Print Specifications and Bid Evaluation
In last month’s article, we covered how to identify and select the right printer for your print job. This month’s article covers basics on how to specify your print project in terms your printer can understand and how to compare your printing bids once they have been received.
Once you have selected the appropriate printers, the next step is to prepare detailed printing specifications based upon the parameters of your project. Preparing these ‘specs’ can seem like a daunting task, especially for those who find it challenging to speak in printer’s lingo. However, by following these basic guidelines, you should be able to communicate with your printing representative and obtain a fairly accurate printing quote.
As an example, let’s create a simple brochure project and define the printing specs for the purpose of getting bids. Our brochure is full color, 12 pages and is 8″ x 10″ in size when finished. Here is some of the information your printer will need:
Naming your project provides an easy reference for both you and your printer when discussing the job. For the sake of argument, we’ll call our project “2012 Annual Report”.
Include dates to indicate when you want to have the printing bids completed and submitted to you, what time frame you want the project completed (if a firm deadline is known, include it), and the date the print specifications are sent out. Let’s say we want our bids for our annual report back by “December 1, 2012 and our anticipated deadline for completion is February 1, 2013”.
Personalize the Specs
I often personalize my printing specifications for each of the bidders including their names, firm names and contact info. However, this an option you may or may not need to employ.
The physical size of the piece is extremely important for an accurate bid. Include both the “flat size”, this would be the size of the piece before folding AND the “finished size”, the size of the piece once its folded. In the case of our example, our flat size would be 16″ wide by 10″ tall and the finished size would be 8″ wide by 10″ tall. As a rule of thumb, always put the width as the first dimension.
Let the printer know how many pieces you will need. Often times it may be difficult to predict at this phase of the project, in which case, provide a range for bidding purposes. For our example, we’ll choose “2500 or 5000 quantity”.
Selecting the right paper for the job is critical for success. Paper types are numerous and can effect the way your project will appear once printed. I recommend consulting your printer very early on in the design phase to assure that the right paper is selected for your project. In the case of our example, I am specifying #80 text gloss white Centura paper. The #80 text is the weight of the paper, gloss white is the type of paper, and Centura is the brand name.
What will your project be printed as, 1 color, 2 color, 3 color or 4 color? For fast and inexpensive projects, one color is the best choice, especially if black is the only color used. Multiple colors are usually specified as process color or Pantone colors. Process color uses four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to create a full-color effect, while Pantone colors are formulated mixes specified from Pantone color charts. In our example, we would specify process color indicated as “4/C”.
Bleeds and Solids
Most printers want to know if you plan to use large blocks of a solid color so they can decide which press would be best for your job to keep the color consistent. If you plan to have color touch the edge of the paper, you will need to specify a bleed. I usually specify how many edges the ink will bleed by indicating “bleeds 4-edges” on my specs.
This tells the printer what to do with the piece once printed. Does it fold, stitch, glue or perfect bind? In our example we simply state – “Collate, fold to size and saddle-stitch”.
Include instructions on how you would like the piece packaged and labeled. Many clients prefer that print projects be boxed in certain quantities and under a specific weight. Our mock project will specify “50 pieces per carton, weighing under 50 lbs per box”.
Lastly, specify where you want your project to be delivered. This may be a single or multiple locations. If multiple distributions are shown, you’ll need to specify specific quantity per each location.
Depending on the complexity of the project, these basic print specifications should provide the basis for a fairly accurate quotation from your printer.
As a rule of thumb, I usually send out three bids for good size projects. However, in some cases, I have a specific printer already in mind for the job before I do. Make sure you allow ample time (if possible) for the printer to review the specifications and ask questions. I try to give each a week to prepare their best bid.
When you have all the printing quotations in hand, how do you evaluate who should be awarded the job?
First, read over the bids carefully and compare each to one another to see if all of the parameters have been addressed. If they haven’t, call the printer and ask for clarification.
Second, carefully review their policies and contract statements. This is typically the final pages of the bid with all the legalese.
Third, create a checklist based upon the following criteria:
1) Prior knowledge of the printer and their equipment capabilities (see Getting it Printed Part 1)
2) Price. If you have a limited budget, this may be a huge factor. However, I caution that price not be the only factor for selecting a printer. The old adage is true “You get what you pay for”.
3) Service. Above all, I want to know that my project will be taken care of. Building a good relationship with your print representative assures a level of trust which translates into a quality product. And if something goes wrong, the fix is usually much smoother.
4) Ask for references.
Look at each of these factors and then choose the one that you “feel” will do the best job. A printer you would enjoy working with. It’s a buying decision and ALL buying decisions are based upon “emotion”. If the printers are equally matched, go with your ‘gut’. It’s usually right.