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Frank Scussa

finding-printer-blog

Evaluate a Printer on These Five Qualities

So you’re looking for a commercial printer. Maybe it’s been a while since you printed something because you’ve been focused on your digital efforts like social media or SEM. Or, unfortunately, maybe the relationship with your current printer is a little shaky and it’s time for a change.

No matter the reason for your search, finding a printer can be a time-consuming task. You have to locate ones in your area, research those that look promising and then reach out to them to get a few estimates to see if their pricing seems right. You invest time in this mission while you’re most likely also handling other job responsibilities. Once you finally find a new printer to work with you’ll want the relationship to go well. You won’t want to do a search again anytime soon.

How can you make sure you find the right printer? Evaluate them on five key attributes: capabilities, reputation, interest, “the basics” and respect.

Capabilities

Early in your search you have a simple question to answer: do the printers you’re finding have the capabilities you need? You have a project to print—the printer you choose must be able to handle it. If you need a sign printed, do they offer large format printing? If your brochure needs to mail, do they have in-house mailing services?

A printer’s website should provide the information you need to understand their capabilities. If after taking a look at the company online you’re still unsure about what they can do, you could call and ask. On the other hand, you could get a little wary. Because if a printer’s website isn’t easily understood, they might not be very good communicators. That, you don’t want.

Reputation

The next question is a harder one to answer: what kind of reputation do they have? Are they honest? Do they provide a good customer experience?

Determining what type of company they are without experiencing their service firsthand is challenging, but not impossible. You can look for signs about their reputation in their marketing materials or online presence, such as:

  • Do they have long-standing customers?
  • Do they have well-known or prominent customers?
  • Do they share testimonials or customer feedback?
  • Do they have reviews available online?

You can also try to discover their reputation by using your professional network. Have any of your contacts heard of the company, or do they know someone who has? Can you use your network to find a contact at one of the printer’s customers? Is the printer engaged in any of the professional associations, groups or events you’re familiar with?

Although this is a tough question to answer, getting firsthand information about the printers you’re considering could be the most important thing you do in your search.

Interest

As you narrow your search to a few viable options you’ll need to reach out to them to discuss your project and get additional information. These discussions are a great time to evaluate your prospects to determine if they would be an innovative partner for you.

Do they ask questions to better understand your project, or do they just take the “order” with little interaction? Do they try to learn more about your company and your printing habits? If your project is complex, do they offer suggestions to improve the cost, turnaround time or quality?

They should be curious about you, your project and your goals. The more a printer understands about these things the better their estimate and proposed solution can be. It helps them deliver on one of the next key measurements in your evaluation: fair price.

The Basics

As you discuss your project with a printer you’ll have the chance to learn how they score on the basics—speed, quality and price.

When it comes to timing, what kind of turnaround are they estimating? Do their timelines seem reasonable? If you were able to get feedback from colleagues familiar with the printer, can you confirm that they meet their deadlines? It’s one thing to promise fast service but it’s another to actually deliver it.

The primary way to evaluate quality is reviewing samples that are similar to what you’ll need printed. How do their samples look? How were the samples presented or sent to you? Do they seem to be recent projects or do you get a sense they’re from ages ago?

If you have the time, another way to evaluate quality is to visit a printer’s facility. Touring a facility with this intention can show you a lot. Is the shop clean and organized? Do the presses and equipment look well maintained? If a printer puts in the time to take care of their facility you can be sure they’ll put in the time to take care of your project.

As far as price, it’s common for people to want to do things as inexpensively as possible. But as the old saw goes, sometimes you get what you pay for—so beware the low bidder.

With this in mind, get cost estimates from a few printers and compare prices. Look for anomalies, like prices that are a lot less or a lot more expensive than the others. Ignore those and focus on the middle. One side note—if you really like a printer but their estimate comes in real low or real high, reach out to them to make sure they had the specs correct. Even the best printers can misinterpret specs once in a while. As long as you feel a printer is providing you a fair price and fair value they should remain an option in your search.

