Webmart Quick Guide – How to find a quality print supplier

by Neil M

Choosing the right printer can be very tricky. It can be so tricky, that many people give up trying to assess new suppliers and either buy from who they’ve always bought from (big mistake No.1) – or shop around solely on price and hope for the best (big mistake No. 2). It’s easy to compare prices – but quality, service and reliability are much more difficult.

So, how do we go about measuring the quality of a print supplier? This guide looks at the first steps in measuring the quality of print suppliers for larger commercial jobs.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things we can specify up front which will result in ensuring you choose a print supplier with a good chance of producing a job which will pass quality control.

The secret here is to know precisely what to ask a printer for – and be thorough and unscrupulous in making sure they jump through all your hoops. Here’s Webmart’s 5 minute guide on what we recommend you do.

The first step is to see whether you can piggy-back on someone else’s quality control systems. In this case, that means asking your printer if they comply with ISO 9001:2000. If they do, they’ll be annually checked to see if they’re on a cycle of continual service-improvement and should quickly correct any mistakes they make. Ask to see the system, check the corrective action process and their complaints register. If they’re any good, they won’t mind you checking over all these. Expect to see some problems – everyone makes mistakes after all – but the key thing is that mistakes are adequately (and promptly) resolved. These logs should demonstrate this.

Next, check they follow the latest technology & process advances. These will make your life easier, your job more successful – and give you the comfort that you’re working with a supplier who takes their quality and business seriously. Here’s a list of some of the advances you’d like to see:

  • FTP
  • On screen proofing
  • Closed Loop Colour
  • FOGRA Proofing system
  • Shop floor data collection system
  • Environmental system/procedures – ISO 14001
  • FSC/PEFC accreditations
  • Digital Printing
  • Carbon Offsetting/Neutral

If some of these advances seem a little obvious, you’ll be surprised at how 1990s (i.e. non-electronic and resistant to change) some printers can be so it’s worth checking! We’ll be taking a more detailed look into some of these elements in later articles.

If the job’s particularly important to you, it’s worth taking a visit to the printer yourself. We’ve always done as much due-diligence over the phone as possible, but you have to visit the printer yourself to really get a sense of how well they perform. If you visit a printer and you’re left waiting in a grubby, cold reception area for 30 minutes before someone begrudgingly gives you a whistle-stop tour of the factory then boots you out of the door – they might not be the best supplier to put your 100,000 Christmas brochures to!

Check for cleanliness in the workplace and around the machinery and any obvious health and safety concerns. Talk to some of the staff – do they know what they’re doing? Can you see samples of their work?

Then ask to discuss the order management process:

  • Who does what to administrate your job?
  • Who covers shopfloor management?
  • Who covers out of hours contact – is there a mobile phone list?
  • Who covers the finishing off of the job – despatch, invoicing, samples, extra costs, handling queries etc.?
  • Is there an outwork management process in place?
  • Is there a disputes resolution process?
  • Is there a disaster recovery plan?!?

Any printing supplier worth their salt should have covered all these items. And remember, you’re not asking them for the sake of it. These are all elements that experience tells us NEED to be in place to make sure quality is maintained and the project goes to plan – but if there is a problem, that it’ll be rectified as efficiently as humanly possible.

If they haven’t got these things in place, be ready to smile kindly, thank them for their time, then find another printer.

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