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Introduction to working with a printer service provider

Take a Tour
Most print providers are open to leading tours of their facilities. Take this opportunity to not only understand their machinery and capabilities, but to see if their customer service style is a match for your business.

Come with a list of questions specific to the kinds of products you will need printed most often. Hearing staff talking to you about your options in person will help you get a sense of each shop’s focus and expertise.

This is the time for specific questions, like what they do in-house and what they outsource. How much of the supply chain do they control? What makes their business unique? 

Think about your values
The printing industry is unique in that it is not controlled by an elite few. Family-run businesses are still competitive within their local markets, and going with a smaller shop doesn’t compromise quality. Take advantage of this and support a business that invests back into your community. Keep an eye out for diverse suppliers to support underrepresented businesses.

If you work with a national business, consider printing materials at various printers throughout the country. Local printers have the added advantage of offering cheaper shipping costs, a shorter drive for press checks, and an understanding of local markets.

Another huge consideration for print buying should be the environmental impact of the material. Ask printers about their recycling methods and if they offer sustainable inks and papers. A Rainforest Alliance seal is a great clue that they take environmental issues to heart. Regional certifications or programs (such as the Printing Industry Midwest’s Great Printer Environmental Initiative also indicate this commitment.

Take a Capabilities Test
Start the printer search with your end products in mind. What do you need printed now? What will you need down the line?

Consider the unique needs of your business. Do you anticipate printing banners or other large format materials? Or are quickly printed flyers more likely? These considerations should influence which printers you turn to first. Depending on the size and service area of your business, you may turn to different printers for different projects.

If you’re new to print buying, consider going with a printer that has been in business for a while. Veterans of the industry are the best resource for your questions. They will know which materials are the most durables, which inks work for which substrates, and which bindery techniques will catch a consumer’s eye. 

Price Points
Does this particular shop offer a competitive price for the amount of material you need printed? Varying relationships with vendors means that each print shop may offer more competitive pricing at the lower or higher ends of the spectrum.  The ideal printer for a freelancer seeking business cards and the ideal printer for a grocery store needing weekly coupon mailings and store displays are going to be widely different. 

Customer Service 
It might sound ironic to be concerned with the digital capabilities of a printer service, but it’s important for you and your business to be able to get your files to the shop ASAP. The days of driving over your floppy discs are over (or at least, they should be). Investments in software and web development are a good sign that your materials will have a shorter turn-around time.

Also ask printers about their proofs and press check policies. Their receptivity and process for these quality controls are indicative of their attention-to-detail and customer service. 

Have a dedicated point person for print buying
Even if no one on staff is particularly well versed in QuarkXPress, it still helps to have one point person to talk to the printer. Then, only one person has to learn the printer jargon, feel the swatches, and come to press checks.  

G7 Master Facilities
G7 is an organization dedicated to recognizing excellence in printing. Earning G7 master facility status means that someone is on staff full-time to maintain machinery and ensure color consistency. If you have a logo that relies on a particular color, a G7 master facility can ensure that that exact color is on all of your printed materials

This post is the first in a series for how to make the most out of a relationship with the companies you buy print from. 

Comment below! What has helped you develop a healthy relationship with your printer? 

- Sarah Barker, ,

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