Respect

By this point you should feel comfortable with the capabilities, reputation, service and cost of the remaining option (or options). The final factor in making your choice is respect. Has the printer you’re about to choose treated you with respect? Have they been courteous and attentive? Have you felt good dealing with them? Put simply, have they made you feel like they want your business? If it feels like they do, you’ve found the right printer.

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Adobe Stock Makes Working with Stock Images Easier

For some designers, using stock imagery from online marketplaces like Adobe Stock is like taking cough medicine—you know you need to use it, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it.

Since the early 2000s, when stock photography became widely accessible through the launch of online image marketplaces, professional designers have debated whether they should use it.

On one side are designers who say stock photography offers nothing but cheesy, inauthentic images that can never properly represent their product or company. They prefer custom photos featuring real employees, real customers or real products. They’ll even take their own photos around the office to get them.

On the other side are designers who think that wisely selecting stock imagery is an easy and affordable way to meet most of their needs. With the availability of vector graphics, stock marketplaces also provide a fast way to get illustrations and icons. This can be incredibly helpful in environments with limited budgets and tight timelines. Stock marketplaces also offer stock video and audio, and they’ve improved their libraries with “signature” collections that have photos with higher production value and better content.

Considering the online stock image market is a $3 billion business, our guess is many designers come down on the “easy and affordable” side of the debate. Whether they do it with a smile or a frown, we’re not sure. It is just an unfortunate fact that many designers work in organizations that can’t afford custom photo shoots.

So, if you need to find stock imagery, which marketplace should you use?

Shutterstock, Getty Images, iStock and Adobe Stock are some of the most recognized names in the stock image market. They all have advantages and drawbacks. Adobe Stock, however, the most recent paid platform to launch, is an option worth seriously considering.

Adobe Stock offers the right balance of convenience and cost when compared with other options. Its tight integration with the Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) platform sets it apart from other marketplaces. Stock’s benefits include:

  • Ease of use (ability to work from within one application)
  • Competitive cost
  • Ability to buy single images
  • A simple pricing model

The value of Stock’s integration with Adobe creative tools that designers use constantly outweighs its smaller image library and its lack of audio. According to a study commissioned by Adobe, Stock’s integrated workflow reduces the time involved in licensing an image from 3 minutes to 16 seconds. Since 85% of creatives who buy stock imagery use Adobe software to manipulate and place it, if you haven’t tried Stock yet, you should.

Users can search Stock from within Adobe CC software like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign and save images to their CC Library. One of Stock’s neatest features is a preview mode that lets users add effects and tweaks to a low-res version of an image. The preview version is replaced with a high-res version and all effects are reapplied automatically when the image is purchased.

In June 2016, Adobe launched an upgrade to the Stock platform as part of its CC update, deepening its integration with CC tools. Stock now has a workflow that lets you select and place an image in your work with one click. The update also introduced the industry’s only one-click purchase capability.

In addition, Adobe added a Premium collection to Stock, a set of 100,000 hand-selected images sourced from some of the world’s leading photographers. They provide exceptional content, style and production quality.

If the rationale for relying on stock imagery is its ease of use and affordability, then the same rationale can apply when selecting a marketplace. Other platforms have been around longer and may offer wider selections, but Adobe Stock is the easiest to use and one of the most affordable options out there.

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What Do You Need to Know About Paper Anyway?

If you’re a marketing or design professional today, among all your other responsibilities, you’re most likely also tasked with buying print services for any print materials your organization is producing. Previously, a dedicated production manager or print buyer would find qualified vendors, get bids, submit files and deal with the printer. Now, you are responsible. Considering that you’re already trying to stay up-to-date on topics like customer experience, personalization and data, is it realistic to think you’ll also be able to acquire a deep understanding of a complex subject like print?

Take paper, for example. Many professionals don’t invest the time needed to get familiar with terms like opacity, formation, brightness or permanence because they don’t find the potential return worth it, given their other priorities.

