Whether you’re designing a logo, a poster, or any piece of branding or marketing collateral, your work will eventually end up somewhere. That means your work will be going to print, which means sometimes, you’re going to need to work with a print supplier.
You won’t always have to deal directly with these firms yourself – this is often not the case if you work as part of an agency, with account managers acting as the go-between. But whether you’re a freelancer or part of a larger organisation if you’re responsible for this task, then building a positive working relationship will be important. Read on as we go through 6 Secrets To Getting Along With Your Print Supplier.
A strong partnership between a designer and a print supplier makes everyone’s lives easier. Work can be produced more efficiently and smoothly from both parties, and there’s the added bonus of the networking that takes place as a result, which could always lead to more work in the future…
There are, fortunately, a number of pretty simple things you can do to ensure you get on famously, Here are 5 of the best ways you can make sure you get along with your print supplier:
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Get in touch, stay in touch
As a designer, responsible purely for the creation of the visual elements of a project, it doesn’t always feel like the onus is on you to get in touch with other involved parties, including the print supplier. And in all fairness, it’s rarely an obligation in the first place.
At the end of the day, you’re responsible for creating the artwork or graphics, and when you’re finished, the print supplier is responsible for turning it into the physical product – but that doesn’t mean getting in touch with them isn’t a good idea. In fact, it’s one of the most beneficial things you can do.
When it comes to print designs – particularly large-format jobs – there are a number of things that can throw a bit of a spanner in the works, from printer specs to formatting. And the vast majority of these potential hurdles can be pre-empted and negated simply by reaching out and having a chat with your supplier first.
At the very earliest stages of the design process, speak with your client to find out who the print supplier is, and drop them an email or pick up the phone. Make some notes about anything you’re unsure about, and if there’s nothing in particular, just have a brief discussion of anything you should be aware of when putting together the graphics.
Most print suppliers are a friendly bunch and will have at least one project manager who will be able to inform you of the main things you need to be aware of.
During the design process, be sure to stay in regular contact as necessary too. If you’re designing something simple, a basic logo or banner for instance, then this might not be needed, but larger designs might require updates at various stages. Also, if you need or want to make significant alterations to agreed-upon designs or software etc., be sure to touch base with your supplier and make sure this won’t be a problem.
Do a bit of homework
When designing for print, things can be a little different to designing for other mediums. Your graphics will potentially need to be seen from a distance, or viewed on the side of a moving vehicle, and there may be some conventions to which you’ll need to adhere.
This will naturally depend on the actual end-purpose of your designs, and whether they’ll be printed in small or large format. It goes without saying that the design requirements for a billboard will likely be quite different from those of a brochure!
You can save both yourself and your print supplier an awful lot of time, hassle, and potential redrafts, by doing a bit of homework before you begin. Try to find out at exactly what size your designs will be printed, and onto which substrates (the material that gets printed onto) – using a bit of common sense, you might spot a necessary adjustment or consideration for your work before you spend valuable time drafting something up.
For instance, if you’re tasked with the designs for a hoarding graphics project, why not do a bit of sleuthing into the context of your designs. Depending on how much creative freedom you’ve been given, you could look into:
- The colour palette of the surrounding environment – could you use photographic sampling to develop a design that ‘blends’ into its surroundings seamlessly? You could even flip this idea on its head, using a contrasting colour scheme to make your designs really ‘pop’ (for instance using red in front of green foliage…)
- Local heritage or architecture – it can be great to feature elements of the culture or architecture of the surrounding area in the designs of a hoarding. Why not do some digging into what makes the place unique?
- Any and all applicable rules and regulations that apply – there can be quite a few of these for construction hoarding graphics, and it’s good to know what restrictions will apply before you get started.
While not strictly necessary, going that extra mile will help you stand out – and bear in mind that the average print supplier will be in contact with a lot of designers, so if you’re hoping to stand out and impress them, these extra touches can earn you a lot of kudos.
Provide mock-ups of work
This will probably be something you do regularly anyway, but when you’re working with a print supplier, regardless of which print format you’re designing for, there will be a number of practical restrictions and criteria that will need to be met. As a result, providing graphic design mock-ups and drafts of your work will almost always be necessary.
