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What the Heck Does a Print Buyer Do?

More and more marketers find themselves slipping into the role of print buyer from time to time. Maybe it’s not a huge part of your job, but when someone assigns you the task of getting something printed, you should be prepared.

This post is #2 in a short series. We hope to bring you up to speed where print buying is concerned. Commercial printing is a manufacturing industry that has its own language and some pretty fascinating processes and technologies.


The more you understand what’s expected of you, a print customer, the more successful your printed materials will be. So for this post, we’ll touch on the main responsibilities of someone in charge of print buying for his or her company.

Sourcing print for each project

This is the major function. You’re expected to figure out which printing company (which could be a graphics company, a traditional print manufacturer, a fulfillment specialist, a print broker or print manager) is the best fit for your project. Since there are tens of thousands of printing establishments from sea to shining sea (and beyond), and since they are not all alike, you have to choose wisely.

Developing job specs

Every print job is built out of job specifications. This is the buyer’s responsibility – building the specs, though sometimes you may share this task with a graphic designer. (In a future post we’ll lay out the basic specs for a typical print job.) You can’t ask a printer to quote you on a brochure any more than you can ask a contractor to quote you on a house without a mountain of details. Specs include quantity, final size, paper stock, inks, special effects like varnishes, finishing requirements, delivery dates, and so on. Once you get the hang of it and work with a good print partner, it’ll be a breeze.

Sending the job file to the printer

Assuming someone on your creative team is building the job in house, the print buyer’s role includes sending the final file to the printer. The next step will be getting a proof from the printer to OK before they go to press. (BTW, since customers typically prepare the job files, it is their responsibility to make sure the job’s proofread; it’s not the printer’s.)

Proof approval

When the printer sends you a proof of your job (digital or analog), you’re in charge of getting your team members to review it and sign off on it, indicating it’s OK to print. Alternatively, you may find things that are incorrect, or just need to be changed.

Process management

All the while a job is in production, the print buyer is the main point person for the printer. You’ll want to follow the progress, making sure your printer keeps you informed about the delivery date and so on. If there are issues on press, the sales or service person will contact you for updating and for guidance if need be.

Paperwork person

Much of the time, the print buyer issues the Purchase Order for a print job, receives the invoice from the printer for approval, and either OKs it for payment or sends it to Purchasing. Record keeping is key, as is keeping track of repeat jobs so you know about a job’s history, costs, etc.

Doing press approvals

Some, but certainly not all, of the print campaigns you handle should be seen on press for your final “OK.” As a rule of thumb, the more complex and/or significant the job, the more likely you, the customer, will be approving it press-side, accompanied by your sales rep. Simple, straightforward jobs don’t usually need this level of approval by the customer.

These are the basic responsibilities of a corporate print buyer. It’s a role that is enriched by strong business relationships with print partners. It can be stressful, but that’s one reason why “lifers” love it. Working with graphic arts professionals is a blend of manufacturing technology and creative expression. Print is customized manufacturing. Mess up one little spec and you’ve changed a job drastically.

Knowing what you can and can’t do with ink, paper, and a modern-day dose of relevant data might be the closest you get to making magic.


This post is number 2 in a series.  Read the first post "Congrats, you're a print buyer! Now what?

Topics: Print Marketing Commercial Print