Q&A

Should I Print With an Online Printer or a Local Printer?

In the past ten years, online printers have exploded and become the go-to for many print projects that used to be printed down the street. Sure, online printers are usually cheaper, but does that mean they’re always to be favoured over local printers? As I’ve researched various printing options for clients both in North America and Europe, it’s become clear to me which projects are well-suited to online printers, and which would be better printed locally.

Photo by  Kaboompics .com  from  Pexels

A local printer may be best for:

Creative or complex print projects requiring personalized service: Printing with a local printer lends itself to creative print projects with unique shapes, papers, folds, or finishes. Not only can you get in-person advice from someone who can help you plan your project, but you can flip through paper samples or look at ink swatches in person. Typically, online printers are set up best for standard projects in standard sizes, which is one of the reasons they tend to be more affordable. 

Print projects with a tight turn-around time: As I mentioned in my post on saving money when ordering printing, when printing with an online printer, if you need the printed piece to arrive quickly, you will pay premium prices for rush production and overnight delivery. In this case, I almost always recommend printing with a local printer; you can pick up the printed pieces yourself if needed. It’s also faster to shoot your local printer (with whom you already have a relationship) an email with the necessary instructions and a pdf attached, than to create an account with an online printer and go through all the steps to set up the order to their specifications.

High-ticket print projects: For a project where the colours need to match exactly or you are quite particular about how the photos are printed, printing locally with a more traditional full-service printer is best. You may even be able to “press proof” if needed — to make an appointment with your local printer to be there when your project is being printed, to sign off on the prints as they leave the press.

It follows that an online printer may be best for:

Standard print projects with standard lead times: If you need a 3.5 by 2 inch business card (in North America) or an A6 postcard (in Europe), any number of online printers are begging for your attention. Most of them will probably do what you need them to do. If you have about 1-2 weeks lead time, most online printers can print and deliver at their standard reduced rates. When working with an online printer, there is usually no interaction with a customer service representative, and it can be a bit harder to get help with questions or complaints. 

Low-budget print projects: There are always clients for whom budget is of utmost concern. For these projects, planning them to suit an online printer’s standard product is your best bet. For example, recently a client wanted a 6 by 6 inch marketing booklet. An online printer offered that exact size, and the local printer could not compete with the pricing because the size was unusual and the booklets would have had to be put together by hand. 

As someone who cut her prepress teeth at a local printer, I am a fan of giving back to the local economy when possible, and not contributing to the closure of yet another local print shop. But like everyone else, I’ve printed with both types of printers. One last secret about local printers though — because you’re dealing with a real human with whom you have some kind of relationship, you can also ask if there’s any way he or she can meet your budget or price match another printer. With a local printer there’s a bit more “give” — they’re happy you want to work with them.


As a graphic designer who specializes in print design, I’m available to source or recommend printers for my clients. Whether you’re needing print design or print sourcing, let’s talk!

What Is the Best Way to Save Money When Ordering Printing?

While getting printing quotes and ordering printing for a client in the USA this month, I have been thinking about the best way to save money when ordering printing. Even if the money being spent on printing is not coming from my pocket, I hate to see clients paying double or triple as much for a print project simply because they don’t have this one thing. Can you guess what it is?

Photo by  rawpixel.com  from  Pexels

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

[Photo added to build suspense.]

Saving money when ordering printing is easy if you have time. The top reason that I see printing become expensive for clients is because they haven’t planned enough time for the most affordable printing options. In other words, print projects need to be planned well enough in advance by someone who knows what a reasonable printing timeline is.

Let’s say you’re ordering 5,000 postcards. Printing at the printer down the street might cost twice as much as printing at an online printer. But if you have to pay rush fees and express shipping for your print job at the online printer in order to get the project to you on time, you might as well support the local economy and send your project to the printer down the street, because you’ll end up paying almost the same thing. Planning print jobs with enough time to print them affordably can easily save hundreds of dollars even on a small project like postcards.

The savings become even greater if you are able to plan printing overseas into your timeline for larger projects or larger print runs. For example, that full colour cookbook that might cost $15,000 to print in North America might cost $6,000 to print in India or China…but you need to plan on at least an extra four to six weeks for printing and delivery. And even with printing overseas, shipping can become expensive if you suddenly have to have a quarter of your order sent by air instead of by sea because the timeline is too tight.

