Starting a shop for political printing

bsnell

Member
Greetings all,

This will get a little long and I apologize, but I should probably tell you what I'm doing before I ask questions.

I'm a political campaign consultant. I have run non-profits and campaign committees/PACs for many years, and have helped scores of people get elected. As you'd all no doubt guess, one of my greatest expenditures is always printing, mail, and silk screened/vinyl signage. I'd like to take control of that expenditure and minimize it or even turn it into a profit center by establishing a printing operation targeted toward political needs. At this point I'm friends with so many electeds and future candidates that I can hit the ground running right out of the gate; I've already had several tell me they'd give me their business if I go through with this.

I've worked with and been in a dozen print shops over the years and can tell you what each machine does by looking at it, however I'm completely ignorant of the details or specific brands and models, and what would be a good purchase for starting a shop of my own. So while I know what I'm getting into, I also know there's far more I don't know.

For the sake of being thorough here's a brief list of more or less what I need to produce (I'm leaving the silk screened and vinyl products out):
  • Stuff on card stock with UV coating (business cards, post cards, palm cards, door hangers, etc.)
  • Bulk single and double fold and tabbed mailers
  • Bulk mail with inserts in #10 envelopes
I assume that a digital press is the way to go, over the old school offset presses which seem like a comparative pain in the backside. With a post-printing UV coating process, I'm unsure whether or not an inkjet press like an HP Indigo or a toner press like the Konica AccurioPress is the way to go. As for the rest of it, this is what I think I need:
  • Digital press
  • UV coater
  • Slitter/cutter/creaser
  • Stack cutter
  • Folder
  • Tabber
  • Envelope printer
  • Mail inserter
I want to start with used equipment. I have some money to invest in this that I can afford to lose if it doesn't pan out, but I don't have an endless supply of it and I'd want to spend wisely and frugally regardless. I'm willing to do equipment servicing myself. I'm an electrical engineer by education and former profession, and while I'm not the smartest guy on the planet I can read a manual, and use my brain and hands well enough. I suppose a requirement then is equipment that is easy to service, and find parts and supplies for.

So here are my starting questions:
  1. Is the above equipment list complete for what I want to do, or are there additions/subtractions to what I need?
  2. What are your suggestions for a secondary market digital press?
  3. Any suggestions for the rest of the equipment?
  4. Anything else I'm missing or should know?
Many, many, many thanks in advance. Your time and consideration is more than appreciated!

Brad
 

AP90

Well-known member
Biggest things missing that we need to know.

What is your budget and what do you expect volume to be?
 

bsnell

Member
Biggest things missing that we need to know.

What is your budget and what do you expect volume to be?
Yeah, I knew someone would ask and I debated whether or not to say. Regardless of the pursuit, if you tell someone you have a $50,000 budget, you get $50,000 worth of suggestions. If you tell them you have a $500,000 budget, you get $500,000 worth of suggestions. Suggestions on how to spend your money are like gasses: They expand to fit the space they're in. 😂

Let's say as much under $100,000 as possible. I still have to get silk screen presses, conveyor driers, exposers, yada yada, not to mention a large format vinyl printer, cutter, and cold laminator. I can go over $100,000 if I absolutely have to, but...I'd prefer not having to. I'd rather get an adequate setup that will allow me to boot strap and pay for upgrades later, than go in whole hog on something that might close up in a couple years.

So spend my money wisely. 😄

As for volume, it's tough to say since I haven't been a printer, but let's say 300,000 pieces per month? If the press you suggest is priced right, I can always have a second line, too. It's probably a good idea to have redundancy in political printing anyway, to prevent down time, since everything is pretty much on demand and needed yesterday. But that's another discussion.
 

SoggyWinter

Well-known member
Print Finishing Systems and Boggs Equipment are good places to get used equipment in the US. Are you going to be operating seasonally or year round?
 

bsnell

Member
Print Finishing Systems and Boggs Equipment are good places to get used equipment in the US. Are you going to be operating seasonally or year round?
I'm open to operating full time eventually. I've done small scale bulk mail for non-profits in the past and I've enjoyed it strangely enough, and I've always enjoyed working with the folks who do printing. I appreciate different kinds of papers even though I know nothing about it, and I like machinery too. Watching and hearing a machine built in the 1960s fold up a piece of paper and slide it into an envelope faster than you can see is pretty damn cool. I'm sure you can relate. So yeah, I'm kinda testing the waters here.

