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3 Things to Know Before You Specify Paper (+ a shortcut)

Paper can comprise from 30% to 60% of the cost of a print job, so specifying the right paper is extremely important. The paper selected plays a major role in the final appearance, and success, of a project. In order to correctly specify paper, you need to know the language of paper grades and weights. Grades such as bond and writing are just as important today as they were 20 years ago. Although the demand for some grades lessens, such as tag, it is still important to know all the grades. Understanding the important distinctions between the various grades of paper will help you design more effective items for your customers. I’ve simplified the process by outlining three things you need to know about specifying paper.

1. How Paper is Made

In order to talk about grades, it is helpful to know how paper is made. Trees grown for paper are a renewable crop, like wheat that is grown for breakfast cereal. Furthermore, paper is 100% recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable. Paper starts with pulp. Pulp can come from different sources, such as trees, fibers like hemp or cotton, or recycled paper. There are different processes for making pulp. Some are mechanical, some chemical, and each has its strengths. Pulp can be bleached, brightened, or colored or have additives mixed in to enhance the surface characteristics of the paper. Additives to the pulp may increase opacity or increase ink holdout (helps the ink not soak in so the image stays sharp), depending on the use of the paper and desired characteristics. After everything has been mixed in, the pulp has a liquid, mushy texture. It is then poured onto a wire mesh (the wire) where it settles and spreads before going on a conveyor belt in a long thin ribbon where it is squeezed between rollers to remove all the water still in the paper. Once the water is removed, the pulp goes between big drying drums to dry it out completely. After drying, the paper is calendered, a process that smooths the surface of the paper by pressing it between cylinders or rollers. You can think of calendering like a pasta machine that gradually presses the surface of the paper to make it smooth. Super-calendered paper goes through an extra calendering process to make it exceptionally smooth.

After all these steps, the paper is wound onto giant rolls. Coating is an extra step that lays a coating on the paper that can whiten, brighten, and smooth out the surface. Coated paper is a direct response to the demand for color printing because it provides superior color reproduction, detail, and consistency. Coating can be one-sided, C1s, (pronounced Cee One Ess), or two-sided, C2s. Cast Coat is a super shiny coating made by polishing coated paper. Coated papers can be gloss, matte, velvet, dull, or somewhere in between. There are more terms now than ever before, and none reflects an absolute. Gloss is glossy, and dull is dull with matte and velvet falling somewhere in between.

Embossing is a process that presses a pattern into the paper. Common patterns are linen and stipple. When a paper texture is produced by embossing, it enhances ink holdout. That means the ink doesn’t absorb into the paper as much and looks crisper.

This photo shows different colors of linen paper. Note the distinct fabric-like texture.
Because of its embossed surface, linen papers have superior ink holdout.

This is stipple finish with a blind emboss and a register emboss to the green ink in the upper left-hand corner. Note that the stipple finish is not “ironed out” by the embossing.
This is because the stipple texture is already embossed into the paper when it is made. 

Watermarks are created during paper manufacturing. Watermarks are visible when held up to the light. Although they often are a symbol of the paper manufacturer, they can also be a company’s logo. Custom watermarks used to be enormously expensive. Nowadays, reasonably priced custom watermarks can be made with a chemical technique. Some consider this a “fake” watermark, but it really achieves the same look as a “real” watermark.

A Neenah Paper watermark in a writing weight paper.

Other factors that affect texture occur in the manufacturing process rather than the finishing process. For example, laid paper (paper with a ribbed texture) achieves its distinctive pattern, particularly apparent when held up to the light, by the pattern on the wire on which the pulp is placed. All papers have a wire side and a felt side resulting in two distinct sides that are not exactly the same. Some papers are made on a two-wire machine that mitigates, but does not entirely eliminate, this effect. Adjustments are needed on press to allow for the two different sides of the paper. For this reason, it can be very challenging to print a large solid color on both sides of a sheet of paper and get the colors to match if the paper is uncoated and not a two-wire made sheet.

The characteristic ribbed finish of laid paper. Laid paper has long
been a traditional finish available in many writing suites. 

