Is there a such thing as an acceptable printing rate?

Is there a such thing as an acceptable printing rate? I produced about 605 print jobs in 2004 and have had 19 issues to deal with after delivery. Therefore the acceptance rate was 96.9% based on 605 printing jobs. Many of these jobs are reprints with minimum changes. I have categorized the following issues into 6 categories:

1. Prepress (3) - wrong fonts, didn’t make changes

2. Press (2) - blank pages, backed-up wrong

3. Bindery (7) - pages out of order, missing pages, bad trim

4. Packaging (3) - padded in wrong qty’s

5. Cartons (3) - boxes not filled as marked

6. Freight damage (1) - box damaged(product damaged)

Is there any information or data out there about what constitutes acceptable printing rates? My company is trying to use a new system that is rating everything and they have not really been exposed to printing before and I’m afraid they are going to have me use up all the printers in the southeast before they realize what issues can come about with printing. Any information will be appreciated. Thanks


While I don’t know of any “rule of thumb” for evaluating an “acceptable” error rate for print production, we all know any errors in a delivered job are unacceptable. Most printers and print buyers strive diligently to catch all potential mistakes prior to delivery. And yet, mistakes will happen.

Your note seems to indicate that you believe this error rate really isn’t that bad, but the powers that be aren’t happy. To a degree, you may be right. Your error rate is probably pretty close to the industry norm. But, what is left unsaid is how these mistakes got all the way to delivery. It is definitely your role to find out how these errors occurred so they can be eliminated. Pointing fingers won’t help. Seeking to partner with your print providers to identify solutions will.

Three of the mistakes you cite are in pre-press. It might seem good that less than 1/2 of one percent of all the jobs you sent through the works contained pre-press errors in the final product. But, that doesn’t help when the client sees the error. I suggest you insist on seeing proofs of even the smallest change order. I always frown on that little check box that says “OK to print with changes.” Who is responsible if those changes aren’t made? The printer may accept responsibility and foot the bill for the reprint, but if your client is receiving product delivered with errors, it’s too little too late.

Ironically, reprints can be especially prone to bindery errors, your biggest area of concern. Everyone involved is certain that, “It must be right since we printed it before” and can get a bit lazy. I think you have a legitimate complaint with your printer, and particularly the bindery quality control. The press problem you cite should also have been caught in the bindery. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to the bindery floor supervisor and see what kind of solutions can be found. While errors will always be made in any production environment, there should be quality controls in place to keep any errors from leaving the shop floor.

A full percentage of your errors would seem to be the result of people not following simple instructions (padding in the wrong quantities and boxing the wrong amounts). You need to go over with your printers how this information is being communicated. Are the packing workers (usually part of the bindery operation) getting the right information and is it clear to them? One consideration that may be missed: should the instructions be multi-lingual? Is there anything you can do to improve how the information is presented and delivered? Is there a verification procedure? Does someone need to sign off on quality control procedures?

In this regard, implementation of JDF standards could be a help. It would help you to know that the information you send with the job actually gets to the point in the process where it is needed without any possibility of misinterpretation. But it is also true that most printers do not yet have JDF enabled environments in the bindery and shipping areas.

The idea of “rating” everything seems unlikely to help much. Such a system might say “97% is acceptable but 96.9% is not.” In truth, no errors are really acceptable, and you should set your own standard of zero tolerance for mistakes in delivered product. What is needed is to implement procedures and cross checks that may not eliminate errors, but will significantly increase the chance of catching them before delivery. Jumping from printer to printer may not be a good solution either, since good communication and a solid relationship are key to getting cooperation with problem solving. Remember that a good printer will want to eliminate those errors as much as you do and will be eager to cooperate with finding solutions.

It won’t eliminate the box that gets damaged in delivery, and you will probably never get 609 jobs out of 609 delivered error free, but there is nothing wrong with insisting on that goal as the only truly “acceptable” one.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at
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