I don't want to spend a small fortune just in case though. I want to get a fair foundation and build from there if all goes well enough. I should have enough clients right away to upgrade equipment pretty quickly and keep going if I want. A single congressional primary alone is more than enough business to keep the lights on. I just need to get set up to do it and then see how it goes. I see old HP Indigo 3000s and 5000s for reasonable if not outright cheap prices, and they look far more than adequate for political printing...I just have no idea if they really are adequate. But if they'll get me through a campaign cycle or two and recoup my initial investment, I'll gladly upgrade to the latest hotness from there and just keep on going.
 

AP90

Well-known member
Well ill start with one of the items you keep mentioning, the Indigo. They are probably the best digital printer out there. they are still toner and not inkjet though. The 3000 and 5000 series are I'm going to say 10 years old. Which in terms of digital equipment is about 2 lifetimes. I wouldn't be surprised if parts are starting to get hard to find for them. HP indigo's are printers that when running great will produce beautiful work. But all the other times they will require a decent amount of maintenance and troubleshooting. They're meant to be running a lot. Not sitting idle for days at a time. We looked at installing a 3050 about 6 years ago. Even under contract the maintenance was something we didn't like. Our nearest tech would be 2 hours away and we only got like 3 or 4 calls a quarter before we were charged. Our pressman was going to have to go to Georgia for a 2 week course on machine operation and maintenance. Wasn't our cup of tea. Plus, they're EXPENSIVE new. Its a piece of cake being able to call and have a tech show up generally same day. I dont know if any of our machines have been down more than 1.

Most on here will suggest you get a lease from a X, KM, Ricoh, etc. It might not be the best idea in your situation. You say 300k pieces a month. If thats all postcards your looking at 150k "clicks" on the machine assuming its all 5.5x8.5 postcards. I know it wont be though. That volume is going to be a higher end machine from the companies listed. Xerox Versant 3100/4100, KM C6100, etc. Not cheap printers. You could get a used Versant 3100 for probably 30-40k. Let me tell you though that you'll be going through $500 2nd BTR's like they're toner. Especially on heavy coated stocks. The digital press is going to be the money maker though. So skimping out on it will most likely hurt the bottom line in maintenance, quality or downtime.

As far as your other stuff goes, you can get it all fairly cheaply based on how automated and fast your wanting to finish.

  • Digital press- You could spend as little or as much as you want here. You'll get the same return though.
  • UV coater- Used Graphic Whizard or Duplo will probably run 7.5-10k
  • Slitter/cutter/creaser- Used Duplo 5-7k
  • Stack cutter- used programmable- 5k
  • Folder- depends on what your wanting. Baum 714- $1k. Floor Model, $5k
  • Tabber- dont really know here. I would guess $2k plus
  • Envelope printer- OKI or similar. $3k
  • Mail inserter- $3k
So your around $25k in finishing equipment right there. and thats going to be bare bones the cheapest ones you could find on eBay or wire bids that are worth a damn. And they'll all probably need some type of work or maintenance. Also, that equipment is going to take up a lot of space. We have a decent sized building (6k sq ft) and we dont have all that equipment. If we did we'd have to start shifting things around and finish out warehouse space for it all. Dont underestimate how much space will cost you and how much you will need. Also, thats a lot of equipment to be running by 1 person. Especially one who's never done any printing.

I hope this hasn't discouraged you. What your wanting to do is a daunting task. We went from just publishing to publishing and printing about 6 years ago. It was a nightmare deciding on a machine. Then getting more equipment. Then you'll have someone come to you with a job and you'll think hmmm, I should get this equipment. Its never ending. But this is a good community to get info from. Also, feel free to PM or email me if you have more questions you dont want to ask in the open forum. alex@pjjtdistributors.com
 

keith1

Well-known member
Sounds like you're on the right path. I'd add several more cliches though. Be interesting to see an update in a couple years.
 

bsnell

Member
Well ill start with one of the items you keep mentioning, the Indigo.

I only mention the Indigo because it's what I see the most of. I'm definitely not married to it.

They are probably the best digital printer out there. they are still toner and not inkjet though.

Got it, thanks for the correction.

One question about toner vs. inkjet: Is toner with a UV coating the right recipe for those glossy cards you get in the mail? Aside from some business cards, I know UV1 coating is on everything I've ever had done, I just don't know what's under it. I've heard that toner can rub off going through the mail, but I assume the UV coating solves that problem.

The 3000 and 5000 series are I'm going to say 10 years old. Which in terms of digital equipment is about 2 lifetimes. I wouldn't be surprised if parts are starting to get hard to find for them.

