A note to students (and short runners)

Hi students! It’s coming up on that time of year when lots of you suddenly show up in the inbox looking to get comics printed for coursework and the like, so I thought it might be nice for you to have a dedicated post addressing some of the common issues you can probably expect to encounter. So I wrote one.

The issues

The issues affecting students are not radically different to those affecting first time comic printers and can briefly be summarised thus:

  • Cost and short runs
  • Time
  • Inexperience and expectations

Or, to put it another way, students often (not always, but often) want something cheap, unique, and last minute. Generally speaking if those three things are on the menu you can only really pick two of them…

Dealing with the issues

The first thing to say, and I hate to say it because I’d love to be all things to all people, is that a commercial printer like us might not be suitable for your project. We might, but the likelihood is that if you’re looking for one or two copies of something and you’re on a tight budget the setup and delivery costs of a printer most heavily geared towards larger-scale jobs are going to overwhelm you. At CPUK we will always provide a quote for whatever we’re asked to, but we’ll also recommend exploring the option of finding a local printer with a store you can visit. These places tend to be set up to handle shorter runs from passing trade, so they can often offer a cheaper option. They may not be able to match on quality or service, and they’re not a long term solution if you intend to expand your output in the future, but if price is the over-riding priority right now they should figure in your considerations.

If you’ve taken a look at that option and decided to go with us anyway that’s great. It’ll get treated exactly the same as any job – we don’t let standards slip. Since it’s being treated the same as any other job there are some things you’re going to need to bear in mind, though:

  • Leave enough time for production

    It might seem like a small job should be easy enough to turn out in an hour, meaning you can leave it to the last moment and get it back in time for your deadline. In terms of press time that’s true enough, but it assumes that your job is in perfect isolation, which it isn’t. All printers, including us, work to maximise press operating time: when you factor in the various costs of running the business any time that the press isn’t doing something you’re losing money, so you make sure it’s running as close to 24/7 as is physically possible. Days are heavily scheduled – broken down into 15 minute blocks – and it’s not possible to just fit a job into a dead timeslot because there shouldn’t be any! Your job is going to go into the schedule, and it’s going to get printed when its time slot comes up, not before. Messing with the schedule impacts other jobs, so we can’t do it unless there’s an extremely good reason – it wouldn’t be fair to our other customers. Be sure to leave the standard digital turnaround time plus a couple of days for any artwork fixups we might need to do if you’re new to this.

  • Bear in mind the physical limitations of the press you’re working on

    Short run work is done exclusively on the digital press. I love the digi – it’s really high quality, it’s quick and efficient, it’s easier to wrangle – if I could only do digi work for the rest of my life I would. It does have its limitations, though. You’re not going to get spot uv out of this, or hot foiling, or embossing, or an A3 book (the maximum sheet size is SRA3, so the maximum folded size is going to be A4 or a tiny bit over). The digi press is perfect for what it does – turning out high quality, well finished books – but it’s a workhorse rather than a show pony.

  • Work with us

    Working with students and other short runners (there are a lot of people who want to print comics for gifts and that sort of thing, which is a lovely idea!) is generally speaking a pleasure. Helping people express their creativity through comics is literally the entire reason we specialised – there’s no getting away from the fact that we’re running a business, but what we want is for customers to feel like we’re part of the team, not just a service provider. Putting it simply (and somewhat cornily): we care about your comics. Not as much as you do – that’s not possible – but almost!

    There are a couple of things that come up pretty frequently with this kind of work and cause problems. By far the most significant is missing deadlines. I remember well enough from my own student days that the turn-in time was more like a suggestion than an inflexible deadline (although my wife, a lecturer, would take issue with that…) That’s not the case here because of the schedules mentioned above. Putting it baldly: if you miss your deadline we’ll miss ours. Not because we’re annoyed and looking to teach you a lesson, not because we can’t empathise with being busy and under pressure, just because if you miss your slot we can’t hold everyone else up waiting for you. I can’t stress this enough – deadlines rule this industry: they can’t be talked around or argued down.

    Outside of missing deadlines the major issues are technical – missing bleeds, low resolution, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of info up on the site that should minimise these problems, but advice is only good if it’s taken on board… If something comes over without bleeds, say, we’ll do what we can to fix it, but bear in mind that this takes time and affects your deadline. If you follow the advice, work to templates, and send us something we can put straight on the press you’ll get your work back much quicker.

    The final thing that comes up, and I’m sorry to have to say it, is a boiling over of panic and frustration. This most often manifests as either harrying or (in very rare instances) abuse, neither of which are what you might call productive… We try to be as clear as possible about the parameters we’re operating under so that there are no surprises for you (hence this post) and barring acts of God we deliver on what we promise. Calling to have a shout, or sending a barrage of emails, doesn’t make me go faster – it just makes me feel bad and wish I hadn’t taken your job on and exposed everyone to the stress. Please don’t do it. In the same vein, do please bear in mind that we take evenings, weekends and bank holidays off, and that we have other customers to look after as well – an email sent on Friday night at 6pm isn’t going to be picked up until Monday morning at the earliest!

    I hope that all sounds reasonable. It feels like it’s reasonable, but what do I know? Like I say, most of the students and short runners we deal with are fab people and great to work with. It’s only the odd job that this post applies to. If you’re part of the vast majority of students and short runners we’d love to work with you and help you make a comic you’re proud of!

Posted in Comic Book Printing Tips, Comic Printing Blog

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