Starting a shop for political printing


Well-known member
A wise route to take on this is not to go heavy on capital goods at least when you're starting. I recommend that you broker whatever you can.

A major reason: you'll have to hire people whose abilities and character you probably won't be able to assess as well as you'll need to.

If you have not run a print shop, you have never seen tens of thousands of dollars get thrown away in a few hours from inattention or incompetence or just plain lack of knowledge.

Use trade printers, trade binderies, and trade mail shops as much as you can. Your margins may be a little thinner, but you risk much less and you won't destroy machinery and relationships along the way.

And you still have the opportunity to mark up the work.
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Get deposits also. Political clients love to not pay you if they lose.

So true! And even if a politician wins, s/he doesn't need you when the election is over.

Don't get deposits, though. Get full payment in advance. (Or, at the very least, consider everything not paid in advance as being a loan to a known deadbeat.)

Politicians have a distressing inclination toward three things:
  1. Changing their minds about running for office
  2. Not having money with them when they pick up their printing
  3. Knowing that election printing no longer needs to be paid for once you reach the day after the election, whether they win or lose.
But if you can put up with knowing this... they can be some of the finest people you'll ever know. Caveat venditor.
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Well-known member
Certainly sounds like you know your market niche and how to work it. I say go for it.

However, I would offer the following words of advice:

You say you are a skilled engineer and I don't doubt that you could, in time, service machines yourself and possibly save money. However, in the beginning, just get a machine either new or refurbished from a reputable supplier that will service and maintain it. Your time and energy will be needed setting up the business, doing the actual printing work, dealing with clients, and probably servicing your finishing equipment that you are buying used.

A used machine without a service contract will require maintenance, it will involve lots of your time, frustration, research, head scratching, downtime and sub-quality product in the process. Are you going into business to print or to service machines? Perhaps a compromise might be to get your main colour machine on a service contract, and then perhaps used B/W and a secondary colour machine off contract for you to tinker with and learn how to service. You need a main colour press you can rely on, otherwise you will miss deadlines and disappoint clients with shitty product. Reputation is everything, right?

You've never done this before and are talking about getting a used Indigo and servicing yourself. An Indigo is a very high volume, complex, expensive piece of equipment. It's not a piece of equipment that someone would start up with, when they have no experience and no service contract. You're making this way too difficult for yourself.

Get multiple toner based machines which are simpler to work with and so that you have redundancy. It's all good and well having one machine which is super fast and productive, but then when (not if) that machine is completely offline or having quality problems, you then have all your eggs in one basket and can't produce any product. On an old machine you may have little annoying problems which are not easy to solve despite repeat efforts and buying lots of expensive replacement parts.

If you're going to get multiple presses then think about getting ones from the same series from the same manufacturer, so that you have a consistent output across the machines, so that you really have redundancy across the machines.

this guy's youtube channel is good. "Just a Printer"

he has several KM machines - one on a service contract, and one which he bought used for peanuts. He made a video where he explained the process he went through to calculate the offer he would make for the used machine which he was effectively buying blind - he bought it knowing it had problems but not knowing whether it would be economically repairable, or if it would just be for spares. He was lucky in that it was simple to repair and get running again, but it could just as easily have been a pile of scrap.
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Active member
Lots of good info here from experienced printers. I had an independent design and print business running some of the same equipment that you contemplate and have decades of print experience. I concur with many of the comments already posted.

We have had good experience with Xerox digital machines (250, 700, Versant 180, C70). As others have said, the particular brand is less important than the cost per click and the quality of service and support. Despite your engineering background, do not attempt to service these machines yourself; at least not initially. It is not a good use of your time as a business owner. In my experience, technicians know what's wrong with a machine when they walk in the door. They carry a stock of spare parts and will have you up and running quickly. If you purchase or lease a used machine, get a service contract. It ensures timely service response, access to spare parts, and consistent operating costs. Do negotiate a fixed click charge for the anticipated life of the machine. You should also have more than one machine. When a deadline looms, you will not want to be waiting for a repair or spending your time troubleshooting.

The HP Indigo machines are far too complex for your initial operation. They are also much more expensive to purchase and operate.

We used a Tec Lighting UV coater and had no trouble coating printed sheets with a variety of finishes from different suppliers. However, the coating and clean-up chemicals take you into a different environment. If you have not handled industrial chemicals before, there will be a learning curve. You will also need the proper venting for fumes and clean-up supplies in case of spills.

Do not underestimate the difficulty of finding skilled workers. All of the software and devices you will be using are complex and require significant skills to operate efficiently. If you accept files from your clients, chances are they will need revisions in order to print correctly. Hire the best people you can find.

Printing is not a high margin business, particularly these days. It seems that you will primarily serve a vertical market: political campaigns. This may reduce pricing pressure but your business will still need to be efficient and accurate in order to be profitable. Invest in quality equipment and automation wherever possible.

Best wishes for your success.


Active member
I second what @davarino said. Maybe start out as a broker of sorts and use trade vendors to get started. You could even get a printer but outsource the cutting/folding/tabbing.
We are a printshop/mailhouse and do a lot of political mailings. What I'd stress for a printer is to find something that gives you the best CPC AND has good registration. If you're not in control of the design, then it could be a crap shoot when it comes to artwork. You could get some high end pieces that have good margins, but we've seen alot where someone has wall to wall text and only gives you 1/8" (and usually no bleed). Good registration will save you a lot of hassle. Like others have said, I think an Indigo is too much for starting out. They're also not cheap. They are also more susceptible to scratching when going through the Post Office machines. We've been using Ricoh printers for a while now and have been very happy with them. (Although we are jumping in to inkjet and getting a Canon iX 3200 in June). If you decide to dive into UV coating, just be sure to get a coating that works with whatever printer you're using. While we don't have a TEC Lighting coater, we do buy their coatings. They have several different kinds that work with offset, toner, etc. Just talk to them or what ever vendor you choose.

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