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Author Topic: What are the common mistakes of printing?  (Read 7660 times)
Dan R. Stevenson
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« on: September 04, 2005, 11:14:42 AM »

Can anyone clue me into common mistakes made by game companies that are ready to send material to a printer? Could anyone also tell me what to look out for when dealing with mistakes made by the printer as well?

Thanks.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2005, 11:55:37 AM »

Hi there,

I'll start with some of the errors I've observed when someone is starting to talk with printers, then move to errors that concern the manuscript/printing process.

Mistakes when finding & negotiating with printers

1. Using email or their on-line automatic bid-estimates for your contact with the company. Do not do this. Do everything by phone, including the bid process, and only move to email when you think you're ready to use this printer.

2. Being sold on a process or format that you're not familiar with, but the printer wants you to use.

3. Falling for the "unit price is cheaper for higher print run" logic, which has led many people to order immensely high print runs, thinking they are saving money. The problem with this is that there's such a thing as viable market penetration, per unit time - anything that exceeds this is, at year's end, taxable inventory, and usually ends up as mulch. So all those extra "cheap" books you got were a complete loss. Learn how to calculate the real breakpoint of best-unit-price within your own perceived range of how many books you can actually sell.

4. Failing to examine bids properly. The lowest is not always the best bet, both within your own country and overseas. Customer service, promptness of replies, the rep's honesty in giving you bad news, and similar stuff is well worth taking a slightly higher bid. I like to say, semi-seriously, that the printer you should examine most closely is the second-lowest bidder.

5. Failing to get the lowdown from other publishers. You must, must get others' input, and also judge the quality of that input (some people live to complain, which must be edited by you).

6. Thinking that physical proximity to you is some kind of benefit. Shipping is viable business expense, not a deal-breaker.

7. Understanding who is really a printer and who is a bogus middleman who simply turns around and sends your stuff to a real printer, taking extra money for a nonexistent service.

8. Understanding what exactly they do in-house and what they out-source. It's OK for some of your printing process to be out-sourced, as long as they're up front about what it costs you and how long it takes.

Mistakes when starting or during the actual printing process

1. Bad PDF formatting. Failure to embed fonts, failure to compress images properly, failure to get the exact information about how to set up your file from the right person at the printer.

2. Bad PDF download/sending. Everyone thinks that everyone has a computer just like theirs, which can handle and download exactly what their computer does. This is not the case. Nor is your rep necessarily the same person who is coping with trying to retrieve your file.

3. Bad color management. The color something prints in is not, not ever the color that appears on your screen. You can Photoshop it to the precise shade of goldenrod you want, but what actually comes out on a real page is a totally different story. Test it with your printer first, and have them send you a sample. Do this early. The same goes for images in general. A high-res image, properly formatted and compressed, is what you need - not a low-res one to "save space" and which "looks great" on your screen.

4. Failing to account for the inevitable delays. Your printer will give you an estimated time. You need to add three weeks to that, because printers run into logistical hassles all the time. The guy whose book they're printing right before theirs might exhibit all the problems listed above. Or some all-thumbs temp might have just crashed their whole network. Whatever. It might have nothing to do with you, you see - but you have to spot them the possibility that they hit a wall before or during your job.

5. Believing bullshit. There is no such thing as "away from our desks" any more. If you can't get in touch by phone or email, then they are avoiding you. They are avoiding you because they can't give you good news. By giving attention to #1-4 above, the chance this will happen drops sharply.

6. Related to #5, being held hostage - such that you have to hang in there, chewing your nails, until they get the job done, even if it's a month and a half past the due date and you keep dealing with a poisonous combination of #4 and #5.  Screw that. Keep a backup printer in mind, your second choice, and be ready to farm them the files if (a) this printer is overdue and (b) you are getting the runaround.

Remember: if they are delayed, but have been honest with you about it, and when you get the books, they look good, then don't play hardball - this means they had problems but stuck with you. You'll find that if you're nice about this, then many minor fees or small hassles will be resolved in your favor. I get some pretty good bennies from the traditional printer I use for the Sorcerer books, Patterson Printing, because they know I understand some of their logjams.

But: if they avoid you, play weird games when you do speak with them, repeat the same promises they've broken twice already, or anything similar, then it's hardball time. Printing is not an exclusive contract; nothing stops you from calling them and cancelling, especially if you're beginning to suspect that they haven't even begun your job.