This image shows blind embossing of a laid paper. As you can see, the heat
and pressure of the embossing die can “iron out” the laid texture of the paper.
Laid texture is not embossed into the paper such as linen.
Laid texture is an impression of the wire on which the paper is made. 

2. Paper Grain

When paper is made, the fibers line up in one direction, which is the grain. If you think of a piece of wood, which is easier to split with the grain, or parallel to the grain, the same is true of paper. When paper is folded with the grain, the fold is smoother. When paper is folded against the grain, depending on the type of paper and type of fold, the fold can appear torn, cracked, and uneven. Grain affects the appearance and is an important part of the printing process. Paper stretches as it goes through a press. In order to minimize that stretch, printers want the paper grain to be parallel to the rollers of the press. When working on a project that includes folds that are 90 degrees to one another, one fold will be with the grain, and the other will be against the grain. A road map, for example, has folds going with and against the grain.

Paper folded without a score to dramatize the difference when folded 
with the grain (top sheet) and against the grain (bottom sheet).

3. Paper Grades

Now that you know how paper is made, we are ready to talk about paper grades. I am going to give you my version of paper grade classifications because there are very slight deviations from the old school classifications that correspond with how printers order paper. Learning about paper grades this way will make it easier for you to converse with your printer.

Bond & Writing
Bond/writing is very receptive to ink and pencil. For that reason, it is used for stationery and letterheads. Rag bond is made from cotton and is more durable. This makes it ideal for items that are going to be around a long time such as diplomas or folded and refolded and refolded, such as letters. Bond is often watermarked. Writing refers to the lightweight sheets of a suite of matching papers, including text and cover weight papers, and bond refers to the same type of paper but does not have any matching text or cover weights. For example, Neenah Paper, a paper company, offers Atlas Bond, which is not available in text or cover. Neenah also offers Classic Crest Writing, which is available in text and cover weights. A few bond papers are available with a matching cover weight, but in general, if the paper has matching text and cover weights, it is referred to as writing.

Text & Cover
This grade is for fine uncoated papers. Sometimes they have a matching writing grade. This grade is never coated and includes linens, felts, and all those lovely colored papers.

The characteristic finish of felt paper. Felt paper has long been a traditional finish available in text and cover.

Coated
Coated papers are available in gloss, ultra gloss, dull, matte, etc. Coated papers offer high-resolution reproduction in offset printing. Although they are graded by their brightness, most coated papers exceed their grade range in brightness. This is so that a Number Two can have the brightness of a Number One. The grades, in descending order of quality, are as follows: Premium, Number One, Number Two, Number Three, Number Four and Number Five. The grade directly relates to the cost, so a Premium sheet costs more than a Number One which costs more than a Number Two and so forth. Sometimes a paper rep will tell you that a paper is a Number One priced as a Number Two. In my experience, this is when a characteristic such as opacity or snap has been lessened for a gain in brightness. Generally, you get what you pay for in paper. Most Premium coated papers are acid-free/archival and will not yellow as much as a non-acid-free paper. Coated paper that is text weight used to be referred to as book; now it is called text.

Board
Within coated paper are the C1s, C2s, and cast-coated subgrades referred to as board grade. These papers are often used in packaging and come in a wider variety of thicknesses for that purpose. Board grades also include C1s papers that are more foldable, are bulkier, or have other characteristics specific to packaging. Cast coated papers also fall under the board category.

Uncoated
This category encompasses text and cover weight papers, sometimes matching, that are not in the “fine papers” text and cover category. It includes offset, opaque, postcard or reply card, and newsprint categories. Recent additions to this category are matching cover weights to the opaques. This category is the heart of everyday office and publication papers.

Offset
The paper used for items like instruction booklets and direct mail notices is Offset paper. It runs well on press and is inexpensive. Offset is not available in cover weight.

