You Can't Hustle a Hustler

Craig Wood

November 2006

A technician from a satellite television company came to my home to install a high definition receiver (after all, who doesn’t need an excuse not to leave the couch during NFL season?). Shortly after the tech began installation, he approached my roommate, Chris, with a problem. According to the technician, some parts were not included in his work order that were "… required in order to complete installation.” The tech quickly added that he’d be willing to sell us the "missing” items for only $100 cash … even though we knew that parts and labor were originally to be included with our installation. It was classic case of trying to scam a presumably unknowledgeable customer into paying extra cash for something he really doesn’t need.

The technician assumed that Chris, who stands 6-feet, 3 inches and weighs almost 300 pounds, was clueless when it came to satellite technology. Unfortunately for this deceiving technician, Chris was someone in the know—he used to work for that same company as a tech!

Thanks to Chris’ being someone in the industry, a plot to exploit a customers’ assumed lack of technical know-how was prevented—and my home will now receive months of free programming.

It’s always good to know someone "in the industry” no matter what that industry might be. From auto repair and home renovation to club seat owners and audio technicians, having someone in your circle with knowledge of something you know little about can prevent you from getting taken advantage of—and save you money.

As designer and print production guru for the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry and this magazine, I hear horror stories from those who have been overcharged or taken advantage of when looking for a good designer and a decent printer. As I am "someone in the industry,” I am here to help you read between the lines when it comes to designing and printing your company business cards, letterhead, envelopes, newsletter, promotions, etc.

In the first installment of this three-part series, we’ll take a look at what specific factors play a role in determining your cost, and how to go about hiring an efficient printing press and/or graphic designer.

The Root$ of All Evil: Duh-ziners
Graphic designers are like pop stars—they’re a dime a dozen; and like pop stars there are some who possess legitimate talent, and some who should stick to Friday night karaoke at their local watering hole.

If you have a designer on your staff equipped with the latest in graphic design software (Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.), you’re ready to go. But if you don’t, you’re going to have to hire someone from the outside, and that could cost you.

Rather than hire the first potential designer or design firm you come across, shop around either through the Internet or word of mouth from your colleagues. Once you find a few prospective contacts, request portfolios and/or media kits of their work. After receiving a portfolio, look it over closely and ask yourself the following questions:

• How long did the piece take to arrive from the time you requested it?
• Was it mailed in a professional looking package?
• Does the overall appearance of the piece have a professional feel to it?
Questions such as these are critical in determining the level of professionalism of your potential designer or firm.

Also take a good look at the designer’s style. Does it match your company’s corporate image? If it doesn’t, don’t worry. A good designer should be able to present several different styles. Whether you like them or not, if the styles are presented professionally, that designer can probably do your job.

If your first instinct is a negative one, continue the hunt. When it comes down to it, the same skills that put you where you are today in the construction business will be the same ones you’ll use to find the perfect designer for you, one who will be able to present your company in the way you want.

The Root$ of All Evil: Pressin’ Politics
When it comes to having your materials printed, your final tab will ultimately reflect two variables: the type of paper your material will be printed on, and the number of different inks (colors) your material will be using.

Paper. Perhaps one of the most underrated steps in the production process is the selection of paper. There are hundreds of paper companies out there, each offering different weights, textures, colors and finishes that can make the difference between an OK-looking piece and a great looking piece. Different paper types absorb ink in different ways, which consequently will affect how the color will turn out on the final product.

We’ll talk more about paper selection in next month’s installment, but in the meantime, you can request samples from companies such as Mohawk Paper Mills (www.mohawkpaper.com) or The French Paper Company (www.mrfrench.com). They’re typically free and will aid you in understanding the dynamics of paper.

Color. When we talk of professional printing, we’re specifically referring to high-end lithographic presses. Unlike your local Kinko’s, which can simply run your piece one time on their high-end inkjet or laser printers to achieve a full color output, lithographic presses require multiple print runs—one print run for each different color of ink used. Aside from higher quality end results, lithographic printing is far more cost effective when it comes to printing large quantities.

With lithographic printing, we have a limited number of inks we can choose from, and each particular job will require a different approach. Typically, pricing is based on 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-color printing, with 4-color printing being the most expensive.

Now, depending on your budget and color choices, we’ll either apply process printing or spot printing to the job.

Process Printing,aka 4-Color Printing
More colors equals more cost in the lithographic printing realm because multiple print runs are required. Remember: Each color means one print run.

Businesses with large printing budgets or a need to have their materials printed in full color will make use of 4-color printing, or process printing as it’s also known as.

CMYK. This magazine you’re reading right now was created using 4-color printing. As the name implies, 4-color printing uses 4 colors known as the process colors—Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK (CMYK)—to achieve a full color result. The process colors are what define 4-color process printing; each color is applied one print run at a time. Every page of this magazine, for example, was run through a press four times to achieve its present full color appearance (Figure 1).

