The A, B, C’s of Building a Relationship with Your Commercial Printer

If your job requires you to get something printed commercially and you’ve never had the pleasure before, don’t panic. Here’s a handy guide to working with commercial printers. It’s helpful for marketers, print buyers and graphic designers.

First, know that printing is customized manufacturing. You really can “have it your way,” although your printer may suggest a better solution to make your job more successful and effective. Think of your printer as the master architect: you bring him or her your plans for a finished print job, and together you’ll discuss the effects you’re looking for, your requirements, and your expectations. 

Who You’ll Be Dealing With

Your initial and main contact with any commercial printer is the print sales rep. (In a small print shop, this may well be the owner.) You’ll meet with your rep in your office or strictly by phone and email. Customers with major or complex print projects will often go for a plant tour ahead of time as well as to do an on-site press check.

You may be assigned a CSR (Customer Service Representative), AKA an Account Manager, who will be intimately involved with your job’s production details. When you initiate a job with a printer, ask who your primary and secondary contacts will be. Get full contact information. It’s their job to communicate with you and keep you in the loop.

Depending on the complexity of your job, you might also work with certain specialists from one or more areas in the company, like prepress, design, finishing, mailing, or fulfillment.

Your Printer’s Responsibility

More than anything else, a printer must listen and understand your goal for a particular project. Your rep should ask you a lot of questions to find out the details about a job. A job’s specs (specifications) are used to configure the job for the most appropriate press, to price the job, to determine the best substrate (whether it’s paper or something else), and to aid the job planners as they create a production schedule.

It’s during these initial conversations you have with a printer that a potential issue may arise. Maybe your rep knows that your selection for paper is not optimum, or that your job will have an issue at the mailing stage, or perhaps your delivery date is in jeopardy because of so many finishing requirements. Here’s where the critical value of your printer is most evident: getting advice in the pre-production stages and hearing alternative suggestions. The best print reps are able to suggest different ways to produce something if they think it’s warranted and will give you better results.

Once your print rep has the job specs, he or she is responsible for getting you an accurate estimate. You’ll get this in writing.

Your print rep oversees proof delivery as well. Based on when you send the job file to your printer, your rep will advise you on when and how to expect to receive your proofs, how long you have to review and return them, and when the job will print and ship.

This basic amount of communication between you and your printer is key. You should not have to chase a printer to find out these key dates: it’s a printer’s job to keep you informed. If something should jeopardize a production schedule or delivery date, your printer should discuss it with you to share what the problem is and how he or she will rectify it.

If you’re not on press (most customers won’t be), your rep will make sure your piece prints as planned, shepherding your job through the plant on through till it’s delivered.

In a nutshell, your rep is your direct channel into the print manufacturing facility and is responsible for keeping you informed about your job’s status.

Your Responsibility

Printers may be master architects, but they can’t build a job alone. As the client, you must provide your printer with full and complete job specifications. Ask your printer for a spec form to fill out (most have them handy), and if you have any question about specs, your printer’s there to help. Your job is planned and priced based on these specs, so complete details are important. If specs change once a job has been estimated (they often do), it’s your responsibility to tell your printer, in case the schedule or estimate is affected.

Aside from job specs, you should share as much information about the job as you can – its purpose, your expectations of quality level, how this piece might dovetail with other company projects, how it’s going to be distributed, and anything else that may be relevant. If you have earlier versions of a piece, share these as well. The more informed of the overall picture, the better your printer can deliver what you need.

When possible, involve your printer in early meetings about a project. While it’s rarely necessary for jobs like corporate stationery or simple brochures, it will help to have your printer involved with marketing or your designers for complex projects such as viewbooks or multipiece, multichannel print components. By arming your printer with as much job information as you can, you will maximize the success of your job.

The vast majority of customers create job files for their printers today, so let your printer know what software you’ll be using, down to the specific version. Similarly, proofreading is your responsibility – not the printer’s.

A Successful Relationship Is Based on Openness

Getting anything printed involves having a relationship with your printer. The more you share – your objectives, concerns, and budgetary guidelines – the better your printer can advise you and produce what you want. Similarly, your printer needs to be just as open a communicator. Job details and schedule updates aside, the best printers always share ideas on how to get the ideal results you seek.

Tell us your past experience on successful relationships with your commercial printer. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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