Posted by: AG | January 15, 2010

Quality Control – part two

As mentioned in an earlier article, it helps to understand that print production consists of two separate stages: graphic design, aka graphic production, and printing. Each of these two areas of print production controls quality to some extent. But the design stage is by far the most important and affects quality directly.

It’s during the design stage that all standards of production and quality are set: the copy gets written, photographs are taken, illustrations are drawn, and the critical layout and typography are arranged. It’s also during this time that decisions about the printing requirements of the job are made, such as color selections, paper choices, varnishes, folding, binding, perforating, etc. On a more detailed design level, the designer will need to consider half-tone screens for photos, special color tints, bleeds (colors running off the edge,) reverses (i.e. white on black,) and registration of images on the page where they overlap anything else.

These decisions will often affect the final printing costs of the job along with the turn-around time to get it completed. The more complex the printed piece, the more time it will take to design, proof when at the printer’s, make changes, and print the job. Precision jobs will normally run slower on the press and require that the pressman spend more time checking quality while the job is being run.The Printing Stage

The printing stage begins when the final artwork, either hardcopy or computer file, is turned over to your chosen printing company. At that point, they will assume most of the control, and responsibility, of the job – but not all of it. Control of quality will, and should, remain with you, the client. But how this control is used and your ability to use it will depend on a number of other issues, including your relationship with the printing company or their sales agent, and your personal knowledge about the printing stage and the equipment used.

In most cases, the sales agent (representative) is the most important link you’ll have with your printer. It will be they that will receive and go over your job’s exact specifications, give you price estimates and variables, and hopefully offer valuable cost-saving or quality-improving suggestions. They  become your link to the ongoing printing and production of your material and are responsible for keeping you informed about any questions, problems, or changes to scheduled completion. And the more expertise and experience that this person has, the more likely you’ll get what you were promised with the least amount of compromises along the way.

So without realizing it, and after having worked with graphic designers, photographers, copywriters, marketing people, and then selecting a printing company, you suddenly discover that the sales representative for the printer becomes a vital link in the project – but hopefully not the weak link. It’s a relationship worth cultivating before turning over and agreeing to his or her company doing the printing.

Here are some techniques to help you do this:

Learn about the rep beforehand -– what is their experience and general background with regards to the print production industry? For instance, it’s useful to find out how much they know about graphic design, marketing, printing, bindery, etc. You can, and should, ask for business references – at least three – and preferably of customers that have printed similar jobs. For instance, if you’re printing a color magazine-type piece, ask to see other examples of their work and get the name of the contact person of the customer on that job.

Call those references (hopefully they won’t be competitors – if they are, use caution if you use the same printer,) — ask the other print buyers about the printer, and their rep, and it will help you make that final decision about which printing company to use. And it’s OK to ask questions about the value and number of suggestions they offered, the amount of energy they devoted to overseeing your job, the quickness of their call-backs with estimates, price revisions, or other job tracking questions.

Shortly after starting Corporate Printing and Mailing, in Berkeley, I put in countless hours writing my own job estimating program. After that investment, our company was able to give estimates on the most complex jobs within a half-hour of receiving job specs. Many of our competitors would often take days to get back to the customers. For the same reason, I also wrote a job-tracking program that gave a full report print-out of all outstanding jobs, the stages each job was in, and exactly what needed to be done that day — what time, and where. When a customer called checking on the status of their job, the answers were immediate, and there were few reasons to call them back.

Realize that even on large jobs, you might decide that the more expensive printer is worth the extra cost due to their experience and customer satisfaction. Quality is not just measured based on looking at your final printed piece – it also includes the overall quality of its production system and service.

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