What do I look for in a printer? Seems like a relatively straight forward question but there is a lot that goes into it selecting the right printer for the right job and many factors need to be considered. Having purchased many different types of print, for most people when you get your mail or walk into a store and see the signage hanging from the ceiling, they have no idea how much work (coordination, design, printing, shipping, etc) went into that piece – it truly is an amazing accomplishment.
Capabilities & Availability
These are probably the most important factors to consider and most people probably know this but different printers specialize in different types of print (and some have it all). If I’m printing a multi-piece sign kit that needs to be printed (multiple methods), kitted, and shipped, a printer that specializes in direct mail probably isn’t a good fit. Additionally, if a printers schedule doesn’t align with when you need the printed piece delivered, that’s an obvious “no go”. Once you have these nailed down, what you’re printing and how many will play a large part – I’ve always found providing thorough specifications to your printer and having a conversation with them about your expectations will go a long way. I’d rather have a printer say “No, that’s not a good fit for us” or “we don’t have the time” rather than take a job that they can’t produce to my standards or by my deadline. Customer expectations can also play a factor; I once had a customer that wasn’t a fan of screen printing even though offset was more expensive – well scratch that technique off the list of options. Talk to your printer and discuss what you’re looking for and they can point you in the direction best suited for your job.
Let’s be honest, most printers have the same equipment and can “technically” print the same jobs but a key differentiator for me has always been service. Nothing frustrated me more than when we spent all this time creating and printing a piece only to have it ship incorrectly – there is a lot more to a print job than just printing. I always worked with printers that just took the ball and ran with it, my sales reps got into the weeds and understood the “nuts and bolts” of a job AND were the first ones to call me if there was an issue providing me with solutions. I wanted one point of contact that I could call when I needed something and that I trusted was going to make sure my job was produced to my standards on time. They key differentiator for any printer is service – hands down!
This is twofold in my opinion. On one hand, depending on the complexity and size of the job, it’s nice to work with a local printer. There are many advantages to being able to visit the printer’s facility and have your local sales rep readily available on site as needed to brainstorm, review concepts, proofing, and of course press checking. I’m a firm believer in being involved in every step of the process (as needed) to ensure the final product is what I’m looking for. But depending on where the final job is shipping or mailing to (ex. 50MM newspaper inserts shipping all across the country), printing in a location close to the final “ship to” location can provide a lot of efficiencies and cost savings – I believe this is why there is such a large concentration of printers in the Midwest. It can also be a big advantage to work with a printer that has multiple locations if there are multiple “ship to” locations/regions; printing in multiple locations close to final destinations may be a great option to work with one supplier but save money on freight/mailing costs.
This may be an afterthought for some but for many folks it’s a must have; making sure you have a solid chain of custody across the entire process is critical. If you’re purchasing a paper that has an environmental certification associated with it, most likely the printer will also need to carry the certification as well – in many cases even though the paper may be certified, if everyone throughout the entire production process doesn’t carry it, it may all be for nothing. This varies by certification, so be sure to have the conversation with your paper supplier and printer to ensure you’re all on the same page and there are no surprises.
And then of course there is price (which I won’t spend much time on), but all else being equal, price is very much an important factor to consider. We all know budgets aren’t unlimited and we have to be smart with how we spend our money – we’re all being forced to more with less.
There are certainly other factors to consider when choosing the printer you want to work with but the key to any successful print job no matter who you decide to work with is good communication and planning across every stakeholder.