Sunday, July 01, 2007

Printing Process

It has been quite a while since I have posted to this blog, so let me jump right back in and post about something few people seem to think about: Printing!

For those that are not involved in the printing process, there is something you must understand...Printing Projects are not as easy as: I want it, make it, I want it next week!! I have run into enough of those attitudes through out my Marketing career that I am starting off by saying, get rid of your expectations and timelines in your head and realize this is a complex process. The Graphic and Print World does NOT revolve around You. A person can make approximations, but you will never know how long a Print Project job takes until you actually have the final project in your hands. Several factors contribute to this, which include:

1. How long it takes a graphic artist to produce or develop a final (i.e. how long it takes to make the layout, etc.) you must always keep in mind that the faster you want something the more it will cost, because a graphic artist is NOT sitting around waiting for your printing job, they have other clients and other obligations. If you want to push your project to the front, you have to pay to get it there.

2. How long it takes the printer to produce your job. Again, they also are not sitting around waiting just for your job, they have other clients, other jobs and yours may not be the biggest, and even if it is, it may not fit within their current production run schedule. They do have an entire staff that is responsible for printing and printing a job is a complex thing, from scheduling, to file set up or tweaks to material printing to cutting to molds, etc., etc.

3. Whom ever is giving you a turn around time estimate must also take into consideration shipping times, with UPS, FEDEX, etc. this has become a much easier process, but also a much more expensive one. Also, printed material can get quite heavy, so often print jobs must be shrink wrapped (in batches for the client - say you want 2,000 printed items packaged in bundles of 500, this also takes time), also sometimes the end print project product must be put on shipping pallets and trucked versus a standard UPS or FEDEX box.

There are several things involved in a print project:

The Graphic Artist - this is one of the most time consuming portions, to give graphic artists their due, they have to develop a concept (unless a client has a very clear picture in his/her head) they have to extract that inforamtion from their client, piece by piece by piece...from layout to text to revisions to changes. Take my work on this, do not present a print marketing concept to several individuals before you get to the stage with a graphic artist where you are basically at the final step, otherwise, your print project is going to turn into a fiasco. Why is that? Because you will end up having an opinion from every person you present it to. Because other people do not understand that when developing a marketing print project concept there are serveral factors: What are you trying to get across? How is the best and quickest way to get that inforamtion across in the 2-3 seconds you have to catch your target market's eye? ...and most of all, just because they personally think something is a good idea, it doesn't mean it makes good graphic layout, or good graphic layout from a cost stand point. If you allow your project to go in front of say 5 people, before you get to a 'final' project concept stage...then you are opening a bag full of trouble. You will end up delaying your graphic marketing print project (probably by several revisions - keeping in mind that every revision you make costs your company more money, because it is more of the graphic artist's time and effort, etc).

If you wait until you have a final concept developed and layed out and you present say two (2) concepts and allow them to chose between the two concepts, you will save time, you will save money, you will also allow them to be 'part' of the project.

The Printer - Now printers vary per geographic location and thier ability to print various per printer. This is based upon what computer equipment they have in house, what printing equipment they have in house (a printer that has a Heidelberg printer is probably your best bet - Heidelberg is a reknown name in the print industry, because they produce very good quality printed material and because their equipment is fairly expensive, so you know the printer is serious about printing).

There are several odd things about the Printing Industry:

Apples vs. IBM
1. Graphic Arists use Mac/Apple software/hardware environments - most of their business clients (i.e. that means most corporations) use IBM. This can cause issue between what the Client/Corporation sees and what the graphic artist produces.

2. A Client/Corporation will view an item and not have their computer screen calibrated/adjusted to the same settings as someone in the graphic art/print field. Your normal pc screen various in display size and settings. Graphic Artists take the time and effort and research in order to produce for themselves on their screen the most accurate of coloring displays...most Client/Corporations do not, so what a client "sees" may not be what they "get" and vice must work with a graphic artist you trust!!!

Graphic Artists versus Printers

1. Printers and Graphic Arstists have very different file format needs - and sometimes a printer will need to adjust a file submitted by a graphic artist - SO GET A HARD COPY PROOF!
A graphic artist's job is to layout/create visually a product. A printer's job is to actually print out that concept onto printed material (be it corrugated boxes, paper, etc.) A printer will set files up so that those files can be understood by their printing machines and how those files are set up depends upon the printing machine they use, along with what material they are printing on (such as business cards vs. cardboard box packaging vs. a brochure vs. a sign, etc.)

What You See Versus What You Get:
There are several factors to consider when ordering a Hard Copy Proof versus an electronic .PDF proof. I recommend that you GET A HARD COPY PROOF!! It is more expensive and takes more time, but in the end it is well worth the trouble and cost.

Because of the following:

Hardcopy Proof:

- What you see is normally what you get, because you will see the ink on the material it is intended to be printed on, be it paper or cardboard or plastic, etc.
- You have proof in your hands to use later if the final product is not what you were provided as an example of what it was promised to be.
- Proofs in eccense are just more accurate than any other form of review.
- Higher cost than electronic .PDF file proofs
- Longer turn around time (it takes time to produce and get that proof into your hands)
- Add in the cost of shipping a proof and the cost of your job goes up depending on how quickly you want that hardcopy proof in your hands (this can get quite expensive depending on the printer). Some, but not all, printers will include a hardcopy proof into your original job cost quote, but most will add this as a seperate charge on your printing job - Yet, again, there is no substitute for having an example of what you want in your hands for you to look at and review to see if it is what you want.

Electronic PDF File Proof:

- Quick Turnaround
- Normally minutes to hours
- Low Cost
- Adobe Acrobat Readers are a Free Download, so almost everyone everywhere can access them
- What you preview on your proof may not be what you end up with on your final product. Because you are view a file that is electronic and not actually printed ink on a final material, it just isn't the same, colors are not the same, there is a chance that 'cutting' edges, folds, tabs, etc. are not going to be the same as what is actually set up on the printer's system in the end.

As in most industries where you are buying an end product, the more you buy the less expensive the cost per item. There are some printers that will not even work with a "small job", and the definition of a 'small job' depends on which printer you are using. This number can vary for some printers a 'small job' can be anything less than 1,ooo. For others it can be anything less than 5,000. Check this number when you get a quote and it is important to ask what the print break level quantities are, in other words, at what quantity amounts does your print job begin to cost you less money.

Hopefully, after reviewing this article you will be better prepared to work with someone in your Marketing Department and have a clearer understanding of what they must deal with and go through to get you what you want, and more importantly, hopefully, this will toss out some of those unrealistic expectations that I have seen. Personally, I would rather say, I can't give you an exact date, but I will try my best to have this ready by (insert date), than sit there and give someone a date of expected delivery and be wrong or have to b.s. them continually. I have seen the later happen too many times by fellow Marketing professionals, but, I also understand that sometimes people that have nothing to do with this process and do not even comprehend this process, will back a Marketing person or department into a corner and it is occasionally easier to give a date and postpone it (and postpone it and postpone it), rather than try to explain the process (I have tried and witnessed the glazing over of eyes)....

My best advice: Give the Marketing person/dept. several weeks and give them the opportunity to do what they do best, handle it. If something delays the deadline of receipt, understand that a lot of this process is actually out of thier hands. Good relations with vendors only takes you so far, unless the Marketing person is there doing the printing and graphic work themselves (the first is possible, the second isn't), then the Marketing person is only a passanger on the train after a certain point.

Wishing You Every Success,


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