There’s something powerful about well-designed print collateral—especially when the execution is as thoughtful and artistic as the concept. Even in the age of digital media, people still love to feel the weight of a thick, letterpress business card or flip through a slick, glossy catalog filled with stunning graphics and photographs. When great design and beautiful printing meet, the results connect and resonate deeply with your audience.
Of course, beautiful printing doesn’t happen by chance. Printing is a sophisticated, multiple-step process that requires a great degree of skill and expertise. Managed incorrectly, the printing process creates multiple opportunities to make a bad call, miscommunicate, and introduce human error. That’s why we highly recommend you elect to request a Print Management Package from your agency. If they don’t have one, that might be a flag, because there’s a lot that can go wrong:
It’s Printing: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
In a word—everything. Printing is a complex, idiosyncratic process that is as much art as science. Anytime you introduce another step or another decision point into a process, you also introduce the potential for error. While many companies opt to handle printing internally, we recommend print supervision and expert quality control at every step.
Here are some of the more common concerns:
- A Color. Experienced management of print projects means you’re ensured your brand colors aren’t compromised. Key word is experience, because over time, after hundreds of print management processes, we’ve learned that lots of things create possible issues. Among the many, a few examples: Since digitally-produced colors are very different from printed colors, the color you see on your monitor and others will vary and typically not be correct, even off brand. In general, Pantone ink is the only way to guarantee an exact color. Even then, ink will take on some of the characteristic of the paper (i.e. natural paper vs white). If color accuracy is critical for your project, ordering hard copy proofs and even press checks with experienced eyes is essential.
- B Turn-around Times. If there is an issue with a proof, this may cause additional time to create a new proof. Working with printers to manage expectations and juggle resolving conflict as close as possible to the in-hand date promised is tough because it takes experience in conversations with printers to ensure that factors that are proposed as barriers to meeting deadlines are real issues, and that experienced negotiating can minimize rush charges and/or proposed shipping expenses where possible.
- C Quantities. Printers don’t guarantee an exact quantity of delivery. They usually produce an overage as we request removal of pieces that don’t meet quality control standards. Sometimes printers will state they deliver +/- 10% of the order so that they can pull out all pieces that don’t meet standards, even if it’s under the ordered quantity, and also account for our additional scrutiny post-shipping for potential damage, quality control and more.
- D Shift. Since items are folded and cut by machines, there can be a small shift variation throughout a print batch. This is a disclaimer printers give and, therefore, we can’t guarantee no shift. However, we know what to look for, to ensure that shift will be minimal and there will be no misfolded pieces.
The Print Management Package
Ideally, print management should feel nearly invisible to clients—like a natural extension of the artistic direction provided during the design stage. Through experienced print management, the right partner is able to ensure the highest level of quality at every stage of the process, from prep to ink on paper, while making sure that you get the best possible deal and never spend a moment worrying about your print collateral.
What You Should Expect:
Ongoing Design Vision & Direction
Do you really want to spend your valuable time weighing every possible printing decision? Foil stamp or matte print? Rounded or straight corners? Heavy stock or creamy linen paper? Which printer can do those, which can’t? Which outsource those specialty functions to yet another printer, entering a whole new set of potential quality control issues, and don’t tell me?
Not only should your print management team know all available options, their art directors and print supervisors also understand which choices work best for your brand, and track records of various printers, depending on the type of job, to monitor their history of delivering on quality, on time and on budget. Allowing an experienced team to take your project all the way through print, you ensure your design is produced as it was intended, on brand—and work to find the best way to produce stunning pieces within your budget.
Print Process Expertise
Printing is a complex process, and no two presses are set up exactly the same way. Sometimes, when files are passed off as a print-ready pdf for a client to produce, there’s misunderstanding about what different printers need. Perhaps there’s not enough bleed, or the crop marks are off, or the printer needs the piece set up in a different way. With print supervision, an experienced print management team with a deep understanding of design, branding standards and expectations, and design files makes sure the art specs match the vendor’s art specs, eliminating hours of reformatting time and preventing bad print jobs.
Savvy Shopping & Established Relationships with Vendors
Over the long haul, an experienced print management partner also provides leadership as an extension of your team, to help you get favorable pricing not just on every job, but throughout the print process across projects year-round, leveraging discounts with print vendors given to agencies, bundling projects for bulk discount commitments with other clients brought to the printer, and other ways.
The right experienced print management partner also produces a wide variety of print projects—from brochures & custom business cards to vehicle wraps & interior design installations—for you and other clients, so they know which vendor will give the best quality and pricing for the scope of your project. Since they work with many of these vendors on a regular basis, they often get price breaks for their loyalty and consistent work sent as well. They’ve also built up trust with vendors, so if anything ever does go wrong with a project from printing to file prep to price quoting to scope change to shipping and delivery, you’re also acquiring the experienced print management team’s leverage with vendors on your behalf. They know their vendors will work to make it right, since your print management partner client roster is valuable to that printer, not just myopically negotiating “making it right” based on your project’s value.
When you’re getting ready for a tradeshow, the last thing you need to be doing is spending time communicating with printers about a bad proof. Experienced print management has leadership who checks all proofs for color and accuracy, as well as branding standards. If there is an issue, they can also typically quickly isolate not just what happened, but why it happened, bringing an in-depth set of insights into design files, how they work, how printers manage files across various presses and software systems, and more. Your print partner should be able to speed that process up, taking care of all communication with the printer to make sure the job gets done right, knowing inherently the things to check for to quickly pick out missing content or images since they designed the piece.
If you allow time for your print piece to be shipped to our office before it’s delivered to you or your destination trade show/event, a print management partner checks over the work, pulling multiple samples from each box to make sure that every piece looks like the approved proof and the quality of printing is up to your brand standards.
Peace of Mind
An experienced print management partner wants your print collateral to look its best because their name is on it, too, and they speak the language of printers—clearing up any miscommunication that may happen before it starts. They have a deep understanding of every step of the process from beginning to end, the specs, and all options.