The world continues to move more and more in a digital direction and a growing number of online printing companies have sprung up all over the Internet. Navigating the online print jungle, though, requires a well-informed guide, and we’re here to help. Whether you need a how-to guide or just some advice on print products for your company, you’ll find what you’re looking for right here. Take a moment to look through our menu for a bit of help, or review the brief guide below.
- Online Printing – A Brief Guide
- Pros and Cons of Online Printing Companies
- The Process (Design, Proofs, Printing, Finishing, Delivery)
- Online Printing Tips
- Primary Printing Methods
- Color – Quality & Accuracy
- Using Online Copying Services
- How to Create Custom Invitations, Business Cards & More
What follows is a brief overview of online printing: the advantages and disadvantages of using online print companies, a primer on the process itself, a discussion of color quality and accuracy, and useful pointers for selecting online printing services. This is meant solely as an overview, and the company of your choice should walk you through any issues or concerns you may still have. However, getting a good idea of what you need to know before you get started may help ensure the overall process is a bit smoother.
There are a number of things to consider as you choose between online printing companies and traditional “brick and mortar” stores. Here are some of the more common advantages and disadvantages to using printing services online:
PRO: Online Printing Is Convenient.
There is no denying that using online print companies for your printing needs is convenient, saving you a trip to your local print shop. This can also be a time and money saver, as you would not need to drive from shop to shop comparing prices.
CON: Online Printing Is Impersonal.
True, you can lose some of the one-on-one interaction that you might have in a “brick and mortar” shop, but as customer service seems to have fallen by the wayside over the past few years, will you really miss not having to look someone in the eye while they stare blankly at you and end up getting the order wrong anyway? Moreover, because you’ll primarily be communicating via e-mail, much of your correspondence will be in writing, which is important should something go wrong. This also ensures that the company of your choice can refer to your e-mail to make certain they understand your instructions. Should you require more personal communication methods, most online companies will discuss your order with you over the phone or in an online chat session.
PRO: Online Printing Is Inexpensive.
Because they are able to lower their expenses and overhead that accompany a physical location, online print companies can pass these savings on to the customer. The low overhead costs also mean that most online printing services can invest the savings in better equipment, which leads to higher quality products.
CON: Online Printing Is Uncertain.
When you order from an online printer, you run the risk of your print products not being shipped in a timely manner and, in some cases, that the order is not shipped at all. The good news is that this happens quite rarely if you’ve chosen a reputable company. Shipping with most online printing services is extremely fast, and if you plan ahead, the money you can save is well worth any wait time you may experience.
Though they may vary in the specific ways they accomplish their goals, online print services will generally follow the same basic path from start (design stage) to finish (delivery of your printed product). Here we will take a quick look at the process, which can be broken down into 5 steps:
Step 1: The Design Stage
At this stage, you are just starting the process of having a printed product created. The design stage will vary depending on your approach. If you hire a graphic design service, your task will be to advise the designers on the vision that your company is seeking for this project. You’ll talk with the design team and may even provide them with examples of your business’s printed products, in order to give them an idea of what style and look you want. If you create a design on your own, you will do so with either graphic design software or design templates; in both cases, you will be making all the decisions about color, font, text, layout, and logo placement. Once you’ve finished the design, you simply upload it to the printer’s website.
Step 2: The Proof Stage
The second stage in the process occurs after your design has been uploaded. It is at this point that it is necessary for you as the customer to see a sample version of the product, and this is called a proof. A digital proof is a PDF file that you receive electronically, while a hard copy proof is a physical copy of your design that is delivered to your door. And while digital proofs are free, hard copies usually incur an additional charge. Hard copy proofs are also printed on proof paper instead of your final paper selection. This stage is crucial because you will be able to inspect the proof for flaws, mistakes, and typographical errors prior to the final product being printed. Resist the urge to just skim over the work at this stage as it could come back to haunt you later! With many online printers, you can also discuss the proof with a company representative for free. However, if your project needs a more thorough review by the printing company, there most likely will be an extra charge for this service. This may be a good idea if you have any concerns about the project.
Step 3: The Printing Stage
This is self-explanatory, really. This is the point at which the materials you have ordered are being printed by your chosen online printing service. Most companies offer you a specific schedule with regard to how long this stage of the process will take.
Step 4: The Finishing Stage
After your product has been printed, the printer adds the finishing touches. For calendar or catalog printing, finishing may include adding a binding to the product. For business cards, finishing may involve coating the cards with an aqueous, glossy shine. Other finishing services include perforation, hole drilling, shrink wrapping, folding, and scoring.
