Does this sound familiar? You’re participating in a trade show or a convention. You work feverishly to produce your finest marketing materials for interested attendees. From fancy postcards to slick magazines to high-end product kits, you spend a bundle (and probably a few sleepless nights) getting your materials printed and shipped on time. Finally, they’re delivered.
And then it happens. You spot a glaring typo. Or you ordered far too many. Maybe the printer you pushed so hard to deliver on time sends you an invoice with unexpected rush charges. So now your boss is on your case about the typo, the costly leftovers, and the outrageous bill. And you? You turn around and blame the printer. But should you?
Reality check. To many people, printing is a black hole: you pour money into it, and weeks (or months) later your job is delivered. Too often, that job is not quite what you wanted. You blame the printer. But you should blame the process.
Every business needs printing. The problem is that most businesses don’t have their own printing experts. And without printing knowledge, costly mistakes are made.
Take your own pulse. How do you know if your printing program is ailing? Here are five symptoms:
- Your printed materials are not what you expected.
- Your invoices don’t come close to the printer’s estimates.
- You’ve spent a fortune on design and printing – then discover a mailing problem.
- Your materials have embarrassing typos in them.
- You throw out a ton of unused, obsolete literature.
These problems can be avoided if you’re diligent about following basic guidelines. Here are a few “best printing practices” that will help you save money and time. Make sure whoever is overseeing your print-buying program is following them.
Find yourself a printer for the long term. First, find a company whose equipment and services match your needs. (This is not as simple as it sounds, because all printers are not created equal.) Next, bring your salesperson into the earliest discussions of a new job. Printers are untapped resources for customers, on topics such as file preparation to paper selection, binding options, and mailing issues.
Printers want your experience with them to be positive — or they risk losing your business. Help guarantee this success by working with your vendors. Some print buyers treat printing like a commodity, when in reality the finished product depends on the printer’s skills plus a strong dose of customer knowledge.
Write detailed printing specs. Every detail matters. The printing estimate you request will reflect the specs you provide. Printers aren’t mind readers. Work with your printer to complete all of the specifications so that the estimate you get is realistic. And when these specs change, request an updated estimate. (Printers expect it; jobs always change.) Why be surprised by a final invoice?
Remember that the smallest spec change can cost you thousands. One client, when producing an art catalog, ordered the matching, custom-made envelopes prematurely. The catalog’s page count kept growing, and it didn’t fit into the envelope. It was a $10,000 mistake.
Think every job through. Discuss the entire “life expectancy” of a printed piece with your printer, including shipping destinations and end-user requirements. Will it be mailed in an envelope with other material? How will the weight of a piece affect the postage? Mailing costs can exceed printing costs. Beware.
Develop a proofreading procedure. OK, it’s not glamorous. But somebody has to be responsible for proofreading everything. In the old days, when commercial typesetters set copy, they provided proofreading services. Now clients usually prepare copy on their Macs or PCs.
This puts the proofreading responsibility in the client’s hands, not the printer’s. Every proof and blueprint that comes from the printer also needs proofreading. Never assume someone else has read it. Develop a checklist to ensure key elements are proofed, particularly your company’s name and address, dates and locations, phone numbers, and prices that may be listed. If the mistake is yours (not the printer’s), you’ll eat the cost of reprinting it.
Only print what you need. Your goal should be to eliminate waste. Unused printed materials cost you money in several ways: you pay the printer for printing, binding, packing and shipping them. You pay a fulfillment house for storing and managing them. You pay staff members to unload boxes, stack shelves and maintain in-house literature rooms. You pay to keep track of them daily until you either use or toss them.
Let’s say you print 10,000 4/color, 4-page product sheets you think you’ ll use, for $8500. Your unit cost is $.85, excluding design and mailing. But you only ever use 6,000 pieces. Your unit printing cost jumps to $1.41, plus design, mailing, and inventory management. If the copy is obsolete before you even use up 6,000, your unit cost increases even further.
- Plan ahead. Devise an inventory management system for your literature. With a simple database, you can track usage. Aim for zero waste.
- Educate yourself about printing. The printing industry is changing fast, mainly because of technological advances in both the front-end (digital prepress) and back end (digital presses). Printing is not just ink on paper anymore. Industry knowledge is mandatory if you want to save time and money in your printing initiatives.
Start learning by talking with your printing salesperson. A good printer, like a builder, will tell you what’s possible and what’s not for your budget. Learn the language and ask lots of questions. If you’ve selected your vendor wisely, you’ll be steered toward smart printing solutions. You’ll save time and money. And your boss will be impressed. [...]