Cost, quality key issues in printing

Timothy Reinke will never forget the day ‘lightening’ struck for his business.

For Reinke, of Thunder Promotions Inc. in Warwick, it came after he mailed out dozens of brochures emblazoned with the slogan: ” ‘Lightening’ is striking all around us.” The response was solid. But then, Channel 10 weatherman R.J. Heim called to deliver the crushing news: the correct word for a bolt of electric energy is lightning, not lightening.

”I laugh now, but I was mortified at the time,” Reinke recalled. “You have to be very careful.”

Since that misadventure a few years ago, Reinke is doubly careful about what he sends to a printer. He checks and re-checks – even reads his manuscripts backwards. And local business leaders say that is the kind of care needed to ensure that your printing jobs are done flawlessly, on time, and for the best price.

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Several factors come into play when pricing out a printing job. The first, of course, is finding printers with the technical capacity to handle the job. But after that, other, more subtle, issues arise. Paper, ink, the deadline, the printing process, and the proximity of the printer to your company are some. And then there are the little tricks to save money.

”One thing I like to tell people is that there are many different ways to do a cost-effective yet creative printed piece,” said Maureen Maloney, creative director of design M design W, a Providence design firm.

Paper color is one of them. Simply choosing a color other than white allows you to add color without adding ink – and cost – to the job. Using a paper size that is within the parameters the printing company has to work with is another, especially for a catalog or a brochure, Maloney said.

But many business people said price is only their second priority. Quality is number one, and it’s something they strive to ensure. For example, Amy Smith, vice president of operations for America House Communications, a Newport advertising company, said the company production manager actually goes to the printing company to be sure that things are going right. Other companies do the same. It’s a way to catch mistakes before they get into print.

“We always go ‘on press’ for our jobs – we’re almost always (going) to catch the problem while it’s happening and rectify it right then and there,” Smith said. “We monitor it very closely every step of the way.”

Problems can emerge if no one scrutinizes the job. Business people insist, for instance, that all apostrophes, periods, and commas appear correctly on the proof. That kind of proofreading is essential, said Maryanne DeChambeau, director of marketing for Unicom MircoAge of Providence.

”A lot of times (when you’re) working with an ad agency they’re particular and they catch all that stuff,” she said, “but if you’re going around that step you really have to watch it.”

Other problems include offsetting – when wet ink runs onto, and ruins, the project. If the printer fails to allow a project to dry properly and speeds it through, offsetting is a risk. And it’s a risk that a responsible printer will disclose.

”If we can’t do it right, we’re not going to do it,” said Joseph G. Fortunato, chief executive officer of R.E. Smith Printing Co. Inc. in Fall River, Mass. “They’ll forget that you got it on time if the job looks a mess.”

DeChambeau and others recommended establishing good relationships with two or more printers. This helps you expedite routine jobs, and gives you leverage when you need a project done quickly. And for most projects, Fortunato recommends choosing a printer no more than an hour to 90 minutes away. This gives you more control, he said.

Choosing a printing process is another concern. For most projects, four-color printing – which allows you to produce any color in the rainbow – or ‘spot’ printing – which produces only two colors – will suffice. But a new technology is emerging that could both speed up the printing process and produce strikingly detailed images. It’s called ‘direct to plate’ printing, in which printing information is transferred directly from computer disk to the printer.

Two types of direct to plate processes are used. Digital direct to plate technology allows the user to see a high-quality color proof of the project. Its quality, however, is not as good as non-digital direct to plate printing, in which the user does not see a traditional proof.

The technology, which has been around for about four years, works well for quick jobs and produces distinct images, Maloney said. She said the technology allowed one of her clients, a bookseller, to produce a catalog showing book covers in “phenomenal” detail.

But the risk is too much for some companies.

”There are a host of potential problems because the color proofing is out of our hands, so if it’s a direct to plate job we need to have high confidence in the printer,” said Paul Fleming, president of Fleming & Roskelly Inc., a Newport advertising and marketing agency. “Having said that, we avoid direct to plate jobs because of the loss of control over the quality of the end product.”

Fortunato said he has yet to be convinced that direct to plate technology would be a profitable investment now. But he also predicted that the technology will inevitably take hold in the future, and become a profitable investment for printing companies.

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