How to choose a printing company

At some point as a graphic designer, you’ll find yourself needing to print stuff. Naturally, there’s a whole lot of choices out there. Some are best suited towards a small run project, like business cards. Others favor fancy projects like a brochure with a cutout or spot varnish.

Your two options are either finding somebody local, or going online. Each of them has their pros and cons. In this episode, I’m going to go over my experiences with both.

Right off the bat, small run projects tend to favor the online printers — in minimum quantities and cost. Going local is more favorable when you’re running a large project or need special effects above and beyond a standard print.

Diving into local first, one of the biggest things that I love is that you get the option for picking it up. It’s wonderful. You’ll also have a rep to step you through the entire project from start to finish. A good rep can help you figure things out as they go, or alert you of any issues that come up.

One of the other things that I enjoy working with local print shops is that you can usually get a printed proof before run as well. Usually, this is free of charge. It allows you to see how things are working or progressing. If you need to make any changes, you’re not out an entire run before something crops up.

Another additional benefit is that you also get the opportunity to do press checks, which is always something that I’ve enjoyed. If you’ve never done one, it’s where you stop in during the production of your project. You can see how the finished pieces are coming off the press in real time. If its a larger project, you can watch any specialty steps like binding to see how it’s being assembled. By far, it’s the biggest benefit local print shops have over online.

On the downside, you have to deal with cost. It’s usually more expensive to go with a local print shop as they have things like overhead to pay for without the large client base to offer lower rates. Additionally, your options may be limited on what they’re able to do. Typical situations I’ve seen are papers that aren’t available, or things like cutting or coatings that require special machinery. Some shops will offer to send the work out, but it adds to the final cost.

So let’s say you decide to go online.

The obvious pro is cost. Even with shipping, most online printers offer extremely competitive pricing. Because they’re set up to run specific kinds and styles of projects, they can offer a great rate to you. Additionally, they’re doing the same kind of printing hundreds or millions of times per day. As a result, you can reasonably assume that your project will turn out as you expect.

Another thing that online shops tend to do is offer a great selection of templates for their products. Some even go as far as including export presets. These are great to have as you’ll know that you’re giving them exactly what they’re expecting before they hit print.” Most even have a pre-press system on their website that give you the chance to check everything over before you even place your order.

The downside is that you usually don’t get a printed proof with an online vendor. The only way that you get around this is ordering a minimum quantity first. This can be fine, but it’s an additional cost and it pushes out the timeframe that you can expect to have the finished prints back. 

The other downside, and it’s kind of an obvious one, is that they’re usually not set up to do special or custom projects.

I encourage people to do a bit of research as well when it comes to online as there’s a variety of print qualities. I will always recommend that you don’t go with the absolute cheapest option. You don’t necessarily need to go with the most expensive one either. But it helps to find somewhere in the middle. That’s a good cross between quality and cost for whatever it is you’re doing.

So those are my tips for choosing a good printing company. I hope you’ll find some of these useful. I know printing is a bit of a headache for some designers, especially if you don’t deal with it on a regular basis. But having some knowledge ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches when you’re getting that final product in your hands and seeing that everything went as smoothly as you hoped it would.

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