As a small business owner, sourcing a print shop can be a daunting task. Printers use all sorts of lingo you may not be familiar with, the pricing can be confusing, and timing is difficult to coordinate. Online print services streamline processes and offer ready-made solutions at your fingertips. However, I would argue that you are missing huge potential opportunities by using services outside of your local area.

What should I be looking for?

In short, a “full-service” printer will have everything you need to get your job(s) done. When you visit a printer’s website look for examples of commercial documents; business cards, brochures, envelopes, catalogs, presentation folders, flyers, manuals, etc. While you may not need some of these pieces now, it is a good idea to develop a relationship with a shop that has capabilities beyond what you need at this moment in time.

What is offset printing?

Offset printing is a printing process in which an “inked” image is transferred from a plate, to a rubber material and then onto the printing surface. This is the technique used for large print runs; think newspaper, flyers, brochures, stationary and books. Offset printing is the least expensive option for commercial printing. Offset printing uses a “4 color process” to layer black, yellow, cyan and magenta to create full color images.

What is digital printing?

You are most likely very familiar with digital printing. Your office inkjet or laser printer are both small examples of digital printers. Commercial inkjet printers are commonly used for posters and signage, or on materials not suitable for offset printing machines. Inkjet printing is not ideal for large runs, as it takes longer than offset printing.

Laser printers are highly efficient and economical for small runs of documents, brochures, and booklets. Printing in full color generally looks best off of a laser printer, because laser printers use toner that is sitting on top of the paper, instead of ink that soaks into the paper. Black appears much more dense in toner, making text-heavy documents easier to read.

What is a proof?

A proof is a “printing test” provided by the printer for you to review. This gives you a chance to see what the final product will look like. It is very important to find a printer who is glad to offer printed proofs. Imagine getting a whole order of brochures or business cards, and the paper is too thin or the color of your logo is completely wrong. While these may seem like minor inconveniences, a quality printer will gladly work with you to adjust things until you’re happy with the product. You may have to pay an additional fee for revisions, but you only have to get the specifications worked out one time. A good printer will keep the exact parameters on file for the next run.

Online vendors are cheaper, and more convenient.

That may be. However, when you go into a local shop to pick up an order, or review a proof, that is potentially a new conversation about your business that you can be having. No marketing scheme beats face-to-face conversations with individuals.

In my experience, if you are mindful of deadlines, and willing to pick up your order, local printers get your job done much sooner than online services. Rather than having to wait for your proof to arrive in the mail, you can visit the shop and give your ok to go ahead the same day. Keep in mind that printers always have a queue, so your order may not print immediately. But chances are the queue at your local shop is shorter than the queue of the large online printing services.

Locally operated printers also have the added benefit of knowledgeable staff working hands-on with your project. They may have suggestions for your design or content, and many will have a designer on staff to assist you.

So what’s the bottom line here?

You need to use the print services that are best suited for your business, and only you can make that decision. I am suggesting that there are a number of benefits to shopping locally for your print job(s). As members of your community, your business cards, brochures, flyers or documents may be of interest to the owner or employees! Printing locally allows you another avenue to speak to individuals about your business.

I firmly believe that the expertise found in locally operated printing businesses is a valuable resource that you can and should leverage. They will also have contact with other members of the community and may be able to suggest a caterer, designer, realtor or photographer that you need.

Ok, but how do I find a local print shop?

The easiest place to start is Google. Start searching and compiling names of businesses. Send emails, read reviews, call and ask questions. Try to narrow down options by asking them to explain printing processes. You’ll be able to pick out the very knowledgeable shops.

Do they have design services in-house? Do you need design help? If so, that will narrow things down quickly.

Then, are any of these choices near your home or office? Sure, you can always pay for a courier to deliver your order, but picking up in person cuts that cost out and allows you to go in and visit as well as look at the product before leaving.Of course, price is a huge factor. Make sure you are comparing prices apples to apples. The best way to do this is to get the price per unit at different quantities. Remember that the price per unit will decrease as the volume increases. Also check to see what weight the standard paper option is. Paper quality is measured in pounds (more specifically, the weight of 500 sheets) and ranges from 20lb for the paper straight out of your copy machine to 100lb cover, a heavy cardstock that is used for flat cards.