03 April 2020 Business

How designers responded when asked what they want from printers

As part of its 20Questioned research programme, Print Business asked 20 designers a series of questions to see what their views on print are. Both questions and answers are edited highlights of the full research.

How important is print as part of your remit?
• They are both equally important. Our briefs cover both mediums in equal quantities, and for many projects, files are created for both formats. We’re living in a time where information is digested at all times of day and across multiple channels and touch points, so to spread the media mix as wide as possible has never been so important.
• Print is central to our work as editorial designers. We work with newspapers, web offset and sheet fed magazine printers. We use digital printing for dummy designs, short runs and projects which are based around variable data.
• People still need items they can hold.
• Print is an integral part of my business offering. My best jobs are where I am responsible for a job from its initial creation to delivery of the printed item. However, probably only a third of my work ends up like this. Quite often I am commissioned to design and artwork the project and the client arranges print themselves. This can be because I am subcontracted from an agency solely to produce the artwork and they arrange the print side of things. Digital print is particularly important to my business as my clients tend to be fairly small businesses which require small, affordable print runs and digital suits this perfectly.

What has changed in the last five years and might change in the next five?
• Over the next five years more personalisation may be available and digital marketing via social media, influencers etc will grow.
• Print requirements from my clients have almost halved over the last five years. It could fall further behind in the next five years as people are relying on social media to get their message across to prospective customers.
• Clients doing much more of their own print which is frustrating. For print that I organise I’m doing far more with online printers than my regular local printers, although I still do use them for very important and high profile jobs.
• I think more and more in the way of design and print will be handled in house in an amateurish fashion by companies themselves.
l As the technology expands we are doing more digital print projects. There is probably less general litho print in our work now, but what we do is often a higher specification than before. And of course, we now do some projects with UV litho printing.
• I’m a lover of print and never believed the prophets of doom that declared that print was dead. I always had faith and believed it would remerge stronger than ever, supported by advancing technology.
• With the progression in digital technology, short run print is very accessible, with a range of complex embellishments and finishing techniques.
• The biggest restriction we see is client budgets – the economic climate dictates that everything is cut to the bone and print is often the process that suffers.

How do you select printers?
• I only use printers that I’ve worked with for many many years. Online printer selection is based purely on price and speed.
• We look at printed jobs. We talk to other designers. Printers come to talk to us. It’s usually a mix of persistence, trust and price that work for me.
• Persistence in making that contact in the first place, and not just once. Trust in that the printer is going the extra mile to oversee my job and ensure quality at every step. And of course price – it’s dictated by the client, so can’t be overlooked.
• Local reputation, recommendation and experience of their work plus online presence.
• I stick with tried and trusted printers that I have used for numerous years. It’s very rare that I add new ones on!

How do printers sell their services?
• Local printers sell quality and service whereas online sell by price. Local will also promote new press or capabilities.
• Quality of work. Range of equipment. Customer service.
• Mainly technology and capabilities. Unfortunately most clients aren’t interested in that and don’t have the budget for fancy finishing so when a new printer presents themselves to me, nine times out of ten I won’t use them, preferring to stick with those with whom I have a long and healthy relationship.
• They don’t because I have a handful of printers I can already rely on.
• It’s a very broad mix of all of the above, I don’t think you could rely on selling on one point alone. It’s difficult for printers now, I feel for them, how do you create a USP in a generally undervalued service. And the rise of cut price online printers means the competition is fierce. Accessibility to these services mean it’s easy for clients to price check and buy directly, meaning the agency gets cut out as the middleman.
What is the most important criteria
• It really varies on the type of job – but you have to assume that quality and on time are a given. There would be no second chance without those. Once the price point has been achieved, it’s down to trust and the relationship with your printer. You want to know they will go the extra mile for you to ensure your job is spot on.
• Trust. Trust about the quality of the work and the level of service from the prepress team to the delivery driver. For me, the printer is part of the creative process.
• Quality, consistency and delivery on time are key criteria.
Followed by price, online access and innovation.
• Price, not messing up jobs, reliable delivery and customer care and an eye for detail (ie if they see something awry in the artwork they raise it with me rather than just printing it).

