Pros and Cons of Using Out of Town Suppliers

(THIS POST IS FOR DESIGNERS AND CLIENTS)

Going off-shore to source printing and other related design services might have its pros in terms of price, but there are some definite cons that you need to know about if you are thinking about going that route, be you designer or client.

Here's an example. Jill designed a 20-page marketing brochure for her client and was all set to obtain a quote from a local reputable shop she had been doing business with for years. Before she could obtain that quote, the client informed her that he had contacts in China and wanted to send the brochure there for printing. He said printing is typically 50% cheaper in China. So, Jill supplied the press ready file to the client and he coordinated the job. Jill made it clear she could not take any responsibility for the printer's interpretation of her files since she had never worked with this shop and couldn't be present for a press check. Three weeks later when the brochures arrived, the client called complaining that their logo, which appeared throughout the booklet, varied slightly in colour from one page to the next. He wanted to know what the designer had done when setting up the file that might have caused this.

In this case, the client assumed the problem originated on the design end and that perhaps the designer had used a variety of different logo files throughout the booklet design, each varying slightly in colour. This was not the case at all. Any good designer would use a single logo file and link to it throughout the document which was the case.

If the designer had been able to send the job to a local printer of her choosing, not only could she have discussed the project in detail with the shop herself, she also could have done a press check and double checked that the shop was indeed matching to the Pantone colour she had specified.

A good designer builds and maintains good relationships with select print shops so that when a setback occurs there is someone on your side who is willing to help you find a solution, even if the problem didn't arise on the printer's end. One of my printers is so detail-oriented that he has caught small things in my files and has let me know about them before the jobs ever made it to the press. That's a supplier you want to have in your corner. And that attention to detail is worth the extra money because that's the sort of thing that saves money in the long run.

While the problem described above technically wasn't the designer's problem, she did try to offer some context and guidance for going forward. She explained to the client that a single logo file was used throughout the entire brochure which is standard practice when setting up clean design files. She reminded the client that she even supplied the Pantone colour for colour matching in an effort to avoid just this problem. Jill suggested her client contact the printer to draw their attention to the issue and ensure it wouldn't happen again. She also suggested that his unhappiness with this job could give him some leverage to ask for a discount on the next print run. He couldn't ask for a free reprint of this job because the marketing campaign was already behind and the brochures needed to go out that week.

The client did contact the printer but they said they had done all they could to match the colours, thus indicating either their low level of expertise or their lack of care and attention. The client was, unfortunately, out of luck but now he knew what sort of expectation to have when running his next job with them, should he go that route. In fact, the next time the client updated the brochure, he agreed to pay a little more and let Jill select a local reputable shop she'd worked with before. Jill was able to do a press check and indicate clearly what Pantone colours needed to be matched and the job went smoothly.

And there was much rejoicing.

So, a few things to keep in mind when sending jobs out of town (or country) to be printed:

  • There is the potential for big cost savings — especially when offset printing large quantities. Not so great an opportunity for cost savings if printing a short run of digital work
  • There is the potential for excellent customer service if you have a lead on a reputable shop or already know the quality of work you'll get from a shop
  • The designer will typically—and very well should—wash their hands of any responsibility for the job being delivered to the client's expectations. If it can't be press checked and/or the designer doesn't know what sort of work this far flung printer does, s/he can't vouch for their quality or customer service so taking responsibility for it is inadvisable
  • The client may have little recourse if there are problems with the job
  • You typically get what you pay for. ie cheaper printing often does equal crappy quality
  • Shipping will be an additional cost
  • Should you work with an out-of-country supplier, in order to mitigate potential problems, consider sending a sample of the paper you would like them to match—weight, finish (smooth or textured), and colour—and if there is a strong need to match ink colours be sure to supply the Pantone colours. Be emphatic about these details
  • Ideally, if an previously printed copy of the piece can be supplied to the new printer, provided you would like them to match (or exceed) that quality, that is the best way to make expectations known to a printer whose work cannot be press checked
  • If you have no sample you can send to the printer, consider mailing them a mock up of your piece. This is especially important if there are tricky folds or elements that require hand assembly
  • Remember that the wait time to receive your printed pieces may be lengthy. If you are sending a job to a local printer, they can typically turn around a four-colour job—with no special finishes or binding—within a week.

In short, when possible, use a reputable local supplier that the designer has a good working relationship with because this gives the client access to the benefits of that well-established partnership between the designer and the shop.