Agreed. This is definitely a concern I'm aware of. Regarding another aspect of their age though: Are the 3000s and 5000s adequate for what I want to do? I have no doubt that the current generation of Indigos produces absolutely magnificent and stunning prints, however political printing requirements just aren't all that demanding. Nobody is taking a magnifying glass to a door hanger, and anything that goes in the mail arrives a little scuffed up anyway. Being controlled by a 15 year old PC running an unsupported copy of XP is no deterrent either; there will be a healthy supply of both for a hundred years yet.

Common sense tells me that most of the stuff I've purchased in the past was printed on older digital printers, and I know for certain that on at least a couple occasions I've had stuff printed on offset presses from the 1970s. So putting maintenance issues aside, will the older machines do the job I need and not be disappointing?

HP indigo's are printers that when running great will produce beautiful work. But all the other times they will require a decent amount of maintenance and troubleshooting. They're meant to be running a lot. Not sitting idle for days at a time. We looked at installing a 3050 about 6 years ago. Even under contract the maintenance was something we didn't like. Our nearest tech would be 2 hours away and we only got like 3 or 4 calls a quarter before we were charged. Our pressman was going to have to go to Georgia for a 2 week course on machine operation and maintenance. Wasn't our cup of tea. Plus, they're EXPENSIVE new. Its a piece of cake being able to call and have a tech show up generally same day. I dont know if any of our machines have been down more than 1.

Yeah, I'm probably just being an idiot, but service contracts just don't sit well with me for some reason. I hate the idea of being tied to something, and having to spend a lot of money on something I'll only need every once in awhile, and for something I can probably just fix myself if I read a manual and cuss at the problem long enough. Maybe that's a product of growing up poor, but whatever it is, I can't afford the latest and greatest anyway so it's essentially irrelevant. I'm going to do the maintenance myself no matter what. The service contracts are going to have to wait until the business recoups the initial investment and is in the black.

I do have a crotchety old automation engineer who worked at Ford and GM, who has also worked on the old school offset presses, and he's happy to help with the maintenance, too.

Most on here will suggest you get a lease from a X, KM, Ricoh, etc. It might not be the best idea in your situation. You say 300k pieces a month. If thats all postcards your looking at 150k "clicks" on the machine assuming its all 5.5x8.5 postcards. I know it wont be though. That volume is going to be a higher end machine from the companies listed. Xerox Versant 3100/4100, KM C6100, etc. Not cheap printers. You could get a used Versant 3100 for probably 30-40k. Let me tell you though that you'll be going through $500 2nd BTR's like they're toner. Especially on heavy coated stocks. The digital press is going to be the money maker though. So skimping out on it will most likely hurt the bottom line in maintenance, quality or downtime.

I appreciate the alternative suggestions! I've definitely heard of both the Xerox Versant and the KMs, and I've seen folks rave about both, especially the KMs.

Also, that equipment is going to take up a lot of space. We have a decent sized building (6k sq ft) and we dont have all that equipment. If we did we'd have to start shifting things around and finish out warehouse space for it all. Dont underestimate how much space will cost you and how much you will need.

Yep, I'm wide awake on that problem. Fortunately, one advantage to politics is that you get to know everyone in a community--including property owners that want to help folks in their party. I've also got to fit in silk screening equipment. Automatic sign presses are massive, especially the ones that make 4'x8' barn signs, and even just a 6 color/6 station auto or manual press for stuff like t-shirts is 10-12 feet across. Then you gotta have space to make the screens themselves, to store them, to store ink, yada yada. None of it is small.

Also, thats a lot of equipment to be running by 1 person. Especially one who's never done any printing.

Agreed. I'll have help. I've got a young guy whose dream is to run a print shop, that crotchety old automation engineer I mentioned above, and an army of campaign staff and volunteers I can hire part time. I've also got a state party guy and a state legislator who have expressed interest in being permanent staff.

I hope this hasn't discouraged you. What your wanting to do is a daunting task. We went from just publishing to publishing and printing about 6 years ago. It was a nightmare deciding on a machine. Then getting more equipment. Then you'll have someone come to you with a job and you'll think hmmm, I should get this equipment. Its never ending. But this is a good community to get info from. Also, feel free to PM or email me if you have more questions you dont want to ask in the open forum. alex@pjjtdistributors.com

You're definitely onto something there about obsessing about the press a lot more than the finishing equipment. I can afford to make mistakes on a cutter or folder when it costs $4,000 on eBay to replace or supplement something, opposed to $40,000 to bring in another two generation old press.