What is your level of print knowledge?
• I spent 24 years learning print via my former employer XX District Council. This was mostly digital print, although there was also a small bit of litho print involved.
• Digital printing is economical for short run full colour printing as there are no plates required, as for litho. However, you can’t do spot colours with digital. Personalisation is possible with digital printing making it very versatile and targeted to individual customers.
• I have a reasonable knowledge of both, I certainly know what digital print I would not touch and what digital print I rate. Through experience I have learnt more about both digital printing and personalisation.
• I started out in the print industry and so have a very good knowledge, albeit slightly outdated with some of the more recent digital techniques. But when I was print side selling to agencies, I was amazed at the lack of basic print know­ledge and it was good to be able to add value and educate to get the best from your print. But with so many online print services simplifying the process, it’s much easier for the purchaser to get what they want without ever having to speak to the printer directly.
• I enjoy the production part of being a designer and I’ve been fortunate to work with open and enthusiastic repro and printing people who have taught me all I know. I have been lucky to work on projects ranging from letterpress books printed from wood type to variable data digital print on Indigo presses. I like going on press.
What is your understanding of finishing technology?
• Because of my background, I am pretty good at the basics for all of these techniques. Although I don’t take anything for granted and will always defer to my print contact to confirm my thinking. (I must be a nightmare client!) One of our clients is Duplo and I’ve been working with them for over two years to help promote their DuSense sensory coater, so am very aware of how short run digital is able to replicate the finishing techniques previously only available to litho.
• I understand most finishing technologies, but I’m not so hands on now as I used to be.
• Yes I am very aware of the all the possibilities of finishing technology including all of the above. Lamination is used as a standard far more than any of the others though. My clients tend to want to go for the cheapest option.
• I know about some finishing technologies.
Spot UV varnish can be added to highlight certain areas ie a logo or image. Works particularly well if the piece has already been matt laminated. Textured effects are available like an overlaying varnish, using digital print. Lamination gives a different feel/finish to the printed piece ie matt, gloss, soft touch. Foils can be added as a highlight. Die cutting - unusual shaped dies can be made to cut out interestingly shaped items.
• The more I get involved with finishing: binding, die cutting, foiling, the more fascinating I find it. You can do so much and you can also ruin the job. The sector is changing: short run (often digital) jobs make many techniques possible again: something can be done on 100 copies that is too expensive for 100,000.

How important is the paper?
• Depends on the job - many of my projects just use run of the mill silk stock. However, for a more statement piece, then paper is important. I would contact the printers for samples of available paper from them.
• The right weight of paper for certain jobs is very important, ie I wouldn’t do a flyer on anything less than a 150gsm because it feels tacky and cheap! I usually would print a flyer on a 200gsm-250gsm Silk because it gives it a better quality feel. Recycled papers are good if you can obtain them cheap enough! They tend to be a little more costly than your normal brand. My clients tend to trust me on paper choice, but if they want recycled then they know they will be paying more.
• It is not too important to me to be honest. I generally go with just ‘house’ silk, uncoated etc. Occasionally I have selected a more bespoke stock after consultation with a printer and they can become an option.
• Paper is vital. We talk to mills and merchants. It’s about finding the right paper for a project and we are concerned that it’s been made in the most environmentally sustainable way.
• I keep a basic library of papers from merchants as reference, but usually defer to the printer to source what I need. But the majority of the work we do now is on a standard white silk, with not much scope to get creative - which is a shame. Again, this is governed by price, I don’t think people put as much emphasis on high quality print, unfortunately (unless that’s just the work we do). However, the stock can make a big difference to the end result, and if the project warranted it, I would definitely take time to ensure a variety of stocks were considered.

