Whether your business does screen printing, embroidery or DTG printing – proofs are essential.
At Printavo, we've heard from hundreds of owners that face an uphill battle with their art approval process. It's a challenging intersection of customer management, clear communication, production, procurement, and design.
One of the keys to a smooth screen printing production process is to develop a strong system for proofs & art approval. That's why Mike Chong from Merch Monster shared his insights into developing a clear process for proofs.
Better proofs lead to more production time – and printing more jobs with less spoilage.
A proof is a detailed visual mockup of the job that you're tasked with producing. It’s your team’s functional blueprint for executing the job. The finished product should exactly match the specifications on the approved proof.
Send the proof to the customer for approval on every job, even if it’s a reprint.
The customer must approve the proof before production begins – no matter what! Without proofs & approval, you are putting your company in danger of losing customers, production time, and money.
The goal of a proof is simple: create a shared understanding of the expected outcome of every detail of the job.
Our proofs contain all of the information required to produce the job correctly:
The clearer the proof, the smoother the process.
This is the first step in the proofing process: listening to exactly what your customer wants. With clear communication, the person responsible for customer service sets expectations – but also captures the exact job requirements.
You need to ask the right questions to collect the right information.
If you've ever played the game of telephone, you know that every time a message gets passed along something gets lost along the way. That’s why proofs are sent out for customer approval before starting the job: you show them in writing precisely what you know about the job.
Proofs are a problem as old as the printing press. But you've got this!
"A fussy client approves — or maybe rejects — yet another press proof of his printing job." From a 19th century painting. Courtesy Wikimedia.
To start the proofing process, the person that worked with the customer creates a ticket in our help desk system for the designer. This action creates an automated message to remind the customer service person to check for exact requirements like:
Then, we collect artwork from the customer. This is uploaded to our file storage system, Box.com.
From there we enter all of the relevant info into the Printavo work order.
Our designer takes this information and creates a proof from the artwork using a design template.
After the designer creates the proof – but before it’s sent to the customer – the proof is reviewed internally for two things:
For internal standards, you need to consider whether the job's details make sense. If we are printing youth shirts, how big is the design? Is the design sized appropriately to fit on youth shirts?
We also use several written standards to ensure that the job is production ready after the proof is approved by the customer. We've essentially designed the production before it progresses.
We send our proofs and work order to the customer for approval before production begins. We also require the customer to sign a terms & conditions agreement. It includes the following:
Customers often respond to proofs with requests for revisions. Maybe your staff captured some customer information incorrectly, or the customer has changed their mind about a detail of the order.
The most productive way to handle revision requests to capture all of the details for the requests at the same time.
Reducing the number of feedback and revision cycles will save you money: you'll spend less time per job negotiating about artwork and requirements.
To do this, you have to capture customer feedback & revision requests accurately.
Tip #1: Reduce revision cycles. If something the customer is requesting doesn’t make sense, continue asking specific questions until you completely understand what they want.
Tip #2: Repeat what they say, in writing. If the customer feedback is verbal or over the phone. write down the feedback and resend it to the customer in an email that thanks them for the feedback and repeats their instructions. "We will do x, y, and z." Ask for a reply to verify that you've understood the changes they want.
Tip #3: Use clear language for your designers. Don't just forward a customer's requests and expect your staff to understand. If the feedback is written, clean up and reorganize the feedback for clarity & specificity. Most customers are not trained on how to give the right kind of feedback. Write the request so your designers can understand it quickly & easily.
Managing your communication about revision fees will help you when customers want changes.
We always include the first change to the customer’s proof for free. We also make a point to inform the customer multiple times that the first change is free – but any subsequent changes are billed at the cost of $75 per hour.
We've even included that specific language in our email template for responding to revision requests.
If you've told the customer multiple times that subsequent changes will add to their bill and cost them money, they're more understanding when they're charged for revisions.
Here’s our standard change request template. Nice and simple – just email a list back to the customer and show them their changes.
Thanks for your feedback!
Before we print, let's go over your request.
We will make the following changes you requested: (changes go here)
Important note: We offer one free revision with every proof. Additional changes are billed at a rate of $75 per hour for artwork services.
You must reply to confirm your changes.
- Merch Monster
It invariably goes like this: you make the changes correctly but the customer comes back with another change.
Do you charge them for the change?
If it’s a small and easy change, consider dropping the charge.
If it's a large change that alters the scope of production, you should absolutely charge for changes.
Thanks for your feedback. We’ve already completed your complimentary change that's included with your order. However, we'd like to make this change at no cost – assuming it’s your last change! Please note: we will bill any additional changes at our rate of $75 per hour for artwork.
Thanks for your feedback. We’ve already completed your complimentary change that's included with your order. Since this second round of changes requires more significant adjustments, we will bill your additional changes at our rate of $75 per hour for artwork. We expect it to take # hours. Please reply to confirm that you understand the charges.
Whether you choose to cap the number of revisions you offer or not is up to you. Try not to let revisions & changes keep you from production time. Manage customer expectations realistically and don't offer changes you can't fulfill.
Just be aware that revisions & changes happen, and build a structure in to compensate yourself for wishy-washy customers or challenging requirements.
You can develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with revisions & changes. Some shops utilize forms on their websites, others prefer phone calls. Creating a simple process to follow – with email templates and clear terms – means customers have specific and realistic expectations that you can repeatedly meet.
After revisions and changes are complete, we essentially start the proofing process over from scratch. It goes back to the designer, then is internally reviewed for production standards, then travels to the customer for the final approval.
You can see why you want to limit revision cycles: it's time-consuming!
Approving your scope of work means signing off on the job and officially starting production.
Your scope of work is the comprehensive and detailed document for the job. It's your plan for producing the job on-time that accounts for every detail and aspect of production. It's not a planning document, but a guide for executing the job after all revisions & changes are complete.
The approved scope of work should include the final approved art for preparation and separation, and the list of final approved garments for your procurement team.
Don't get hung up waiting for customers to approve their proofs! This can stop production in its tracks.
This happens for multiple reasons:
Proof approvals have an expiration date. You can quickly mismanage production timing if proofs aren't rapidly approved by customers.
Here are the scenarios that happen when approvals aren't tightly managed.
The slowdown. If your approvals are slow, it can create a production lull. You've sold jobs, but don't have enough approved jobs underway to keep your staff productive.
The flood. Or on the other end of the approval process Purgatory – you've scheduled your staff for a moderate workload, but a flood of approvals comes in. Suddenly you have too much production work in the queue.
So you want to keep pushing approvals along as quickly and steadily as possible. The three methods we use are simple:
Communicate to your customer that you won't do anything until the proof is approved.
When you're waiting for approval, your job is to keep communicating. "I won't start production, and can't print your shirt until you approve your proof!"
We love organization. A lot. The Printavo calendar is the central hub for getting jobs and approvals organized so your shop can print with confidence.
If you've got a tip for organizing your print shop, let us know. In the meantime, here are four more ways Mike has improved productivity in his shop:
There's always more help with setting up & using Printavo – as well as marketing and business advice from seasoned professionals – on our YouTube channel.
Printavo is simple shop management software. Whether your shop works with screen printing, embroidery, signage, digital printing, or awards & engraving–we make your complex workflow simpler to manage and understand. Printavo keeps your shop organized by handling scheduling, estimates, quote approvals, workflow, payments, accounting and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.Try Printavo