If you have time, you have choice. A bit of planning also gives you the time to:

  1. Gather quotes from more printers, finding the best price or quality for the price.

  2. Research other options that might also save money, like different papers or different formats.

  3. Negotiate with the printer that you hope to work with. (This is a benefit of working with a local printer, is that you may be able to negotiate with them and keep your printing local.)

  4. Wait for sea or ground delivery instead of air or overnight.

  5. Work with your designer in a low-stress way and avoid rush fees from the designer as well.

For a big corporation, saving $100 when ordering postcards or $2,000 when ordering books might not seem like much. But these kinds of savings are especially important for lean start-ups or organizations like non-profits for whom every penny counts!

So, what’s the best way to save money when ordering printing? Good planning — that is, knowing how much time you need to keep the print project from becoming a rush order!


Thank you for taking the time to read this post! I am happy to help clients source the best printing prices in their neighborhood, online or overseas. If you want to talk about how to save money on your next print project, please write to me through my contact page.

Why Don’t You Offer Free Book Interior Layout Samples?

To my surprise, this scenario has repeated itself three times in the past year:

  1. A potential client will inquire about a book interior layout project.

  2. I will spent a considerable amount of time learning about the project so that I can bid on it.

  3. The potential client will tell me that he or she was expecting a “free sample layout” first.

For example, a British client asked me a few months ago what I would charge to create four sample design spreads for his coffee table book. I spent several hours working for "free" (reading his inquiry, corresponding with him, Skyping with him, learning about him and his project). Then I sent him a price. This was his polite, but unexpected, response:

"...you are competing with one designer offering sample work free, and another charging $12 per page - would you like to reconsider your approach to the sample work?"

Let’s just say that I wasn’t charging anywhere near $12 per page. I didn’t budge on my price, and I didn’t get the project.

Asking someone to begin their work with no promise of payment sounds strange in almost any other industry. But somehow it has become “acceptable” in the online world of freelancing and graphic design. Design crowd-sourcing websites have given some clients the idea that designers can afford to work for free, and unfortunately, many graphic designers succumb to competing for business by beginning a project with absolutely no guarantee of being paid to later complete the project.

Imagine the same scenario, but in the restaurant industry. When you go out to eat, you don't ask five or six restaurants to make you an appetizer for free, sample all the appetizers, and then pick which of the restaurants will be honored with your purchase of an entrée. I mean, maybe you love sampling a wide variety of appetizers. That’s completely fine, if you want to pay for your appetizers at each of those restaurants, as a test of the quality of their cuisine!

No one expects to be fed for free at a restaurant, and I guess that’s why it always surprises me that anyone would expect to be “fed” graphic design for free either. So for the record, here’s why I don’t offer free book interior layout samples.

I don’t offer free book interior layout samples because…

  1. …the initial stage of your book layout is the most time-consuming and most important stage.

During the first stage of a book project, your designer is making both technical and design decisions that can make or break your project. Having a professional final product takes good thinking and planning from the beginning, both in image-heavy books and in simple text-based layouts. Settings related to typography (justification, kearning, leading) and layout (margins, graphics, colours, styles) are all made at this stage and set the course for the whole project. Errors or oversights at this point can cause expensive problems at the end of the project.

In the case of the client above, his coffee table book was going to have stories of significantly different lengths with photos accompanying them. No matter the length of the story, he wanted each story to take up only two pages, or one spread. This takes a lot of planning, to be sure that the design created will be flexible enough to suit such different types of content.

2. …I want your book to be unique.

Most designers who offer "free layout samples" have a one-size fits all template that they use and update for each new book. But as I mentioned above, there is no one-size-fits-all with truly professional book interior layouts. A true designer will treat your book like the unique project that it is, and consider how everything from the typeface selection to the placement of headers and footers suits your book’s genre or audience.

3. …designers doing free work ultimately can’t give as much time and attention to paid work.

Another reason I don't create book layouts for free is so that ultimately, when I do create books, I have the time and focus to deliver above and beyond what I have promised. I don’t have to rush through paid work to make time for the free work I’m trying to fit in to my schedule as well. When a client comes along who understands the value of my work, I'm not busy messing around with unpaid projects. I can complete the work I've promised — and more — within the deadlines. Because professionalism in pricing usually carries over to professionalism in business as a whole.

4. …no book designer should feel they need to work for free.

Sometimes refusing to do free sample book layouts feels a bit like running the only restaurant on the street that doesn't offer free appetizers. But as I take a stand against requests for free book interior layout samples, I educate clients and hopefully help fewer other designers to receive the same kinds of unprofessional requests. If other designers begin to do the same, maybe we’ll receive fewer of those surprising questions: “Would you like to reconsider your approach to the sample work?”


