Stop Your Printer: How Well Are You Matching Print Quality to Your Client's Application or Needs? - The Online Magazine for the Sign Trade.
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Stop Your Printer: How Well Are You Matching Print Quality to Your Client's Application or Needs?

If you don't match the print resolution and quality to the needs and expectations of your client, you may just be rushing yourself out of business. So stop and review how you're approaching this problem in the digital printing industry.

By Sean Scott

Is your printer running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Is all of your shops output the best quality that your printer can produce? If not, take a short trip with me on the quality control express.

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  • I've been involved with this industry since digital printers entered the market for use in the POP and photographic segments of the industry. Through the years, printers have come a long way with an increase in color gamut, more choices in solvent, eco-solvent, UV and water-based ink sets. There have been increases in speed and reduced dot size to further increase detail and color gamut.

    For a little bit of background about me, I have a lengthy history in the field of photography, so my eye for detail may be a little bit more refined than many. When I see presentations of banners, wraps, floor graphics or POP displays, I expect to not see ink dots with my naked eye. I shouldn't see rhythmic banding across an entire print. Both of those visuals are game-stoppers for me.

    It makes me ask a couple of questions: First, is the shop that produced this graphic so busy that they had to defer quality in order to get this print off the printer to get the next one started? They must be a 24/7 operation to need to do that, right?

    Second, was the desire to output the graphic to be visual? With the obvious visual imperfections, it appears that this was not even considered. Was the quality of the design so abysmal that this was the best quality that the shop could output given what they had to work with?

    These are just the first things that come to mind. I know you may have a printer that can print at 600 square feet per hour, but just because it can, doesn't mean that the quality at that speed is sufficient for the output that your client is paying for. Let's take a couple of thoughts to mind here: First, if it's a banner that is always going to be 25 feed from anybody's eyes, then you definitely don't need 1440 x1440 dpi. OK, we're all on the same train here. Same concept with a billboard 100 ft off the ground, you don't need the resolution for it to function perfectly.

    But on the other hand, if a graphic is going to be within arms length, well, we have a very different concept in our midst. I'm sure I'll get opinions from all angles on this, but what is the acceptable resolution for up-close-and-personal graphics, like POP, floor graphics, vehicle wraps and the like? Well let me establish a benchmark that will be solid to stand on. If you can see the dot gain from low resolution, or there is visible banding on the image, it is garbage for these applications, is non-sellable, and shouldn't be the type of work your shop is producing if you ever want to receive a referral.

    I picked up a very simple job that I was having printed for a friend yesterday, with pretty realistic expectations. A PSA vinyl that measures about 6 inches by 11 inches with a green background, solid mind you, with some white letters on it that said the company's name and phone number on it. Oh, and big curve here, I needed them contour-cut. Now most of you would say no brainer, simple job, as I did, especially after I mentioned that these were intended for up close work, and I didn't want any visible dot-gain or banding. Well guess what I received? You got it. Complete crap. Now granted it was for a recycling company, but I mean if I'd requested junk, I would have felt very content with what I received. Banding was extremely noticeable on a solid color output. But on the upside, the white was absolutely perfect.

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    Now why would a shop allow such junk to go out the door? Well I'm still too inspired to write this to have even gone back to ask them. I just paid and left and will never return again. Is this happening in your shop? Is someone checking to make sure that this isn't happening in your shop? Because if you're not, then it is quite possible that you are just pushing business away from your shop. Can you afford that these days, or any day for that matter? My guess would be "No."

    So let's look at this from one more row back. On each job, you are either printing at the highest quality and hence, you don't need to ask these questions, or not. If you're not, you need to determine explicitly what your client is doing with their graphics, regardless of how obvious it appears to you. You know how assumptions run, right? Ask them, "What is it going to hurt?" (Other than possibly your shops reputation if you don't ask.)

    Make a visual inspection of the finished work to make sure some flaw or mar didn't occur to the graphic before your client gets the graphic. Specifically ask you client if they are satisfied with the printed graphic and if they have any questions about it. Remember, clients are the ones that pay the bills. If you don't have clients paying the bills, you're on a countdown to how many more days you'll remain in business. No, a customer is not always right, but they are the one paying and you need to make sure that you are on the same page with them or they'll quickly find somewhere else to spend their money.

    So, while this should be common sense to most of you, it should serve as a reminder to pass on to your production staff to make sure this is going on all the time. If a machine is sitting idly by, then it means that the last job could have been printed at a higher quality and maybe should have. But I'll leave that up to you and your decision.

    If you're turning out poor quality work, you will pay for it eventually. Just keep that in mind.

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