I'm not discouraged in the least though, I appreciate the sober response. I've got a problem solving mentality however. I was an engineer way back when. I worked for the Department of Energy and probably the most well known international tech mega corporation in the world, and it was nothing but problem solving. The Monday after 9/11 I gave up my cushy office job and walked into the Army recruiter, and I've been in some sort of public service or public work ever since. I've been under siege every day since, too. There's always a well funded and skilled opponent trying to stop you from doing what you're doing and undermine what you've already done. So yeah, this is a big, daunting project with problems I haven't even begun to understand or foresee yet, but...C'est la vie. That's what I'm used to. 🤷‍♂️

Keep it coming, if you've a mind to! I appreciate your input!

Sounds like you're on the right path. I'd add several more cliches though. Be interesting to see an update in a couple years.

I'm not sure what you mean by cliches, however it's good to know I'm on the right path. I'm sure I'll be able to provide updates, assuming I make the decision to go through with it. I have no doubt I'll still be around asking questions if so.

Thanks again to both of you!
 
Just a word of caution- we went from having an Indigo to having toner based equipment and could no longer UV coat as the UV coating would flake off. Had to buy a laminator. Indigos are much more expensive to run than a goox copier (although the indigo quality is far superior)
 

bsnell

Member
Just a word of caution- we went from having an Indigo to having toner based equipment and could no longer UV coat as the UV coating would flake off. Had to buy a laminator. Indigos are much more expensive to run than a goox copier (although the indigo quality is far superior)

Just to be clear, you're saying the Indigo worked well with the UV coating, but your new equipment did not?
 

Bill Ward

Member
We do a lot of variable data political mailings and we run Canon IPC8000VP digital presses. We also have:
  • Slitter/cutter/creaser
  • Stack cutter
  • Folder
  • Tabber
  • Envelope printer
  • Mail inserter
in various brands.
 

Ynot_UK

Well-known member
I can't emphasise enough the importance of having your digital press/es on an agreeable CPC (cost per click) contract. Don't be put off by this, CPC will be your best friend - you know exactly what your costs are, with no nasty surprises and will have a service level agreement in place that will ensure your machine/s are kept up and running so you can fulfil your orders.

You don't have to lease a press (you can buy outright) and you don't have to deal direct with the OEMs - there are some great dealers out there. Whoever you go with, fully understand the CED (customer expectations document for the press) and read the small print (a cheap CPC today may not be a cheap CPC in year five if there "may be" (read as definitely will be) an annual increase of whatever. So negotiating a fixed CPC for a five year term is a good thing in my book) If you have an EFI Fiery as opposed to an OEM controller, don't get stung for expensive separate annual maintenance charges on this.

Don't make the common mistake of buying a "bargain" digital press from an online auction site. There's others on this forum having done it and cried later. At best, it won't be a bargain and at worst, it will be a boat anchor. If you're looking for a refurbished digital press, buy from the same dealer that will be servicing the machine on a CPC contract. If you buy anywhere else, the support dealer will (a) not give you as good a CPC and (b) will insist on inspecting the machine and replace virtually everything - all at cost to you - before putting it on a CPC contract. Whereas with the dealer sourcing the refurbished press, they won't be finding you a machine that will create them extra call-outs. The outset will be greater, however will be your best investment.

Digital presses are highly complex pieces of equipment and whilst I don't doubt your engineering skills, an experienced technician will have a portfolio of experience and machine specific training to quickly diagnose, source parts and get you up and running. You won't be able to do this yourself and will quickly hit a brick wall, being unable to fulfil orders.

Read and learn from this forum. If there's something that virtually every PSP is doing then there's a lot to be said for following suit, as there is a good reason for not being contrarian, even when it's something you're not initially comfortable with. For us, that something (around this time last year) was separating our B/W work and after taking the excellent advice of forum KM expert @jwheeler, we purchased a low mileage refurbished KM Pro951 for our B/W and a new (first in the UK) KM C4080 for our colour jobs. After 6 months and 500k clicks later on the Pro951, taking that piece of advice was one of the best things we did last year.

Make sure your building is suitable in terms of access/egress for deliveries (stock and vehicles), environmentally suitable for storage of substrates and capable of receiving installations of plant & machinery. Ensure you have level floors and the right power provision in the right places. Some larger kit may be 3 phase, so if you don't have 3 phase power, you'll need to work with this constraint or ask the DNO (or equivalent your side of the pond) to quote to install a 3 phase supply. Lay out your shop in a logical way to minimise back and forth movement of jobs between pallet - press - laminator - guillotine - folding/bindery - packaging - goods out.

Regarding finishing, I'm a firm advocate of offline versus inline finishing - search my other recent posts for the reasons behind this thought. In your case, a good automatic roll laminator *may* be a better solution than a UV coater. Hunting down and buying well maintained industry standard used offline finishing equipment won't cost you money when you come to upgrade, in fact it can make you money.

