Twelve questions your printer should ask

Your printer is looking for answers
Your printer is looking for answers

1. How many do you need?

Why it’s important: Printers estimate production costs based on the equipment they have. Knowing the quantity determines which press to use, how much paper to buy and how long your project will take to print. It also helps them decide whether it fits their equipment, and whether they should turn down your print job or accept it but have it done elsewhere. (Virtually every printer brokers out work to other companies when they don’t have the equipment to do the job.) If it’s a 500 piece postcard printing, it may be too small for them to print economically.

2. What size is it?

Why it’s important: Are your printing posters or postcards? Printers need to know flat size, finished size and page counts to determine how to fit it on their equipment and how much paper to buy. They also need to know if any of the artwork “bleeds” off the edge of the sheet, since to achieve that effect they must print on a larger sheet and trim it down.

3. How many colors, on how many sides?

Why it’s important: Printing presses come in different sizes and configurations. Digital presses are either one color or four colors. Offset presses can be one, two, four, five, six, eight or ten colors, depending how the print company invested their money. The printer wants to produce your project as economically as possible, so will fit it onto the piece of equipment they own that works best (or broker it with another company).

4. What paper do you want?

Why it’s important: Paper can be a big cost variable in your budget, particularly if you are producing many copies (like you would for a catalog printing). It also needs to be appropriate for the print quality you expect. Be thoughtful about this decision, and ask your printer for advice. They may use a “house stock” that they buy at quantity discounts, runs well on their equipment, and is easy to source quickly.

5. How will you be supplying artwork?

Why it’s important: If you don’t have artwork, chances are the printer can come up with something serviceable, but probably not pretty (some printers are exceptions to this). If you supply artwork that was created in any Adobe software program and have some experience creating print-ready files, you should be fine. If you are using any Microsoft software, there is no such thing as a print-ready file. The printer will have to add production time to fix it.

6. What bindery work is needed?

Why it’s important: A lot of production planning goes into this. Does it trim, score, saddle stitch, perfect bind, die cut or foil stamp? These requirements determine how the job is set up coming out of prepress and onto the printing press, to make sure that the finishing work can be done efficiently, or meets the requirements of the outside bindery.

7. When do you need them?

Why it’s important: Firstly, the printer needs to know what your your expectations are. Secondly, they need to know if they can fit it into their regular production flow or rearrange existing production schedules (and possibly add overtime/weekend crews if you didn’t allow enough time to print it cost-effectively).

Those seven questions answer the basic information any printer needs to know before they can accurately estimate production costs and schedules. The following questions are ones they should also be asking to help them do their job more effectively – and their job is to make your job easier.

8. How are these being used?

Why it’s important: Unless you’ve been a print buyer that has approved blueline proofs, chances are your printer has a lot more experience than you. They can offer constructive input on better production options that can cut costs, help the serviceability and improve the tactile feel of your printed piece.

9. How are these being distributed?

Why it’s important: Maybe they can help you navigate new postal regulations. Maybe you forgot that your printer now offers in house mailing services, and now you realize that they can cut three days off your total production schedule. Maybe their suggestion to shrink wrap the carton of booklets drop shipping to Timbuktu will help your shipment survive the UPS torture test relatively unscathed.

10. Are there other pieces that coordinate with this project?

Why it’s important: Is this brochure part of a series of brochures, and gee, wouldn’t it be nice if your logo was the same color on all of them? Having samples of the previous printings greatly improves the odds. Maybe printing the covers together for different pieces will improve consistency and cut your costs.

11. Who will be approving the proofs?

Why it’s important: Are the proofs being approved by the VP at headquarters who is traveling for the next two weeks? It helps to track where they’ll be when the proof is done so they can have it ready for them at their next destination, rather than waiting for them to return. I have met clients at the airport and had them sign off on proofs while in the security line in order to make sure the project stayed on schedule.

12. Do you need to see these on press to approve the color?

Why it’s important: If you need to be there on press, the printer needs to know. For one, they usually try to schedule it during the day (although I have slept on printer’s couches overnight – it happens). I have also had situations where critical color instructions were overlooked or ignored by pressmen when I wasn’t there, which is why I still go on press when the project requires.

Printing is still an effective form of communication, but you get the best results when you use effective communication with your printer. I’d love to hear your comments about what happens when the communication breaks down. You can share them below.

With over 30 years of working inside and outside printing, promotional and marketing companies, Jamie Bradley helps clients source and produce great marketing materials. He writes these occasional blogs to share ideas on how to create better and more effective products.