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Translating the Conversation of Print


Today, Debbie McKeegan, resident digital printing expert, shares her most recent, exclusive piece with us. She explores common misconceptions around digital printing, the language breakdown between designers and printers, and how to best communicate with clients.

Where do you start in your journey for the perfect print? The perfect garment for your brand? Having designed, commissioned or purchased your pattern, what happens next? Your objectives must be clear. Printers say that designers don’t supply them with the right files, and designers say that printers aren’t clear about what they need in the first place!

I write this article as both as a designer and product creative but also as a print provider, manufacturing digitally printed fabrics for both Fashion and Home Interiors. We work with designers at every level of professional ability, and utilising our design knowledge, bridge the gap between design and print.

Understanding digital print

Why are there so many misconceptions surrounding digital print? Well, firstly, designers and printers are like chalk and cheese! One is a visionary, the other practical and functional. They speak a completely different language and, whilst the opportunities now offered via the evolution of Digital print have enabled the creative to work directly with the printer, there is a sharp learning curve that needs to be addressed on both sides.

It seems simple: order your product, send your artwork and then receive your print. Simple. Right? Then why does is seem to not go to plan? Let’s take a look at the expectations from both sides.

Print providers work to a specific method of manufacture which cannot be broken or interrupted without there being a cost to productivity. The order is placed, programmed and printed. Obviously there’s a solid workflow and corporate structure to support those complex tasks but the client isn’t interested in how you do it – they have placed their order and want to receive a perfect product.

The designer, on the other hand, has been given a creative brief to achieve for their client. The artwork may or may not be print-ready but the vision is there. It’s just not tactile. It never is until the moment it’s printed. Will the final print meet the designer’s expectations?

So how, as an industry, do we meet our client’s expectations?

Web to Print businesses are a great example of perfect process and are the future of our industry. The printer must explain their process and needs accurately online, giving the client all the relevant information before the sale is made, without which the client will not have the confidence to place the initial order. Get that wrong and there is no sale for the Printer. Enter, automation. Online uploaders go some way to smoothing this process, but the designer must understand the technicalities of “print ready”.

Online sales must be transparent and both parties enter into a contractual agreement. All terms are agreed by both parties at the point of sale. Deliver a perfect product that meets your client’s expectations and everybody is happy.

But as the digital print markets have grown so has product diversity. Selling complex products online may not yet be a viable option, but it soon will be. Designers buying direct from the print service provider is now accepted as standard practice across multiple industries, however large or small their purchase. It’s this critical interaction that must be fully automated to provide the level of customer service expected in today’s frenetic world.

How do we best communicate with our clients?

If the sale is not made online, then there’s every chance that the buyer found your company online? If they didn’t, then they will check you out online before contacting, you. Your online impression is the first impression and it’s critical. If the client cannot access all the information they need via a website you will lose out online.

Modern print is about service and marketing. The information the designer needs must be accessible and clearly defined online. Designers need practical advice to prepare their artwork in the correct format. Print service providers must engage with potential clients providing easy access to key information in order to ensure that all parties are aware of each other’s expectations. There are so many ways to help this process, but the first stage is to collaborate with the design industry and forge communication. Online tutorials, videos, workshops, and downloadable files – the list is endless but all offer essential help to the designer in order to ensure they can translate their artwork into the format that the print service provider needs. Speaking the same language is the only way to move forward.

What do designers need to know? 

Never assume; explain everything in detail. There are huge gaps in the knowledge base within the digital print community, on both sides. Largely because the technology is spread across such a diverse range of applications and product manufacturing sectors, and also because of the lack of commercial experience available for the next generation to access the skills they need. Even if the designer / buyer understands all the complexities of digital print, they may be new to the industry sector, and certainly new to your company, products and processes.

Another issue is that designers no longer work solely by industry sector. A textile print designer, for example, may create patterns for Fashion, Homeware, or even Stationary. Working as both textile designers and illustrators they can now move freely across many product sectors. Often where the buyer has placed the initial order, it’s the freelance creative that will provide the artwork and they will seek the printer’s advice. For this reason, print knowledge can often be fragmented and it’s important to offer clear, concise detail. Start with the basics and explain DPI, file size, profiles, colour gamut, shrinkage etc. Explain everything that you take for granted. Nobody will be insulted by factual, accurate information presented professionally at every level of design process, from beginner through to advanced.

As a designer I can also understand the frustrations of the creative within our digital print industry, and again the same rules apply. Never assume, anything. Printers are not mind readers. Do not assume any part of the process. Ask for any information not provided before you enter into a transaction.

What do printers need to know?

The printer must clearly request all the information needed for manufacture prior to the agreed sale. The info needed to complete the order must be communicated and harvested during the quotation process if the finished product is to meet with your client’s expectations. Most frustrations for printers are caused by lost time, due to incomplete order data and inefficient practice.

Online software is the perfect solution to managing enquiries from the first point of contact – from the initial quote, throughout the production workflow, onto processing, packaging, shipping and timely delivery. Adding automation and inline processing for works orders is the most efficient production option. Software for the automation products not only speed up the manufacturing process but also add clarity, and exist transparently within your business, bringing structure and real time information.

Importantly streamlining your company software to bridge, sales, marketing, stock, workflow, print, quality control and dispatch gives the business owner real time data on every order in the pipeline. Essential information that is critical to providing best business practice in a world that is driven by quality, value and customer service.

In my own business we offer multiple printed products. In basic terms we are a print provider offering digital commission print alongside bespoke sewn goods. It’s the complexity of our offering that brings us into contact with designers, creatives and professionals from many different industry backgrounds. We are also a design led company and have the commercial expertise and experience necessary to design, create and manufacture unique products. Our company is built upon bedrock of traditional textile knowledge, where the design studio is both creative and pre-press. We exist to serve our clients. As we embrace change we seek to automate as much of our process as is physically possible.

Processing communication throughout the supply chain from the moment of sale, through production, to the final delivery is the key to the success of every digital print order regardless of the product or volume.

As we move forward towards a world within Industry 4.0 and the application of automation, data exchange, the Internet of Things, alongside cloud computing, our industry is set for massive change. Smart factories and cyber-physical manufacturing will automate textile manufacture on an unprecedented scale. 

We are now at the pivotal point that will inspire change throughout all digital Industries. The next Industrial Revolution.

*All images used within this post are property of designer SkeenaS Fashion

Debbie McKeegan Award winning British designer, Debbie McKeegan, began her digital journey almost two decades ago – pre-Photoshop, and pre-digital print. With a manufacturing background, a vast knowledge of traditional textiles (from both a design and production perspective), and an interest in CAD from its onset, today Debbie serves as an expert in the world of digital print. Debbie has developed many new digital production practices, and speaks as an authority on digital design and print worldwide. She is the CEO of TextIntel - an expert advisory practice serving the Creative, Digital and Print Textile manufacturing industry. As a WhichPLM contributor, she is able to pass on her wisdom as a digital pioneer; embracing the creative freedom offered with the advancement of new technology, she looks forward to sharing her knowledge.