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.
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!