Professional looking printed materials can make you look good—really good. Your business cards, letterhead and ad materials are the 'face' of your business. They're often the first and last impressions left on a potential customer. It's how you introduce your business to them, and it's what you leave them with, so it's important to make a great first and lasting impression.
Many items, such as letterhead and business cards, can be made on the printer in your office, but unless you have access to very high quality printing equipment, you'll get a more professional and impressive result from a commercial printer.
Quick print shops offer a variety of services, including printing, copying, and binding your materials, and some offer special services for oversized documents. Since many are open 24 hours a day, they can be especially helpful when you need something done outside normal business hours. These shops can often complete your job in less time than a traditional print shop and at a cheaper price. Remember, however, that the speed at which your job is completed is dependent on several factors, such as size and complexity of your job, and how many other jobs they have at the time. Recognize that they have peak periods, (afternoons usually being the busiest), so allow time. The job will usually take longer than you think (until you've built up a track record with a location for certain types of jobs).
Traditional Print Shops
Traditional print shops can often offer more experience and more personal service. You can usually talk with the printer at all stages of the process and get advice about what looks the best and how to save money, and they can sometimes handle more complex jobs than quick print shops. This special attention can come at a price, however. They are often more expensive than their "quick" counterparts, but may also be more willing to negotiate the price.
Online Print Shops
Many print shops now offer online ordering, and some work exclusively online. This can be a great way to save time and money, but can also be problematic. Quality can be an issue. If you don't already have experience with the printer, ask them to send you some samples of their work. Also, since you can't see and touch the stationery or card stock, what you think you're ordering and what you are actually ordering may be two different things. If you're satisfied with the quality and are comfortable ordering online, the convenience is unbeatable -- you don't have to take the time to visit the printer personally, and the order is delivered to your door.
Here are some tips about working with commercial printers:
- Give Clear Instructions. Verbal instructions are never a good idea, no matter how simple the project seems to you. Make sure the employee writes down the number of copies, paper specified, special folds if requested (there are subtle differences in folds: letter fold and z-folds yield different outcomes), and other requests. In fact, you would be well advised to type all of the above out and attach it to the print order.
- File Format. If you're designing your own materials and submitting them on disk, make sure to check with the printer on which file formats will work best for his computer system.
- Consider Upgraded Paper to Make You Look Better. Most paper used for copies is standard 20-pound grade. Consider increasing the weight to 24 pound. Also look at brightness ratings. There are grades of paper that are "whiter" than others. If your materials contain graphics, color charts, etc., consider the incremental added cost of better paper, it is often noticed by clients (and says a great deal about you and your professional work).
- Keep postage costs in mind. If you're ordering a large print job like a catalogue to mail to customers, using a lighter weight paper could save you a lot in postage. Get a mock-up weighed at the post office before ordering the job, if possible. Don't forget to check that you're meeting size, bar code and other postal regulations.
- Color. Adding color adds impact, but also adds cost. The more colors you use, the more complicated the printing process, and the greater the cost. One or two colors in your logo and on letterhead and business cards adds a lot of punch while keeping the cost low.
- Engraving. Engraved (raised) type on business cards or letterhead gives a much more professional appearance at a relatively low cost.
- Consider Upgraded Binding for Ease of Use. There are differences in binding. There is the basic style for booklets. But an upgraded spiral bound makes it easier and more inviting for your client to open and read your materials. Again, it's a small touch and consideration your competitors may not think to do.
- Proofread, Proofread, and Then Proofread Again. Ask for a "proof," or pre-print copy, and check it carefully for any mistakes. Make changes in writing, as the printer isn't liable for oral instructions. Remember that once you sign off on a proof, you've given your approval, and changes can be costly at a later stage if they're your fault. Here are a few things to look for:
• Are both the flat and folded sizes of the proof correct?
• Is it folded correctly?
• Does all copy read correctly when the paper is folded?
• Are all required scores and perforations indicated?
• Are there any spelling or grammatical errors?
• Are there any missing characters or broken type?
• Are the pages, including blanks, in the correct order?
• Is all copy in the proper position on the page or panel?
• Is the page number in the correct position on each page?
• Are all margins straight or consistent?
Photos and Illustrations
• Have all photos or illustrations been shot at the proper size and placed into position?
• Are there any upside-down or flopped (mirror) images?
• Does each image have the proper caption?
• Do photographs fully touch the outline rules?
- Build a Relationship. You want a partner who will make recommendations about paper sizes or ink that can save you time or money, someone who will guarantee the quality of your print job, and who will sometimes go the extra mile to deliver on time because of your relationship.
CopyMax (OfficeMax) (can also order online)
Kinko's (can also order online)
Office Depot Print Center (can also order online)
PIP Printing (can also order online)
Sir Speedy (limited online ordering)
Printing for Less