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Working with Printers
Best Business Practices

Following are a number areas that need to be considered when doing business with a print vendor. Since I come from both a design and printing background, I am aware of the common misunderstandings that lead to strained client-vendor relationships. The following information is to help clients understand what hiring a print vendor entails, and how to avoid problems.

Press Times

When a printer takes a job it is scheduled, meaning a job reserves a block of time on a specific day. Generally, if a printer’s schedule is not full, they may be flexible if there are any last minute adjustments to a project. However, if they are booked up and changes need to made at the eleventh hour, the press time is usually lost and the printer fills the slot with another job that is ready. This is how printers make their money — they print the most they can in the course of a day. Printers lose money if their presses sit idle.

If there is a rush job that causes the printer to adjust their print schedule, or to run a job over the weekend, one should expect to pay extra for that. These are standard upcharges to compensate for paying extra shifts, overtime, bumping another client’s job to accommodate yours, and any rush shipping or courier charges incurred.

Proofing and Sign-Off

New technologies make designing, proofing, and printing easier and much faster than a few years ago. But problems do arise when people do not understand the limits of these technologies. Specifically, the issue of color proofing an Adobe Acrobat PDF as opposed to a printed proof.

While it has become an acceptable method — especially when designer and client are a great distance apart — proofing for color accuracy by looking at a PDF is far from an infallible. In fact, in my experience, this practice has caused a lot of rifts between clients and printers. The reason this method is not recommended is because color accuracy on a computer depends on the individual settings of various workstations — specifically the monitor.

Not only do different monitor brands display differently, but Macintosh and IBM PCs display differently, even if the monitors are the same brand and model. Colors look different on every monitor, unless you have expensive color matching and calibrating software. The only people who really own this type of software are printing companies.

Other variables that cause differences in color are an individual’s eyesight (we all see colors differently), and the varied lighting conditions in different locations. The best light source for viewing colors is sunlight.

To make things more complicated, different desktop printer models print with severe variances in color. So printing the PDF out to your own color printer will most likely be far from what the real piece will look like.

To assure that there are no surprises with colors on a printed piece: See a proof supplied by the printer!

The Issue of Responsibility

There is often a misconception that the printer is responsible for anything going wrong with a print project. This is not the case at all. If a printer has provided a contract-quality proof that the client has signed off on, then the printer is exempt from any blame, except where the final piece does not match the contract proof. This is a very rare occurrence.

The printer is responsible for showing a contract-quality proof (i.e., a proof that shows exactly what the client can expect to get). It is the client’s responsibility to not skip this step and to take the time to thoroughly look the proof over. This is the final step before printing the final piece.

If a client chooses to not see a color proof, then they are signing away any ironclad method of disputing a botched final product. Very often, designers will not make themselves available to act as an arbitrator in such disputes. In order to save oneself from such a hassle, time should be taken to see a hardcopy proof.

See Recommended Proofing Practices for more information.

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