Printers may see an upturn in the use of low-cost desktop publishing applications as the small general business customer finds the cost of professional applications no longer in their budget. While no one can predict how new subscription prices will affect the market for the average user, it is a good time for printers to review their procedures for accepting customer files.
Over the years, accepting customer files has gotten easier, but some printers continue to lose money because they fail to properly communicate to their customers the correct way to prepare a file for print. Customers want to provide error-free files, but no one has ever told them how.
Instead of educating customers, some printers have used customer-created files as a loss leader just to get the printing. This approach lowers the customer’s perception of the value of prepress services. Quite often, the cost for fixing the file is greater than the profit made from printing the job. Giving away expertise with nothing in return isn’t adding value to the job for the customer or helping increase business. It just costs the printer money.
Set the Standard
There are standards for how customers should prepare files for print. If the customer submits a file outside the known standards, the printer can justify the cost to correct the file. The standards are:
• PDF files. Almost anyone with a computer can create a PDF file. With PDF editing tools found in Adobe Acrobat, Enfocus Pitstop, and other editing plug-ins, almost any PDF file can be turned into a printable file. If a customer follows the standards for creating a printable file, a PDF file can flow quickly through prepress and into production. Automated workflow systems are based on PDF files.
• Applications standards. Some customers want to submit native application files. Because there are so many applications used for desktop publishing design, most printers concentrate on support for Adobe InDesign and Quark Xpress. Printers also need to support Microsoft Publisher because it has such a large installed base. Customers should be charged more for submitting native files because they require more time than PDF files to prepare for print.
• Graphic standards. Some customers want to use graphic programs such as Illustrator and Photoshop as page layout programs, so getting the files to print properly can be problematic. The standard way to handle files created in art programs is to have the customer submit them as either ready-to-print PDF files or as EPS files. Customers are required to outline any fonts used when the file is submitted as an EPS. Customers must be trained to the limitations and additional costs of using graphic programs.
• Color. Color must be identified properly if it is to print correctly. Since printers work in either CMKY or Pantone color models, customers should be required to submit their files using those models. Correcting color models adds time and costs to the order.
• Proofs. Even though the customer is giving you what they say is a ready-to-print file, there is still a proofing procedure required. Printers should always return a proof for the customer’s approval. Just assuming the file is correct because it is in a digital format can lead to costly mistakes and reprints.
Reap the Benefits
Printers who require their customers to adhere to these simple standards have fewer problems and, typically, higher profits in their prepress departments. Those who don’t usually see profits suffer as the staff works on jobs for free.
Does not having standards cost you money? A quick way to check is to divide the total sales for the department by the total number of hours worked by the prepress staff. How much were they selling per hour? Did it match or exceed the amount used as an hourly rate to calculate selling price? Are you paying more in wages then you are billing in the department? If so, you are losing money.