Working with external printers


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In recent years, the increased quality and functionality of digital print technology has helped many CRDs expand their capabilities. Thanks to digital presses, automated workflows and integrated finishing solutions, inplants can produce complex jobs that would previously have been placed with external commercial printers.

Very few organisations, however, print everything internally and the reasons for printing externally vary. There will always be jobs whose scale or requirements are simply beyond the inplant print department’s capabilities — 20,000 copies of a 16-page brochure, for example. And although, generally speaking, printing in-house saves money, the fierce competition in the commercial sector means there will be occasions where it is cheaper to print something outside. This all makes sense if the people buying the print know what they’re doing. If they don’t, the decision to place a job with an external print provider can end up being very expensive, in time and money.

In an ideal scenario print buying is handled by the print department, which has the necessary expertise to assess exactly what the job involves, select the right external print provider, brief them properly, and recognise a good price when they see it. In reality, this doesn’t happen that often. The Canon Insight Report Corporate Reprographics: Trends and Opportunities, produced by Professor Frank Romano of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), found that in most organisations the print buying function is scattered throughout departments. While sales, marketing and communications place most jobs, significant amounts of print are also bought by the manufacturing, HR, legal and training departments. As for taking advantage of the print department’s expertise to buy print, research by InfoTrends in 2011 noted that most CRDs are not involved in external print buying, with only 8% performing the print management function for the entire organisation. This, observed InfoTrends, might represent “a missed opportunity to use internal expertise and co-ordinate print spending.”

This guide will help you grasp that opportunity by helping the organisation buy print efficiently. After explaining why some jobs are better printed outside, we look at how you can choose the right external print provider for the job. We then examine the common mistakes that non-expert print buyers can make, which can cost the organisation money. Finally, we suggest ways in which the print department can take the lead in helping other departments avoid expensive mistakes — an initiative that will also help you achieve your goal of raising the profile of in-house printing in the organisation, and ultimately growing the Inplant.

When to print outside

Although organisations sometimes place a job with an outside printer to save money, the principal reason for printing externally is because a job is not appropriate for the CRD’s production capability, or is perceived to be not appropriate. The Insight Report lists the following factors as determining if a job is printed externally:

• Sheet-size or stock-weight greater than you can handle in-house
• Spot colours not printable in-house
• Turnaround needed is too tight, particularly for larger jobs
• Very long run
• Job requires special binding or finishing (ie, foil stamping)
• CRD operating at capacity

The report also found that turnaround appears to be a bigger factor than previously thought, noting that “because printing and finishing are at the end of the entire process … they usually have the least amount of time for completion. Commercial printers report that they are awarded about 35% of their jobs because they have the production time to handle them.”

Choosing the right partner

Assuming you’ve done the research into the organisation’s print requirements described in Part 2, you have a good idea of the kind of work you’re likely to print externally, and when it will be needed. Armed with this information, you can plan in advance and put together a roster of outside printers with the right capabilities. Get to know the local print providers. Visit them and check they have the right equipment and workflows, so that when you ask them to quote on a job you know what their price is based on.

Just as important as the right production equipment is the right attitude. You’re looking for a partner, not a rival who sees an opportunity to take work from the print department. The right relationship is one where you both stand to gain. The outside printer gets a new source of revenue, and, so long as you’ve chosen a forward-looking partner, you gain insights into the broader range of services that many commercial print providers are developing. Such knowledge is valuable given the growth of cross-media, as described in Part 5.

Where have all the print buyers gone?

The Insight Report not only found that print buying is dispersed throughout the organisation, it found that the description “print buying” conceals a wide range of skills — a result of “the growing lack of knowledge among print buyers”, as purchasing departments replace specialist buyers with “generalists”. Because of this, marketing departments frequently buy print direct, often combining it with the cost of design — and we have already seen in Part 4 how designers don’t always take print-related factors into account when specifying jobs.

Outside the marketing department, the level of print buying expertise is likely to be even lower, with expensive results. If the experiences of the inplants interviewed for the Insight Report are mirrored in buying from outside printers, there are problems with supplied files on 81% of jobs, both technically and from a content point of view (ie, alterations to content). The report observed that “print specifications change at least twice, and some up to five times, before the job is actually submitted — or even after the job is submitted.” Changes have to be made after the file is submitted in 51% of cases, adding over 20% to the cost of an average job in almost half of cases.

Knowledge saves money

Savings in print procurement don’t necessarily come from choosing the lowest bid. A low bid may be expensive if the job specification does not reflect print production process, and the finishing process. The report found that “knowledgeable print and media buyers save their organisations about 7% in print procurement costs” by applying their knowledge of the following areas:

Printer selection: As noted earlier, choosing the right printer involves matching equipment and capability with the demands of the job. But you are also looking for a printer who will work with you to provide the best job at the best price. This may involve an iterative process of matching job specification with equipment capability and price.

Paper choices: Choose the right paper type, weight and size for the job. Is coated or uncoated best? Has the designer specified a special stock that only comes in a size that results in significant waste?

Printing process: The capabilities of digital, offset and other processes overlap. A run of 100 is best printed digitally, but one of 20,000 may be suited to offset. Digital works best for short runs and electronically-collated documents, and is the best way of producing personalised print.

Finished sizes: The finished size and page count affects the price. Is the sheet-size appropriate for bleeds and trim marks? Is the finished size “fit for purpose”? For example, a strikingly different format may be unique but be wasteful to produce and awkward for users to file.

Print runs: Optimum print runs and on-demand practices are important concepts. A low unit-price for print is not the only consideration; buyers also need to consider the cost of storage and the cost of obsolescence. Multiple short runs allow content to be fine-tuned between print runs, and eliminate the waste of excess printing. Print buyers should ask for estimates for different print runs so that they can see where the price breaks are.

Distribution: Choices are many and varied depending on the final destination of the printed job. Should you print and distribute, or distribute and print? Is it more cost-effective to utilise the printer’s courier to bulk ship a job, or should you utilise your own courier? Similarly, is it more cost effective to use the printer’s mailing services, or should you use your own mailing services? Is the printed item robust enough to survive the mail-handling equipment?

Take responsibility

From the above it’s clear that buying print is about more than getting a few quotes for a job. In reality, the print buying starts with the specification of the job, and between then and the actual production there are numerous opportunities for inexperienced print buyers to make mistakes and incur unnecessary costs.

As we observed earlier, in an ideal world the in-house print department would be involved in print purchasing decisions, and although the reality may be very different this should still be your goal. The best way to attain it is to pursue the strategy that this series of guides sets out, steadily raising the profile of the printroom so that print buyers in the organisation appreciate the valuable resource that they have in-house. Tactics such as researching your internal customers, taking control of design, implementing web-to-print, benchmarking and reporting will all have this cumulative effect. They gradually increase your knowledge of print within the organisation, and with knowledge come opportunities to intervene proactively and add value.

For more information on Canon’s Essential Business Builder Program and the CRD Performance Enhancement Suite or to book an appointment with a Canon consultant, call your local Canon Account Manager or contact us via email.

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