Do you need to know about, say, opacity to be able to buy print services for your most common projects? Probably not, because a good print service provider will help fill in any knowledge gaps to make sure your project uses the appropriate paper, based on the design and specifications.

Do you need to have an understanding of the general types of paper available to buy print services for your most common projects? Probably.

Being familiar with different types will help you know what to ask for when sending a project to print. It will also help ensure that you know what to anticipate in terms of quality and performance. This means betters odds of your final product matching your expectations.

Below is a quick summary of the general types of paper available for business and marketing communications.

Commercial Printing Papers

Coated

During manufacturing, a coating is added to the surface of this paper to limit the amount of ink that gets absorbed during printing. With coated paper, ink stays on top, increasing the sharpness of complex graphics.

Coated paper comes in several finishes:

  • Gloss – a shiny surface good for crisp images in full-color printing
  • Dull/Silk – a non-gloss surface good for large sections of solid ink and improved readability
  • Matte – a low-glare surface, good for readability

Coated paper is ideal for glossy photos, publications, product brochures and catalogs. It is not ideal for materials that need to be written on.

Offset & Opaque (Uncoated)

Offset uncoated paper is sold in large volumes and used in a lot of printing applications. It is more economical than Opaque and it is a good option for when budget is more of a concern than print quality.

Opaque uncoated paper has more opacity than offset, which provides increased brightness. Ink absorbs more evenly on opaque, providing smooth solids and good reproduction. Opaque has less show-through on two-sided printing, which is good when designs have solid blocks of color, bold type and heavy coverage.

Offset and Opaque papers are ideal for long print runs, direct mail, and general business documents.

Text & Cover (Uncoated)

Text & Cover is the phrase used to describe premium uncoated paper. It is more expensive than other uncoated options. Text & Cover provides superior printing reproduction, a variety of colors and a wide array of textures. It can handle finishing options like coatings, foil stamping and embossing. Textures include selections like cockle (rough and wavy), eggshell, felt, laid, smooth and more.

Text & Cover is ideal for high-impact communications like reports, corporate brochures, identity pieces, business cards and luxury packaging.

Specialty

The last category of paper includes more than just paper. The broad “specialty” category includes unique paper options as well as options that are not paper at all. Any material that can be printed on that is not already included in the categories above is considered specialty. Specialty papers include things like metallic, translucent, synthetic (non-tree), thermal, and food packaging.

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Use the Physical Properties of Print to Show Who You Are

“Show, don’t tell” is a maxim for writers that goes all the way back to elementary school English class.

Executed at the right time, showing, or placing the reader in the moment through the use of descriptive text and detail, can make a much more dramatic sensory connection than using boring exposition (or telling) to relay events and action.

This adage holds true for marketing with print too.

For this reason, if you’re investing the money to print promotional materials, you should leverage the physical properties of print to “show” who you are. You shouldn’t just print basic pieces and load them with copy in an attempt to “tell” who you are.

Do you want to promote yourself as a premium brand? Show it, don’t talk about it.

Do you want to convince your audience that your offering has a lot of value? Exhibit it, don’t say it.

Do you want the recipient to know how creatively you think? Display it, don’t describe it.

Indeed, print’s tactile qualities provide marketers with a fantastic opportunity to make a sensory connection with their audience by taking advantage of our innate predisposition to touch. Research shows that we connect more emotionally with items we can touch, like printed marketing materials. Additionally, communications that take advantage of touch perform better than other types of communication when it comes to message recall. It seems the more senses we can engage when communicating, the longer the recipient’s recall will be.

If you want to make a longer-lasting impression on your audience and connect with them emotionally, fully leverage the physical properties of print. Combine elements like paper, coatings and finishing techniques to produce marketing materials that match the value of your brand and the offer you’re making.

Today more than ever, you have to deliver your message in a creative, memorable way to connect with your audience. Consider some of the elements below to improve the impact of your printed promotional materials.