Opaque
Opaques refer to papers with less show-through. They generally have a better quality finish than offset. Both offsets and opaques are normally available in a wide variety of weights for various bulk requirements and are commonly used for books and textbooks. Typical finishes are smooth and vellum. These papers are available in white and sometimes cream and ivory. The standard office colors of goldenrod, blue, green, canary, cherry, etc., are available in opaques and offset. Postcard or reply card is an inexpensive white paper that calipers to 7pt. thickness, which is the minimum mailable thickness for a postcard sent through the U.S. Postal Service. Newsprint is an inexpensive paper that is only available in three text weights and generally one color, newsprint. Newsprint color varies from one manufacturer to another.

Bristol, Tag, & Board
This category is a catchall for all the sturdy, but not necessarily pretty, papers. Index is perfect for writing on with a pen and is often used for cards that need to be filled out because in addition to being cover weight, it is also a very stiff paper. Library cards, for those who remember them, were probably made of index paper. Index is generally available in smooth, vellum, and the standard “office colors.” Bristol is a little softer than index or tag and folds better than both. It is available in cover weights in “office colors.” Tag is strong and very receptive to ink. It is available in white and manila in various cover weights. Board includes chipboard which is typically the bottom piece of paper on a scratch pad. It can be chip colored, (a grayish, brownish color that varies with each lot due to the characteristics of the recycled material that goes into it) on both sides or coated one side,C1S, and comes in a multitude of weights.

Specialty
This category includes all the oddballs, such as translucent, metallic, and synthetic papers. Synthetic papers are like plastic, do not tear, and are very water resistant. Other specialty papers with surfaces that look like leather or feel like suede are also in this group. Although rarely used now, onionskin, a very thin and strong paper, is in this category. So is Bible paper, which is very thin, strong, and opaque.

Carbonless
Carbonless paper used to have its own category but, with desktop printers and digital document delivery, the use of carbonless paper has dropped tremendously. Suffice it to say that carbonless comes in multiple “parts,” such as two part, three-part, four-part, etc., and those parts can come in different colors in whatever order you need. The standard sequence for three part is white-canary-pink, for example, but if you wanted a form to be white-green-goldenrod, your printer can do that too.

Pressure Sensitive & Gummed
This group is enormous with more specialties than you can possibly imagine. Because of the nature of pressure sensitive paper, depending on what the end user is going to do with it, your printer has a zillion options from which to choose, such as printable liner, scoreless liner, diagonal liner, vertical liner, and horizontal liner. Then there’s permanent or removable adhesive. The “face” of the label can be coated, uncoated, writing, fabric, synthetic, you name it. In fact, any paper can be converted into a label. Labels have displaced most of the items that used to be marked with tags made with tag paper and gummed papers that needed to be wet to activate the gum. Old-fashioned postage stamps are an example of gummed paper.

Swatches of paper with flecks or fibers. From top to bottom: French Paper, Speckletone, color: Kraft;
Neenah Paper, Royal Sundance Fiber, color:
 Thyme; Neenah Paper, Royal Sundance Fiber, color:  Cottonwood;
Neenah
 Paper, Astrobright, color: Stardust White.

Digital
This is a relatively new group of papers that are used in various digital devices. Digital printing methods vary widely, and each substrate (the base material onto which images will be printed) needs to be tested as to its receptivity to the ink/toner/wet toner, etc., and also to the wear and tear the paper can inflict on the digital printing device. Large-format digital machines require special papers that are approved and profiled for each digital device. They are available coated or uncoated, roll, or sheet-fed, and as text or cover. They are mostly white except for “copy paper,” which comes in the “office colors.” These papers are certified to run on various presses. That does not mean you cannot specify a non-certified sheet, but you may be disappointed in either the reproduction quality or your printer saying “no” because of the wear and tear it causes to the digital press. Find more information about digital printing here.

Envelopes
Although envelopes are not really a “grade,” I am including them here because they are made from specific papers. Every writing paper has a matching #10 envelope. That is part of what makes it a writing-grade paper. Basic commercial envelopes are 24# white wove. Wove is smooth. Larger envelopes are 28# because the paper needs to be stronger to hold more weight. A 10 in. x 13 in. catalog envelope is an example. With the exception of the writing envelopes in the #10 size, nearly all envelopes are white or manila in regularly stocked sizes. Design a pink 10 x 13 envelope and prepare your client for some sticker shock, read more about designing custom envelopes here. For more information about designing for standard 0ff-the-shelf envelopes go here.

