I had just gotten through my first year of college and I wanted nothing more than to get out there and start doing what I loved: Graphic Design. My teacher brought an opportunity to my attention that I simply could not pass up. It was a 2-month internship at a local print shop. I was so excited to learn my trade in the real world! I currently worked in the Bakery at Winn Dixie but I dedicated one whole day a week to this internship. At the end of the 2 months, I was hired and I quit my job at Winn Dixie. So even though it didn’t work out, I learned a lot about design and the printing process. Here are some of the things I learned about the industry that you may not know…
1. You Are Always Busy
The great part about working at a print shop is you always have something to do! Since the shop, I worked at was small, I got to do a little bit of everything. There are always new jobs coming in and people calling and emailing for quotes.
2. You Don’t Always Get To Design
I never really liked the printing aspect of the job, I thought it was interesting to see designs come to life but setting up the printer was always so stressful to me. Sometimes you work with branding companies that have their own designers that send you artwork that is already set up to be printed. On the other hand these designers send you artwork that they believe is ready to print, but in reality, it is one giant hot mess. Also, you come across these people who call themselves designers and you get their design to be printed and you just want to stab your eyes out.
3. Printer Setup is The WORST!
Everything about the setup is the most stressful thing ever because if you make one little mistake you can cost the shop thousands of dollars. You have to make sure the artwork is perfectly sized and the margins, orientation, colors, spelling, grammar… are all perfect. The on top of that you have to make sure that the printer is loaded correctly… meaning it can’t be crooked, warped, scratched, dirty…. And these aren’t just a regular office printers, these are massive machines.
We had two different printers, the flatbed, and the latex. The different between the two is pretty simple. The flatbed is used for flat things, like wood, plastic, coroplast, and metal. The latex prints things that come on a massive roll, like vinyl, paper, and banners. All of those materials, including the ink, are not anywhere close to being cheap. It would stress me out so much to know so much could go wrong with such a small error.
4. Wrapping Is Where The Money Is At
My shop realized quite quickly that the only way to make real money was to do vehicle wraps. A full vehicle wrap can set you back a few thousand dollars depending on the size of your vehicle. The problem is this gives you another step you can screw up… not only do you have to get the artwork perfect, set it up perfect, print it perfectly, you also have to install it perfectly. Unfortunately, installation is usually the part where you discover you have made an error. Grammar and color error are usually dealt with before printing but size is a whole other monster. Since a car is not a flat surface it can be hard to figure out just how much material you will need.
I remember we were doing a bus wrap and we had everything printed and prepped and ready to go… then when we went to install it we found that everything we printed was too small. Thankfully this was not my fault because that cost us so much to reprint and fix everything. But if everything goes right you will be sitting pretty on an awesome profit.
5. The Long Hours
When I accepted this job, my hours were 8:30 -5:00 and very rarely did I ever leave at 5:00. This job is not a quick one, each project takes at least a few hours to complete and the more jobs you complete in a day the better off you are. However, if you have a bus wrap to do that just killed at least 3 days for us. Everything had to be put on hold until that was completed simply because we did not have enough people. Even with more people, each job would still take a long time. So we all found ourselves working past 5 to try and get ahead for tomorrow… but that never happened.
Hopefully, this list provided you with an idea as to how the large format printing business works. It is definitely not for everyone, myself included. The best thing I got out of this was all the experience and knowledge I gained. If I had not worked there I would have missed out on so much useful information. So I would highly recommend that every designer work or intern for a large format print shop. Specifically, a large format shop, because the challenge is that much greater than working at a branding office that sends all their large format printing to a real print shop.