words: “Build in extra time for any delays” (“Print Turnaround Times and What to Expect”). These can include delays on your end. (What if the main person who has to see the proof is on vacation when it arrives?) Or it can occur on the printer’s end. (What if the press is down or there are delivery problems?)

The two best things you can do? Pad the schedule, and communicate early and often with your commercial printing vendor.

Book Printing: Schedules May or May Not Be Flexible

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

I like to think that most things are negotiable when buying custom printing services.

A client of mine who is producing a self-published book describing his family’s experience in World War II came to me with a request yesterday. His 9” x 12” perfect-bound print book had already gone to press, and he had seen proofs (actually a one-off version of the text produced on an HP Indigo, since the press run will only be 65 copies for family and close friends).

We had initially negotiated a three- to three-and-a-half-week production schedule with the book printer, which would accommodate in-house digital printing of the text, in-house offset printing of the cover, and subcontracted cover lamination. About half way through the process, my client was called out of town, so we extended the schedule by two weeks. He didn’t expect to need copies until his return.

Then, about a week after negotiating the longer schedule with the book printer, my client learned that his daughters were coming to town for Mother’s Day, so he asked for either an early shipment of the entire press run or two books by the holiday.

The Book Printer’s Answer

Since I alerted the printer only one working week before the holiday, and since at least one of the five days would need to be for FedEx’ing the two copies of the print book, I expected practically any response.

The printer was kind and professional in his reply, but he noted that with all of the careful work required, and the film laminating of the cover, he was not not comfortable making any commitments for this quick a turn-around.

What This Means/What We Can Learn

Had we not given the printer a few extra weeks due to my client’s travel schedule, I do believe the print book could have been completed and delivered by the holiday. After all, it was just about the end of the three- to three-and-a-half-week window we had initially agreed to as the printer’s schedule.

However, book printers keep their plants tightly scheduled. Therefore, what we can learn from this is that last-minute schedule changes can be problematic. Although one would think that two books out of sixty-five would not be a problem, this would only be true if the binding and laminating were done by hand in-house. Given their mechanical, assembly-line nature, finishing processes (or press operations, for that matter) are done all at one time. Stopping and starting a process adds time, money, and the potential for error.

Granted, in some cases a few print books can be hand bound, but this should be discussed early in the process and factored into the cost (depending on the equipment available to the printer, since not all printers have table-top binding equipment).

Some Basic Rules of Thumb to Consider

  1. If there’s an unforeseen change in schedule, let the printer know early. If it’s late in the process, your request may or may not be possible. In many cases, the best you can expect is to have the printer load cartons of books as they come off the binder and ship them via FedEx. This still may benefit you. Let’s say you’re attending a conference, and you want to distribute 30 advance copies of a directory to some of the attendees. It may be worth it for you to pay the higher shipping rate.
  2. Any process done out-of-house will slow down the job. Some components of print book production are usually farmed out. It is not cost-effective for most book printers to have in-house case binding equipment, for instance. It is more economical for most printers in a single geographical region to send their case binding work to a subcontractor, a bindery that does only this portion of the job for multiple book printers. In this case, it is more difficult for a printer to adjust a production schedule when it involves outside vendors.
  3. Still, it’s always worth asking. For instance, if my client’s book had been saddle-stitched instead of perfect bound, it might have been relatively easy to hand bind two copies. I once worked with a small offset printer that did this for me every so often.
  4. A good printer will not agree to a schedule change that will compromise the quality of the product. I actually respect the printer for saying no. He was not willing to jeopardize the quality of this job (the first job for a new client).

In the end, my client agreed that he could ship the two books to his daughters a few days later and that having a quality product was more important to him than having surprise gifts for Mother’s Day.

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