Paper Finishes
The paper finish refers to the appearance and texture of the surface of the paper. The following chart summarizes which finishes can be found in each grade.

 

Speccing Paper Shortcuts

Here are some well known paper specs that might be new to you. If you are new to designing, knowing what these basic papers are called might help you out.

Letterhead – 24# Writing
Envelopes – 24# Writing
Business Card Old school – 80# Cover
Business Card New school – 110# Cover
Business Card Annoyingly thick – 130# Cover
Brochure Trifold, stiff – 80# Cover
Brochure Trifold, floppy – 100# Book
Catalog Thicker Cover and thinner pages – 100# Coated Cover and 100# Gloss book pages
Catalog Cover and pages the same – 100# Gloss book self-Cover
Packaging – 10pt C1S
Paperback Book – (perfect bound) Cover 10pt c1s pages 50# Offset

I hope this helps demistify the specifying process. If you have a question I haven’t answered, please comment below, I would love to hear what you are interested in and I bet other readers would too!

 

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Designers Set Print Costs, Not Printers

Whaaaaaat?

The cost of producing your printed piece is completely dictated by the design.

Oh Snap!

If you have a knot in your stomach right now you are not alone. Remember, I am a graphic designer, we are of the same tribe, and I have your back. There’s a reason why so much of the printed stuff out there looks the same — budgets. Small budget projects look like they have small budgets. So one of the ways in which you, oh noble designer, are able to differentiate yourself, is by getting your client more bang for their buck.

Many designers who do not have a lot of print experience tackle this question by giving their budget to their printer and asking the question “how many _______________ can I get for $____”. How many pocket folders can I get for $2000? How many trifold brochures can I get for $500? You do not need a printer to get an answer to that question, go to vistaprint.com or modernpostcard.com or nextdayflyers.com and look up pricing. Share that pricing with your client. Tell them that the pricing is for a basic tri-fold on cover paper 4 color both sides. Then ask your client, do you have room in your budget to differentiate your product visually and tactilely from your competition? Is there something in your USP (unique selling proposition) that we can showcase in this brochure through sight or touch?

Do not call your print rep and don’t ask them how many ___________ can my client get for $________. Call your print rep and invite them to collaborate on your project and share their expertise. Here’s an example:

“Hi Sue, do you remember Cafe Cocoa? We did those menus for them a few months back? They need a catering menu for a new marketing campaign. They can spend a little more on this menu but not a ton. Do you have any suggestions on how we can help them stand out and succeed with this new effort? I was thinking we could die-cut the front panel around the plate and emboss the shrimp, what do you think?”

Your print rep should now dial in on that specific part of your question… “spend a little more”. What does that mean, 10% 20% 50%? If you can get your client to nail down this number, it will save you a ton of time and back and forth. Let’s assume Cafe Cocoa spent $1500 printing their menus and now they are prepared to spend $2000 on their catering menus. That is a 33% increase!

The pitfall here is to give your client an idea of what can be done without giving them a budget. Or, heaven forbid, designing, comping and showing them a spectacular catering menu that will cost $10,000 to produce! Do not laugh. It happens. All the time. For real.

If you use the prices you can easily find on-line for gang-printed marketing collateral and stationary as a baseline, you can really help your clients establish a direction for you to design.

Costs

It’s easier to be aware of the items that increase cost—and so avoid them if the budget doesn’t allow for them—than to make a list of everything that reduces cost. Here then is a list of items that are guaranteed to add cost, regardless of who your printer is and what kind of equipment she has. This list is based on the parameters e.g. size, paper, number of ink colors, etc., that you need to consider when designing any printed piece.

