How often have your printing projects been disappointing, incorrectly completed, delivered late, or over budget?

There’s more to buying printing than submitting specs, getting estimates, and comparing prices. And it’s up to the customer to know what items are important to cast in stone, figuratively speaking, when contracting with a printer. The three most important documents that, when used properly, can prevent misunderstandings, preclude problems, and avert disappointment during the printing process are the printer’s estimate, the proof ticket, and the packing slip.

1. The Printer’s Estimate

The printer’s estimate is the printer’s interpretation of your job specifications. In addition to quoting your specs, the estimate should quote alternative trim sizes, paper, page counts, and types of bindings.

Whether you use the printer’s estimate form or a purchase order to list your requirements isn’t important. Just make sure it gets done before a project starts and that both parties sign it. If your needs are consistent, turn them into company policy and give written notification to all potential vendors.

When both parties sign the printer’s estimate, it becomes a legal agreement with regard to the price, the included services, and any stated conditions. Here are some important considerations and suggestions that you may want to incorporate into your printer’s estimate:

ユ Quantity
Printing Industries of America standards allow the printer to deliver plus or minus 10 percent of the actual print order. While you may insist on a guaranteed count so you don’t pay for the extras ; and many printers will agree to that ; it is difficult for the printer to produce an exact quantity with having extras. Avoid confrontation by making sure that any incremental pricing for the overage is included in the estimate.

ユ Paper
Depending on the job, paper costs can amount to 20 to 50 percent of the total cost. To save money when selecting a paper, you’re better off simply stating a grade rather than a particular brand. Paper is a commodity, and printers have arrangements with certain paper suppliers based on quantity. Therefore, the printer can offer you the benefit of its bulk purchasing if you are open to using their comparable "house" sheet.

You may think it’s smart to buy the paper yourself. Consider, however, the difficulties that may arise if the paper is damaged, late, or has printability problems ; as well as credit and cash flow issues and the printer’s handling fee for unloading, storing, and insuring a customer’s paper supply. For a major publisher printing millions of copies of a periodical, contracting separately for paper may be worthwhile.

ユ Quality issues
Some quality details may be more or less important to your specific job. Include any special expectations on details such as color requirements, line screen, folding alignment of crossovers, bleed tabs, paper grain, and carton/skid packing requirements. It always a good idea to present a mockup and/or binding dummy that clearly shows the desired page sequences, position of inserts or direction of folds for special units.

ユ Delivery
Always make sure the delivery schedule ;both the proof date and the final delivery date and location ; is included in the printer’s estimate. Include a penalty clause for lateness; e.g., a percentage off the base price for each day late. Be aware that longer lead times usually save money.

ユ Payment terms
If production will take several months, a printer may reasonably request partial payments at mutually agreed-upon times. Negotiate a discount for fast payment and determine any interest charges. The estimate should indicate who pays for the shipment of proofs and advance copies, as well as the end product. Also, pending delivery of the end product, the estimate should indicate the point at which surcharges may be applied for storage.

ユ Contact numbers
Many print shops work three shifts, and a glitch may occur in the middle of the night. Make sure the printer notes on the estimate your after-hours contact names and phone numbers so a minor problem can be easily solved and your job stays on schedule.

2. The Proof Ticket

By giving a printer a job, you grant them permission to produce a product. The ultimate responsibility for making sure the job is done to your specifications, however, rests with you. Take the inspection of the proof seriously, as this is your chance to ensure the end product will exactly meet your expectations. Although some of the information on a proof ticket may seem redundant, a double check of the ink color, the type of paper, or the quantity may avert a major problem down the road.

When you receive a proof, the attached proof ticket should include:

ユ Job number
ユ Customer’s name
ユ Job title
ユ Quantity
ユ Type of paper
ユ Ink colors, along with appropriate PMS chips
ユ Date the proof must be returned
ユ Check boxes for:
– OK as is – no changes
– OK with changes indicated
– Make changes and show another proof

If you check "OK as is – no changes," the printer will print your job exactly as shown on the proof. The printer will not change ; and is not responsible for changing ; anything after the proof is approved, even if it appears to be a blatant error. Granted, the printer should inspect the proof for potential re-flow problems, color breaks, placement of graphics, and adequate bleed allowances before it leaves the plant, but that does not mean you can ignore checking your job thoroughly and marking the changes that you expect to be made.

On the other hand, if you indicated a change that was not made on the final product, you are entitled to some sort of compensation.

Errors and omissions can easily lead to lawsuits and sever relations that might have taken years to build. If the end product gets used, it should be paid for in full, without credits for minor imperfections. Don’t penalize a company unnecessarily. If the end product cannot be resold or is a genuine embarrassment, though, then some sort of penalty is definitely due. Reprinting is usually the best alternative. Always negotiate in good faith. Generally, everyone desires the production of a good job. Printers want you to come back ; and offer a good recommendation, as well.

3. The Packing Slip

When your shipment of printed materials arrives, signing a packing slip indicates that you have taken possession of the quantity of goods as described. At this point, the transaction has been completed and ownership is yours.

What if the goods arrive damaged?

ユ If your shipment arrives via a common carrier, the consignee has a responsibility to receive the freight if it can be made salable, to note the damage, and to initiate damage claims against the carrier. Sign the bill of lading as "damaged" and have the driver acknowledge, in writing, that you signed the shipment as being damaged. Confirm this with a fax or email to the carrier, ideally including photos if possible, to assist in filing any claims. If the goods are completely unusable, you can refuse the delivery. Under no circumstances should you move the shipment prior to an insurance adjuster’s investigation if you have signed for it as having been damaged.

ユ If a printer delivers your shipment via its own truck and it appears damaged, immediately call the plant manager or customer-service representative to report the problem and follow the plant manager’s instructions.

ユ Instances of concealed damage occur when the goods appear to be fine from the outside of the boxes, yet the product is scuffed or damaged. This is usually caused by inadequate packing materials and loosely fitted cartons. Once discovered, contact the printer.

ユ You may choose to ship prepaid or collect and pocket any applied discounts (which can range from 10 to50 percent). On a freight-collect shipment, the responsibility for initiating a claim, substantiating the value, and all the haggling will rest with you. Insure the shipment to lessen your exposure. The rates are quite reasonable.

ナand last but not least

Request that your representative be present for a press inspection if color, contrast, and photographic reproduction are critical to your job. Ink on paper is not the same as an image on a computer screen or even a contract proof, especially when color stock or special inks are involved.

Plan to be present for a bindery approval if multiple components are involved in your finished product. In the book-publishing industry, providing a complete set of folded and gathered signatures (F&Gs) prior to binding is a standard operating procedure. You can ask for the same for your publication. It’s much less expensive to throw out one component than to discard the entire job after it’s bound.