How To Keep Offset Printing Suppliers Honest

Offset printing suppliers are not dishonest... most of the time.  But let's face it, they have to make a buck just like anyone else.  With the rising price of energy, they are trying to come up with ways to use cheaper materials and less labor, just like anyone else.  The problem is that sometimes runnability is sacrificed with the offset printing process when suppliers make changes.

Case In Point
We recently had a problem arise with excessive piling on our blankets.  Massive amounts of time went into troubleshooting the problem and it was difficult to control waste.  Our ink supplier came in.  He said it was our fountain solution.  Our fountain solution supplier thought it was the blankets.  The blanket supplier thought it was the plates.  So the blame game began and round and round we went.  The truth is that something changed, but what?

If you have had difficulty troubleshooting ink, fountain solution, or even something like web breaks, here are three things you can do to keep offset printing suppliers honest and forthright with raw material changes or quality issues arising from their origin.

1.  Have more than one supplier.  Let's take an example.  You suspect your fountain solution is giving you problems with ink and water balance.  Remove the fountain solution and put the competitors solution in.  If the problem goes away, voila!  If it doesn't, that's OK.  It proves that the problem is elsewhere.

Perhaps you don't like having two suppliers, and that is understandable.  What I do is save a sample of good running ink, fountain solution, blankets and any other consumable that I use.  I keep them on hand until close to their expiry date and then use them, replacing them with fresh materials.  This way you always have on hand materials that you know worked well.  As new batches of paper or ink arrive, you always have a standard that you can test with.  Keeping good inventory control will make this approach effective.

This method is most effective because you cannot argue with a product that runs well.  If you put in a competitor product and it runs well, the pressure is unquestionably on your current supplier to make their product work the same.  End of story.

Inks can be tested by a 3rd party.
2.  Get products tested.  I have never done this, but I once called GATF and asked them if they would do an analysis of my ink.  They agreed and for four colors it was around $500.  If you feel this is required, there are companies out there that will break a product down to its elements and tell you exactly what you are getting.  I don't recommend doing this unless you really suspect that your supplier is lying to you or giving you a second rate product.

3.  Communicate.  Offset printing suppliers are generally honest.  Just ask them if anything has changed or if they have had any quality issues at other offset printers.  They should provide a 'certificate of analysis' or something similar stating all of the quality checks that were performed on the product.  Ask about the tests done, especially if you don't understand what they are.  A good supplier is honest and in my experience they are usually quite forthright.  Honesty fosters trust.  I understand that any supplier will have quality issues from time to time.  But if they hide it and lie about it, they better be ready to lose a customer when I find out.

The three methods above are designed to help eliminate the blame game that so often occurs among offset printing suppliers.  In future entries, I will include more about how to troubleshoot specific offset printing supplies, particularly inks, blankets and fountain solution.

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