Print ers and ink cartridges are affordable enough that even microenterprises can reproduce their own materials in-house. But as Pittsburgh marketing consultant Shawn Graham warns, “Just because you can print something in your basement, doesn’t mean you should.”
So when should you use professional printing and when should you do it yourself? Let’s find out.
Items like custom env elopes, business cards and letterhead are worth taking to a print shop that offers an array of paper and ink colors to choose from. Don’t want to invest in a professional printing job? If your design is simple or you are not ready for a larger investment, you can try off-the-shelf stationery and business card paper made specifically for your office printer.
Image & Graphics Quality
If your printer or copier isn’t on its A game, you may be doing your marketing materials a disservice with DIY printing.
“For high-end brochures or catalogs, professional printing is the way to go,” says Todd Coats, chief creative officer at Capstrat, a strategic communications firm in Raleigh, NC. That’s because photos and graphics have to be sharp. “Office printers are great quality, but even a quick print center may offer greater resolution on fine lines and delicate colors.”
Tip: Do a test run.”It’s nearly impossible to control for color with DIY printing,” says Rebecca Hoffman, principal of Good Egg Concepts, a communications consultancy in Glencoe, IL. “Just think of having to begin a sales proposition with ‘my toner is off today.'” Make sure your toner is fresh and the printer reproduces properly. Using professional printing services? Ask for a proof before green-lighting the full order.
If you use large graphics (Gantt charts, supply chains, etc.) you need a wide-format printer. “And you usually can’t print to the edge of the paper,” says Jason Delfos, founder of San Diego Small Business Marketing Services. And what if your job requires folding or assembly? Do you have time for that?
Tip: Know the limits. Determine if your equipment can accommodate the job and consider your time and physical capacity, too. “The ability to do finishing and folding would be an advantage of going with professional printing,” says Dillon Mooney, a technical consultant with the Printing Industries of the Americas, a national trade group.
In many cases, DIY printing for smaller jobs makes good financial sense. But print more than a few hundred impressions and you start eating up toner, often the most expensive aspect of printing.
“The more copies, the cheaper [professional printing] gets,” Graham says. And then there are the other costs of running large jobs yourself. When the paper jams, you’re the one to fix it. And if you’re nervous, you lose time periodically checking to make sure everything’s OK.
Tip: Do the math. Toner cartridges come with an estimated page capacity, so figure out about how much each DIY page costs. Then add your time at an hourly rate, plus the paper. It may turn out that paying for professional printing is cheaper and easier.
“But before you print off 500 copies, be very careful and get someone to proofread everything!” Graham says. Mistakes are costly no matter who prints them.
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