Sue, April, and I run the design team here at Blue Star. Together, we have decades of design and print experience. Over the years, we have amassed a Rolodex of reliable print partners, and between us, a list of criteria we have all agreed upon when seeking a new vendor.
To our fellow marketers: We know it’s hard to find reliable partners, and we hope the list below is helpful for developing your own method for choosing a print partner.
To our current and future printers: We know you're excited when you get that shiny, new piece of equipment in-house. That's usually when you call us. But honestly, your equipment isn't what dazzles our design team.
If you are looking to impress a designer, here’s our list of must-dos:
SUE: I have to be able to trust that the printer I am working with has the same goals I do when producing a printed piece. The only way to establish trust is through communication. I view the printer as a partner in my success, much in the same way that the best client relationships are collaborations. I have, at times, changed aspects of what I thought I wanted to do after discussing a project with a trusted print rep. In the end, we produce a better product for our client. The more we discuss client needs and the best ways to get there, the better the end product.
JULIA: Communication is essential. We understand how much work goes into the print side. There's no magic button. One trip to a printing facility will prove just how many moving parts there are when getting something produced. It's amazing to see all the machines whirring and moving at warp speed to print just a small piece. But one wrong move and – kaplooie – there goes the whole job. To ensure everything goes smoothly from start to finish requires communication. Our print partner and design team need to be on the same page even before the creative process begins to assure all kaplooies are eliminated.
Color match (and communicate)
SUE: I want to be comfortable asking my printer for a press check, an ink drawdown, or a tour of their facility. The printers I trust the most open their doors (and their pressrooms) to their clients and are happy to involve everyone as much as they need to in order to ensure success.
APRIL: I like to know that if the printer sends me a digitally printed color proof, they can match that color once the piece goes to an offset press.
JULIA: I want a printer who understands that as a designer, I know the difference between PMS, CMYK, and digital inks. I can spot the difference between PMS 877 Silver and 80% gray a mile away. My client might not be able to, but I can. And when my reputation is on the line, I want a printer that will meet MY expectations.
Meet deadlines (and communicate)
SUE: I need to know when a printer won't be able to meet an agreed upon deadline because of unforeseen circumstances. For projects with an absolute deadline, I often ask about back-up plans. What if the electricity goes out? Do you have a back-up for that? If the press breaks down, will you be able to produce the job on time?
APRIL: I want to know that the deadline was met. I appreciate receiving a confirmation email when the product has been delivered. It allows me to follow up with my client, ensure the job has gone well from start to finish, and that everyone is happy.
Be knowledgeable about mailing (and communicate)
SUE: Mailing is an area printers need to address successfully. I depend on my printer to help choose the appropriate mailing class and apply the many rules the post office has (and is constantly changing) to get the best outcome for the client.
JULIA: Mailing regulations are always changing, so when a printer is up-to-date with them, it tells me they take their work seriously.
Collaborate (and communicate)
SUE: I need our printer partners to be honest and tell me what will work and what won't. One of the things I value most about having a trusted print rep is being able to call and say, "Here's what I want to do, can we talk through this? What about this fold? Is this paper something you can recommend? Are there alternatives? Can we save money and not lose quality if we choose this option? Will this process work for this project? What happens if we do it this way?"
JULIA: I want a printer to tell me if I've made a mistake on files, if I miscalculated a fold measurement, forgot to convert an RGB image, or missed a typo. I love when a printer points out an area of concern, fixes it, and sends back corrected files that I can reference later. If I don't know my error, I am more likely to continue making the same mistake in the future. I also appreciate when a printer calls me to question my design when I’ve pushed boundaries. Printers, however, should never assume my design layout is a mistake and “fix it” without my knowledge. That never ends well.
Send samples (and communicate)
JULIA: The only way designers know if their work is successful is to see if the final product turned out as intended. Nothing makes a designer happier than receiving samples. We love to display our work the way athletes display their trophies on a mantle. The printer benefits, too, because we're showing off what they can do and often share their work with other designers. Bottom line: if the printer believes in the quality of their work, they will send samples.
APRIL: Printers should always send samples, because it’s the best way to communicate to me the job is done and went well.
Stick to the estimate (and communicate)
SUE: Communication is key; if a project is going over budget or if the estimate is off for some reason, I have to trust that the printer is going to tell me why and how much we underestimated the project.
There might be other factors to determine if a printer will be a great partner for your organization, but these eight will get the decision-making process started. If you're a designer or marketer and consider other factors important, please leave us a comment below.