Expensive Size Decisions for Lithographic Printing
• Either dimension not being a multiple or fraction of 8.5 in. x 11 in. For example, 9.5 in. x 11 in. would add expense, and 12 in. x 12 in. would add expense.
• One dimension larger than 40 inches (for a project that is not a digital large-format project).

Expensive Size Decisions for Digital Printing
• Sheet size larger than 14 in. x 20 in.
• Total page count not evenly divisible by four (e.g. 34).

Expensive Paper Choices
• Thicker
• Deep, intense, color
• Texture
• Unusual
• Plastic

Expensive Ink Choices
• Three colors
• More than four ink colors
• Metallic ink
• Touch plates, Hexachrome or High Fidelity Printing
• Scented coating

The Cost of Bindery Techniques
• Wire-O (more expensive than spiral)
• Case binding (more expensive than perfect binding)
• Side sewn (very expensive)
• Saddle stitched (least expensive)
• Folding very thick paper (expensive)

All Coating Done Off-Line Adds Expense
• UV-coating
• Laminating

Finishing Techniques add Expense
• Foil
• Embossing or debossing
• Die cutting
• Scratch-off ink
• Laser cutting
• Flocking
• Lenticular
• Eye letting
• Drilling
• Perforating
• Tabbing, taping, spot glue, re-moist glue (unless the job is being run on a web press in which case it does not add as much as it would off-line.)

Common Design Features that Increase Printing Costs
• Solids, large areas of solid color
• Solid ink in bindery area
• Very large and light screens (below 10%)
• Very large and dark screens (between 70 and 90%)
• Envelopes with bleeds
• Business cards with large solids
• Identity systems with pastel colors (colors shift within 12 months necessitating more frequent printing)
• Business cards that are die cut
• Design elements that are within 1/8th of an inch of edges (may necessitate die cutting)
• Page size that is smaller than cover size (requires hand assembly)
• Pages that are different sizes
• Pages that are different papers (when it necessitates cutting signatures and hand collating)

Rush Charges
Most printers will add a rush charge for getting something to you faster than quoted. Here are some examples of why and at what point rush charges can be incurred.

Paper
If you can’t wait a day for the paper to arrive, it has to be sent by messenger, and that costs extra. Sometimes rush charges can be very steep. We once had a client pay $700 to air freight $350 worth of paper. That’s what poor planning can cost.

Printing
Presses are scheduled a day or two in advance to allow for maximum efficiency in the pressroom. Keeping a press crew overtime to finish a job that was estimated to run on straight time can result in a rush charge. If your printer has to have a crew stay overtime, over a weekend, or on a holiday to make your schedule, expect to pay for the extra expense.

Bindery/Finishing
Just like printing, the bindery process cannot be rushed without endangering the results. Each step must be completed before the next one can begin, and these steps take a prescribed amount of time, dictated by the speed of the equipment. There is no way to make one folder rated for 5,000 an hour do 10,000 folds an hour, but if your printer has two folders, that would help. If your job has to run on two folders for scheduling reasons (two folder make readies), that adds cost.

Delivery
Expect to pay a fortune for air freight versus ground delivery. Paper is very heavy.

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Never, Ever, Say ASAP to a Printer.

Planning Print Jobs

Here we are at the beginning of a new year, so it’s a great time to talk about planning. Whether you are a person who likes to plan in advance or hates to plan in advance, there is no downside to advance planning for print jobs. And, lucky for you, the printer actually does all the planning, you only need to get a file due date from your printer and work backward from there to your final approval date from your client (or boss).

To be clear, in what follows below, one day means one working day. Depending on your printer’s schedule, a work day might only be weekdays, or it could include weekends too if the print shop is running six or seven days a week. If your printer says 7-day turnaround does he mean Monday to Monday or Monday to Wednesday? Right. You don’t know unless you ask.

And NEVER, EVER tell your printer ASAP when they ask when you need it. Your rep has no idea what ASAP means. When a  job hits production with no due date, that means as soon as “possible” and if there are a week of emergencies with due dates in front of your job… you guessed it. The unscheduled job sits. And sits. I have seen it happen too many times to count. A good rep will pin you down and ask you what you mean by ASAP, five days? ten days? Everyone has a different definition. A great rep will never create an expectation they cannot meet because the difference between expectation and reality is stress.

