| Design Basics, Design Trends

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More and more I’m being asked (forced?) to use online printing sources for print design projects. As a graphic designer, one part of my services is to help my clients produce the final printed pieces that I design.

Business cards, postcards, brochures, etc. all need to be printed as part of the design process. And we’re all trying to save a buck and get things done at as low a cost as possible. These days that often means using online printers.

Follow the posts this week, as we talk about printing

In a series of postings that will run this week, I will explore printing options, explain why costs vary and share the results of some of my own printing experiments. I’m going to start this series by expanding on an article that was in my e-newsletter last year.

You’ve probably seen or used the services of online printing companies such as VistaPrint, OvernightPrints, PSPrint, or 123Print. These companies print business cards, postcards and other stationery items at very low prices. In fact, some even offer free printing, usually with the inclusion of their logo on your materials.

Why are they able to sell so cheaply?

  • Economy of scale. When you go to a local printer, they likely print a variety of different items. Monday they have a 2-color business card job, Tuesday they are doing a full-color brochure, etc. That means they have to maintain lots of equipment, and they need to do a different set-up before each job. With these online companies they set-up certain standard sizes, and they print everything 4-color. They are able to group together all these similar jobs and crank them out together.
  • Some of these companies are printing digital rather than offset. While digital printing has improved vastly in the last few years, there are certain things that offset printing can handle better.
  • Color accuracy and sophisticated proofing systems are not part of the job. With a good offset printer, you can expect a “contract quality” proof. Also, with a reputable printer you have someone on your job who is carefully looking at the quality, doing color checks and making critical adjustments on press to ensure a good result.

Some reasons we like these sources:

  • Price. Its most alluring feature.
  • Speed. It usually takes just a few days to receive your order.
  • Small quantities. Generally, you can order low quantities and still get economical pricing.

Some of the drawbacks:

  • Lack of paper choices. Generally, all the paper choices are coated papers which are not my first choice for business cards as they can be slippery and are not easy to write on.
  • Limited or odd sizes. You need to limit yourself to their stock sizes, and not all those sizes are traditional. Vista Print business cards, specifically, are not the traditional card size of 3.5″ x 2″ they are a hair smaller in both directions. In my mind, these usually stick out as looking cheap.
  • Lack of quality control. Certain design elements are not going to fare well under these circumstances. These include: precision cutting; gradations and large color blocks; very small, thin type.
  • Little or no personal contact. There are certain jobs that you like the assurance of a customer service rep or press foreman to feel confident it will look like you anticipate.

Have you used one of these companies or another online printer? Please leave a comment with your feedback.

My next post: my experiment with Visible Logic’s business cards.

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