With lots of talk about crowd quality, GraphExpo 2002 Chicago came to a close. Like most shows, the last day was a swan song, predominately inhabited by high school students taking a turn at printed, refugee motorcycle prints. It never ceases to amaze me that in this bastion of American capitalism, motorcycles with logos other than Harley Davidson are allowed to be photographed, printed, talked about and sold in the Midwest!

So, with an average of 75% of all files submitted by customers requiring rework of 34 minutes (CAP Ventures) or so, it’s no wonder this year’s attendees were swarming over prepress vendor booths. Ayah, prepress. What a broad topic! What is prepress anyway? Isn’t it everything prior to putting ink on paper? Right, you are! One prepress vendor informed me that prepress was really a business previously occupied by six distinct (and now defunct) market segments.

Although I didn’t count them at the time, let’s enumerate those processes. There was page design/layout, typesetting, choking and trapping, imposition (and before this stripping), film output, plate making; and this was all before CTP. CTP forced the linearization of separate graphic arts events into a digital workflow that permitted efficiencies and cost economies which were totally absent prior to digitization and the breakdown of printing’s islands of technology.

In today’s high tech market, it’s paramount that printing establishments utilize as many labor saving tools (read software) as possible to maximize profits. As printers only, today’s service bureaus need to put their costs of doing business on a starvation diet. No longer can 34 minute corrections of customer files be economically tolerated. This is not a matter of nice, it’s a matter of survival. Printers need to provide customers with as many tools as possible to permit submission of 100% runable files. To permit or accept less is a formula for failure.

Remember, "Spare the rod, spoil the child"? Well, this same adage applies here. If your customers like the service your company is providing, they will also be willing to comply with a few short business rules that insure their work will be processed faithfully and to the highest professional standards. Your customer depends on your expertise to produce professional quality materials that he or she is proud of. In the absence of standards, poor quality often results. In order to be on the winning side of the results, make sure your customer is well aware of the quality that he must provide in order for you to guarantee the results expected.

There were many prepress vendors in attendance at this year’s GraphExpo and all offered work and time saving solutions. Others offered work tracking and accounting solutions. The message is clear. If you are to prosper as a print provider in today’s highly competitive, mature market, costs must be controlled and unnecessary expenditures eliminated.

If printers can’t charge for those 34 minutes, then they need to shift the burden of responsibility to the customer and receive clean files to start with. Only then will printers begin to control their costs as effectively as they control the ink fountains on their presses. If you don’t set the standards, then your customers will be in control of your future. This scenario is not necessarily advantageous for either party.