Having said that, sometimes it is helpful to have a ballpark production schedule before you agree to take on a project. If there isn’t enough time, do you want to work day and night on your end to meet a file deadline? Is overtime in the budget? Will your client cooperate with copy and internal approvals? Exactly. Now you know where I am going with this.

Timing/Schedule

When you are planning a print job, the following schedule will work 99% of the time in a commercial sheet-fed environment. (Web printing can have a different schedule depending on run length.) I put this together to simplify a “ballpark” schedule. There are instances where this schedule doesn’t exactly fit, and I will explain some of those in a minute. Just bear in mind that the scenarios here will not fit 100% of print jobs.

Exceptions to these timelines occur when running jobs on web presses. Depending on run length and paper availability, you might need to book your press time a month in advance. You also may be able to have much of the finishing done in-line on a web press which will save you time on the back end.

Let’s take these points one-by-one:

File to Printer & final specs, due date & delivery address
If you get all the information to the printer on day one, your job will be far better off than if you piece-meal the information. For example: if you send the file to the printer and say that you will get back to them with final ink choices after the marketing boss/client/decision-maker gets back from lunch and chooses a palette, and you think something is going to happen on your job in the interim… nope. Not happening. Don’t assume that because you can design a file in one palette and switch it out in a minute in InDesign that your printer can do the same. Because they can’t. Don’t assume that your printer has some kind of  MIS system that allows them to input your spot colors in Sales and that it updates a job ticket and alerts prepress. Because they don’t. It’s hard to remember that print is really and truly a custom manufacturing project but it is. And what that means is nothing happens until all the info has been captured. The number one problem with incomplete information is delivery addresses. Everyone thinks that it happens last so it can get to the printer last. In some companies shipping labels are printed at the time of order entry. And if that is the case with your vendor, the order needs to wait in shipping and return to order entry for shipping labels and then turn around and go back to shipping. You get my drift.

Proof Received, okayed and returned to the printer
Each type of proof takes a different amount of time. A PDF proof is quickest and the least accurate for things like color. A folding blueline takes a little more time and contract proofs with folding bluelines take even more time. Add on getting proofs to you and then for you to get them to the client and then getting them back to the printer and you can see how one day can turn into a week. Be proactive and find out who will okay proofs and that person’s availability when the proofs are ready. Are you and the client on two different sides of town? Plan ahead to meet at the printer or have the proofs shipped to you and you take them to the client. Working this out in advance can really be a big time-saver when the deadline is tight and there is no room for error. Don’t expect your printer to take three days out of their schedule if the client is on vacation and the proofs sit on a desk for three days. The other thing to remember with proofing is to know what you are proofing. All specifics like names and addresses and websites and etc. should have been proofed at the copy stage. Final proofing may be for color, pagination, die-cutting, or other bindery operation. And if you know your client/department/boss always makes changes and requires another round of proofs, tell your printer so that this is built into the schedule.

Simple Trimming, Bindery, Folding
Believe it or not, sometimes we have to wait for the ink to dry before we can cut your job. If it is printing on coated paper, it’s likely going through an infra-red (IR) drying unit and will emerge ready to cut. But if it is an uncoated sheet with a lot of ink on it, like solid coverage, there might be drying time involved before the job can be trimmed or bound. Most printers have a folder set-up for letter folding or a simple right angle. Complicated folding like a pharmacy fold or map fold takes longer to set up. Ditto for cutting. If you need a diagonal corner for example, that takes longer to set up, cannot be programmed into a cutter (yes, cutters are programmable, it’s super-cool!) and because it becomes a manual set-up and run operation it takes longer.

