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Digital Printing vs. Screen Printing: A Quoting Quandary?

(September 2006) posted on Tue Oct 03, 2006

Estimating whether a job should be printed digitally or produced with screen printing involves more considerations than cost alone. Mandel explores other factors to keep in mind when recommending production methods and setting prices.

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By Rick Mandel

The decision to quote either digital or screen printing is a dark abyss salespeople must venture into when estimating projects for clients. Many look for the easy way out by telling customers they'll quote prices for both imaging methods and determine which one is cheaper. Cheaper? As in negative, in the red, losing revenue, and leaving money on the table? Cheaper? I shiver to think. Cheaper, in this context, should make every businessperson cringe. Is estimating just adding up labor, materials, outside services, and mark up? Where's the value?

Rethinking our approach

Take the statement, "Let me quote screen and digital and see which one comes out cheaper," out of the sales vernacular. Instead, let's focus on decision-making factors with real substance. Four parameters assist us in selecting the appropriate imaging method for the job at hand: required quality, commitment of equipment and staff, the actual estimate, and timing.

Required quality We have lots of factors to consider here. If screen printing won't support the resolution needed for halftones, look to digital. If the text in the graphics is too small to be printed digitally, head for the screen presses. Is a matched PMS color critical to the job? The work could either go screen or digital these days. Quality isn't so cut and dry when making the big decision. Screen and digital have their strengths and weaknesses, so we must be sure to review the graphics carefully with our equipment's capabilities in mind.

Commitments Do managers either inadvertently or purposely maintain a bias in order to keep expensive equipment running? If we can't sleep until we know our million-dollar presses are moving, then we're probably clouding our own decisions. Are our hourly rates twisted to push a particular imaging method? I've seen the rationalization of hourly rates used to justify high and low prices. The justification can range from a percent of billable hours or capacity or simply using the rate that the competition uses.

The actual estimate
The estimate has to be 1+1 with no wiggle room: labor rate + equipment rate + outside costs + administrative costs + mark up. The equipment rate is completely dependent on how long we allow for return on investment. And what is the return? Break even? Twenty percent? These decisions can double and triple the hourly rate for equipment.


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