Remember learning about colors back in elementary school art class? Yellow and blue create green, red and blue create purple, etc. In a nutshell, this is how 4-color printing achieves a full color output. Instead of using yellow and green to create blue, however, a printing press will use various amounts, or densities, of our four process colors to create various shades of blue. Think of it as four crayons that can be adjusted to create nearly any color we can come up with.

Make no mistake about it: 4-color printing is the best in terms of its ability to achieve a wide range of colors. As previously mentioned, it’s the reliance on the 4 colors that makes process printing so expensive, so unless you have a required need for a full color treatment (or have an unlimited budget), try to avoid using 4-color printing for the time being ... there are other ways to achieve great color depth without the cost of 4-color printing.

Spot Printing: 1-, 2- and 3-Color Printing
So how can you save money on printing quality letterheads, business cards, etc. without using 4-color printing? How can you apply a specific color other than a true cyan, magenta, yellow or black, without multiple print runs? The answer is as simple as a trip to Home Depot.

Spot colors. Think about the last time you went to get some paint for your DIY project. Was that dark red you picked out from the Home Depot color swatch book readily available in a bucket on the shelf? Probably not.

In order to prevent wasting time and money on repeatedly coating walls with various colors just to achieve our dark red, we have a Home Depot employee create our specific paint color. To get our desired deep red, the store employee added a variety of inks (and ink densities) into a base and then mixed them in order to achieve your desired color output—your dark red. Since this color was created prior to applying it to the walls, you’ll no longer have to worry about investing in multiple buckets of paint and repeated applications—saving us precious time and money.

This is essentially what spot printing is: a premixed, predefined color that requires a single print run because it was created prior to being run through the press. Crayon analogy: Instead of using a yellow and green crayon to achieve our blue, we bought a readymade blue crayon so we wouldn’t have to continue buying green and yellow crayons.

Pantones. Rather than using a Home Depot swatch book to reference the color you want for your company’s new brochure, printers and their customers select the specific spot color from a Pantone swatch book (Figure 2).

Because your deep red was a single PMS color—a specific, premixed ink, your print job now no longer require a 4-color print run. Although it is not required, most of us also use black for text in our printed materials, so you will likely end up with a 2-color job. That should cost you about half as much as the 4-color job. And if you are smitten by that deep red, you’ll need only a 1-color print run–saving a significant amount of money in the end (Figure 3).

The Chosen One
Now that you have an idea about the costs associated with lithographic printing, your next step will be to select the lithographic press/printer you want to hire. Like any type of job interview, it’s necessary to ask questions in order to gain a better understanding of your potential "employee.”

If your intention is simply a small print run (50 to 100 copies) of a single type of media (only business cards) then Kinko’s, Staples or any other major office supply corporation is your best bet—just don’t expect the most thorough customer service and pricing.

If, however, you are planning on printing more than one job or intend on having a large quantity printed, you’re better off finding a professional printer for a long term business relationship. When it comes to paying for printing services, it’s a prime example of "you get what you pay for.”

Call the different printing presses in your area and ask for samples of their work or a press portfolio. These requests are free of charge and offer you some incite as to the company’s level of professionalism. If you need more help in making your final decision, call some of their current and/or past clients for a reference. Just like in construction.

Once you have the materials, ask yourself: "Do they know what they’re doing?” Some print companies simply lack the professional experience and/or equipment. They may offer superior prices, but if the quality of the product is poor, why would you waste your money on a less-than-stellar job?

Obviously, price is also a huge consideration. Once you’ve narrowed your choices of printing companies, call and ask for price quotes on a fake project; my personal favorite is a 2-color, four-page job on 8.5" x 11" 80 lb. paper with a quantity of 2,500. Nothing fancy.

Prepress
No matter how large or small your budget may be, creating high quality pieces is always a reality.

In next month’s installment, we’ll dive into the world of prepress, the work leading up to submitting your materials to the printer. Specifically we’ll take a look at the following:

Design & Print "Loopholes.” Cutting cost without cutting quality no matter what your budget may be.

Paper Chaser. How the type of paper you choose will have an impact on your overall presentation and how to pick the right paper for your organization.

The Final Step. Readying your finished materials for printing.

By taking advantage of certain design and printing "loopholes” and investing in quality paper, there’s more than one way to create pieces that appear to have cost a fortune, even though they’re a simple 1- or 2-color job (Figure 4). All it takes is a little bit of guidance and knowledge from someone "in the industry.”

About the Author
Craig Wood is the graphic designer and production coordinator for the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry and AWCI’s Construction Dimensions.