Finishing – Foil, Emboss, Perfect Bind, Spot UV
Some bindery operations are more complicated and that’s why they take more time. Take foil stamping and embossing for instance; these techniques require a die, which needs to be made and proofed. Sometimes this take the same amount of time as the printing, sometimes it takes longer. Your printer’s production department has this planned out to the day, and sometimes the hour, and that is where your print rep is getting the schedule, straight from production. Trust your rep and don’t try to push for a different schedule. Also, plan on adding extra time for each finishing operation that happens. They often have to run in sequence, not simultaneously so each process can add another five days to the schedule.

Case-binding
Case-binding takes much longer than perfect binding or stitching and there aren’t as many binderies that perform case binding. It’s a good possibility that your print job may even be going out-of-state for this finishing. Schedules that run a month or more out are not uncommon. Patience grasshopper!

Paper Scheduling
Depending on if your job is going to print sheet-fed or web, paper may take from one day to five weeks to arrive at the printer. Sometimes, the sheet-fed paper you specified is not locally available and needs to be ordered from the paper mill. In this case, it might take up to seven days for the paper to arrive, depending on which part of the country you are in. Most paper mills are in the Midwest, Wisconsin area. In California, it typically takes seven days to receive a mill order starting on Thursday—the day the paper merchant needs to get his paper order to the mill to make the truck that is leaving Friday. That means you have to let your printer know by noon on Wednesday. If your job is running on a web press expect it to take anywhere from one to five weeks for paper to arrive. Give your printer time to do the job right, give your paper merchant time to do the job right, and you will eliminate a great deal of stress and expense. In the best case scenario, you will know about a mill order’s paper situation when you are given the estimate. That way, you can order the paper on day one, give the printer the file on day two, the printer gives you a proof on day four, and then it’s just a couple more days before the paper arrives. By then, dies (if necessary) are made, and everything is ready to go. If the paper is in stock at the local merchant, it will be at the printer the next day. If the paper is at a local mill warehouse, it takes two to three days to get to the printer. Some terminology know-how is helpful when talking about paper availability. Local merchant means the paper is at the local merchant’s warehouse. Local Mill means the paper is at the paper mill’s local warehouse which may be in another part of your state. Mill warehouse means the paper is located at the paper mill and mill order means the mill needs to make the paper for your order. Winter storms affect trucking schedules. Be smart and add extra time to critical projects after snow is on the ground.

Dummies
As soon as you have narrowed down or decided on your choice of paper, order dummies. Even if it is a simple project, ordering dummies is an excellent habit to get into.

Drawdowns
As soon as you have decided on your final paper, order drawdowns if you are printing spot or a solid color, it may take a few days to receive them. If you want to see type or screens on your drawdown, mention that when you request the drawdown. (Screened drawdowns are very rough and not very accurate.)

Proofs
If you know your client is going to make revisions to the proof, build that into the schedule. Tell your printer upfront how many rounds of proofs you think the job will take. Be clear about whether the subsequent rounds of proofs will be PDFs only or blueline or contract color. You can adjust the proofing workflow to work best for your client. Your printer can start out with bluelines because your client will be making adjustments to color necessitating a contract proof
 at the end. Remember that proofs are an expense, and they can add up, especially for large projects that include numerous pages or require complex hand cutting. Do not expect your printer to “throw in an extra proof.” It’s a hard cost item, and he will not appreciate the hit to his bottom line.

Press Check
When you give your printer the estimate specs, let her know if you are going to need a press check. Unless you are printing highly unusual art with a special technique, you do not need to be at a press check. If your client requires it, find out if she wants you to watch out for something specific.

One final word about scheduling and your print rep. Sometimes Printer A will tell you a job takes 15 days and Printer B will tell you it takes 10. Sometimes someone is not telling the truth and is already planning on calling you with some bad news in a few days about how there is going to be a delay. In my experience, that doesn’t happen very often. Why? Because good printers stay in business and good reps stay in the business. A good rep is a rep that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. And sometimes Printer B can do it faster, because of better equipment or more shifts, or more flexible plant scheduling or they really want your business and are willing to work overtime to get it. Only you, the savvy designer and print buyer will know the truth, caveat emptor!

Do you have a story about a scheduling nightmare? I’d love to hear it, comment or contact me, we all learn from all the printing stories out there!

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