I don’t offer free book interior sample layouts, but I do offer free quotes or even a free half hour Skype consultation about your book project! Whether you’re an established publisher or self publishing for the first time, let’s talk about your next book interior layout project.

Where Can I Find Free, High-Resolution Images for Print Design?

Photo by  JESHOOTScom  via Pixabay

Photo by JESHOOTScom via Pixabay

In the past five years, there's been a real boom in websites offering high resolution, print-quality photos that are free for commercial and personal use. Whether you're wanting photos for a professional print design project or even just looking for a beautiful new photo to enlarge for your office wall, check these websites before you shell out the cash for paid photo services.

1. Unsplash

The first place I look if I want non-cheesy, free, high-resolution photos is Unsplash. The images at Unsplash are well curated, and have a young, artsy vibe. They're high enough quality for printing and Unsplash doesn't require that you start an account with them to download images. All images on Unsplash are free for commercial or personal use. (Another nice feature of Unsplash is that there's little advertising on the website; the same can't be said for most of the following photo sources.) 

2. Stocksnap

Stocksnap is another great gallery to search for quality, high-resolution photos at no cost. Similar to Unsplash but a bit less hipster. They offer alle of their images under the same CC0 license that lets you do what you want with their photos, with no attribution required. The quality of the images is sharp and good for print at most sizes. You can read their image licensing details here

3. Pexels

Still searching for that perfect image? Enter your keyword(s) into Pexels and press enter! Pexels specifies that their images can be used in print marketing material: "Use the photos for flyers, postcards, invitations, magazines, albums, books and more" but be sure to read their licensing write-up here before you hit print!  

4. Pixabay

Not to be confused with Pexels (the "p" and the "x" in both names still throws me off), Pixabay advertises that they have over 1.5 million royalty free stock photos and videos. Pixabay requires that you create an account and log in to access the images in higher resolutions, but it's worth it if they have the image you're wanting! 

juliekarenblogdivider.jpg

Of course, there are many more such websites, but I hope these four favourites of mine will be useful to you! It's always good to have a few different links go-to free stock photo websites in mind when you need images for a project, because particularly when it comes to free stock images, not every site will have the image you need.

If you can't find the image you're wanting for free, try a cost-effective source of paid images like Shutterstock.

Lastly, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to check and double check the licensing on "free" images before ordering a large print run using those photos. Free print-quality stock images can be a great solution in many situations, but watch for my follow-up post, where I explain why (in my opinion) you should never use a "free" image on your book cover, or front and centre in any other important, widely-distributed print marketing piece. 


Wondering about using an image for print, but not sure if the resolution is good enough? Give me a shout through my Contact page and I'll help you figure it out!

Why Does the Paper in My Printed Proof Feel Different Than the Paper I Specified for My Project?

A few months ago, after a client received a printed proof of his catalog in the mail, he asked me: Why does the paper in my printed proof feel different than the paper I specified for my project? He had reason to be concerned: the thick paper on which the proof had been printed did not open very well, meaning a lot of each beautiful photo spread was lost to the centrefold of the book. He sent me a video to show me how stiffly the pages of his proof were turning. 

Plotter - the kind of device your proof is printed on ( Image Source )

Plotter - the kind of device your proof is printed on (Image Source)

Thankfully, the printer and I were both able to reassure him that the paper the printer uses for proofing a project, especially a project that is printing on special paper or on an offset press, is usually not the same paper the final project will be printed on. At the commercial printer where I used to work, our proofs were printed on rolls of paper by a digital plotter, but the final paper came in cut sheets and was loaded into the sheet-fed offset press.

Offset Press - the kind of device your final product is printed on ( Image Source )

Offset Press - the kind of device your final product is printed on (Image Source)

Usually, the first time you'll get to see "your" artwork on "your" paper is when the final product is delivered to your door. But that's why a full-service printer will usually send a sample of the paper to you separately (in the case of my client's catalog, the printer had done this months before), so that you can know the exact thickness or feel of the final paper. If it's really important to you to know how the product will feel — after all, it's hard to hold one sheet of paper and imagine how 200 such sheets will feel in a book — you can ask the printer to provide a dummy of your project. A dummy is a blank book made of your final paper(s), cut and bound to final size. It still won't have your graphics on it, but it will give you a real idea how your piece will feel in your hands.

