Selecting the right print supplier means asking some very important questions before putting your work in their hands, as mistakes and complications can be costly, damage your reputation and take a long time to resolve. Here are a few questions you should ask to see if they really are the printing company for you.

Are they local and is that important to you?

Having a local print supplier can bring additional benefits that you might not have previously thought of. It’s a lot easier to build a close face to face relationship if they are near you and it allows for more control over your print jobs. The turnaround and delivery time can be shorter, queries can be dealt with a lot easier and you can visit the printers to see where the work is carried out and discuss new developments in printing practices and finishes. Not to mention, you will be supporting the local business community!

Where do they think they sit within the printing market, do they compete on price or quality?

Ask them how they can demonstrate their position. If it’s price, how do they offer lower prices whilst maintaining print quality? Maybe it's a more efficient production process, economy of scale or buying power. Whatever it is, it's good to dig a little deeper and make sure there will be no hidden costs. If it’s quality, ask to see examples and budgets required to achieve that level of quality.

What makes them different?

This is a nice curveball to throw in to find out why they think they are different to other printers. Most will probably say the same things and focus on quality, service or price but you might also get some interesting responses which will give you a greater insight into their company and culture.

Can they offer more than just print?

It's a good idea to ask what other related services they could help you with, some print suppliers have an in-house team dedicated to helping you with design and artwork. Others can offer print management services which can take away the more stressful side of managing your printed items.

Do you have a print job that you can trial them on?

Sending a small ‘trial’ print project to prospective printers will allow you to try them out and see how they perform in terms of price and quality. It will also give you a feel for how the working partnership could develop without risking a larger, more important job.

Ask to see examples of where they provided an innovative solution to a clients brief

Meeting the brief is great but having a print supplier that is willing to go above and beyond can offer invaluable benefits to your company. They can suggest adjustments that you might not have even thought of or show innovative solutions that other print suppliers would have to find specialists for, such as foiling or embossing.

Can they send samples?

Being able to feel the quality of the board or sample the proposed finish will give you much greater confidence when placing an order with a print supplier. Ask if there are any samples they can send to demonstrate the quality of their work, this could also inspire you to use some techniques you were not previously aware of.

Do they have any certifications?  

Official certificates can help instil confidence when choosing between print companies as they demonstrate their quality standard, processes and experience. They also prove that company cares about current issues within their industry, ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification demonstrates that the print supplier complies with the standards that form the basis of global best practice and minimise the impact on the environment.  

What disaster recovery measures do they have in place?

If there was an incident such as a fire, flood or even just a power cut resulting in your project being affected and delayed, what plans do they have to make sure the disruption is minimised? Some things are difficult to recover from quickly but it will give you additional reassurance to know that they have a plan in place should the situation arise.

Ask to select a few of their clients for a reference

If a company is proud of the quality of their work and client relationships they will be more than happy for you to ask previous clients for a reference. This in turn will give you honest feedback about their experiences with the printer and help you decide which one to go for.

What quality control systems do they have in place?

A good printer will ensure you receive your product without any mistakes, first time. The way they can ensure this happens is to have a quality control system in place that employees are aware of and you can request to see. The quality control system should include pre-flight checks on digital print and providing proofs to the customer so they can get a feel for the final version and make any amendments before the final print run.

What is their on-time delivery record?

Print work often has a deadline that needs to be met, after all if you need a banner printed for an event in June, delivery in August will be unacceptable. It’s good practice to ask for a delivery record to see how many jobs they complete on time and if they were not completed on time, why?  And what was done to resolve this?

Do you have an environmental policy?

In today's eco climate, having a environmental policy is very important and more often than not customers want to know what they are receiving is recyclable or measures have been put in place to reduce the carbon footprint the document might leave behind. Ask the supplier if they have a written environmental policy you can see or employees are aware of.

How financially stable are they?

It's tough out there! Many printing companies are under a lot of strain and you don't want to place an order with a company to later find out they can't afford the supplies needed to produce the job. It's a difficult question, but ask to see their accounts; you want to know you can rely on your supplier. If there are no financial worries, they should be happy to share the information.

What level of account handling can I expect?

Try to understand their account management structure and whether you feel it is big enough to support the size of the print business. Mistakes can often happen when people are under pressure and delays could result due to not enough account management resource available to manage projects, proof work or just move jobs along. 

Do they have a colour management system?

Colour needs to be accurate throughout print work. Sending out a few pieces of marketing material, each with a slightly different colour version of your logo does not properly reflect the professional standards of your company. Unfortunately,  without the correct colour management system this is something that can easily occur. Ask the printer what they do to ensure colours are matched correctly and how often the system is checked and calibrated.

What data security systems do they use?

The data associated with your print job could be extremely sensitive, and whilst you may have processes in place within your own company to protect your data and ensure your employees adhere to your confidentiality policy, you need to make sure this practice is continued with the print supplier. Make sure they have appropriate policies and controls in place and servers which are secure with appropriate backup systems located off site.

Produce a vendor comparison checklist

Finally, a simple way to compare the print suppliers you have found is to list all of the things that are important to your project or ongoing requirements and apply a score to each point. Then, score each of your shortlisted print suppliers on each point. Not only will this give you a direct comparison, it will allow you to see a total score for each print company, weighted by the importance of each point. 

If you would like to discuss any of this with one of our print experts, we have offices in Bristol, Wiltshire, Somerset and Surrey. They would be more than happy to help as would any of our national sales team.