How to Be Smart About Buying Print
by Margie Dana
If buying print for your company is a new responsibility for you, you’re probably shell-shocked. Who can blame you! You’re thinking, “Where do I go? Who can I trust? How do I know how much printing costs?”
Here are a few general observations about sourcing print, followed by specific tips.
Printing prices are at an all-time low. Printing is taking a beating from lots of places: other printers, e-commerce printing sites, offshore printers, and newer digital media that are replacing print.
The printing industry is contracting. Many firms have shut their doors recently, and more will follow. (That’s a good reason not to put all your work in one place.)
Going digital can be your best option. Most printers today have digital equipment, or they work with another printer who does. Digital printing, which offers customers short run and fast turnaround, is constantly improving in terms of quality. Plus, you can get delivery in as little as a few days. Sweet!
Printing as an industry is evolving. Some printing firms are changing from being just printers to firms that offer broader services as well—like integrated marketing, email marketing, database management, and mailing/fulfillment.
Company names are changing. The word printing is disappearing in many cases as firms rebrand. (I find it difficult at times to figure out what a company does. That can’t be a good thing.)
The tips below should help you choose among printers regardless of your budget or the state of the economy.
1. Choose with care. Print partners offer different services at different prices. Find printers who have experience with the types of products you need. Ask them outright. Keep in mind, though, that most commercial printers can manufacture pretty much whatever you need. Their equipment (press sizes) dictates what products fit best. With experience and attention to equipment capabilities, you’ll start to appreciate how presses differ.
2. Get recommendations from people who produce books like yours. Ask them about pricing, service, problems, and if deadlines are met.
3. Remember that printing is global. You don’t have to stay local unless you prefer to, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
4. Have a clear idea about what you want. The more details you can provide to a potential printer, the better the estimate you’ll get.
5. Don’t ask for an estimate without giving printers a lot of detail. Job specifications (“specs”) determine the price. You wouldn’t ask a builder to quote you on “a house,” would you? Nor should you ask a printer for a quote on “a book.”
7. Early on in the sourcing process, consider how you’ll distribute your printed material. Most especially (and I speak from lots of experience), if you plan on mailing products or promotional materials, you’ve got a lot to think about—schedules, post office regulations, designing for mailing, USPS rates/costs, mail lists, mail houses, fulfillment, and on and on. If you don’t have on-site mail expertise, work with a printer who does, or find yourself a mailing expert.
8. Don’t expect printing to be done overnight—but with digital printing as an option, you can often get extremely fast turnarounds from printers.
9. Determine what matters most to you. This may differ from job to job. Maybe it’s delivery date. Maybe it’s price. Maybe it’s print quality and a “wow” factor. Let your priorities guide you when selecting a printer—and share your priorities with that printer.
10. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Most corporate buyers work with five to seven different printers.
11. Because there are thousands of printers, find one who can offer you more. I favor a printer with creative ideas, lots of experience, someone who’s current with the technology, and definitely someone who understands what my business is all about. And someone whose sales rep makes you feel comfortable and seems likely to serve as a terrific resource for you.
12. Focus hard on paper. Did you know that paper accounts for one-third to even one-half of the cost of your print job? Choose your paper wisely and know why size does matter.
•Stick to multiples of 8½”× 11″ for promotional materials. That’s the standard size. Stray too much
from a multiple of this size, and you could pay more.
• Know where the price breaks are. The more paper you buy, the better your pricing.
•Use a printer’s house sheet. Printers stock several types of paper, and using what they have on hand
often saves you dough.
• Don’t be so picky. Ask your printer what paper will be available/running at just the time when your job
will print. You’ll avoid makeready, and save.
• Reduce the weight of your paper (heavier = pricier).
• Reduce trim size—even a quarter-inch matters for some jobs. Ask your printer.
•Consolidate jobs. By planning ahead, you can print multiple jobs on the same sheet of paper. This
is called ganging.
• Print only what you need. Reduce waste. (File this tip under “Duh.”)
• Reduce page counts.
• Avoid bleeds. That’s when the ink “bleeds” all the way to the edge of the sheet. The printer has
to print the job and then trim off the edges to create that bleed. It can cost you more.
•Change your sheet. That is, go to a lower quality of paper. Try asking for a printed sample on a sheet
one grade below what you’ve spec’ed, and then compare prices.
• Know that broken cartons will cost you more. If you’re ordering a special sheet and need only a small
amount, the printer has to “break a carton” to run your job. You’ll pay extra, since the printer has
to purchase that special sheet (in a carton) just for you.
• Go digital so you can print exactly what you need, even if it’s just one copy.
• Shift what you can to the Web.
Always talk about paper with your printer when you’re planning your job. Let the printer guide you. When you have an open mind and listen to your printer’s ideas, you can create magnificent work together.
© 2011 Margie Dana
Margie Dana, a corporate print buyer for 15 years, is now an independent marketing specialist who focuses on improving the printer-buyer relationship. This article is derived from Print Buying Made Simple, a guide for publishers, designers, and marketers. To order, visit printbuyersinternational.com/store/books/print-buying-made-simple. To learn more or subscribe to the free weekly Margie’s Print Tips, visit printbuyersinternational.com.