Learning to speak "print"

August 07, 2015

In our world of web-this, and digital-that, it's easy to forget that a large number of campaigns still have print requirements. Contrary to popular belief, print is not dead...yet.

It is important for an agency account manager to have an understanding of how to liaise with printing companies, how to request quotes and how to lead a job through the print production process.

If you are a newbie to print, the first thing you should do is take a visit to your printing company. It's incredibly difficult to understand the print process without seeing a printing press (offset, web, digital) in action. Ask to be shown the process from the start (plate making, paper, inks and printing) through to the end (print finishing, packing and distribution). Aside from being educational, you should find the tour extremely interesting.


Your printer, your friend

It pays to build a close working relationship with your printing company. Getting on well with your print rep can pay dividends in numerous ways:

  • Advice on every facet of a print job.
  • Quick turnaround of quotes.
  • Sharp pricing.
  • Preferential priority on the press for urgent jobs.
  • Bending over backwards to produce a top-notch result.
  • Re-printing if a job is not quite right.

You will be assigned an account manager (a.k.a. CSR - customer service representative; sales manager, etc). They will usually be your single point of contact with the printing company. This person will answer your questions, supply quotes and handle your concerns. You should aim to make them a valued extension of your agency team.


Quote requests

Once you have a firm understanding of your job requirements and have received a water-tight brief from your client, you can then request a quote from your print rep.

A print quote request should always include the following basic information:

  • Size (both flat and - if applicable - folded sizes)
  • Colour (the number of colours in the job - e.g. 4-colour process and/or spot colours. For more information on understanding print colours, click HERE)
  • Quantity (how many units are required)
  • Stock (the paper or substrate the job will be printed on)
  • Delivery location, and whether you will be delivering to one or multiple addresses.

Print quotes will usually also include one or more of the following:

  • Finishing (e.g. embossing, foil, creasing, diecutting, perforation, overgloss, etc)
  • Binding (e.g. perfect binding, saddlestitching, wiro binding, etc)
  • Folding (type of fold required. If no folding is required, specify the job is to be supplied "flat")
  • Collation (you may require different elements - e.g. text pages, cover, tabs - to be collated prior to binding)
  • Pick/pack or pack only (you'll need to supply a spreadsheet of items, quantities and delivery destinations if the job is complex).

NOTE: New Zealand printing companies usually specify that freight (delivery) charges will be additional to the quoted price. This is because once you have a package over a certain size the delivery cost is based on weight, and weight is only known once the boxes are packed. You'll need to check whether or not the freight has been included.


To mark-up, or not to mark-up?

Whether you mark up a supplier's print quote or not is up to your management to decide. 

There are various ways you can supply a print quote to your client. 

  • No mark-up: Your printer gives you the quote, you give the quote directly to your client with full transparency of the costs. You do not charge a mark up on the total and whether or not you choose to charge an additional print administration fee is up to you.
  • Kick-back: You could operate in a similar fashion to a print broker. You'd supply your client with the print quote, which includes your agency's commission built in to the total price. Your client sees no additional fee and your printing company will pay you a kick-back at the end of the project, or after an agreed period of time. This is a risky method if you have clients who are aware of the cost of print. They may think your prices are too high and may look elsewhere for a better deal.
  • Mark-up: You take your printer's quote, type the details into your agency's quote system and add in your mark-up. You can easily hide a mark-up this way, but you'll risk the same "inflated" perception risk as per the kick-back.



Your agency may have a rule of thumb that you must make x% margin on each print job. If that is the case, then the mark-up decision is easy and out of your hands.

If the mark-up percentage is fluid, then it may come down to a "how much can you get away with" type of situation. It is relatively easy to put a hefty markup on a small job, but you'll be hard-pressed to justify a large markup on a long print-run or expensive job.

Whatever you decide, remember to make your mark-up percentage consistent every time you reprint or update the job. Otherwise your savvy client will smell something fishy and you'll have some explaining to do!



A mere few years ago an agency would receive a hardcopy proof of every single print job. You and/or your client would sign the proof to say that everything looked correct, including colours, images, fonts and layout. The approval signature indemnified the printer in case a reprint was required due to incorrect information or files supplied.

These days - unless it is a strict policy of your printing company or agency - you may not receive a hardcopy proof at all. If you're lucky, you may get a pdf proof to approve via email. Times have definitely changed!

There are certainly some print jobs - those that are high run size, complex or expensive to print (such as an Annual Report) - for which you should insist on seeing a hard copy proof.


Press Checks

You may need to/want to do a "press check" on a job. For a press check you will visit the printing company when they first put the job on the press. You will be able to check that all elements are printing correctly (especially colour). You will also be able to see how the ink is looking on the chosen paper stock or substrate.


Hands Off

After a time of working with your print rep, you should get to the stage where you trust him or her to be your eyes and ears throughout the print process. This means you can be more "hands off" during the production phase and trust your print company to get it right.

Reaching the hands off stage will be your reward for always supplying your printer with detailed briefs, 100% accurate print-ready files, and maintaining excellent communication - all marks of an account management superstar!



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