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Ordering printing is getting easier but that doesn’t mean you should DIY

It seems that every day I run into a better, faster, cheaper option for printing everything from postcards to business cards to banners. 

Printing is a perfect example of a product or service that has been radically changed by the Internet. Individual buyers no longer have to go through professionals to make purchases of their corporate communications materials. First they were able to take the short cut by going to quick print locations like Minute Man Press or Sir Speedy. Then they just started ordering their printing on-line. And each time they show me the results they are so proud of how cheap they got it. Well sometimes you get what you pay for.

I cannot spend enough time trying to educate clients on all of issues that need to be taken into consideration for printing. Most (dare I say 90%?) of the online printing services are digital. Digital is not the same as traditional printing. Digital printing works more like your color laser but with (hopefully) better quality. No two digital printers are the same so bad mouthing one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use another. But you need to understand the limitations.

Digital is great for short run, fast turnaround. It used to be that clients who wanted short run printing just couldn’t afford it. Digital provides a great option for them HOWEVER you need to be careful because there are few efficiencies gained in digital printing. You don’t get a price break for printing more like you do with traditional printing so always compare prices as the quantities increase.

Digital printing is not great for perfect color. Think about the pictures that you picked up from Walmart or Wolf Camera. You may find that the same image printed at two locations looks completely different. Same goes with digital printing.

In contrast, if you provide the same file with the same specifications for ink and paper to two different traditional printers, the image should be largely the same. When quality and consistency is important, it makes sense to go with a traditional press.

When will this not be the same? With gang run production. Lots of on-line printing services are able provide you with low priced traditional printing — cheap enough to compete with some digital — by ganging the production of your pieces with items from another buyer. This allows you to gain efficiencies on the press for quantity but puts you at risk of inconsistency in your color. Why? Well, if the postcard next your card uses Coca-Cola red and your postcard includes a large pink solid about the same color as the one used by Komen foundation, one of the cards is likely to be off.  It’s not because you didn’t both specify your CMYK build correctly. It’s because they are on one press and when the press man has to adjust the Magenta ever so slightly to get an overall pleasing effect, someone is going to lose.

 That is likely what happened to Damien’s business cards, described in this blog entry.

So would insisting on traditional printing — where only his cards were up at one time — have cost him more? Sure because in that instance he would have specified his PMS color and not have had to compromise with a CMYK build and variations on a gang run press. 

Hopefully Damien’s real life experience will help protect you from future printing problems.

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