There's my starter for ten. Good luck!
 

Stickman42

Well-known member
Just a word of caution- we went from having an Indigo to having toner based equipment and could no longer UV coat as the UV coating would flake off. Had to buy a laminator. Indigos are much more expensive to run than a goox copier (although the indigo quality is far superior)
We run Versant 80s and UV coat in both gloss and matte every day. We buy coatings that advertise as working with laser/toner prints.
 

nhprinter

Well-known member
Well ill start with one of the items you keep mentioning, the Indigo. They are probably the best digital printer out there. they are still toner and not inkjet though. The 3000 and 5000 series are I'm going to say 10 years old. Which in terms of digital equipment is about 2 lifetimes. I wouldn't be surprised if parts are starting to get hard to find for them.

Just a note....the Indigo is NOT toner. It's not an inkjet, but it's liquid ink. I won't get into the specific on how an Indigo works because that not what this thread is about, but i figured you should have the facts. Parts are NOT hard to come by. As a matter of fact HP recently started leasing what they're calling a "5R" which is a 5400 that's been reconditioned. Very nice 6 color. Also, we have a UV coater and it coats sheets off the Indigo very well.

I worked for a Union printer for 30 years and we did a LOT of political printing. It's really good money if you can make it work. Good luck.
 

namelessentity

Well-known member
Just a note....the Indigo is NOT toner. It's not an inkjet, but it's liquid ink. I won't get into the specific on how an Indigo works because that not what this thread is about, but i figured you should have the facts. Parts are NOT hard to come by. As a matter of fact HP recently started leasing what they're calling a "5R" which is a 5400 that's been reconditioned. Very nice 6 color. Also, we have a UV coater and it coats sheets off the Indigo very well.

I worked for a Union printer for 30 years and we did a LOT of political printing. It's really good money if you can make it work. Good luck.
It's a smaller toner particle suspended in liquid. It's a toner press, it's NOT ink, despite what HP likes to tout.
 

Ynot_UK

Well-known member
I've never paid Indigo too much attention as we're not at that level, however from what I've read and understand, it certainly shouldn't be considered as a first press for a new business dipping their toe in the water, so to speak. Rather like learning to drive in a Ferrari?
 

bsnell

Member
I've never paid Indigo too much attention as we're not at that level, however from what I've read and understand, it certainly shouldn't be considered as a first press for a new business dipping their toe in the water, so to speak. Rather like learning to drive in a Ferrari?

As the OP, I don't disagree! I'd love to hear some suggestions for secondary market presses around $20,000. That's the fundamental reason I brought up the Indigo 5000 in the first place, aside from seeing them everywhere.

I tried asking that specific question in a separate thread but admin deleted it and told me to review the suggestions already made here...Because apparently $40,000-$60,000 presses are close enough. Only one person mentioned a machine that meets that criteria, the Versant 80. I'm sure that's a great machine, but I'm also sure that's not the only quality machine that goes for under 20k. Some options to research and look out for would be nice. 🤷‍♂️

I guess admin must pay by the bit and byte for hosting. :rolleyes:😂
 

Ynot_UK

Well-known member
If I were you, I would seek trusted recommendations on local dealerships and invite two or three of them to offer a suitable outright purchase of a refurb machine on a CPC contract. Any suitable rated volume production machine from the big four (Ricoh, KM, Xerox and Canon) should see you good. It's not like buying a car, where it's OK to obsess over a particular model - in printing, the make/model of press you end up with is actually one of the least important points for you to fathom out and you should not be the one looking out for the machine. I explained solid reasoning for this in post #13 of this topic.

The jobs you've touched on suggest, like ourselves, you would be better with separate BW and colour presses. You're not going to achieve that for under $20k, however the right dealer should be able to come up with a solution the right side of $30k and you have the added bonus of redundancy. B/W clicks will be much cheaper on a B/W machine than on a colour press.

Also, when calculating anticipated volumes, bear in mind 300,000 postcards doesn't equal 300,000 clicks, as you'll always want to maximise and print as many up on a sheet as possible, to minimise costs.
 

hsearcy

Active member
Just want to mention a couple of things to consider (this isn't strictly about equipment, but it does tie in). I didn't see any mention of your plans for prepress/graphics. Do you plan to offer design services as well or deal with freelancers/agencies? No matter how good the files are, you'll need someone to prepare them for any of the processes mentioned - even digital. And you'll especially need someone to deal with problem files (and there are ALWAYS problem files).
 

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