That's pretty much all I could think so say as I walked out of Staples tonight. Yes, you read that right, Staples. As in the American big-box office supplies retailer. You know, Staples, that was easy’(tm) Staples. Yup, that Staples.
Never in my life have I received such professional, friendly, and genuinely helpful attention in any super-store, and frankly a place like Staples was the last place on Earth I would have expected to find it.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING STORY IS EXTREMELY LONG. (And kinda sappy too)
So, let me start from the beginning.
In March, Wesa and I are getting married. *cheer* Only problem is, getting married requires lots of things to happen. One of those things is invitations. Since Wesa and I are poor, and I’m pretty handy with Photoshop (Note: this foolish project was done entirely in Illustrator, a program I know very little about but would soon learn much), we decided we could do them ourselves. This was, and is both a good idea and a bad idea. As I soon discovered, invitations are a ton of work (which is why they cost so damn much to get made), and the fancy papers used in their fabrication do not play well with your average laser/ink jet at home.
Well, fast forward to this week and Wesa and I have settled on a wonderful design for the invitation part itself, so those have been printed, assembled, and look great. Now we need RSVP cards, and a little directions and information card for invitees. But, there’s a problem. Remember how I said the fancy papers don’t play nice with home printers? Yea, the paper we picked out was a 92lb metallic finish pearl colored stock that looks exquisite in person, but choked my printer cold when I tried to pass it through. I took the ream back to Paper Zone where we bought it, and although the staff was very helpful in locating a possible alternative (closely matching the color but not the sheen), they told me they had a no returns, no exceptions policy on opened reams. So, I either buy another ream of lighter weight stock and hope it will feed through my home printer, or I figure out some way to make the paper we already have work.
On a lark, I went into Staples to look at a replacement UPS for my computer and while I was there I started looking for a replacement printer. A sales associate approached me and asked if I had any questions, and since I wasn’t on a schedule and wasn’t seriously considering my budget at all, I asked if he knew which of the printers he sold could handle 100lb card stock. We looked at all of the printers, even the $1,000+ models, and all of them had no information at all on their maximum printable media weight. We even went to the back and checked at the information kisosk for online information that might be published by the manufacturers and still we could find nothign of use. It was at this point that my attending associate pointed out that they do custom print jobs. Most office supply stores do, so I figured I’d ask if their machine could handle my paper. They said they print on stock up to 110lbs and have a “bypass” on their black & white laser printer. This is important because most laser printers have what’s known as a “reverse” path internally. That means they pick the paper up on one end of the printer and spit it back out in the opposite direction from which it was fed. This is why laser printers sometimes curl the page. A bypass feed allows the paper to be picked up and passed through the printer in a straight line with a minimum to no amount of direction change (crucial when handling heavyweight card stock). Although it was possible to run my paper through the printer, I wasn’t sure what the quality or consistency of the output would be, but at $0.16 per pass I figured it wouldn’t cost me much to find out.
The next day, I took in a copy of my RSVP page on USB thumb drive and handed them a piece of my 92lb stock. They fed it through the bypass but the print driver shrunk the image to fit within the margins resulting in an uneven edge around the outside of the page. This basically meant I would have to completely re-fit the image on the canvas and try to get it “just so” in order to get even margins on all the cards after they were trimmed. Having just done that to fit my printer at home, I knew that took countless reprints to get right AND the ability to check the results after every adjustment. Tweak, print, rinse, and repeat. Continue process ad nauseum until results are satisfactory. If this were any old greeting card or post card, it would be one thing, but since they are wedding invitation RSVP cards, they must be immaculate. So no half-assing would do. (For Carl, though, not quite for Wesa. Quarter-assing works just fine for Wesa.)
Deflated, I left after just one print and when I got home to show Wesa the disappointing results, I had a revelation. The printer driver had shrunk the image because the trim lines I had included crossed the boundaries of the margins and thus the whole canvas was shrunk to fit the entire trim lines on the page. “Aha!” I said. It wasn’t the printer, it was me. I had another chance to get it right. So that night, I revamped all my images to include trim lines that were flush with the boundaries of the image. That way, any scaling would be done on the edges of the RSVP frame and not the trim lines.
Armed with my modified files, I returned the next night and the results on the first night appeared to repeat themselves. The young lady assisting me, Candy, called over her manager, who was apparently quite the expert on the equipment they used. Corey, the manager, arrived in the printing department and proceeded to take a look at my document. He noticed that I had “built in margins” on my PDF document and that’s why the printer was shrinking the image so much. Since I had my Powerbook with me, I figured I’d just pop the files open in Illustrator and rip off the borders and try to reprint, so I dashed out to my car to get my laptop bag. As I came back in, the gentleman from the first night, Azee (sounds like Ozzie), was in the printing department poking away at the computer.
In the interest of full disclosure, it must be noted that my first meeting with Azee didn’t leave me impressed with his knowledge or expertise. He was, as I had gathered, just a sales associate with a moderate to intermediate-advanced understanding of the products he sold. Boy was I wrong.