Sometimes, you’ll hit the nail on the head first time, and will manage to tick all of the right boxes with no hiccups. Regardless, it’s a good idea to provide your print supplier with mock-ups of your work – or early conceptual designs – before you dedicate hours of effort into producing a final draft.
The reason for this is because, often unbeknownst to you, there may be a practical aspect to the printing work, which will necessitate certain design considerations. While we’d like to say that these are all ironed out in the early stages of the brief and initial consultations/discussions, sometimes this isn’t the case, and things only get spotted once there’s something to actually look at.
This could be something as simple as a particular colour not printing well onto a specific type or shade of substrate – for instance, a grey or dark hue onto a metallic or mirrored vinyl might not work well, or stand out visibly. Other navigable issues can arise with things such as the physical finishing of your designs – providing a mock-up can flag up any easily fixable design elements that might be depending on the equipment used by the print supplier, make your graphics tricky to cut out or prepare.
Your print supplier will also likely have printed work of this kind before, and they’ll usually be able to spot elements of a design that will or won’t work well for various reasons. Which brings us nicely onto…
Be open to criticism and edits
We can all appreciate how frustrating it can be when asked to redraft your work by an inexperienced marketing exec, purely because they think it could ‘look nicer’. But a great designer will always be open to criticism. This applies to your entire career, not just when you’re working with a print firm, but specifically, when working with this kind of supplier, their corrections are usually warranted.
Printers normally aren’t designers, and they’ll only suggest changes based on things they know will likely be problematic during the printing and installation process. Print suppliers aren’t out to ‘leave their mark’ on your design work, physically or metaphorically – they just want to ensure the designs are fit for purpose and can be produced without any issues.
As such, one of the best things you can do to build a great partnership with your print supplier is simply receptive. Don’t take umbrage if they suggest edits to your work, as it almost certainly isn’t anything personal – purely practical.
It’s also important to be open to the fact that your print supplier might well be able to point out the potential problems with your design, but this doesn’t mean they’ll know how to fix it. They’re the printer, you’re the designer, and even if it seems like they’re just pointing out issues without offering solutions, they’re still probably right – and at least they’ve saved you and your client a total redraft (or a chunk of the budget for a reprint).
Use the right tools
If there’s one thing that makes the life of a printer easier, it’s when the graphics for printing are created and delivered using the right software and file formats. To ascertain precisely what software will be best to use, and the types of files, colours etc., you may need to speak to your print supplier in person.
They’ll be able to let you know what types of files they’ll need to use, the DPI you’ll need to adhere to etc. More often than not, particularly for large format graphics, you’ll be using one or a combination of Photoshop or Illustrator.
While this can be a bit of a pain – particularly if it means working with tools you don’t usually use – it can save both you and your supplier an awful lot of time; making the effort to double check you’re creating and delivering things in the right way will also make a good impression!
As with any and all business partnerships or collaborative projects, trust is one of the key ingredients to success. And while that admittedly sounds pretty ‘wishy-washy’ (in fact it wouldn’t look out of place in a white font in front of a picture of a waterfall…), it’s undeniably true. If you want your working relationship with your print firm to progress smoothly, you both need to trust one another.
Print suppliers work with designers, marketers, and visual branding experts all of the time. They’ve usually worked on enough projects to know that those in charge of coming up with a design probably know what they’re doing.
In the same sense, there’s a reason that clients choose to work with specific print suppliers, and that’s because they’re experts in making sure a printed solution turns out exactly how the client wants it.
Bearing all of this in mind, it’s fair to say that there should be a baseline of trust between a print supplier and a designer. While a professional bond will naturally take time to form, having a level of faith in one another’s ability to deliver – both on the finished product and advice along the way – is crucial to getting things done quickly and to a high standard.
This post was contributed by James Hale at PressOn, one of the UK’s leading providers of large format printing. PressOn work with designers throughout every phase of a project, to ensure the highest standard of work – whether that’s an enormous building wrap or a simple set of retail banners