Step 5: The Delivery Stage
Now that your project is complete, there’s one thing left to do: sit back and wait for it to be delivered to your door. Fortunately, online companies offer quick delivery, and many will even give you a guaranteed delivery date at the beginning of the process. Depending on what time you approve the final proof, the production itself can take as little as one day with certain companies. Once your product has been finished, you can choose the shipping method for your needs, depending on the price you are willing to pay for faster delivery. Most online printing companies have expedited shipping with the use of UPS, FedEx, or Postal Service overnight delivery, so consider those options if time is critical for you.
When it comes to professional quality printing, there is quite a bit to know which follows the old saying, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” Still, there are a few things you can keep in mind that will go a long way to help ensure the best possible result from your online print work. For starters, it is up to you to make absolutely certain that the information you provide to your printer is entirely correct and free of all errors. Printing companies (online or otherwise) are not in the editing business, after all. In the end, any mistakes that come from typos are probably going to be yours.
Tip #1: Check Your Work
Sounds redundant and boring, but you really do need to make absolutely sure your work is correct before you send it off to the printer.
Tip #2: Selecting Typefaces and Fonts
A typeface or font is the specific type of lettering that is used to display your text. Many people aren’t aware that they can significantly improve their printing products by altering the typeface. An appropriate typeface can make the difference between products that are clearly readable or illegible, distinctive or easily forgotten, taken seriously or not.
Before making your final font selection, you may want to look at a variety of options, from elegant, sweeping fonts for baby shower invitations, wedding announcements and thank you cards, to a more traditional look for business cards, letterhead, and brochure designs.
Be sure to select a typeface or font that is appropriate for your content to portray yourself or your business in the best light possible.
Tip #3: A Word About Images
One of the most commonly made mistakes in printing occurs when someone attempts to print a photograph or other digital image that is not of sufficient quality to be printed cleanly. Generally speaking, the lowest quality image that is acceptable for digital printing is 150 DPI, while images with more detail, such as photographs, should be at least twice that resolution. Check with your online printing service to find out the resolution requirements for your project.
There are many printing methods out there, but for the overwhelming majority of business and personal projects, offset and digital are the primary methods used.
In offset printing, ink is transferred from a plate to a rubber sheet and then to the paper (thus the use of the name offset). This method produces the highest quality printing, and it’s what most businesses choose for their orders. It’s also affordable: the unit price of an order goes down significantly as you order more.
Digital printing involves no printing plates or rubber sheets, and the design file is simply sent from the computer to the printing press. And because digital printing involves no set-up costs, printers allow orders with lower volumes: it is a great option for products that you’d purchase in small quantities.
A note on selecting the right paper: One of the most important considerations of any professional print job is the quality of the paper or stock upon which your project will be printed. This is a bit more involved than, say, printing out an e-mail on your home printer. For example, if you are printing wedding or bridal shower invitations that have a lot of color involved, you will need to make certain the card stock is thick and heavy enough to hold up to the inks and not allow for bleed through. Paper thickness is also a measure of quality: presentation folders, for example, should also be printed on thick card stock, because flimsy paper will not leave people with a good impression of your company. And for elegant, luxurious personalized stationery, thick text stock is the way to go.
Even standard paper can have a great deal of variance in quality based on the content of the paper itself. Recycled paper, for instance, is often less durable than paper made from newer fibers. It is best to explain your needs and desires in detail to your printer to find out what are the best options for your situation.
The quality of color printing can make a big difference in marketing and advertising. This is why it is important to select a printing service wisely. Quality color is a result of great equipment, premium inks and experienced print professionals. An excellent approach to evaluating quality is to request print samples. Online printing services typically send these sample kits at no cost, and it’s your opportunity to view their printed products. Look for sharp, crisp colors when assessing these print materials for quality.
Accuracy is the next piece of the puzzle, but it can be tricky. For example, how can you guarantee that the green you design with will be the green that turns out in your final printed product, since computer monitors reproduce color slightly differently than a printing press? The best way to ensure accurate colors is by using proper color management throughout the design and printing process. Color management helps ensure that colors are printed in the way you intended, so that you don’t end up with final shades that are noticeably different from the original ones. It’s especially important to understand this concept if you plan on designing on your own.
Consulting a hard copy proof is another effective way to control the accuracy of the color in your project. A proof is a preview of what your final design will look like, and by reviewing a hard copy proof, you see how your design and colors will turn out when printed. Then, you can identify any colors you want to modify.
For pictures, good color starts with taking good photos. Use the correct settings on your camera to ensure that you take full advantage of the light (whether artificial or natural) that is present when you take the picture. Clear, crisp photos are especially important for brochure, catalog and poster printing since people evaluate your company’s products based on these images. Remember that the less you have to change in Photoshop, the better.
