Nothing Remains the
Same, Including Your Printer
Many years ago, I used a high-end
local printer extensively to print the posters
and brochures for a company at which I was the art director/production
manager. Their work was stellar. I was always impressed
with their printed product. When I stopped being an art
director, I stopped using this printer. Five years later
I heard they had been sold and were no longer providing
a premium product. I learned this from friends in the printing
field. The moral? Don’t expect the printer you love
to work with to always stay the same.
Another printer I currently
use extensively used to produce 4-color work on a 2-color
press. Their artistry was superb, but they couldn’t
handle long runs competitively. Then they bought a 5-color,
40” press, and their prices dropped significantly.
They produced work faster, and the quality actually increased.
Recently, they bought a digital press. I used to buy almost
everything but my digital work from this printer. Now I
can buy both. The moral? The same as before. Print providers
may change, often for the better.
Even if you love to work with
a particular printer, keep the following in mind.
The quality may improve if your printer upgrades equipment.
It may take a while for your printer to become conversant
with the new equipment, but over time he may bring in more
of your work, and the price you pay may even go down in
certain cases. For example, if your printer acquires in-house
bindery equipment, he will no longer need to pay a surcharge
for outsourced work, and he may pass this discount on to
Alternatively, a shift in ownership
can adversely affect your buying experience. The
immediate service you had received may slow to a crawl if
new management takes control of the press. For instance,
if your mom-and-pop printer sells its facility to a consolidator
(and becomes one of five or ten printers in a chain), you
may go from being their largest customer to their smallest
customer overnight, and the new management may no longer
consider your work to be top priority.
Your printer may also change
his pricing structure from time to time. The reality
is that printers can raise prices when there’s an
abundance of work. They can only handle so much (law of
supply and demand), and they will be equally likely to lower
prices when they’re hungry.
How can you deal with
all these variables? Stay informed. Get to know
your printer. Tour his facility and ask about new equipment.
Also, keep in touch with your printer’s other clients,
and share your feelings about the quality, service, and
price you received. Word of mouth goes a long way. If time
permits, it’s always best to get two or three bids
for any one job.
Relationship with Your Printer
This actually segues nicely into a
novel concept in today’s economy. Price isn’t
everything. The relationship you develop with your printer
over time is more important than saving a little money.
You may not always get the best deal on every project (there
will always be a printer that can do it for less, but probably
not as well), and if something goes wrong, or if you need
a job printed by yesterday, your printer will reward your
loyalty. Your printer will make it right. Peace of mind,
dependability, and responsiveness are worth a lot. It’s
also important that you and your vendor communicate well.
Printer Communication Styles
Closely related to the above is the
communication style of your print provider. Your favorite
customer service representative may take a new job, and
you may be faced with someone you find unpleasant, someone
who doesn’t understand your needs or speaks to you
abrasively. Does this mean you should walk? Not necessarily.
If you like the printer overall and you see eye-to-eye with
the people running the shop, just make your feelings known
to them—graciously—and ask for another point
of contact. Some people just clash. It’s human nature;
it’s no one’s fault.
Printing Outside the USA
Up until recently, I always
worked with local printers. I hesitated to even
go one state away, let alone half-way across the country.
I wanted to be able to walk into the shop if anything went
wrong, talk to the CEO, and ask him or her to make it right.
Recently, though, I sent a
job to Canada. I took a chance, opened my mind,
and thought “outside the box.” Mind you, I did
do my homework. I got samples (which were stellar). I called
the references I was provided and asked many direct questions
and got very good answers. I had been impressed with the
customer service representative’s demeanor and knowledge,
and the prices couldn’t be beat. Ultimately I decided
to give this printer a try. His location in Canada was no
farther away from me than parts of Texas. I let go, and
I had a good experience.
Will I send everything there?
No. Is it a risk? Yes, compared to working with
my favorite printers, whom I’ve known for fifteen
years, and especially the one who gets me prices sometimes
in minutes. But for some jobs, this new printer is perfect.
Technology helps bridge the distance: cell phones, Internet,
and FTP sites. This, combined with good communication with
the printer and a good quality press-ready document file,
makes all the difference.
Sometimes it pays to stretch
beyond one’s comfort zone.
[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.]