The Quality Paradox: When High-End Printers Struggle with Standards

We know why average printers struggle with standards and consistency; but why do the highest-quality printers sometimes find the same issues so challenging?

It’s easy to understand why mediocre printers have difficulty hitting print standards. They frequently lack the required equipment, skilled personnel or established procedures needed to run consistently. The question becomes more complicated with high-end, quality printers. Why would a printer with a history of delivering outstanding work to discriminating clients have difficulty maintaining standard industry specifications?

Common roadblocks to consistent printing at the high end:

  1. Associating printing to standards with lower quality work. The very word “standard” seems to imply something, well, standard, which to many of us means lacking in distinction or run-of-the-mill. Printers who think this way naturally feel that superior printing means going beyond the standard, usually without actually thinking about what this means.
  2. Thinking that printing “custom” means that standards don’t apply to them. Some printers feel that they would be happy to print to standards, it’s just that so much of the work they do is custom.
  3. Having the wrong skill sets. Given how many press operators value their well developed skills at running the press differently for each job, it shouldn’t be surprising that they may have never fully developed the skills to run their presses in a truly consistent manner.
  4. Not having the proper tools. Many printers feel that if they have a measurement device on press then they have done all that needs to be done, even if that device is clearly inadequate to their needs.
  5. Lacking faith in the process. Despite worldwide success applying standards to high quality printing, many still believe that running to standards couldn’t possibly work for them.
  6. Lacking effective press-prepress communication. If prepress is out of the loop, they can’t contribute to the process…it’s like having a NASCAR team with no pit crew.
  7. Believing that press variables are inevitable and uncontrollable. Experience with on-press variation can cause many to believe that variation “just happens” and nothing can be done about it, stopping attempts at consistency before they even start.


Quality printers have a head start in achieving consistency in hitting standards; but refocus and reevaluation of what quality means.

  1. Drop the outdated notion that standards represent a lower level of printing. Understand that even a house standard (a “higher” standard) must be consistent and repeatable if it is to be useful. Custom tweaking for every job runs counter to the goal of quality. Besides, running consistently isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds-in fact, it is the new skill of pressmanship, and many veteran press operators find it the biggest technical challenge of all.
  2. Understand that even “custom” work can be quantified and measured. The most luxurious custom homes are built with the same system of blueprints and tape measures as low-priced tract houses. Printing needs to follow the same model.
  3. Recognize where new skills need to be developed. It can be hard for a journeyman press operator to recognize that he may have a weakness in a fundamental press skill, but this is often the case.  We tend to be best at doing things we do day after day, and weak in things that we do only rarely. Pressmen who are extremely skillful at making the press run differently for every job can be very surprised to learn that they never fully developed their skills at making the press run the same way time after time.
  4. Identify the missing pieces in your process control toolbox. No modern pressroom can afford the time to rely on only a hand-held device, and a scanning system that tracks only solid densities is not providing the information needed to truly print to standards. Spectral scanning with full reporting of solids, overprints, TVI, gray balance is absolutely necessary to efficient printing.
  5. You gotta believe. Nobody ever followed through on a project they didn’t believe in. Until you and all your team members fully subscribe to the concept that printing consistently to industry standards is the best path to pressroom success, it simply won’t happen.
  6. Get press-prepress communication happening. Measurement that begins and ends at the end of a press can’t create consistency because it leaves half the team in the dark and unable to contribute. Prepress needs to know at all times how press conditions are affecting color so they can take constructive action to improve the process.
  7. Take control over press variables. Death and taxes may be inevitable, but variation on press can be controlled. It begins with measurement and communication. The detective work leading to the discovery of the causes of variation leads to the reduction or control of press-related variation.

Standards and tight process controls are not incompatible with ultra-premium quality-they are prerequisites for it.

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