Printers are some of my best friends. I just made that up. I mean they are, but they’re obviously not, not in the way best friends are. Truth be known my two best friends would have to be the one who is an undertaker and the other who is an estate agent. Bit odd I know but they are my social best friends, the ones who give me hearty slaps on the back, call me names in jest, encourage me to knock back a few too many Guinness with Vodka depth charges and who a couple of hours later will draw all over my face with indelible ink whilst I am unconscious. They are the ones who still jump at the chance to give me a wedgie if the opportunity arises. Those are my best friends. Thinking about it now, I should maybe start reconsidering their status. However, printers do indeed fall into the ‘best friend’ category on a professional level because I need them to work with me, to listen, react and respond, to be there for me. I need them to figure out some technical issues for me, deal with tight deadlines, do me the odd favour and give me a few days extra to pay them.
It’s here where the problems start though. By fate, I tend to work with an international client base. So I need to get production for clients in their home country, Europe, Middle east… You get the picture. Now in an ideal world, I would prefer no overseas clients. There is no glamour. Sounds like there is but believe me, there really isn’t. No, in an ideal world, all my clients would live in the same street as me and the printer would live on the other side of the park, maybe a five or ten minute walk away. That would save me the horrendous phone bill, the absurd time differences, the language problems, the EasyJet check in desk and importantly, the various overseas printers I have to sort out and deal with.
On a rudimentary level I am asking for just one simple thing, take some ink and stick it on a bit of paper. My son does it all the time, like the potato printing kits of my youth only nowadays they have sponge shapes. He dips it into the ink and stamps it onto his paper, then when I am not looking, he prints it onto the table, the chair, the wall, his sister… It’s at that point the screaming starts and I am made aware of things and need to clean the mess before the good lady comes in and I got chewed to bits. But you get my drift. It’s not rocket science just ink onto paper. Yet until you get the right printer you are always nervous the door will open and the mess will be seen.
My first printer in Dubai printed 15,000 leaflets in blue onto white card when we asked for green onto cream paper. A printer in Spain once printed a 2000 booklets, 30 odd pages, and delivered them to the clients office in Portugal instead of the Barcelona office they should have been going to and then tried to bill me for the courier costs. And it wasn’t a language issue that caused it. In Dubai they speak a lot of English and I speak Spanish.
Thankfully, those days seem long ago, distant memories. Nowadays the problem has moved on, nowadays the problems sit firmly at my feet and the feet of those wonderful clients of mine. Let me explain. I am the one asking for spot Pantone metallic over four process colour, I’m the one who decides I’d like a half accordian fold or a gate fold with a pop-up, It’s me who suggests blind embossing and a UV finish. I set the benchmark. The client then wants it all flashy with fizz, they want to write the equivalent of the Bible but within an A5 8 page booklet, they want it for next to nothing and of course, they want it yesterday or sooner if possible, and don’t consider Saturday or Sunday days of rest. All the printer has to do, like I said, is put the ink onto the paper, finish it off and put it in a box and deliver it for me. So you find yourself a printer who can make sure all the problems get solved, who sits and thinks about what you’ve asked and suggests the best way to achieve them and you have your ‘best friend’.
The issue then is about finding said ‘best friend’. I must say I have spent years, possibly the best part of a decade, closer to two actually, working with various printers. Some good, many bad. And what I have learnt is that good ones are worth taking care of. I’ve found a Spanish printer who never returns my calls once we are in print production, never keeps me updated, ever. Yet always delivers on time and never have we had a quality problem. I’ve learnt to always specify stock or else everything comes back to me printed on photocopy paper but apart from that, he is my Spanish best friend. In the states I have found a printer who charges me upfront for everything on my credit card, emails me his useless, uninformative newsletter with military regularity yet delivers anywhere in the country for 30 bucks extra and emails me the delivery note within ten minutes of the arrival of the print. And again, I’ve never had a quality issue. So I forgive him everything, he is after all, my best friend.
In Switzerland I have a printer who was probably around when Caxton first set his presses running, his press certainly was manufactured around that time for sure, he speaks English as good as I speak Japanese and email is a bit too modern for him. However, never has he let me down, never has he given me cause for complaint and never have I needed to reconsider my ‘man in Switzerland’ options.
And so the list goes. Like the randy sailor metaphor, I have one in every port, a printer that is. Unlike a Sailor though, they know each other exists, would probably all get along swimmingly well and, touch wood, we are all very happy and hoping to stay together for a long time to come.
In the UK the story continues. I’ve been working with a printer here since before the arrival of DTP and desktop computers. At that time, artwork was cut and paste, not ‘control C’ and ‘Control V’, I mean the typesetter gave us bromide galley sheets to our specification (column width, font face, font size, leading, kerning and all that..) we then had to physically cut the sheet up and glue it onto board to create the layout then overlay that with print instructions on an onion skin. You who were born with Quark and Photoshop on the shelf have nothing to complain about regarding artwork, ever! Well that just about puts a date stamp on the relationship for you, basically, a long long time. The friendship went as most relationships do. Other printers charmed me and I had a bit of a fling, we had the odd argument, we lost touch every now and again but we always kissed and made up.
Being basically being lazy means I have to put all my trust into overseas printers for overseas clients. I can’t go jumping on a plane to check the colours on 250 business cards, I have to trust them to do the job, trust them to give me the best prices and trust them to respect my client relationships. I expect them to look after the quality side of things, the delivery side of things, expect them to keep me informed and expect them to do my Christmas cards for free each year in lieu of the mandatory bottle of wine when the festive season kicks in. As best friends go, so long as they don’t even begin to consider how funny it would be to give me a wedgie or write ‘I fear change’ in black pen on my forehead, they stand shoulder to shoulder with my undertaker and estate agent.