American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Avoiding paper-specifying pitfalls

Jun 29, 2001 12:00 AM

         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

Build solid relationships with your distributors, and educate employees and customers

How can you avoid common paper-specifying mistakes? Here are some handy tips from printers, paper distributors and other industry experts.

CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS | “Relationships with distributors are No. 1,” says Gary Dickson, president of Dickson's, Inc., an Atlanta-based specialty printer. “Build relationships. People respond to people they know and like.”

“You have to be willing to ask for help. If you do that and they aren't willing to help you, find another vendor,” says Suzie Scholin, president of Scholin Brothers Printing Co. (St. Louis). “You don't have time or money to waste giving business to someone that won't take the time to help you.”

Tom Hansen, vice president of marketing and publication papers at Bradner Smith & Co. (Elk Grove Village, IL), a national paper distributor, advises printers to form relationships with multiple people in the paper merchant's organization. “The first point of contact at the merchant is the sales representative. Develop a close relationship with the inside customer service/mill buyer at the merchant. This individual sees to it that orders are placed accurately and on time.”

PARTNER WITH YOUR CUSTOMER | Partnering lets you learn more about the job; you are no longer just a printing vendor, but a knowledgeable expert. If a certain stock isn't available, suggest an alternative that works better — at a better price, too. “Ask the customer what they are looking for and match the sheet to their desired look,” says Scholin. “The sales rep has to know what they are doing when they specify a paper. A lot of times the client will expect us to help them.”

EDUCATE YOUR CUSTOMER | Customers may be looking for advice, but you will want and need their input, too, so it pays to educate them. “We have a very aggressive client education program,” reports Scholin. “Paper is the most requested seminar topic. Customers will try to save money by using lower grades of paper. It's our job to tell them that a full coverage of four-color process will not work on a two-sided, 16-page form on a 60-lb. gloss No. 2 or No. 3 sheet. We'll have a terrible time getting it through the press without curling, and we'll spend more time than money saved on that grade of paper.”

EDUCATE YOUR EMPLOYEES | When it comes to education, don't overlook your employees. Do whatever is practical to keep your estimators, sales representatives and customer service representatives (CSRs) abreast of all new papers and changes within the industry so they can help and advise customers as needed. “We regularly invite distributor and mill representatives to our plant for presentations of what's new, what's coming and what will be stocked,” says Dickson.

How do printers get the paper education they need? “Education is available to all printers if they ask their merchant,” says industry consultant C. Clint Bolte, C. Clint Bolte & Associates (Chambersburg, PA). “Videos, samples and personal lectures are all available for the interested print sales person, estimator and CSR.”

PLAY THE NAME GAME | Part of the education process is keeping the names and grades of paper straight since they vary widely from mill to mill. How can a busy printer make sense of it all? Familiarize yourself with the various papers and do some old-fashioned price comparison. “It goes a long way to learning the differences between stocks and how they compare to one another pricewise,” says Dickson. If you have a relationship with a distributor or spec rep, use it. “Sometimes they have access to information a printer can't have.”

To ease the confusion of remembering and referencing all the names and grades of paper, use a grade locator, suggests Kris Bovay, manager, specification sales, North America, Domtar Communication Papers (Vancouver, BC). There are grade locators available in the industry that sort similar products together, such as No. 3 rolls or coated No. 2 sheets, etc.

Bovay urges printers to keep an updated grade locator available, since mills are developing new products and rationalizing slow movers on a regular basis.

Hansen recommends “Competitive Grade Finder,” published by Grade Finders, Inc. (Exton, PA), and available both as a hard copy and online at The online version enables users to key in a paper name and determine its grade, or enter the reverse information and determine what similar grades are available. Bradner Smith publishes a list of coated sheet and coated web papers, organizing them in a matrix with all the pertinent information. You can also find an online grade locator at

KNOW YOUR LEAD TIMES | If you have a custom order and don't provide sufficient lead time, you will be in trouble. You can avoid this by checking with your paper merchant or with the mill if a custom size is required. “Also, if an item is not stocked at the merchant, full carton quantities need to be purchased,” adds Hansen. “In both cases, reviewing the merchant's price book will identify the stocking sizes and quantities both by the merchant and at the mill.”

PLAN AHEAD | Among the biggest problems cited in the ordering process is finding the best price, especially when time is short. “The biggest problem is cost. We enjoy rebates from some companies or discount case pricing, but in the heat of ordering paper when you really need it, sometimes those quarterly rebates are forgotten and the tendency is to get it wherever you can,” says Scholin. To avoid this pitfall, plan ahead. Put the project on paper, take a deep breath and once again, call the merchant for help.

GET IT IN WRITING | To avoid miscommunication, have every order communicated via a written document specifying manufacture, grade, size, color and type of paper, suggests Lloyd P. DeJidas Jr., director, graphic services and facilities group, GATF (Sewickley, PA). From DeJidas' perspective, the most common specifying error printers commit is ordering an improper sheet size and grain direction — a problem, he says, that can be solved with better planning.

“Forgetting some of the details can be deadly,” agrees Hansen. “For example, the web diameter is critical and should not be assumed. Use of e-mail and faxes help detail all the specifics, and should be used as often as possible to provide a hard copy and an audit trail.”

KEEP SWATCHBOOKS CURRENT | Weed through your swatchbooks every one to two years. Throw out those that are more than a few years old and ask your merchant or its sample department to add your name to its mailing list for new swatchbooks and paper promotions. Bradner Smith lists the current dates of the swatchbooks in the sample department section of its website. “That way a printer can see if the swatchbook they are using has been replaced and updated,” says Hansen.

“If in doubt and a special shade or color is important, ask the merchant to provide a ‘dummy’ sample of the piece printed with the latest available paper stock,” says Bovay.


Dickson echoes Bovay's advice: “Supply customers with stock for dummies early in the process. Many times this tactical handling of the piece eliminates a boatload of contenders.” But he argues that swatchbooks don't change enough for his taste. “If you look at the fashion industry, fabrics — the substrates of the fashion industry — change from season to season. Can you imagine a fabric manufacturer presenting the same fabric to Donna Karan or Giorgio Armani over and over again?”

International Paper Co. (Memphis, TN) works hard to keep its swatchbooks current with the times. “Unfortunately, as we try to stay on top of trends, we are forced to update and change swatchbooks and product offerings,” says Jason Chodorowski, associate brand manager of commercial printing & imaging papers, International Paper. “Luckily, with the emergence of the Web, you can order the newest swatches with the click of a mouse.”

CHECK STOCK AVAILABILITY | “Merchant and mill reps show designers every swatchbook of every paper ever created without explaining that the paper may not be immediately available,” says Harold Amos, president, Amos Communications, Inc., a full-service commercial printer in Beloit, OH. While designers may need more education, in lieu of this, printers should check stock availability early.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES | In addition to a competitive grade finders section and mill, converter and supplier information, Grade Finders' “Paper Buyers' Encyclopedia” reference section explains “M” weights, basis weights, finish and grain. The book also provides pricing tips, standard sizes of paper, caliper bulking charts and an envelope buyers' guide. See

Finally, don't forget the source — the paper mill. “Most mill representatives would be more than happy to explain their product offering to a printer,” says Chodorowski. “In educating printers on paper and paper-related issues, a mill representative will actually gain as much information, if not more, than he or she gives out.”