How important is sustainability?
• Sustainability is a huge buzz word for all of our clients, although while it gets communicated throughout the design we produce, it’s often forgotten about at the print stage. And I must profess to have limited know­ledge around paper recycling. I expect the merchants to be working sustainably and adhering to reasonably strict government guidelines. I’ve always assumed that paper is one of those items that is easily and effectively recycled with minimal environmental impact. Generally, print is perceived to be a less sustainable option to digital channels. Although I am aware of how some printers are embracing sustainability and ditching chemicals through the process.
• All aspects of the production process have to be as sustainable as possible. Recycling is only part of the environmental questions around paper. Few people think about the internet and its server farms eating energy. I like to think print is more sustainable than digital.
• I wouldn’t say I’m 100% on top of sustainability issues as all my print is farmed out. Therefore, I don’t have to worry about that side of things, although I do look at these levels before choosing a printer and I’m happy with their sustainability levels.
• To be honest, before the last recession sustainability was becoming more important. Then everyone forgot about it and focused purely on price and cutting costs. I feel it is becoming more relevant but in my experience there is always a price to pay with any sustainable stock and I believe most print is relatively sustainable/recycled in any case.
• Sustainability is becoming more important to my business and to my clients, although many don’t request recycled stock. One printer I use highlights the fact that all their stock is FSC certified so I know it has been responsibly sourced. I don’t know if print is more or less sustainable than digital channels... I would guess not, but I’m not sure.

What should printers do to improve your perception of them?
• Many printers communicate in terms of equipment, which is often meaningless to the customer. Letting people know what their speciality or niche is – what they know they can deliver at really competitive prices and maintain excellent quality. And for agencies such as this, having personal presence is still really effective. We don’t want a rep harassing us, but it does help to have that relationship where we can call up and know the printer can pull out all of the stops to make something happen at short notice.
• That first job is the real test. Communication. Quality. Delivery. I want the job to be great. My client wants it to be on time.
• Colour consistency, accuracy of trim, right first time. Delivery on time.
• Not messing up jobs and good delivery on time.

Do you use online print providers?
• I use online print providers for price and speed. Usually very reliable, but have to conform to preset parameters. If I need a more bespoke job then I would use a local printer.
• Yes, I do sometimes. Price is very important to my customers, so whatever money I can save them then they are happy.
• Yes. Online offers a very cost effective option for people who are not too fussed about having high end products. The only downside is that they are not overly flexible when jobs go wrong.
• I do use an online service – pile them high and sell them cheap! We get a great, fast, cost effective service that allows us to maximise on mark up. They are ideal for business cards and leaflets. But, I wouldn’t ever use an online printer where precision and quality is important and I want to retain ongoing dialogue with the printer. It really depends on the client and the project.
• Yes. I think Moo is amazing.

What are you responsible for?
• General design consultancy, working cross media for mostly B2B clients.
• All marketing collateral, advertising, campaign work, some packaging, web and digital design, video and animation.
• Marketing collateral. Label design.
• Marketing, packaging, social media presence, branding, brochures, books etc.
• Editorial design and printing for news­papers, magazines and books.

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20Questioned: Designers

20Questioned: Designers

These questions are a synopsis of the questions. For a synopsis of the analysis, see the Explore Link below.

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Reports from the front line of design: a synopsis of the analysis of the research

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20Questioned: Designers

20Questioned: Designers

20Questioned is part of Print Business's ongoing consultancy programme to inform all of the printing industry. It involves asking quite complex questions of 20 subjects and their answers are analysed to provide a picture of that question in that sector at that time. It is ongoing and organic.

This article is a snapshot. It gives a pared down version of questions, responses and the analysis. It is not commissioned by a third party and is completely independent.

Print Business does provide paid-for consultancy for third parties. It remains independent and may not tell the commissioners what they want to hear but always what they need to hear. It is not cheap but it is impartial, bespoke and comprehensive. And not necessarily published.

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What designers want: the analysis of the responses

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