Hope that's helpful.

Best,
Ron
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smokewolf
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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2005, 02:48:37 PM »

My mistake was thinking I was ready when I wasn't. My first print run was so full of typos it was embarassing. I thought it would be a good idea to save money and edit it myself. But I was wrong. I left whole sections incomplete, right in the middle of a sentence. I sold 10 or so out of that run before anyone even brought it to my attention. After that the rest became freebie material.
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Keith Taylor
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Jack Aidley
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« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2005, 01:01:46 AM »

Quote
1. Using email or their on-line automatic bid-estimates for your contact with the company. Do not do this. Do everything by phone, including the bid process, and only move to email when you think you're ready to use this printer.

Why's that, Ron?
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- Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter
TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2005, 04:51:28 AM »

Just from my experience, good printers want you on the phone.  Why's that?  Because good printers embrace the idea that printing a book is a highly variable process, and that they're going to have to ask you a lot of questions, and have you make a lot of decisions you never thought about before ("How much margin on interior pages?  Can you give us a half-inch of bleed on the cover art?  What paper stock do you want?  Glossy or matte cover?  Will your pencil-sketch art need to be corrected to avoid moire patterning?")

By comparison, a company that can say (particularly on their web-site) "100 page book?  $4" can do that because they're making all those decisions for you... and usually in the way that is cheapest for them.
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jdagna
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« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2005, 06:02:10 AM »

Quote
1. Using email or their on-line automatic bid-estimates for your contact with the company. Do not do this. Do everything by phone, including the bid process, and only move to email when you think you're ready to use this printer.

Why's that, Ron?

Not to put words in Ron's mouth, but I know of two reasons for this. 

First, printers' prices are often highly variable.  Maybe they bought a boatload of paper cheaply last month, or you'll use up a stock of paper they really want to get rid of, or something like that.  These day to day changes won't get reflected on an online quote generator.  You might also get a slightly lower quote if you're planning to print during a slow season for their shop (since they lose money on idle machines).

Second, you've got to be sure you know exactly what you're getting quoted and e-mail and web forms are often fairly vague or jargonized when it comes to that.  The form can't help you pick the right stuff like a trained sales rep can either, because you can't explain to the form what it is you want to do.

For example, I actually have used a printer with an online quote generator (I'll get into why in a second).  On my second order, they were nice enough to call me up to let me know about a new option that hadn't gotten onto the web yet.  This option reduced a $2100 run to $1500 without any change in quality - it was just better-suited to runs of that size.  A less-reputable company might have pocketed the money and used the cheaper option anyway.


Now, I personally do like printers that will give you an automatic online rate generator, despite the disadvantages.  For one thing, it can often be time consuming to actually get quotes from printers who use phones.  While this gives you a preview of their customer service, it makes it impossible to get a wide variety of quotes quickly, which can make budgeting a real nightmare.  Additionally, you can compare the exact differences in price that the printer makes available, without having to get multiple quotes.  (Example: a sales rep over the phone told me that 50# paper was all I wanted and assured me it was cheaper.  I've since decided that 60# would be marginally better... and would only cost about $.01 more per copy.  No phone rep has ever been able to make those kinds of comparisons for me, and I've talked to dozens of printers.)  In my experience, even if you wind up paying more, it's worth it to have a printer who will give you automated estimates on the web without dicking around with individual quotes.

So, my advice is to find a company that lists their prices online, and use that as a guideline when comparing quotes and budgeting out projects.  However, before you submit a project or commit to anyone, make sure to talk to someone on the phone and make sure they have a chance to make recommendations for the project.  That way, you can usually get the best of both worlds.
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Justin Dagna
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2005, 06:53:32 AM »

Hello,

Tony and Justin are both speaking great wisdom.

Best,
Ron
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xenopulse
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« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2005, 07:37:14 AM »

I don't have many experiences with printers, but as someone who works in a law office, let me suggest that after you discuss everything on the phone, have them send you an email confirmation that lists all the details you agreed on. Paper trails are really important in business deals.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 07, 2005, 07:45:59 AM »

Hello,

I thought of something else that should go on my second list. In fact, I "thought" of it upon browsing through a game book.