You see, it turns out that Azee just started his own printing business. A full scale, professional custom graphics design and printing operation. He’s even got his own employees. What’s he doing working at Staples? I honestly have no idea, but if I had to wager a guess I’d say it was for the employee discount on supplies and to make ends meet. Most businesses (especially ones like commercial/industrial design and printing) aren’t very profitable until years down the road.
Azee managed to print my RSVP on the color laser/copier and it turned out that the margins were much smaller and almost even all the way around. Only problem with the results were that all prints from the color machine cost $0.39 per pass. Not only was it over twice as expensive as I had counted on, but the color machine didn’t have a bypass, so it would have to feed the heavy stock through it’s rollers which, even though it was a pretty robust machine, I was pretty sure wasn’t going to happen. So, Azee gave it another go on the B&W machine and…Poof!…it came out almost perfectly centered. Another quick test print on the card stock (through the bypass instead of the paper tray) came out with the margins offset by 1mm. I could compensate for 1mm, so I took my laptop to Starbucks, downloaded the font I used for the fleurons, made one tiny adjustment to the RSVP card, and went back in to Staples, determined this time to get it right.
Azee worked his magic on the printer again and I measured the margins from the output down to the half-millimeter. Victory! It worked and it looked good! Now to print out one side, then the back-side too (return address). While it took some time to get everything “just so” before doing the official run, eventually it worked itself out and I had 120 RSVP cards hot off the press. Azee left to fix the computer in the back room (I was double wrong about him. He not only knows printing, but he’s also the store’s resident techy. How could I have misjudged him so completely?), while Candy was left to ring me up.
“Wait,” I said, “we have to do the directions cards too.”
15 minutes later, Candy had 120 directions cards in my hand (that ironically looked better and cleaner than the RSVPs), all the while we were chatting about this and that, and how I felt a little foolish that I had undertaken the Herculean task of creating “professional quality” invitations for my own wedding. She was stunned that I had designed them myself and said they looked amazing and the paper was a beautiful choice. If she hadn’t been so sincere I would’ve though she was just humoring me, but I think she was genuinely complimenting me on their composition. That felt good.
Three and a half hours from when I set foot in the store initially, I was ready to go, a stack of cards in my hand, waiting to be cut, trimmed, and cornered. When Candy rang me up she told me she’d only charge me for 20. I immediately assumed this meant she’d only charge me for 20 of the 21 prints in the last run (which I though was a nice but silly gesture), but she meant she was only charging me for 20 prints. Not 20 pages, double sided, not the 60 that I ultimately ended up keeping, not the 100+ that we actually made, just 20. Total. $0.16 x 20. The final charge after tax was $3.48.
I blinked, protested, and ultimately accepted Candy’s most generous offer. After all, I had been fully prepared to pay 10 times that amount, and she was doing her best to wish me Merry Christmas and Best Wishes at the same time. Not only was that extraordinarily sweet of her, but after all I had just put her and Azee through, I was honestly shocked to have her not charge me for all the misprints and test prints.
Azee and Candy had gone through so much (even with cranky near-Christmas customers interrupting throughout the night) to help my invitations come out perfect, I was already trying to think of ways I could show them my appreciation, and while I thought cash would be crass, perhaps Starbucks cards (also crass in their own way, but at least they’re regiftable) might be a little more personal. After Candy rung me up, I went straight to the Starbucks next door, bought two $20 gift cards (double what I had originally intended), and marched right back into Staples.
I presented Candy with hers first, told her it was a silly and insignificant way for me to show the depth of my gratitude for her help, and she was visibly very surprised. She protested for a moment, just as I had when she charged me such a ridiculous amount, but relented when I told her it was the least I could do. She then smiled and gave me a hug and wished me a Merry Christmas again. I was positively beaming at that point.
I got Corey (remember the manager?) to go into the back room where Azee was working on the computer and send him out. A moment later, Azee emerged and I presented him with his card. He shook my hand and we thanked each other profusely, and I wished him best of luck in his new business. He seemed quite surprised and pleased that I paid particular attention to that, and he gave me his business card. I swear, if I ever get deluded into thinking I should do this wedding invitation thing again (perhaps for a close friend), I will be using his service to print everything that I cannot print at home. He has more than earned my business for printing, he has earned my glowing recommendation. His knowledge of the equipment he was working with and ability to adapt was so seamless, there was simply no way I would’ve left Staples with a stack of cards without his help.
And so, not only do I have two names that I give my greatest thanks to this holiday season, I also have two recommendations to anyone looking for help with printing anytime soon. While I cannot promise that you will have the same amazing experience I had at Staples, if you happen to need their services, visit the Bellevue branch on 140th Ave NE next to Safeway and ask for Candy or Azee. And if you need some more professional help (and less office super-store-y), call Azee’s printing company, Elite Printing & Copy. He doesn’t have a website yet, but I’ll put the phone numbers here.
Maybe the Bellevue location should change their slogan to “Staples, that was awesome.”
Candy, Azee, you guys rock. Seriously. Love and warm holiday wishes to you both.
Elite Printing & Copy
…Oh, and the invitations look freaking amazing. I can hardly believe that we’ve done them all ourselves.