Friday 25 September 2020
There are two main types of printing company: traditional printing houses, and online print suppliers.
Online print suppliers These online print ‘supermarkets’ have become very popular in recent years. For the uninitiated in the world of print-buying, having a finite list of products, and all the possible combinations of print specifications laid out can prove helpful. These sorts of suppliers can also offer excellent value for money, particularly on short-run jobs. Watch out for minimum/fixed order quantities and a restricted range of products, which can be a problem if they do not match your requirements.
Traditional printing houses With an unspecified – and seemingly infinite – range of choices, traditional printing houses may feel less accessible to people who are unaccustomed to print-buying. You may also feel put off by having to deal with an estimator, client manager or sales representative. However, there is enormous benefit in talking about your print project with someone knowledgeable and experienced, and a good printer, print rep or estimator can be invaluable in this respect. A guiding hand combined with the flexibility offered by a traditional printer can help you to get the most ‘bang’ from your budget.
With expert one-to-one advice on hand, it’s unlikely that a traditional printer will match the cost-effectiveness of an online print supplier. But if you need or want to produce a non-standard item, then this may be your only choice.
The best value for money comes from printers whose set-up matches your requirements. One way to narrow down your search is to find out what type and size of presses a printer is running.
Digital presses are more cost-effective for small jobs. Litho for large. But beyond that, you need to find a printer with a press of a suitable size for your project.
Presses are ‘sized’ based on the maximum size of paper they can print on, (usually specified in the B range), and the number of colours they can print in one pass.
A printer running a B1 ten-colour press won’t be cost-effective for a small job because their overheads will be higher and their presses are not well-suited to your project. Fortunately, many printers run a range of presses to cater for different sized jobs, but some will specialise, catering for very large or small jobs. The key to achieving cost-effectiveness is to find a printer with the right equipment to suit the job.
Not all printers are equal in terms of quality. A supplier may run litho and digital presses, but online print suppliers don’t always make it clear which printing method you're getting. Quality varies widely between digital presses, so depending upon which press they have, the results could be substantially different from what you expected.
Lower costs may be achieved by focusing on volume rather than quality, ganging jobs together to keep costs down and, in some cases, outsourcing overseas where overheads and salaries are lower. Watch out for ISO 9001 quality accreditation from the International Organization for Standardization, and always request a sample pack, if offered.
The two types of print suppliers differ widely here. Online print suppliers tend to offer a set and limited range of papers, listed as generic ‘uncoated’ or ‘silk’ stocks. Be prepared for the brand of paper to be changed without notice, resulting in differences in colour, thickness, and feel. Some of the better online print suppliers offer named premium branded stocks, which are less likely to be changed without notice.
Traditional printers, on the other hand, work with a wide range of paper merchants and can draw upon an almost endless selection of stocks. Limitations on the paper you can choose mostly stem from compatibility issues with digital presses. The printer can sometimes solve this problem by applying a sapphire coating to the stock.
All printers offer print, but the range of print and finishing techniques they can provide varies widely regardless of which type of supplier you choose. Online print suppliers have a set repertoire of services they offer, whereas traditional printers can be more flexible, working with specialist finishing houses where needed. You may find that using one supplier who can handle all the necessary finishing themselves offers the best cost-effectiveness, although in some circumstances this won't be possible.
There are some advantages to working with local traditional printers. Visiting the factory can be useful, you can meet your print representative face to face developing a good working relationship with them, you’re more likely to be able to see a physical proof of your job, and you’ll be racking up fewer ‘print miles’. Printers are, however, accustomed to distributing print over a wide area, so you needn’t restrict yourself to using a local printer if you don’t want to. Online print suppliers will rely upon commercial post and courier services to deliver your print. Traditional printers, however, tend to have delivery vehicles, which can make larger deliveries more convenient.
Things to watch out for here are whether the company you are dealing with is operating as a broker for printers overseas. It can be hard to tell from a web site, and work may go as far as China, risking delays caused by shipping, and making it harder to resolve any problems.
Try and meet all your printing requirements with the smallest number of printers possible. Using the same print supplier will help achieve valuable consistency across paper and print colours. But it will also allow you to develop a good working relationship with each of them. Once a printer is familiar with your visual identity, they can become invaluable in monitoring colour consistency, as well as picking up problems with your artwork. If you do need to split your print requirements across multiple providers, then try and group materials logically, so that similar items still go together well. For example, send all your business stationery to one supplier, and your product catalogues to another.
Any time is a good time to proactively review your print suppliers list and rationalise the range of printers you use. If you need to take a more reactionary approach and choose a supplier for each project, then the best time to make your choice is as near to the beginning of the project as you can. Standard formats, such as business cards, are widely available from a range of suppliers. But if you are after something a little bit more specialised, then you will benefit from knowing who is going to print it and what their print and finishing capabilities are right at the outset. This will give you access to the advice and guidance of an expert to help make your design and production specification as cost-effective and successful as possible.
Your designer is ideally placed to handle print-buying for you – providing they are accustomed to specifying print themselves. Some online print suppliers are exclusively open to trade buyers, so your designer will also have access to options that you do not. And their range of contacts and experience will often mean they can help source good quality, good value print for your projects, acting as an intermediary and project manager where needed.
I can help you identify suppliers, or handle your print-buying for you. Just get in touch.
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Hello! I’m Sarah, an independent graphic designer & typographer, helping businesses to communicate their unique selling points through printed marketing and communications.
I’ve been sharing my knowledge about design, typography, marketing, branding and printing since 2014. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.