Special report: Printing and pre-press: Lincoln insert tested new screening technology

In our last report on printing, we asked the marketing executives at a a cross-section of printing companies what they were doing to distinguish their services from those of their competitors, and how they were communicating those differences to their customers.This...

In our last report on printing, we asked the marketing executives at a a cross-section of printing companies what they were doing to distinguish their services from those of their competitors, and how they were communicating those differences to their customers.

This time, we asked the men and women who buy printing Ñ the print production managers at advertising and direct marketing agencies Ñ on what basis they choose their printers, what services they consider essential and how they and their printers are managing to meet ever-tightening deadlines.

We also asked them to tell us about a project that pushed their printer to the limit.

The experimental nature of the project required early involvement on the part of the printer and the engraver

By Doug Maguire, Senior Manager, Print and Graphic Services, Young & Rubicam

A newspaper and magazine insert to launch the 1995 Lincoln Continental was the perfect vehicle to investigate a new screening technology, says Doug Maguire, senior manager, print and graphic services, at Toronto-based advertising agency Young & Rubicam.

Unlike conventional screening techniques, which break up an image into ordered halftone dots, the stochastic screening method uses microdots in a random pattern that more closely resembles the emulsion pattern on film.

Maguire says he chose the new technique in order to retain the fine detail of the car’s chrome grill and thereby increase the quality of the image.

The experimental nature of the project required early involvement on the part of the printer and the engraver (The Yorkville Group and Nubar Graphics) since few companies had much experience with the process.

Maguire says he is pleased with the results, although he doubts the average consumer will notice the difference.

Q. What are the most important considerations when choosing a printer?

A. It used to be price, quality, service – any two of the above. A few years ago, that became any three of the above. So you expect that.

But we are also looking for ability and attitude, and that applies to all suppliers, not just printers.

You have to have an ability to work closely, not only with our production department, but also with any affiliate suppliers on a project, in order to get the best job, on time and on budget.

And you have to have the right attitude, because everybody has to be working toward a common goal.

Q. What services do you consider essential?

A. It depends on the job. Whenever we are dealing with a supplier, we ask for an equipment list, a company overview – number of employees, number of shifts, number of years of operation – as well as samples that represent a cross-section of the types of work they do.

We keep an ongoing file of who does what, and that way, we can match up projects with the ability or services of the company.

It saves us time, frankly. The time to find out what’s out there and who is doing what is hopefully not the same hour as you need to get it out the door.

Q. What qualities do you look for in a printing rep?

A. A blend of attitude, intelligence and experience. Because if they have those attributes, we can have a good, solid working relationship.

We have to trust the judgments of our reps. They have to convey our expectations back to the plant, so they have to be able to think and learn on the fly, much like we do. If they can’t, they’re no good to us.

We make sure that we have an inside rep as well, and in the majority of cases, we know the senior [manager] on the job.

Sometimes, we will ask to switch reps and we will go right to the top if we have to.

Q. Do you routinely use the three-quote system, or do you have prearranged contracts with printers based on a volume discount?

A. It depends on our clients’ needs and the circumstances or timing of the job.

We have a policy that says three quotes have to be available on our production docket – our clients can come in and crack open our production dockets any time they want – or there has to be a reason [if there are fewer than three quotes.]

It could be the project was just handled by the same printer, consequently, you’re not going to have it quoted outside, when they have the material to do a reprint.

It comes down to what makes sense.

We have arrangements based on volume with some suppliers, we have a preferred supplier list, for clients who want that.

We also have a quick payment option with some of the smaller suppliers, who can crank things around in no time, but need to be paid in 10 days.

It varies with the circumstances of each job. The trick is to get the best value.

Q. Are your printers handling your film for you, or are you still buying the majority of your film from an independent film house?

A. Generally, we buy film separations from the film house.

But for simple filmwork – one, two, three colors – we may go with the printer.

We get them quoted separately. There are benefits to each.

There’s a trend in that the printers are bringing in the up front separation hardware and software, but the experience isn’t there; you get these computer jockeys who know everything about the screen, but nothing about separations.

The screen is red, green and blue. A separation is cyan, yellow, magenta, and black.

There is a connection, but they don’t necessarily understand that, and we can’t afford to deal with someone who doesn’t understand that, because timing and dollars come into it.

So, more often than not, we tend to buy our film from the film people, and the print from the print people, keeping in mind they have to work together.

Q. Do your printers have to have finishing capabilities?

A. Normally, I prefer in-house finishing capabilities. That’s one of the reasons we ask for the equipment list. It adds time and money if you have to send the job outside. But it’s a matter of what’s best for the specific project.

Quite frankly, there are projects we could not have done if it were not for the in-house finishing capabilities available at certain printers.

On the other hand, the more people that handle [a job,] the more potential there is for something to go wrong.

Q. What do you think about the industry trend toward mega-mergers?

A. It’s something we are going to have to watch.

You can’t ignore the buying power of something that big, but by the same token, we match our specific project requirements to printers with specific abilities.

I’m not a believer in the ability of one place to be all things to all people.

Q. How has the nature of your job changed over the past few years?

A. It has been reinventing itself since the introduction of computer graphics.

It was stagnant for decades. It used to be you took oil and water and you smacked it onto smashed-up trees.

Today, you can pretty much expect changes in the printing industry every three months.

Take, for example, the E-Print 1000 (the world’s first digital offset color press.) It’s used for short-run, on-demand printing, at an offset-printing quality.

It’s not a photocopier; it’s not using toners, it’s using inks.

It’s printing a dot, which copiers don’t print.

It means that you don’t need film separations, you don’t need plates.

You literally take a digital file, and this piece of equipment prints four colors of that image.

So you can do a complete flyer – you want one, you want 10, you want 20 – you can do that. And if you want 20 tomorrow, you can do that too.

You just reload the disk and print again, but the quality surpasses anything that’s been out there before.

It’s a niche market that wasn’t there a year ago.

Now, this on-demand digital printing technology is meant for short runs. You are not going to run a couple of thousand pieces.

Anything in excess of 600 pieces, you might as well go to offset because the dollars tend to work out.

But it allows you to avoid the separation costs and the up-front costs of getting on the press – what is called ‘make-ready.’

So, every three months, there’s new stuff, and you have to be up on it because somebody can walk in and say, ‘I need this,’ and yesterday that [technology] wasn’t available.

Q. How are you and your printer managing ever decreasing time-lines?

A. Quickly.

I heard a statistic that 65% of the project time now is spent in the approval process. So how do you reduce the approval process? I don’t know.

We have to plan up front, and get involved earlier in the process, so that when a disk shows up on our desk at 4 o’clock, it’s not a total surprise.

You have to know it’s coming, and you have to know how to direct it so the job gets done properly.

There’s no time to work on that when the project is coming through.