How have you developed a relationship with a printer?

I’m trying to learn graphic design and a lot of people recommend “get to know your printer”. What does that mean? Are you using local companies? Do you physically go to the printer? Or is it an online relationship where you understand the printing companies workflow and requirements?

Any suggestions for learning more about print production?


Yes, whenever it’s possible.

Yes, that too, although that is of course a relationship of a different nature. As your question hints, understanding what any printer can and can’t do, what they’re good at and not, goes a long way toward successful results. That means you need a good, objective understanding of the services you’re buying, which then leads to your final question:

There are a lot of books to find on the subject, but establishing a relationship with a good local shop where you can go and see, smell, touch, and talk is a huge help. This could lay some decent groundwork:

1 Like

I would answer this question, but I would just be repeating what HotButton has already said.

I much prefer working with local printers. I rarely use online printers unless the client, for whatever reason, has one in mind.

1 Like

Having a good relationship with a great printer will greatly affect the success of your final projects as well as your stress levels (I can’t uh… stress this enough). A good printer will have your back and look out for you. They will call you when something doesn’t look right and potentially save you lots of money and embarrassment if they happen to catch an error.

Print production is part art, part science and having a good printer on your side will go a long way in ensuring your designs come out the way you envision them. A good printer will also understand your individual communication style, therefore saving you time later when you find you don’t have to over-explain something ten times over.

A good relationship like this can also help you become a better designer and deliver more creative projects because a very experienced printer is able to help you select the proper paper stocks, inks, finishes, and maybe suggest a new product you didn’t even know about. This is especially important for someone just starting out in Graphic Design.

To build this kind of relationship I would suggest asking lots of questions but also pay attention to the kind of questions your printer asks you. A good printer will want to make absolutely certain that they understand your project and your expectations. Try them out with smaller jobs and then eventually just send them everything, even if they are a little bit more expensive than generic options (ahem, vistasomething…). The peace of mind of knowing your project will turn out OK is worth the added expense in most cases.


Another thing worth mentioning is that most printers tend to specialize in something or other. They might have web presses designed to print hundreds of thousands of copies or they might be small digital shop on street corners. Some specialize in engraving and embossing. Some cater to clients needing quick turnaround and who are willing to accept gang printing. Others specializing in high-quality work with high LPIs. Some print supermarket tabloids and some specialize in multiple signature coffee table books and include bindery work. Others farm out things they can’t handle in-house.

I could go on, but there’s typically not a one-size-fits-all printer. I routinely work with three or four different printers that I know will do good work at a fair prices for the kind of things I’m needing.

1 Like

Printers do specialize. Especially in the industry I work in (wide format/specialty.)
The printers I work with all have their area of expertise or some do some things better than others, or some offer items I can’t get elsewhere. No one printer does it all, at least not in house.

Since I’m considered more of an in-house broker than an actual printer, I have a couple dozen vendors I’ve established relationships over the last 25 years, with only a handful (4) that I go to on a regular basis. It seems like everyone these days has a flatbed printer, but I want the guy that buys a flatbed printer then goes to Home Depot and buys a van full of stuff to see what happens when you print on it. Not all wide format print vendors actually have anything wider than a 3meter machine. But there are 16-footers (5m) out there so you have to develop those. Specialty things include digital HPL (only 4 companies in North America,) fired porcelain (not the dye sub trophy stuff,) digital image powder coating, extra large photographic process (72"x120") and once in a while using the machine over in Stockholm that can print 40’ x 160’ seamless (though I’ve never done anything quite that large, but it’s out there.) Then you can veer off into other things like structural metal sign work and custom metal lettering etc.

The whole process builds from a few small, non-color-critical, non-rush jobs and slowly progresses to more and more complex things. It’s a learning process both ways, but it’s up to you to learn their work flow process and make their lives as easy as possible.

I do use online printers very occasionally, but I don’t do a lot of conventional CMYK press stuff so the options are limited.

1 Like

Before doing freelance, I worked in-house. I got to sit in a lot of meetings with designers and printers, see their presentations, tour their shops. The place I worked for bought a lot of print, and contracted with a number of designers, so everyone was very generous with their time when I would call up and ask questions about projects.

Don’t start off as a freelancer who is trying to learn print. Get into an internship, work for a company for awhile, and use the projects you are working on as a reason to discuss the finer points of printing with their printers.


Local printer. Physically go there. Keep them in the loop with jobs.

I worked for a offset and digital printing company for over 10 years in their design and pre-press department. As a pre-press person, I was always appreciative of designers who discussed jobs coming up and asked good questions about setting up files. If you don’t know something, ask your pre-press person!

1 Like

Disconnect between the art room and production have caused countless jobs to be reprinted, clients to be lost, and employees to be dislocated.

The print shops that have survived the evolution of industry have not only adapted to new hardware and technology, but have found ways to unite their artists and press operators.

I started in pre-press almost 14 years ago. Became an artist, learned how to operate a press, mastered digital printing technology, and currently find myself now with a company who sells production print equipment. Luckily for them I can assist in making the sale, demo the machines in front of the prospect, install the machine itself, and train their staff in how to get the most out of their investment. I diagnose hardware issues, perform color analyst work, you name it…

It’s been quite the journey.