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Get complete and accurate specifications

Feb 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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Job specifications come to customer service representatives (CSRs) from all directions. They can come directly from customers, either written or verbal. They can be turned over by salespeople. Many times, necessary specifications are missing.

CSRs are expected to put specs in apple-pie order and pass them on to job planners, who use the information to generate job jackets. In many cases, when specs are not provided, alert CSRs do notice and fill in the blanks with something like, “to come.” Then job planners do the same thing. Job tickets thus go out into printing plants sprinkled with a bunch of “to comes.” That practice does get jobs started quickly — after all, you don't need to know all about a job before you begin outputting film.

But if CSRs don't pursue the missing specs right from the start, what guarantee is there that instructions will be in place when needed? What if the job goes to press, but the work order still says, “Printed two colors, specific colors to come”? Clearly, there has to be a procedure that ensures job tickets are completely filled out, on time. CSRs must ask their questions right away. If answers cannot be obtained before the job jacket is written, CSRs need to keep track of what information is still outstanding. Then they must politely, but firmly, pester sales reps and customers for the missing specs.

Without skillful handling in getting job specifications, printers can produce jobs exactly to customer specs — only to have them end up totally worthless. CSRs need to find out more than just the obvious. More obscure facts need to be ascertained:


A publisher specifies a hardbound book, Smyth sewed. At the printer's end, nobody asks what the book is about, or how it will be used. The printer produces the job following customer specs exactly. But it's a cookbook, and every time somebody tries to use a recipe, the book slams shut. The binding style failed to match the end use. The printer should have recommended a lay-flat binding.


A client orders 20,000 copies. With nothing more said about quantity, printers will often follow an old-time trade custom that says it is acceptable to deliver over- or underruns not exceeding 10 percent.

In other words, when a customer orders 20,000 copies, it's okay to deliver 18,000. But suppose the customer publishes a magazine with 19,925 subscribers. Should 1,925 readers not get an issue? Or, going the other way, perhaps the printer produces 21,925 copies and bills accordingly. The customer, however, may have no use for the extra copies, and does not want to pay for them.


The buyer specifies black ink plus a Pantone color, and gives the particular number. The job is printed and delivered — but the final color does not match the customer's swatch. The customer is unhappy. Why can't the printer perform a simple color match?

The swatches in the first half of the Pantone Matching System books are on coated paper, and on uncoated paper in the second half. The same color ink does not look the same on the two different surfaces. If the color is selected based on how it looks on coated paper, and the job is printed on uncoated, then the customer will obviously be unhappy. In addition, the colors in the Pantone books fade with time. No two books are exactly alike. Just specifying a number is not enough. A swatch, picked by the color selector, must be given to the press operator, who then tries to make the printed color look like the swatch.


A flyer is printed in black ink on two sides. The trim size is 8.5 × 11 inches. According to instructions, the printer must then fold the flyer with two folds to fit a No. 10 envelope. But this can be done six different ways. It can be a roll, or barrel, fold, with the top or bottom of page one out, or the top or bottom of page two out. Then again, it could be an accordion, or Z, fold. That could be folded with either the top of page one or the top of page two out.

In addition to the written specification, customers should provide a folding dummy. Moreover, the dummy should be marked so that it is obvious if someone closed it the wrong way.

Getting complete and accurate specifications for estimating and production of a print job is a vital contribution CSRs can make to their companies. Every printing company should have a Request for Estimate or Order-Entry form to help pin down job specs.