Next time you get a too-shiny, too-thick proof in the mail, remember: your proof is rarely printed on the same paper as your final product. It's OK to double-check with your printer or designer to make sure the right paper is specified for the project.  Then, take a deep breath, approve the proof, and trust your printer on this one!


If you have a print-related question that's puzzling you, let me know through my Contact page and I'll do my best to find you an answer! 

Why Does the Color on My Ebook Cover Look Different Than the Color on My Printed Book Cover?

Recently a client sent me a screenshot of his print book cover and his ebook cover side by side, and asked me why he saw such a visible color shift between the two.

I explained to him that the ebook cover is in the RGB color space, but the printed book cover is in the CMYK color space. RGB is the color space used for on-screen images, while CMYK is the color space that printing devices can capture. As a basic explanation, the RGB images look brighter because they are being shown on a lit screen. It's hard to achieve the same brightness with ink on paper. As you can see in the chart below, CMYK captures a smaller range of color than RGB captures (and both capture fewer colors than our incredibly-designed eyes can really see!) 

Image by The Graphic Mac

Image by The Graphic Mac

My client's cover designer had always sent his bright teal cover to him in RGB, and suddenly before printing, he saw the teal for the first time in CMYK and was surprised at the significant color shift.

If you don't convert your images to CMYK before sending them to the printer, the printer must convert them to CMYK before printing. It's no big deal for them to make the conversion, but depending on the colors you are printing, you may notice that the printed piece comes back looking duller than you expected if you only saw proofs on your screen. 

The following two color spectrums help you to see which colors are hardest for CMYK to achieve. The duller quality of CMYK is instantly noticeable. 

Color spectrum shown in RGB

Color spectrum shown in RGB

Color spectrum shown in CMYK

Color spectrum shown in CMYK

Whether you're picking a color for a book cover or a logo, it's good to consider whether that color will be achievable both in RGB and CMYK. If not, you might want to consider adjusting the ebook color a bit to make it easier to match in print. Or, you'll just have to get used to the slight difference in color between your ebook cover and your printed book cover.


Thank you for taking the time to read this post! If you are needing a book cover design, please check out my Book Covers services page.

Should My Photo Be on the Front Cover of My Book?

This week a client of mine who is self-publishing a cookbook wrote to me with this question: "Should my photo be on the front cover of my book? Everybody says yes....[but I am not sure.]"

When I replied to her, in essence I told her two things:

  1. Having your face on your book's front cover is atypical in your genre. Looking at other cookbooks in the clean eating or vegan genre, I knew that it is not standard practice to have the creator's photo on the front.

  2. Sometimes having an atypical cover can make your cover win, but often it can make it lose. The decision to make an atypical cover needs to be a decision made for a deliberate marketing reason.

I went on to explain that the choice depends a lot on her businesses' branding. For example, if her business is very much about her face, her personality, her look, etc. then it might work well to put her face on the cover to further cement that idea that she is the one creating the recipes. However, if she doesn't show photos of herself a lot in her marketing, and focuses more on photos of her culinary creations, it would probably be better to do the same in her cookbook cover design...unless she's gearing up for a big change in her marketing methods.

Photo by Dan Gould

Photo by Dan Gould

After having written to her with my thoughts, I found two other answers to similar questions online, which I thought were worth sharing here. 

This insight is from Hobie Hobart:

Is it ever a good idea to put your picture on a book cover? 
This is contingent on many factors so the initial answer is, it depends. It IS a good idea, and nearly mandatory, to use your picture on the front cover if you are a Barack Obama, an Oprah, or a renowned superstar. Many authors think that putting their picture on the front cover will make them famous. This is not necessarily so. Unless you are well known in the media, bookstore buyers will not accept your book which pictures you on the front cover. However, if you are selling exclusively to a tight niche where you are well known, or your intention is to start branding yourself to a specific market, your photo on the front cover or the spine can be an advantage.

This is how Michele DeFilippo answered this question:

Should I put my own photo on my book cover? 
It depends. If YOU are the product, then your picture can absolutely be used on the front cover (think Dr. Phil or Suze Orman). If your book is non-fiction, you are a well-known expert in your field, and buyers would recognize your face, then your picture can be used on the back cover, along with a bio. Otherwise, your picture and bio belong in the back matter of the book.

Ultimately the answer is, "It depends!" But often the answer is, "No." Think carefully about your market and your branding before deciding to put your photo on your book cover.


Thank you for looking at this post! If you have a question about your book project that you'd like me to answer, leave a comment below, or write to me through my Contact page.