Fabulous flyers. Seductive signage. Badass banners. The most memorable events of any size and shape are often supported by compelling printed pieces. Great event collateral results from solid partnerships between savvy event planners and experienced, knowledgeable print or fabrication vendors.

Making that crucial connection with a valuable partner might take a few attempts, but it gets much easier if you know exactly what you need and why. You want a successful event with happy attendees, but you don’t want to keep a one-time-only banner in the office storage room, and you don’t want to see boxes of extra flyers gathering dust in your garage, right?

To find out more, we went straight to the source! We asked some of our most reliable printing and fabrication vendors for their thoughts about how best to make each project run smoothly. Their advice? In addition to clear communication and professional respect, event pros should know the brand, know the plan, and know the terms. Here’s what that means:

"We don't expect our clients to have thoroughly detailed technical knowledge about printing (that's why they come to us!), but it's always helpful when they can articulate what their product is, who their customer is, and what they want to achieve." —Eva Alexander-Gutierrez (Sales Representative, Primary Color)

Know the brand

Event Identity and Intended Audience

Every print vendor worth their plates knows they must effectively communicate their client’s brand identity. “What’s the difference between branding and identity,” you ask? “My event has a logo and people like it. Isn’t that enough?” Good question! Let’s differentiate the two with some definitions:

Your event’s brand is much more than, say, its logo or color palette. It’s what someone feels when they think about your event—the overall impression in their mind, their gut reaction. “Branding” is a complex process that positions and differentiates your event among other events.

Your event’s identity is how you consistently present your brand, both visually (logo, color palette, typography, imagery, photography) and verbally (copy language, messaging, voice and tone). This post doesn’t cover the generalities of branding or the specifics of identity—but your complete command of both will be a huge help to your chosen vendor.

Not all vendors will need to be involved from the beginning, or even in most of the creative direction, but they will want to ensure they’re properly executing your vision. Be prepared to describe (preferably with a project brief) who the piece is designed to reach, and what you want that audience to experience when they encounter it.

"There's no question that print technology has improved substantially in recent years and contributed to faster turnaround time. It's not instantaneous, though, so when our clients come to us early in the process, we can schedule enough time for their project." —Amaranthe Wolff (Account Executive, V3 Printing)

Know the plan

Project Parameters and End Goals

Any print vendor you choose will need time to produce your material. Event print design and creation of physical pieces can be a long process, so begin your vendor search well ahead of your actual event date—as in months ahead. Most vendors are tied to existing production schedules for their other clients, so the more information you can get them, the more likely they can fit your cost goals and timeline.

Shopping by price and turnaround time is a good start, but consider additional ways to vet prospective vendors to make your final choice. Experienced and reputable vendors will be glad to tell you any of the following, so ask them!

  • How long have they been in business?
  • Who are their previous clients?
  • What are their artwork file requirements?
  • Can they do fabrication or mass-mailing?
  • Do they have a secure facility and infrastructure?
  • What are their capabilities?
    • Are they a huge company using the latest technology for large print runs?
    • Are they a small shop with niche expertise, better suited to short runs?
  • What industry standard certifications do they have?
    • G7 (master printer qualifications)?
    • ISO (quality management)?
    • FSC (environmentally responsible)?

Help your new partner by providing branding background (as noted above) and event details (calendar date, expected attendance, estimated budget). They can then develop their project scope with variables like production method (offset, digital, or specialty printing) quantity, stock, ink/coating, and delivery options.

Still having trouble making a choice? Ask your designer! Creative professionals maintain large networks, just like any other industry, and it’s likely whomever designed your printed piece knows at least three good print or fabrication vendors they can refer.

"One variable that can really affect timely production is correct artwork file formatting. If a client or their designer doesn't know that saving a bitmap file as a PDF or EPS doesn't make it a vector file, we'll have to spend time re-creating the artwork in the proper format to make it usable." —Jason Barbaria (Owner, Santa Barbara Signs)

Know the terms

General Concepts and Common Vocabulary

Working outside of your expertise can be intimidating. You’re not a press operator or sign painter—that’s why you’re paying a vendor, right? Nevertheless, you should still know some common terms and general concepts to clearly articulate what you’re looking for, so your prospective vendor can best address your needs.

Knowing file formats (vector or raster), color modes (RGB, CMYK, grayscale), and image resolution (screen vs. print), will help you and/or your designer properly prepare the artwork files for print production.

Understanding differences in stock weight (book or text, cover, card), ink type (process vs. spot colors vs. coating), and finishing (dielines, folding, scoring, binding) will help your vendor when they quote cost estimates. If you can afford to get fancy, ask your vendor about metallics or foil, and embossing/debossing! For fabricated pieces, you may also need to know about a range of substrate materials (vinyl for banners or decals, wood, aluminum, or plastic for signage). Your vendor will advise you on the details, but it’s important to be aware of what’s possible.

Familiarity (but not necessarily expertise!) with other print production terms like form, signature, mechanical, bleed, or live area will help you and your vendor communicate clearly during the proof review or press check stage. If you’re drawing a blank for any of these terms, don’t worry: we’ve compiled a glossary for you! More on that below.

"The most important thing I can do for my clients is to properly manage their expectations. This might mean communicating differently (like prototyping a physical sample instead of a written description) to ensure my clients will understand and get their exact desired outcome." —Eva Alexander-Gutierrez (Sales Representative, Primary Color)

Communication is Key

The common thread running through everything here is communication. Like any sustainable professional relationship, working with a print vendor requires clear and respectful communication. You’re the expert about your event, its brand, and your audience. Your vendor is the expert on how to create something that most effectively reaches that audience. That doesn’t mean you both can’t learn a little from each other.

I’ll give you one small example. At one of my first press checks over a decade ago, the proofs were looking a little red, but I didn’t ask “could you take the magenta down 12.25%?” I instead asked the press operator “could I see it a little cooler?” My sales rep, also attending, said “Now that’s how you talk to a press operator!” I allowed them to do their job, showed professional respect, and learned something. My next press check was much easier, and I had a go-to print vendor for projects large and small.

Want to start building your own background knowledge? Check out our print production glossary for event planners, linked below!