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Letterpress Business Organization and Planning

Organizing your shop and having adequate materials on hand will help streamline production and shorten turnaround. Moving work quickly through your shop frees up press time for other printing and allows you to do other, non-press, work as well.

Production Schedules

A production schedule will help determine the turnaround time of a given job or of your shop in general. Turnaround is the time from receipt of an order to the time the order is completed and ready to ship to the client, but usually does not include shipping time-in-transit. Waiting on the delivery of materials, including printing plates, paper, custom inks, and anything else related to production, will affect the turnaround. Therefore, keeping as many materials as you can in stock and on-hand will help streamline production and shorten clients’ wait time. It is useful to keep, and consistently update, a calendar of upcoming deadlines so that you don’t overbook or over-promise. Once you know how long your materials take to arrive, and depending on your work volume, you can establish a standard production schedule and a standard turnaround time; for example, ten working days, two weeks, etc.

Sourcing Materials

While it may not be necessary to keep large amounts of supplies on hand, it is beneficial to keep sufficient stock, ink, plates and associated materials or type, and shipping supplies in stock to prevent having to order them at the last minute when they’re urgently needed.

Wholesale Accounts

Generally, you must apply for wholesale accounts with paper merchants or other suppliers. These applications typically require a credit check, proof that you’re a reseller (usually a tax ID or resale certificate), as well as three references who are usually other vendors who can vouch for your reliability as a customer.

Producers, manufacturers, and other resellers often buy the materials needed in production from a wholesale, usually for half the retail price. The reseller can then mark up the materials to the retail price. Stock items that you use frequently to reduce shipping costs, below-order minimum costs, or other costs associated with reordering.

House Papers

Consider having one or several house stocks—stocks that you keep on hand that aren’t ordered for a specific job—so that paper is readily available when an order comes in. This too will save on shipping and below-minimum order costs, and may help a client choose an appropriate paper for his or her project if one is readily available. Having the papers on-hand that your shop uses most frequently will help speed production. Keep track of how many sheets you have in stock, and reorder when supplies get low. Stocked envelopes should be stored on shelves and organized by mill, size, and color, and parent sheets of paper should be stored flat to prevent warping.

Internal forms

Traditional print shops used a form called a job ticket to track a job and keep track of its details. The ticket included the specifics of a given project, including quantity or size of run, paper stock required, trim size, and finishing. The workflow of modern shops also benefits from having a simple job ticket follow each job. Also known as a purchase order, the sheet may include the customer’s name, contact, and shipping info, as well as the specifics of the job itself. If your work involves many steps or individuals, consider having a ticket for each of them so that they know where their portion of production fits into the larger timeline.