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A Few Thoughts on Delivery of Print Jobs

A printing RFQ (request for quotation), or a printer’s estimate, should be approached as though it were a contract. If you need a particular printing or binding procedure and you don’t specify your requirements in detail in your RFQ, the estimate you receive will not match the final bill. Conversely, if the estimate you receive does not specify all elements of your print job, you cannot assume everything is included.

Here’s an example. If you choose a printer outside your immediate geographical area -- perhaps because the prices are lower than those of a local vendor -- you should clarify for your printer the exact delivery destination(s). While a local printer may include one local delivery in the estimated price, a printer outside your area probably will not automatically roll the cost of delivery into the final price. In the first case, a local printer probably can deliver your job in a company-owned truck. The non-local printer may need to use a trucking company or a delivery service.

And the problem is compounded if you have more than one delivery destination. Let’s say you want samples delivered to your office, some copies delivered to a fulfillment house, and the balance delivered to a storage location. It’s very easy to overlook this final aspect of print production, but it can be costly to do so. To be safe, ask your printer to specify the cost of delivery from the printing plant to the specific ZIP Code of each delivery point, and include in this request a notation of how many copies need to be delivered, how they should be sent (FedEx, UPS, etc.), and how they should be packaged (e.g., “in cartons not to exceed 40 lbs. each.”).

Another specification often overlooked by print buyers involves the delivery conditions. Does the destination point have a loading dock, or will the delivery person need to bring the boxes of publications up the elevator and into a commercial suite within an office building? Such an “inside delivery” is more time- and labor-intensive — and hence more pricey — than unloading a single piece (a wrapped pallet or skid of publications) with a forklift. Breaking down a skid and delivering the boxes one at a time can involve a significant surcharge. And if you don’t specify this need in your RFQ and your printer assumes loading dock to loading dock delivery, you may be unhappily surprised by the final price.

Finally, if you have inside delivery within a single building, note for your printer how many separate suites within that building will need to receive copies of your publication. In some cases, your printer may need to deliver multiple cartons of different sizes containing differing numbers of the publication to recipients on multiple floors of an organization. All of this will affect your final price.

To illustrate this point, I recently provided an estimate for magazine production and distribution to a potential sales client. A summary of the delivery breakdown follows:

  • Printer will double-box (approximately) two-thirds of the magazines in cartons of 100 and the balance in cartons of no more than 60 copies.
  • Printer will deliver 6,730 copies of magazines to four separate locations along the Eastern seaboard.
  • Three deliveries will be to loading docks and the fourth will be an inside delivery to one location on one floor in the building (includes 2,100 copies plus overs; these are the cartons of no more than 60 copies).
  • The base cost for the four deliveries by truck is $1,900.
  • However, there is an additional surcharge of $185 just for the one inside delivery (more than 9 percent of the base cost).

As you can see, all details are specified, and inside delivery is not cheap. The surcharge for inside delivery would rise quickly if there were multiple deliveries in one building, if there were several inside deliveries in a number of buildings, or if the copy count were to increase.

Paper Finishes

One distinguishing property of printing paper is its coating or lack thereof. Paper coating, usually made up of a vehicle and clay or pigment, can be gloss- or dull-coated, or somewhere in between such as satin-coated. Coating allows the pigment of the ink to sit up on the surface of the substrate (paper, for instance) as it dries rather than soaking in, bleeding, and spreading. This property, called holdout, allows for very sharp halftones (black and white and color), good color fidelity, fine screen rulings, etc. Dull coating is easier on the eyes since it diffuses light reflected off the paper. Gloss coating enhances photographs by making them very crisp, so crisp they often seem to jump off the page.

The opposite of coated paper is uncoated paper, and this comes in a variety of finishes as well. In order of smoothness, they are: antique, eggshell, vellum, smooth, and luster. These levels of smoothness are produced during the papermaking process by passing the paper through a series of “calendaring rollers,” which are vertical, cast-steel rollers with polished ground surfaces.

Both coated and uncoated paper can be supercalendared (passed through an additional vertical series of alternating steel rollers and rollers filled with cotton or synthetic material). Supercalendaring makes the paper smoother and denser, and glossier and thinner as well. This is because the polished steel rollers are extremely flat and glossy, qualities that are actually transferred to the paper itself. In addition, the pressure of the rollers squeezes the paper fibers together, making the paper thinner and denser.

As an example, consider the advertising inserts included in newspapers, many of which are printed on cheap, supercalendared groundwood paper. This paper is thin and usually not especially high in quality or brightness, but it will accept moderate ink coverage and it will produce reasonable quality photos due to its density and smooth surface. Basically, the rollers smash the paper into a thin, hard, flat substance that will allow ink to sit up on its surface rather than seep into its fibers.

An additional step in adding finishes to paper is the application of the embossing roller, which presses relief patterns into the paper after it comes off the papermaking machine. Finishes added in this way include linen, tweed, and pebble.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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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