Sunday, September 28, 2008

6 Tips for Choosing a Print Vendor

OKAY, so you've finished the artwork, and now you're looking to get it printed. Where do you go? What do you say?

In most cases, you've probably already talked to your client about what kind of paper quality, etc. they want. But then what do you do once you know?

First you need to determine what it is you're printing, here's a list of a few things you'll probably find yourself needing to print for a client:

  1. business cards
  2. fliers / brochures
  3. post cards
  4. custom promotional items
There are hundreds more to add to this list, but these are what you're most likely going to run into.

These are my own made up rules from my experience. It's always good to be fair in business, but not everyone is. Here's your turn to show your good intention and start good habits.

Always get at least 2 different vendor bids
Getting more than 2 vendor bids is usually best. I often do 3. What's the point? Just to make sure you're getting fair rates, plus it shows your client that you're really looking at his best interest.

This rule applies to all vendors, including promotional item vendors.

2. Determine the need to go to a print house or do it digitally from an online vendor

Online printing is because more and more common. I do most of my small print jobs like business cards and brochures through online print companies. You can always requests samples to see their quality. Most of the online vendors have a guarantee.

There are small franchise printers like MinuteMann Press and Kwik Kopy who are also digital printers. I just find them to be unreliable with extremely low quality assurance practices. Hey, I'm sure some people have had good experiences. I'm not one of them.

The difference between an online printer and print house is simply they're methods of printing.

  • Mostly digital, requires less pre-press time
  • Limited paper /coating / color options
  • Cheap
  • Great for small runs (small quantities)
  • Works with simple files like pdfs
  • Usually out-of-state, so there's a shipping cost
  • Tax free if the vendor is out-of-state (at least this is true for Texas)
  • Reliability: they usually specialize in these routine orders, so there's less chances for variance
  • Online work-order management: you can always re-order, and upload files at a click of a button. It's hassle free, quick and you can manage your orders 24/7.
  • Skip the trip to the UPS store: Online printers offer blind mailing. That means, when an order is shipped to your client directly from the printer, you can choose to have your company name as the return address, instead of the printers' address. Which means, you don't have to wait for the printer to send you the finished pieces, and then go to the UPS store and send it yourself.
  • Offers standard binding and folding
  • If your client is short on money, you may be a hero if you choose a digital print vendor
  • True print veterans. These people are experts with their craft, and do everything by hand. Mixing colors (Pantone, CMYK) to die cuts. They are extremely knowledgeable and have seen every strange print request possible.
  • You get a personal account manager to handle all your print jobs, and years later, you'll probably have the same account rep, who will remember you.
  • Specialize in custom requests, packaging, die cuts, special papers, inks.
  • Often takes longer than digital printing, because of the prepress time.
  • Print houses are great for large runs (large quantities, minimum 3000 pieces) Although, they can do smaller jobs, it's just more cost efficient to do larger ones.
  • Have loads of paper options
  • Can offer special requests for binding, folding, die cuts
  • Tend to be more expensive, because it's usually much better quality

3. Choose a vendor who has a responsive account manager

It make you feel pretty bad when you choose a company to do your print work, and you can't find your account rep., or they really don't care about your business. It makes you look bad in front of your client if you keep putting things off because of your vendor.

"Print vendors should be at YOUR mercy, not theirs."

"Account Representatives" are common names for "sales people" at a print production house. When you call a printer (also known as print house, print bureau, print shop, print vendor, printer) you will be assigned with an account rep. That account rep is responsible for listening to your requests and finding the best options to meet your budget constraints and special needs. Good account reps try to meet with their client face-to-face.

Account reps who build relationships with you are often more reliable. If they give you a price that's too high, show them your competitive quote, and they'll often match or go lower to win your business.

4. Know your stuff

It's easy to place an order online to print business cards, but do you know what 4/4 is? How about aqueous? And 14 pt?

Do your research and find out the lingo of the paper and printing business. Working with a professional print house, they see people with no experience in the biz, but if you're claiming to be a designer, you need to know the lingo to speak to your vendors. Plus, it ensures they are doing everything you ask for.

5. Know how to charge your client

Let's say your client wants a bid from you to print their brochures. You tell them, you'll get it to them in a week. That gives you enough time to get 3 vendor bids back. Once you select a vendor, be sure they aren't charging you tax. (Because you are a legitimate business owner, with a tax resellers ID, you shouldn't be paying tax twice.) Meaning, the printer should not charge you tax, because you're going to turn around and charge your client the tax. (Proper way of doing business.)

Find out what your markup will be, 10%, 20%? Decide what the markup will be, and present that to your client. You have to get paid for your leg work in working with the printer. Sometimes, I give the client the option. Do they want me to work with the printer, or are they going to do it themselves? You'll be surprised how many times a client will have a printer already in mind.

6. Prepare the artwork properly

It's almost impossible to do this perfectly every time. Not your fault, each printer has different versions of software, or machines that require different parameters of your artwork.

The best thing to do to avoid working needlessly, is always ask your printer, before you start designing, what their preferred artwork format is. Some like compressed pdf, some like eps.

I tend to be safe and do all of the ways. I usually create my artwork in InDesign CS3 and package the artwork so that it includes all the links and fonts. I also export a high-res pdf. Most print houses will want you to print out a sample on your printer as reference.

The most common mistake printers have from freelancers are:
  1. Fail to create outlines with the text/font
  2. Fail to import only eps / tiff images with CYMK color mode (remember RGB is for the screen)
Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions.


  1. i always make a mistake in saving my designs to be printed in CMYK..i always save it on RGB. thanks for these tips. Nice blog by the way.

    thanks again,

  2. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up.Great informative article with some inspiring designs..Thanks for taking time to share your great work and experience.
    website design


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