Stop Stabbing Creatives in the Paper Back

It happens every day all over North America—all over the world for that matter, I am sure. But last week it happened to me—and you know how things change when they happen to us, when they hit home. Now it was personal. Very personal.

I was helping out a friend in need and designed her brochure in a matter of days—and over the weekend at that. Yep, I am a good friend.

I knew the printer she wanted to work with; I had worked with him before. There was no doubt in my mind that once I got the files to the prepress person in time, all would be well.

Well—and you saw this one coming—all was not well:

  1. I never heard back from the printer. At all. Nada. Did they get my files? Was anything missing? This was a last-minute rush job, so I at least expected an “everything is fine.” Nothing.
  2. When I finally called the printer I heard that my friend had already been in for a press check and all was well. (I love it when people who cannot tell CMY from K do press checks, but that is a rant for another day. But my sigh of relief was—shall we say—premature…
  3. When I finally got my hands on a finished piece, I was stunned. Nope, I was more than stunned.

The paper I had painstakingly spec’d had been tossed aside. Instead of the smooth uncoated sheet that would give my design the soft and inviting feel I had envisioned, I was staring at the shiny reflection of a coated stock.

I know it happens all over the world. Clients want to save a bit of money—or in their mind a lot of money—and do their own print buying. How hard can it be, they think…And as designers there is often nothing—NOTHING—we can do.

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. 

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  • Deep Green

    I understand your frustration. I believe that there is much more under the surface of both your frustration and the circumstances that led to your post.This is the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the cavalier changing of stock is the commoditizing of print and the loss of connection in our world and maybe more specifically in western culture.
    To the former, printers need to realize that if all papers are the same and if it doesn’t make a difference , they will continue to face downward and suicidal price wars. But to be fair ,often times an unknowing client doesn’t understand and looks at nothing but price so printers feel more and more compelled to conform to just survive. A fix here requires a paradigm shift for US manufacturers and the US consumer. Probably no one will hold their breath on that one.
    The next issue is the concept of "connectedness’ .
    In ways both subtle and blunt, we have become removed from things that are real. Paper is real and has many dimensions; feel, thickness, color brightness etc. Monitors, screens, phones and tablets and their ilk are pretty much the same. By taking away the tactile we eliminate one of our primary senses…so we become less human. We become disconnected in other areas in our lives such as losing the connection to our food and where it comes from. How many people would buy cheap chicken if they saw a video of the creatures that sustain us being kicked around and abused or would eat veal if they saw the crate in which the calf spends it’s entire life not being able to even turnaround.
    These things I just mentioned seem pretty far afield from a discussion of coated vs uncoated stock but it is all part of the fabric of connectedness that makes up our lives.
    It is being eroded in many, many ways and not just financially or psychologically but physically.
    The Shallows by Nicholas Carr is a good book on the the subject of
    how the internet (technology) affects physical changes to our brains due to technology .
    I believe progress is not always defined by advancements in technology but in awareness and knowledge.
    Richard Lallo
    Wickford, RI