Paper

Paper is the starting point. Your choice will serve as the foundation for any impression you’re trying to make with your printed piece. Paper is the main way your piece will engage the sense of touch. Actually, the paper you pick can make a statement by itself. The type, weight and finish will dictate how the paper handles—how it folds, how pages turn, how the reader interacts with it. Specialty options like metallic, textured and translucent can add another level of feel and improve the impact of your piece. The right paper choice is critical if you want to accurately portray your brand value.

Coatings

Coatings are an ideal way to increase the perceived value of your printed materials. With enhanced color, high gloss and improved feel, coated materials can help express a high-value, premium image. The common types of coating available for print are varnish, aqueous and UV. Although each brings its own pros and cons, UV can provide more special effects such as scents, glitter, rough touch and raised surfaces that add depth.

Finishing 

When combined with the right paper choice and coating, finishing techniques like embossing, foil stamping and die cutting can use the physical properties of print to deliver a tremendous impact. These techniques create depth, change shape, add dimension and add a little fun. Whether it is highlighting elements within a piece or creating a unique format, finishing can increase interactivity and persuade the recipient to handle the piece longer, which will promote recall and connection.

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Good Print Specs are the Key to Successful Projects

Since we’ve worked for more than 30 years in the printing industry, we know a few things about what print buyers want. First, they want to work with a trustworthy partner. Second, when it comes to project delivery, they want speed, quality and no surprises. While we do a good job of meeting these requirements for our clients, some projects always seem a little easier to deliver than others. So, we’ve thought about this a lot through the years. We’ve tried to determine the keys to successful project delivery. What we’ve come up with isn’t earth-shattering, but it is vital nonetheless: good print specs.

Indeed, the key to successful project delivery is having complete project details from as early in the process as possible. As a matter of fact, they should exist right from the start.

Printing is a complicated process. There are lots of details and variables involved in each stage. Change or miss one small detail and the final product can end up nothing like what was intended. To help reduce the potential for unintended results, basic project details need to be outlined and understood by both the client and the printer right from the start. Establishing accurate print specs at the beginning of the process can create this mutual understanding.

Print specs are the primary way a client can convey what they envision for their final product. The more complete the specifications, the better the printer can see the client’s vision. With a clear vision, the printer can provide a more accurate cost estimate, make time-saving or cost-saving suggestions, and ensure they deliver a high-quality product in an acceptable timeframe.

At Perfect, our estimating, sales and customer service teams know to ask probing questions to help us get the project clarity we need to provide our best service. When customers don’t provide detailed print specs from the start we have to ask a lot of questions . When customers do provide detailed print specs at the start, there are fewer questions. We can begin working on the project faster. At the very least, the specifications that help us get a good start on a project include:

  • Project name
  • A detailed description
  • Due date
  • Quantity
  • Size (Flat and Finished)
  • Sides/Number of Pages
  • Inks
  • Paper
  • Directions for mailing, shipping or delivery

We’ve created a project specification form to help our customers outline their specifications so we can understand their project vision. The form has two pages. You can use the one page for any project; you can use the second page for booklets, which have a cover and inside pages. Customers can find the form in the Resources section of our website.

These forms include the basic information listed above as well as some additional information for more complex projects. Feel free to use the form to organize the specifications for your next project. You can save the form for your records for future reference. This can help on reorders or when you need to produce a project that is similar to a previous one. Just start with the specs from the already completed project and you can reduce your planning time for the new one.

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Digital Technology has Disrupted the Specialty Graphics Industry

By Joe Olivo

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Atlanta to attend the SGIA Expo, which is the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s annual event. Like most trade shows, the expo brings together vendors, printers, manufacturers and other industry professionals to see new equipment and discuss trends. In the case of SGIA, the focus is the digital and screen printing of large format and soft materials. We’re talking point-of-sale signs, trade show displays, textiles, banners, window displays, vehicle wraps, floor and wall graphics. You name the material and they’re probably printing on it.

This was my first time attending the expo. Much of what I saw was new and eye-opening. But there, among the 23,000 attendees, new product lines and educational sessions lurked a familiar friend: digital technology.

