Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story…

When I was a novice print production manager, a few highly experienced print reps took me under their wings and  gave me offset printing crash courses. This on-the-job print education helped me make my agency and our clients look good—and kept my feet from landing in the poop more times than I can count.

Lately I’ve been producing portable trade show displays for my clients, and although I’ve produced them before, I’m finding that the many considerations and materials choices available today make producing these displays quite complex.

If you’re in the young pup stage of this kind of production management, you may find this trade show displays crash course useful.

Who ya gonna call?

It seems like every printer and their dog have a large-format ink-jet press or two in their shop, making it tricky to know which vendor to call. You’ll find that some specialize in one area such as outdoor displays, three-dimensional signs or vehicle wraps, while others offer a broad range of services and products.

So far, I’ve learned that display companies fall into two broad categories: print manufacturers and display dealers, but there are overlaps. The question of hardware suppliers makes the waters more murky still.

Print Manufacturers… Print manufacturers have their own printing facilities in one or more locations. They may or may not have assigned outside sales reps, but most have inside customer service reps so serve their “house accounts.”

Manufacturers stock some high-volume hardware and act as dealers for less popular hardware. (Dealers get preferred pricing from hardware manufacturers and distributors.) They may have installers on staff or contract out for installation services.

Dealers/Brokers… Dealers are like print brokers, in that they do not have their own manufacturing facilities, but contract with print manufacturers to do their printing. The printers they work with may offer the dealer to-the-trade pricing for their printing services.

A versatile dealer may be very familiar with a broad array of products in addition to their preferred group of hardware offerings. Although dealers don’t have on-site printing, some do have a technical staff that does finishing and/or installation.

Note that it’s nigh impossible to tell from a website whether a company is a dealer/broker or a manufacturer. You’ll need to ask, “Who does your printing?”

Hardware Suppliers… Much of the display hardware that’s available is manufactured in China and sold through distributors to dealers and manufacturers. Due to today’s low-inventory, just-in-time manufacturing, the distributors may advertise hardware they don’t stock in their warehouses and might never have seen! Hardware may be shipped directly to the dealer or printer from China, or may be shipped to the hardware supplier.

In my experience, some of these large-format printers and dealers have been extremely helpful and thoughtful, while others carried just a handful of products, so that’s all they offered, regardless of whether the recommended product was the best one for the particular installation environment.

I’ve also learned that bigger isn’t always better, even when you’re talking with a vendor is considered the top dog in the pack. If you or your project is seen as just a snack, you won’t get the service and depth of expertise that you expect.

The Challenge of Comparison Pricing

When it comes to getting competitive bids, comparing apples to apples is not easy. It’s different from offset printing, where you can specify, “4/4 offset on Neenah Classic Crest 80# cover, natural white” and every bidder will access the same stock through the usual paper merchants.

Especially when it comes to fabrics, each vendor’s collection is different, with each company offering a pre-selected group of different brands. Or, it might be the same exact stuff, just called by a different name! If you want a fabric that the vendor doesn’t usually offer, you’ll have to order—and pay for—a full roll, 50 yards or more.

Choose wisely

Whether you choose a display dealer or a display print manufacturer, look for someone who will take the time to review your considerations list, advise you on a range of options, and deliver solid professional expertise. Then reward them with referrals and your repeat business in thanks.