As easy as it is to use online printing services for more complicated print jobs like business cards and wedding invitations, you also stand to save a substantial amount of money by using online services for your basic black and white and even color copies. Many of the companies that offer these services have the same printing capabilities that your local print shops have. In fact, some online services have even more extensive equipment and expansive service offerings. Here are a few things to be mindful of when using online copy services:
Is Your Print Job Paper Thin?
When you are paying for copies, don’t go cheap when it comes to paper, unless you are absolutely certain it will not matter. Cheaper copy paper will often be thinner and more subject to curling than slightly heavier (and a bit more costly) standard weight paper. Depending on the purpose of your printing job, the slightly higher cost may well end up paying for itself.
Before the Ink Dries
Ask your print company about the type and quality of the inks that are being used on your print project.
Will the ink run once it is dry? What about fading? It may also help to ask for samples to get a better feel for the printer’s work.
Breaking Down the Costs
Don’t be wooed into a false sense of security by a dramatically lower per copy cost until you look at the bottom line estimate. What sort of paper is being used? How much will the shipping and processing fees add up to? The bottom line is the final cost, not the individual numbers. Keep your eyes open and always read through the entire estimate before you commit to anything. A good deal is only a good deal if it saves you time, money, and headaches; otherwise, you are “stepping over a dollar to save a dime,” as a wise man once said. Know what you are getting for your money and only pay for what you need.
This section of our guide (see “Advice on Creating” on the right-hand side menu) includes creative and helpful advice on how to create, design, and print personal items, such as birthday invitations, graduation announcements, and Christmas cards. Additionally, we offer a bit of advice on business print products. From creating custom stationery to designing advertising flyers, the guide is intended to give you a little extra knowledge on both the products you need and how to select the right professional. Keep in mind that your print company will help you answer any remaining questions you have. Here are a few examples of how we can help:
People use cards for a variety of reasons these days, and custom options can help you convey your message in a unique manner. No matter which type of greeting you’re creating, you’ll always be able to choose between uploading your design to the print company and using their pre-made templates. If you’re uploading your own design, you can use specialized design software, hire a professional designer, or use the print company’s design department to create the desired look. For a truly personalized card, take a picture of your whole family or just your children, and use this photo as the primary image for your cards.
While considering the design of your card, you’ll want to think about the text as well. The wording of your message is important here, but so is the actual look of the text. Choose a font that is readable but also one that accents the message you are sending. You want your “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to really stand out. After you’ve carefully designed and printed your greeting cards, you may want to add a colorful ribbon as a final touch.
To learn more, please take a moment to visit the greeting cards section of our site.
A wedding is one of the most important occasions of one’s life, and custom invitations can help set the right tone from the start. To come up with a unique remembrance you can call your own, look to incorporate your photos, your words, and your vision. Work closely with the designer to make sure that the invitations have the elements you want, or create the invites at home with the help of your groom or bride-to-be. Another consideration is to include a map that has the location of your wedding pinpointed. If you are having a reception as well, you might also want to include a map of how to get to that location, to make it as easy as possible for your guests to find you. For more information on creating, designing, and printing, visit our page about wedding invitations.
There can be no better way to declare the birth of a new family member than to send a well-designed and beautiful birth announcement. Make your baby announcement unique by including a funny anecdote or a poem. Maybe you’ll want to include a short story about how the baby’s name was chosen. If you keep a diary or notebook during the pregnancy, you could also include some quotes or memorable passages from that time in your life. Handling the birth announcements online, while still having the opportunity to personalize and customize them to your exact specifications, can be extremely helpful to a new mom. To discover more advice, look at the section on birth announcements within our website.
A business card often defines the impression you’ll leave on others, therefore choosing the correct design is critical to your business’ image. You put quite a bit of effort into building your business relationships, so it’s important to pay attention to the details. For example, a vibrant young design company might want to showcase creativity and innovation, and the cards need to reflect that. On the other hand, a stately law firm that has earned a very traditional image over generations may not want to choose cards that convey a loud, modern image. In order to decide on the best image to convey, brainstorm a few of the central concepts that represent your company; this will also get your employees involved in the design process.
Once you have your image carefully planned, you’ll want to make certain that you use only high quality card stock to help inspire trust and confidence in your enterprise. For additional information on creating a business card, please visit the business card printing and design section of our site.
Let your creativity – and your budget – lead the way to crafting unique and custom printing products!
A few closing thoughts…
There are many companies online that offer the same flexibility of print options that you would find in a standard brick and mortar print shop, but because they don’t have to pay for that physical store or the overhead associated with it, you will save a lot of money. In the end, the decision is yours to make, and with so many online printing services available to you, the choice is one that you should consider carefully before making a decision.
Finally, keep in mind that just because these print services are on the Internet does not mean that the general rules for working with a business are somehow less applicable. If you are in any way uncomfortable about doing business with a company, don’t. Any reputable company should be able to meet your needs without hesitation, or you should find another company that will.