It is not an overstatement to say digital technology has thoroughly disrupted the commercial printing industry. In fact, advances in digital printing are slowly eroding many of the traditional printing processes, like offset, that have forever been the foundation of our industry. Most, if not all, large commercial printers have become hybrid shops, using both traditional and digital technologies to deliver print services. Perfect has been a hybrid shop for almost 10 years now.

Although not much of a surprise when I think about it after the fact, I was impressed, and in some awe, to see how digital technology has disrupted the specialty graphics industry. The SGIA expo used to be the domain of screen printers. Screen printing is the “analog” technology of the specialty industry. With the impact of digital, the event has grown tremendously. It is now a much more diverse community. Richard Romano, industry analyst and author, says today’s large format specialty graphics industry consists of companies that moved into it from other places. You see this reflected in the numbers. According to the SGIA 2015 Industry Survey, just 2% of specialty printers consider themselves to be “analog only,” or screen printers. About 40% of the survey’s respondents are “digital only” printers. Around 30% consider themselves to be multi-technology shops, using both analog and digital printing.

Just like in commercial printing, digital technology has brought cost-effective, good-quality short run opportunities to the specialty industry. Digital still is not the best at color matching, and it does not handle specialty inks like metallics well. But it has improved quickly. Specifically, speed, image quality, color reproduction and consistency have all gotten better in digital specialty printing. This has given clients the opportunity to use large format and soft materials that were once only available to large companies that could afford large runs. Today, it is possible to cost-effectively print just one building wrap, or wall graphic or window display. This is great news for smaller companies who want to express their brand in ways that were too expensive.

This is an opportunity for commercial printers who are familiar with the digital processes to consider new specialty graphics services. We’ve done large format printing on rigid and roll-fed materials for a few years now. What is potentially up next for us is figuring out how we can provide digital printing on soft materials. As advancement in digital technology knocks down even more barriers, additional specialty graphics opportunities will open up for commercial printers. It’s funny what you can learn bumping into an old acquaintance unexpectedly.

ChecklistFileSetup

Follow These File Prep Tips to Speed Through Prepress

The dreaded error list. For any print project going through file prep it means a delay in progress. Missing fonts, low-res images, RGB colors—no matter the error, it takes time to troubleshoot. As a result, turnaround time becomes slower for the customer.

Extra time and lost momentum are not the frustrating parts of fixing file prep errors. It’s the knowledge that the delay was probably avoidable. In short, a bit more attention to detail and the project could have sailed right through preflight.

Ultimately, the ability to avoid delays lies in the hands of the project owner. How disciplined they are in initially setting up the file, or checking its condition before sending it to their vendor, impacts how much time is spent preparing it for print. In the hundreds of files we prep each year there are a handful of consistent errors we see:

  • Missing fonts
  • Missing images
  • Low-res images
  • Documents set to incorrect trim size
  • Missing bleeds

These are basic but important file prep details. The errors are avoidable too, if the project owner keeps a few things are in mind:

  • Always use images and graphics that have a resolution of at least 300 dpi
  • Make sure you set the document size to the correct trim size
  • If sending native files, like Indesign files, use the package option to ensure the document, all inks and all fonts are organized in one folder

We’ve developed a checklist of suggestions to help our clients prepare files that can speed through prepress and avoid delays. The list includes tips for initial document set up, things to keep in mind while designing your project, and to-dos for when you’re preparing your file for submission.

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Segments in Print Industry Are Set to Experience Renewed Growth

To say the print industry has been going through change would be a huge understatement. With the impact of digital media, the commercial printing industry has been altered forever during the last decade. There has been significant consolidation. Some forms of print communication have disappeared or have been relegated to postscript status. Emerging print technologies have recast the roles of former principal players and marginalized once-essential production approaches. It has been a challenge for the industry to even come close to its pace of growth from 20 years ago. Based on what I saw and heard during my recent trip to the 2015 Graph Expo trade show, however, those in the print industry who made it through this transition are entering a period of potential growth.

