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Sabine Lenz

Making the Grade

By Sabine Lenz

About Sabine

Sabine Lenz is the founder of, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 


Does It Matter Who Buys the Paper?

Call me lazy, but I’ve never felt the urge to buy my own paper for print jobs.

I’m a designer. I envision concepts. I choose the paper. I design. I prepare files, and I even come to press checks willingly most of the time.

Yes, I might know more about paper than the average designer—heck, probably more then many print sales reps—but still, I have no desire to order my own paper.

No doubt times have changed. Many printers don’t hold stock inventories any more, but instead order the paper “just in time.” It sounds easy enough, and print buyers may be saying to themselves, “Why don’t I just order the paper and save a few dollars?”

Temptation and Consequences
As tempting as it sounds to order my own paper, there are too many potentially ugly consequences for me as a client—please correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s what I say to my workshop attendees and paper class students when this scenario comes up:
  • If the paper is not supplied on time, you hold up the press schedule—yours and everyone else’s. Does the printer have a charge for that?
  • If there’s a problem with the paper, are you willing to argue with the paper supplier. And who decides (has the most leverage) if the printer and paper supplier disagree about the source of the problem?
  • Will the printer charge you storage and handling fees that eat up what you think you’ll save?
  • To get optimal use out of the press slated to run your job, doesn’t the printer know best what roll/sheet sizes to order?
  • The printer has an ongoing relationship with its paper merchant, usually buying a few more sheets (make that tons of paper) a year than I would and thus getting a better price to begin with.

“As a printer who buys many tons of paper per week, I can tell you my contract prices are around half the list price that you would pay as a one-time or occasional purchaser,” explains a printer friend of mine.

And I know his situation is not unique. Even with the mark-up a printer adds, the paper price usually still doesn’t come close to what I would have to pay for my one-off job.

Maybe they can bring their own ink, too
“In general, we try to discourage clients from supplying their own paper,” agrees Ian Flynn, president of Direct Response Imaging, a digital printer in San Francisco. “Every time a client provides the stock, something is wrong. More often than not, they provide the wrong sheet size.”

And that adds extra work and hustle for the printer that still aims to get the job out in time. Seriously, providing your own stock is like taking your own fish to a restaurant...or bringing your own scalpel to the hospital.

But if after reading this post (which I’m sure most of you will print out and save for future scenarios), your client is still thinking about buying his or her own paper:
  • Provide a break out of printing and finishing costs from paper.
  • Provide your client with the paper requirements needed for the job. You may have to throw in a brief explanation of makeready waste here as well.
  • Quote the job both ways.

Your clients will be pleasantly surprised and forever convinced that you are on their side.

But, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe you’re a printer who LIKES his clients to provide the paper? Let me know by posting a Comme. I’ll gladly stand corrected.

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