Insight from a former graphic designer – The Printing Industry

In the beginning, I was proud of my success as a graphic designer; after all, as a young girl, I have always wanted to be a commercial artist. In my career, which spanned over two decades, I worked long hours and won numerous awards for my designs. To some degree I miss my old occupation, but only as it once was- not as it is today. If you are currently employed in the printing industry, here are the top reasons why you need to change careers [as I did] as soon as possible:

#1: Everyone now owns a personal computer- thus obsoleting the need for a designer

The technological boom of personal computers meant that everyone now had the capability to design their own stationary, websites, and other assorted collateral to promote their business. It was at this time that the print industry changed forever. The owner of that small business no longer cared if his design was not of the best quality, if the images were pixelated, or if his stationary was “blurry”. Unfortunately the arrival of the personal computer also marked that the end of higher end quality work, now the industry had to change to deal with redesigning poorly made work and transform it into higher end work. The redesign process of the quick print industry made it difficult for the printer to charge, after all- the customer designed the piece, telling him that he will be charged to “redesign” his poorly executed design would insult the customer. Therefore the design charge disappears from the final invoice.

#2: You are earning less now than ever before and working harder

If you have been in the print industry as long as I have, then you are aware that the support staff has dwindled down significantly. Your printing company no longer needs the four color stripper, the imposition layout artist, the typesetter, the scheduler, or the match print proofer. These positions have all dwindled all down to one person, you. To add insult to injury, that handsome salary that you were making then is now dwindled to as low as $12-$15 hourly, talk about working harder and not working smarter. Nowadays, to maximize profitability, your commercial printer will request you to multitask in order to save them the cost of additional employees. At one major company I was required to take the customer’s orders, design them, answer service calls on equipment, set up imposition, and invoice the customer and all for a whopping $13 an hour! In essence I was doing the work of four different employees and expected to not make mistakes, that job became my last straw. Again, the industry is seeking super employees to perform all major functions to maintain profitability which inevitably causes burnout.

#3: The competition is driving both your earnings and your company’s profits down

The old adage is that “the customer is always right”, which by all means that you are always wrong. Company “A” gives price breaks for printing with them [approximately 30% cheaper than your company] causing that greedy salesperson to shoot for 40% below expected cost. Above that, you have to struggle against the fact that a designer straight out of graphic design school is willing to work for minimum wage to work for your employer. Granted, these student/graduate will not as much quality work as you do, but they will do it cheaper. Your boss sees dollar signs in front of his eyes and you are out- just like that.

#4: Your Company is willing to sacrifice quality work for the gross profit margin

The most tragic fact of most commercial printing companies is that they are no longer concerned at being the best in quality, now it is all about getting product out as cost effectively, and as efficiently as possible. Once the quality of product is no longer valued, then this marks the beginning of the end. In addition to that, salespeople are often all too overzealous to make the sale to be concerned with those petty details of how it all comes together. I have been there too many times where the sales person, who has limited knowledge of the printing industry, is dictating both the timeliness and cost of the product. Printing is a unique manufacturing environment in that we are dealing with the production of an “invisible” product that must be designed, imposed, and manufactured: all at a moment’s notice. Most times, sales is willing to sacrifice the cost of overtime and necessary man hours to build a relationship with the client, only to find that the customer will only run this print job once. At best, all of this greed and ignorance is complete madness and affects everyone in the company.

#5: The Print Industry is dying

Another unfortunate fact of the print industry is that it is going extinct, thanks to the internet. We now get all of our information online, rather than through books and pamphlets. When is the last time you went to the yellow pages to look for a telephone number? For a moment, think about money- how many people walk around with “paper” cash anymore? Even our money has gone digital through the use of direct deposits and debit cards. Additionally, corporate offices are now gravitating towards the “paperless” office. Although the print industry may not die today, many once profitable companies are going completely under. In my career, I have worked for three companies that went completely under, forcing many skilled and hardworking people to march towards the unemployment line.

At first it was difficult for me to leave printing [after all it was all that I ever really understood]; it became painfully obvious that the faltering industry left me no choice. Although many scoff at the concept, take into careful consideration how each technical advance causes major shifts in the consumer market. We are no longer secure in our working environments regardless of how healthy your company may appear today. The printing industry is vulnerable to technology and it continues to struggle to maintain profitability of collateral printed products. It is imperative that amidst such an economy that we prepare for the inevitable future of this doomed industry, rather than scoff that it may never happen to you. Take the necessary time to weigh in your skill sets and seek out another path that allows for both your creativity and flexibility to learn new things; after all it is better for you to make the choice now before the choice is made for you.