How can I tell if a printer supplier has efficient workflow? I should be looking for that, right?

Answered by Stephen Beals, Digital Pre-Press manager and industry writer

Lately, I’ve been hearing that I should be looking for print suppliers that have “efficient workflow” because this can greatly improve the working relationship and reduce the turnaround of my print projects. What are a few things I should be looking for when evaluating prospective or current print suppliers?


Workflow efficiency is certainly critical to getting print jobs produced, given today’s pressures on price and turnaround. Generally, printers who have kept themselves up-to-date in terms of software, hardware and Internet capabilities will have a better chance of giving you the greatest efficiency.

In terms of hardware alone, today’s top end computers are often more than ten times faster than units available as little as two to three years ago. That in itself is a huge difference. Besides the speed consideration, three-year-old workflows can run into considerable obstacles when encountering files produced with transparency or Open Type fonts, or delivered in PDF format. If your designers are using InDesign CS or Quark 6 and your printer is still using PageMaker or Quark 4, there is bound to be a collision down the road.

Check out a printer’s hardware when you tour their plant. A state of the art printer in the summer of 2004 is likely to have a dual 3ghz Xeon PostScript Level 3 RIP with a couple of gigs of RAM and what might seem like a ridiculous amount of storage capacity (well over 250gb). They’ll have an FTP site, offer digital proofing and CtP and will have long ago given up their resistance to Mac OSX. Mac G4s or fast Pentium workstations are basic necessities, with G5’s and dual Pentiums or equivalent more common. And they should already be thinking about their next upgrade.

Print suppliers are practically forced to keep upgrading their systems, but some resist. Some do not keep their operators up-to-date either, which may be an even bigger obstacle to efficiency. Make sure your provider is committed to educating their employees and customers; is investing in software and hardware upgrades, and has a solid Internet infrastructure. If they tell you they can’t accept a file over 2mb or give you a hotmail e-mail address, run in the opposite direction.

It helps if your contact person is well versed in the technology too, or is at least able to refer you to folks in the company who can talk coherently about the technology. That’s especially true if you do not have a technical background yourself.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at
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