The Graph Expo is an annual event where manufacturers and suppliers from across the graphics industry gather to show off their newest products and services to businesses and graphics professionals. At the Expo, I usually see the most recent print production technologies and I hear industry leaders discuss where we’re headed. This year certainly was no exception.

Growth in Segments – One interesting educational session I attended was “The Status and Future of the Printing Industry,” given by Frank Romano, a professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. In his session, Frank provided some perspective on the transition print has gone through. Although experiencing rapid, permanent change, print still is a relevant part of today’s multichannel communications environment. The print industry certainly is smaller than its high point 20 years ago. However, the rate of consolidation has leveled off. There are now segments within the industry that are growing again, such as direct mail, promotional printing and large-format signage. This growth is supported by evolving technologies, many of which were on display at the Expo.

Digital Moving into Finishing – Coming as no surprise, digital printing was one of the most prevalent topics at the Expo. Inkjet and toner presses continue to advance, both in their ability to deliver higher quality and in the size and type of substrates they can handle. For me, the most interesting advancement in digital technology is occurring in finishing.

In the not-too-distant future, finishing techniques such as foil stamping, embossing and diecutting will no longer require dies. Printers will create these special effects directly from digital files. The fixed cost of a die and the lengthy setup process have made these effects cost prohibitive for small runs. Digital finishing opens up new opportunities for visual designers. Special effects produced in the digital workflow will make smaller runs affordable.

Print Supports Digital Media – One reason growth is occurring in areas like promotional materials and signage is the ability of these types of print to complement digital communications. They allow for personalization as well as the opportunity to link to digital media. Armed with capabilities like these, communicators can differentiate their messages and reach audience segments in conjunction with digital media. Future trends point to an ability to print on a growing variety of unique substrates. This will aid in differentiation.

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4 Simple Ways to Improve Direct Mail Letter Response

Direct mail gets attention. Despite still being unpopular with some recipients, direct mail is a proven way to gain responses. According to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2015 Response Rate report, direct mail actually outperforms digital channels. The DMA report indicates direct mail gets a 3.7% response rate while all digital channels combined achieve a 0.62% response.

The number of direct mail projects we do at Perfect supports the notion that it still works. We print and mail a lot of direct mail for our clients. We do high-value custom packaged mailers, discount-offering postcards, and the tried-and-true direct mail fundraising letter. Recently, we held a call with a client looking for ways to impact response for an upcoming letter campaign.

To their credit, the client had already uncovered a good bit of insight by testing previous mailings. They tested messaging, format and size. They discovered that a large envelope (9 x 13) with handwritten addresses got the best results. Better than regular #10 envelopes and better than postcards.

Envelopes at 9 x 13 can be costly, however, and writing addresses by hand doesn’t scale for large mailings. So the client wanted to discuss other factors that could improve response. Since their testing had included messaging and calls to action, we focused on a few other features of the envelope.

Size – Our client’s test results with 9 x 13 envelopes were in line with data from the DMA response report, which indicated oversized envelopes get a better response. According to the report, oversized envelopes have the best response rate at 5.0%, followed by postcards (4.25%), dimensional (4.0%), catalogs (3.9%) and letter-sized envelopes (3.5%). Their concern about cost, however, is a common one. That’s why we recommend an in-between option: 6 x 9 envelopes. They are larger than the typical #10 but they get mailed at a letter rate, which doesn’t increase postage costs.

Color – Although a potentially costly option, using color envelopes can gain attention and increase response. Solid-color envelopes stand out against much of the mail being delivered. Color offers the chance to present a unique and creative image.

Font – Although writing addresses by hand is definitely not an option for large mailings, there are plenty of script fonts available that mimic handwriting. Although obviously not authentic, they are a way to leverage the success handwriting seems to have on response while maintaining scalability.

Stock – An often underused technique to increase response is stock choice. Using a textured envelope can increase response by engaging the recipient’s sense of touch. There is often a subliminal impact of texture that causes the recipient to interact further with the piece, usually resulting in them opening the envelope.