Finding Your Perfect Online Print Shop

screen printed poster by whatkatiedoes

Screen printed poster by whatkatiedoes 

A new year for small businesses means new marketing projects—and most often these fresh ideas require printing. I’m often asked by my clients where should they go for online printing services? Here’s a quick guide to finding your perfect online print shop:

A Match Made in Heaven

They will have free sample kits.

I love it when printing sites offer free sample kits. It’s “proof in the pudding” as they say. They are so confident in their work, they’re willing to bare it all before you buy. I prefer sample kits so I can have something tangible in my hand for comparing to other sample kits, confirm a crisp print in varying finishes, and to get a good idea for how large an item is.

They will have quick turn-around and delivery times.

Another good sign of a great vendor is speedy production and shipping times. You don’t want to wait 2 weeks for your order just to find out there was a mistake, either by design or production, and not have enough time to place a re-order. When you’re running a business, turn-around times can really make a difference. If they don’t offer quick standard turn-around times, check to see if they offer expedited shipping options so you can know it’ll be available when you need it most.

They will offer downloadable templates and have artwork guidelines.

If they don’t have templates or very clear artwork guidelines, you could be flying blind on what they really need to get your order printed as you have envisioned. If a vendor has downloadable templates, I always use them to fool-proof the process. I also upload the file format that they say will produce the best results, they work with these files on a daily basis and know their machines well.

They will often come your way by referral.

It seems like all the good printing shops come by way of referrals from friends and colleagues. If they’ve been satisfied and happy with their orders in the past, the chances are much greater that you will enjoy working with them, too. If you’re needing a good referral, Twitter followers are quick to respond with their faves and you’ll have a good pool of options to choose from.

They have clearly stated policies.

A printing website—or should I say *any* website—that doesn’t have clear policies or FAQs section should be avoided. I want to know that the company I’m working with has guidelines that they hold themselves to. I see it as their professional standard. They should have their payment policy in place, directions on returning an order, filing a complaint, shipping options, and other important aspects related to ordering printing services.

They have prompt customer service care.

If your printer has 24/7 live customer service chat or a phone number that you can call for instant help, that’s a plus in my book. Anything to help make the process more smooth for the customer is a sign that they take pride in working with you and showing that they care about making you a happy, returning customer.

Tips for Printing Online

Know the Lingo.

Often time, as small business owners, we are in charge of finding a print shop, designing the item, and uploading the files. But sometimes all that geek speak can make one’s head turn. So what does it all mean? Read up on paper options HERE and also this quick guide to Image Resolution HERE.

Over-the-Top vs. Practicality.

When deciding on your printing budget, it can be difficult when you start thinking about how big of an impression you want to make versus being practical with your money. Because I’m a designer, I usually have to go more show-stopping because if I can’t make myself look good, I can’t prove to my clients that I can make them look just as good. I still have only so much money to work with each month so I simply lower my budget for one area so that I can increase my budget for printing. If being more practical is the name of the game, then finding creative ways to cut your final cost can pay-off: printing a design printed multiple times on a single sheet that you cut out on your own, using a simple paper stock on a die-cut shape, adhering tangible elements from studio scraps instead of fancy ink coatings, etc.

Plan Ahead.

Nothing can make you feel the heat more than when a printing job wasn’t done correctly and you don’t have time to place a re-order. Making sure you have enough time to place an order twice plus an extra week will help you not fret while taking the time to talk with customer service about a refund or re-order. It will also give you time to sleep on your design before you send to print. Print it out on your home printer and make sure the text is at a good size and get input from people you know who are business / design savvy.

A Few Print Shops to Check Out

  • http://www.kidspacestuff.com/blog Jeanette Simpson, ASID

    Great post and true on all counts. I checked out several online print companies before deciding. Got free samples from several but the referral of a friend sealed the deal. They told us about customer service of a company we were considering, something samples can’t do.

    Have used Overnight Prints for several years now and get lots of comments about the quality of our marketing pieces. Thanks for the post….and reminder to get my new stuff ordered!

  • http://cupcakesforclara.com Cupcakes for Clara

    I love you for this post! It is so helpful, thank you.

    I have also used overnight prints a few times, and find their quality to be superb. I highly recommend them.

  • http://Www.louloubell.ca Lyndsay

    Thanks for the great list of links! I used Spponflower for my fabric banner I use when I’m at the craft shows, they have great products….

  • http://brittanylaurendesign.blogspot.com/ Brittany Lauren

    Online is sometimes tricky but always get samples before you make a relationship with one. http://www.uprinting.com is a great one to add to the list. Used them in the past for postcards and very impressed.

  • http://www.thefloodzine.com Natalie

    I also greatly recommend Docucopies.com! I print 5 magazines for thefloodzine.com through them and I’ve never been disappointed. I’m usually surprised by how great the print quality is!

  • http://pigandfish.etsy.com Nanako

    What a thorough guide – very helpful to have it spelled out! We used http://us.moo.com/ for our last business card printing + we were SO happy with the whole experience. Can’t recommend them enough!!

  • http://gaiacornwall.com/ Gaia

    OvernightPrints and GotPrint have both been wonderful for postcards. Moo was great for half business cards, I once used as labels.
    Great list!
    I’d also be curious to hear where people get their fine art/illustration prints done…

  • http://oasisprint.co.uk/ Online Print

    Nice conversation.

  • http://designbuddy.com Derek

    For the person who commented on Uprinting, I would have to counter their claim that they are a “great one”. I had business cards printed up with them and the cards were pixelated, colors were dull, and the gradients were barely noticeable. Dealing with their customer support was one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life. The file I uploaded was a high resolution file and print ready, so there was no excuse for the low quality print I received.

  • Facebook User

    I use TwisterPrint.com, those guys are fast and always get my order right!

  • Katherine

    I use RGB Printings because it is inexpensive as compared to others.

  • Bryce Stock

    Consider trying Printing Unlimited. I work there. We’re a small printer. We pride ourselves on having close relationships with our customers. Try Printing Unlimited in Davenport Iowa and Online.