By John Giles December 8, 2003 -- My recent column about printers being condescending to their customers ("And Your Kids are Ugly, Too!") about their choice of page layout software struck a chord with several readers. They are print buyers who must try to find printers in their area who support the software their particular situation requires them to use. And it is sometimes an uphill battle. Just because a customer uses Microsoft Publisher or CorelDraw isn't an excuse for a printer to belittle him. One reader wrote, "Unfortunately, our marketing budget is too small for us to justify purchasing those industry standard design tools, but we do outsource over $50 K of product literature print jobs per year to small, local printers. That doesn't include many small direct mail piece runs we do as well. "Because we use PC's with Corel Draw11 for our artwork layout, we've found very few printers who will work with us. We also have MS Publisher installed but do not use it for the fact that none of the printers we know about locally will accept Publisher files. I wonder how many other small companies are in the same predicament." To answer the reader, I believe many small companies buying printing are in the same predicament. The print buyers are stuck in a situation they can't control and they are searching for a printer to help them. For print buyers, there is a source of information for those printers who support Microsoft Publisher. Print buyers can visit www.microsoft.com/publisher and find a printer in their area who will support Publisher. This may help Publisher users, but what about others? This common situation is a marketing opportunity for printers. Customers want to give printers digital files that will print properly. They don't want their order delayed or charges incurred because of problems they created themselves. They want to know what they are doing wrong and how they can fix it. Printers can become proactive in this situation. They need to educate their customers as to how files should be created and submitted. They did to provide solutions for accepting those "non-standard" applications. Basically they need to spend more time educating customers. In many cases, non-standard software can be handled with a PDF workflow. Something as simple as getting a Postscript file from a customer that can be distilled into a PDF file can remove many problems. Several services are now available that automate the PDF process. Customers just have to know this solution is available. Fonts, graphics, color and layout still can create problems in workflow. Printers should be talking to their customers about common problems and their solutions. One printer I know who requires his sales staff to provide the audience for one prepress/design training class a month. The sales person invites several customers who have similar issues (i.e. Publisher users) to meet with the prepress staff for 45 to 90 minutes. The setting is casual with refreshments to help make the customers comfortable. The prepress staff discusses the proper way to prepare files and issues that the customer should avoid. What results is a more educated customer who will provide a better file. The customer gets education and the printer gets better files. It is a win/win for both. Customers shouldn't have to search high and low for a printer and printers shouldn't have to receive bad files. A proactive printer who becomes the digital expert in his market can also become the most successful.