Do not assume the printer's job is to put in all the "official" pages, like the indicia page with all the copyright stuff, or the index, or even the blank pages to start and finish the whole thing. They will print exactly what you give them and , no more, and no less. I know a lot of folks who were blindsided by this, because they had some funny idea that these pages originated at the printer.

Best,
Ron
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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #9 on: September 07, 2005, 01:12:15 PM »

All really sound and wise advice. Very comprehensive.

I've dealt with local printers and printers that are on the other side of the world. Good communication is key, and follow up on phone calls with the details in writing. A pagination sheet telling the printer the order of the book, and any special instructions is also real handy.

The things I've commonly seen missed because it wasn't made explicitly clear are colour images being printed grey-scale because it wasn't made clear. And the reverse where the printer (justifiably) wants paid for printing colour when you wanted grey-scale even though the file was in colour. Ouch.
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Josh Roby
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Category Three Forgite


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« Reply #10 on: September 07, 2005, 01:36:34 PM »

When submitting stuff to a printer that isn't you, try and send a fabricated copy as best as you can make it.  If that means taping xeroxes of your selected art onto 8.5x11 pages that are stapled together, so be it.  Said fabricated copy should include EVERY page in the book block, including as Ron pointed out the imprint page (where the copyright information goes) and blank pages as well as endsheets*.  Include also a complete list of all artwork that appears in the book, listed by page number, and marked with color or black-and-white for the original and the end product.  If you are sending more than one electronic file, make another, separate listing for all those pieces and where they go.  Mark placement of art pieces and electronic files in your fabricated copy.

Yes, lots of work.  Also totally worth it, since it will prevent a whole slew of problems when you receive confirmation pages.

*Endsheets are the often heavier paper 'first and last page' of a bound hardcover book.  There are in fact EIGHT pages of endsheets -- page one and page eight get their faces glued to the cardboard of the cover.  Page two and seven are the 'inside cover' pages.  Pages 3-4 and 5-6 are what you probably think of when you think of the 'first and last page' made of heavier paper.  These pages are valuable real estate and can be used to print things -- lots of traditional games put world maps on endsheets 2-3 and 6-7, but Forge games could print quick-reference rules and character generation, things like that.
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btrc
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« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2005, 12:33:28 PM »

There are a few other tidbits I can give from when I was doing significant conventional print runs:

1) It will cost 10% more than you think it will. Even when you take this into account.
2) Lord alone knows what Samsonite gorillas will handle your cases of books between when it leaves the printer's loading dock and arrives at yours (or your garage, or whatever). Expect to lose a few percent of your books due to various mishaps.

I fully agree with whoever said that you should send as close to a finished mockup as you can. And if the printer send you bluelines or the equivalent, read them carefully. I had one job with a duotone cover come back with a beautiful blueline, but did not see the printer's notes about the colors of ink they were using (and bluelines are a monochrome mockup). So, I got back 2,000 books with the wrong colors used on the cover. Read the fine print.

Greg Porter
BTRC
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2005, 01:15:16 AM »

Time! It will take much longer than you think. Every person you send stuff to is doing stuff as hard as the stuff you're doing, only you don't know how it works. That's true for your graphic designer, illustrator, printer, editor, everyone. When they give you a deadline, if you can't meet their deadline, move the final deadline. If you can't stand to move the final deadline, you're months later than you should be.

Assume an extra two months for every other nonprofessional involved to account for micommunication, computer SNAFU, late typo correction, alien invasion, and all sorts of stuff you didn't even know could happen (do you know the difference between RGB and CMYK? Do you know what bleed and slug are? H&Js? You will soon!). If you're doing all the stuff yourself in a realm that is not your profession, add a month for every job you figure you can do yourself that warrants a job title.

If it's just you, sending stuff to your printer, you can probably rely on their time estimates +10% because they're professionals. If you use a professional graphic designer, editor, whatever, do the same.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

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GutboyBarrelhouse
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« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2005, 03:16:25 PM »

This is a great topic. I owned a print shop for 10 years, and the advice in this thread is spot-on.
One thing I would look for in choosing a printer is their attitude toward educating their customers. Printers know that most of their clients don't have comprehensive knowledge of the industry; the ones who go out of their way to communicate the processes and pitfalls, who sincerely go the extra mile for you, are the ones to deal with.
Book production is not a tight specialty anymore. Many midsize shops can produce perfect-bound softbacks at attractive prices.

Regards,
Mark B./GBBH
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