Picking a printing partner

Your catalog’s print job is key to its success, since how products are reproduced on paper will have a direct effect on their sales. So choosing a reliable and efficient printer is not something to be taken lightly.

A good printer today “needs to provide far more than just ink on paper to be of value,” says Bill Herbein, vice president of sales at Hickory Printing. Catalogers need a true partner in a printer, one that offers the best quality and services at the right price.


  1. Size it right

    Make sure the printer’s size and equipment will fit your needs, says Carol Cluppert, marketing director for Ripon Printers. You should ask if the company has a specific program to acquaint new customers with the printer’s procedures — job submission options, file preparation, and so on, she says.

  2. Be open minded in your considerations

    You should talk to a variety of printers and keep in touch with them. These companies may be able to act as a resource for new ideas along the way, says Chris Haag, director of sales for Royle Printing, “and you’ll have a much better idea of who will be a good fit when it comes to the selection process.”

  3. Conduct a background check

    Naturally you’ll want to focus on the printer’s track record with catalogs like yours, Cluppert says. “Get references or interview other customers.”

  4. Meet and greet

    After narrowing the field, be sure to interview your prospective customer service rep, says Haag. Your rep will be an integral part of your production/distribution team, he says, so having a comfort level with this person’s experience, personality and service background is critical.

    You also want to talk to other employees, if possible. This gives you great insight into how they will integrate with your business, Haag says, while also making them feel more connected to or vested in you as a customer.

    In fact, you should do your best to meet with the printing company owner or upper management, says Daniel T. Walsh, vice president of catalog/publication papers at distributor Bradner Smith & Co.

    Cluppert agrees: “Customer responsiveness begins with a commitment from the top,” she notes. “Make sure they are on board.”

  5. Size up the service structure

    Find out how the printer structures its customer service to ensure that there will be several people familiar with your account and specific projects, Cluppert says.

    You should also ask about the average tenure of employees: “It’s a great indicator of whether people tend to stay, or whether you’ll be constantly dealing with — and even training — new employees.”

    You might also find out what the company offers as far as ongoing customer training and education programs, Cluppert says. “Technologies keep changing, and you need a source that’s committed to helping you stay abreast of current trends.”

  6. Take the tour

    You want to get a sense of how tidy and organized the facility is, says Haag. Do the employees understand your business? Is the work in process similar in scope to yours?

    Look at how the equipment is maintained, Walsh says. “Observe how clean and orderly the pressroom is,” he says. “If the printer doesn’t care about how their pressroom looks, they’re not going to care about how your print job looks either.”

    Determine the age of the printer’s major equipment and ask about its replacement and maintenance policies, Cluppert says. Ask how much the company’s capital expenditures averaged during the past three to five years.

  7. Keep an eye out for earth friendliness

    Review the printer’s environmental policies, practices and track record, Cluppert says.

    And if environmental sustainability is important to you, make sure the printer is FSC certified, Walsh advises. Even if you plan to buy the FSC-certified paper yourself to save money, if your printer is not FSC certified, you will not be able to use the logo on your printed piece.

  8. Dig for digital capabilities

    Look for digitally driven processes throughout the company’s facility that will contribute to speed and cost-efficiency, Cluppert says. Inquire about the printer’s digital file storage and backup policies.

  9. Investigate other services

    Printers may be able to provide services such as fulfillment that could reduce your supplier base and add speed and efficiency, Cluppert says. Ask the company reps to cite a few examples of ways that it was able to make a significant improvement in a customer’s print program — speed, costs, quality and so on.

  10. Conduct a review of paper

    If you’re going to be purchasing your catalog’s paper through the printer, make sure your printer is knowledgeable about all the options that are available to you, Walsh says.

    For example, if you have an older customer base, your printer might suggest a matte paper option, since it is easier to read than glossy stock, he says. The printer should also be able to tell you how lowering the weight of paper could affect your catalog in terms of cost — not just the price of the paper, but possible cost reductions in the mailing process.

  11. Be prepared for the worst

    Evaluate whether the printer’s redundant production capabilities are sufficient should a press or other major piece of equipment go down, Cluppert says. “Ask how the company would handle a major catastrophe.”

  12. Review the company’s financial stability

    It may sound like a no-brainer, but this is a serious concern today. “Printers have been especially hard hit by the economy, what with catalogers mailing fewer and lighter books as well as publishers having diminishing ad pages and circulations,” Walsh says. “The worst thing that could happen is to go with a printer that offers the cheapest cost and then goes out of business before your job goes to press.”

    Getting a job hung up during a bankruptcy is a hassle, to say the least, “and a further problem if you furnish paper and have it on the printer’s floor,” Cluppert says.

  13. Check over the contract

    When finalizing a decision, pay careful attention to the contract, says Barb Garny, national sales executive at Times Printing Co. Again, it may sound like common sense, but “you need to make sure that everything you have requested is accounted for in the contract,” she says. “You don’t want to be surprised later by additional costs being added to your job.”


MAILING AND LOGISTIC SERVICES ARE OFTEN AS IMPORTANT TODAY AS THE PRESSES THE PRINTER HAS, says Daniel T. Walsh, vice president of catalog/publication papers at distributor Bradner Smith & Co. “You want to make sure the printer has the equipment and expertise to get your printed piece out the door and into the hands of the U.S. Postal Service as efficiently and cheaply as possible.”

Try to judge your printer on its level of sophistication with different mailing methods including selective binding, comailing and copalletization, Walsh says. “You want to see that they have the expertise to explain each option that applies to your project and what effect it will have on your bottom-line pricing.”

Keep in mind that only the largest printing companies will be able to handle comailing inhouse, Walsh notes. “So you want your printer to have a reliable partnership with a comailer that can handle this if it applies to your catalog.” — JT

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