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A Business Owner’s Crash Course to Printed Materials

As a business owner, sometimes you just need to get something printed. To have something physical, tangible, for a specific purpose.

A lot of times, this comes up when businesses are launching and you want to have a backstock of things like business cards, letterhead, maybe even folders. Things that make sense for when you’re connecting with new clients.

But other times, a more complex need arises, when you’re exploring an asset like a brochure or booklet, or maybe even printed swag items like hats, notepads, pens, or tablecloths.

The needs vary for every business, and the choices are practically endless, so where do you even start?

First: Determine What You Need or Want

This could be an entire blog topic with all the variables, but really it comes down to what you want the end result to look like. Maybe you’ve seen something that looked really cool that you want to replicate. Or maybe you have an idea for an end result. Either way, you’ve got to figure out the details.

For paper goods, things to think about include:

  • How big your paper needs to be

  • How many sheets of paper it will take

  • How they’ll be finished - folded, bound, perforated, glossy, matte, satin, etc.

If you’re printing swag items, you’ll want to think about:

  • Color

  • Function

  • Material

  • What you want on it (there’s usually size restrictions)

Regardless, you need to know:

  • How many you need

  • When you need them (be reasonable and plan ahead)

  • What you’re willing to spend

Holy decisions, Batman! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, chat with an expert that can help you navigate.

Next: Get an Estimate

Once you know what you want, you can determine how to get it. This isn’t any different than price and feature shopping between Target and Amazon. You’ll start by looking up (or asking for recommendations for) good printers for the type of thing you want to do, and then look at what they’re offering and for how much.*

Most online print shops will have an estimating tool, where you can put in all of the specs and it will spit out a price. This is (typically) the same tool you use to order your project. As you click through it, you’ll find that there are a TON of options, and they change depending on the options you choose. Your choices can also affect your total price - sometimes dramatically.

The most common things that can affect your end price include:

  • Size

  • Quantity (common are: 100, 250, 500, 1,000, 1,250, etc.)

  • Page Count or Folds

  • Rate of Production and Shipping

As a note, it used to be that when you were printing paper goods, decisions like one sided or two, full color or black and white, would change the price considerably. Now, the difference is literal pennies with most printers. Where minute details like that come into play is when you’re printing swag, especially things like engraved pens.

*For super speciality items or finishes - like perforations in a brochure, for example - some printers won’t have the capabilities to do that. If you’re not finding it on their website, they’ll often have a chat feature where you can determine if that’s something they can do, or if it would be a custom order (usually more expensive).

Order a Sample Pack

When you’re neck deep in the estimating process, you’ll find that many times, the paper types and weights might as well be written in another language.

How do you overcome that? Order a sample pack! Most reputable print shops will offer these for free, and you can usually find the link to order in the footer of their websites. They do this because they can 1) collect your contact info and market to you later, and 2) they know that you’re more likely to be thrilled with the end result.

A sample pack from Smartpress
A sample pack from Smartpress

Some sample packs will come with a variety of items (business cards, notecards, letterhead, and brochures), while others will come like a paint swatch book. Regardless of the format, look for the fine print that details the paper weight on each item, and use how the paper feels to figure out what you like.

Folding & Finishing

If you’re working on a brochure or booklet project, it’s important to consider how you want it to be folded and finished. Did you know that there are 10 ways that a brochure can be folded? Most folks are familiar with the bifold, trifold, and maybe even the roll fold, but there are other less common and more complex options out there too.

Brochure folding options, as provided by PrimoPrint
Brochure folding options, as provided by PrimoPrint

When working with a client on a brochure project, I like to think about how something opens, and what the experience will be as someone navigates the brochure. (Check out this reel for a demo)

When working on a booklet project, the most important thing to remember is that your page count has to be divisible by four! Sometimes, that means adding in some blank or decorative pages to get where you need to be.

As far as finishes go, do you want your piece to be ultra glossy? Would you like it to feel satiny-smooth? Or maybe you want to avoid fingerprints. All of these factors come into play with the finishes.

Good Printing Isn’t Cheap

There is a well-known budget printer out there that I usually won’t ever use or recommend.* When asked why, it comes down to two things: the quality doesn’t usually result in what I expect, and the customer service is atrocious. In the printing world, the adage “you get what you pay for” is very true.

Common items - like a standard business card - are going to be reasonably priced, generally, wherever you go. When it comes to more complex items, prices can differ greatly, and available options can too. If you know this going in, you can make an informed decision as to what fits your budget and where the best place is to get it.

Some things you should look for in a printing company include:

  • Do they make it easy for you to leverage their service? Look for things like templates, layout recommendations, clear descriptions, and good pictures. Also, if their website feels outdated or clunky, it’s a good chance their equipment will be as well - they’re likely not investing in the best.

  • Do they offer sample packs for free? While this isn’t a must, it’s a good indicator that they’ve thought through their process and prices and figured out how they can make the experience better for the customer.

  • Do they have an easy customer support opportunity, like a chat feature?

  • What are their reviews like OFF of their website? Consider websites like the BBB, TrustPilot, and even Yelp, Google, or social media.

  • Are they considering or leveraging things that are important to you - like carbon neutrality, green printing options, a give-back program, etc.?

*My experience may not be the experience of others, and I’m intentionally not naming names. Get in touch if you’re looking for a specific recommendation.

Finally: Place the Order

When you’re ready to place your order, it’s about as serious as signing a contract. You want to make sure that you’ve got everything just so, because there’s no take-backsies. If something is wrong (like a typo, watermarked picture, or paper choice) it’s on your dime to reprint. Most print shops will make this abundantly clear as you navigate the checkout process.

My favorite print shops also have a real human who is checking your files before sending them to print, and some even offer soft or hard proofing options. These pros will be quick to call out concerns like image quality, lack of bleed, or missing fonts so that you know you’re getting exactly what you want.

Why Can’t I Just Print at My Office?

The short answer is that you can, but it might not be your best choice. There are two big things to think about depending on what you’re printing:

The first: in-office printers typically can’t print off the edge of a paper, because they have to be able to grab the sheet to feed it through the machine. So if you’ve got something where the color or image runs all the way up to the edge, it’s going to have a white border instead.

The second: if you have something that is supposed to be a specific size or folded a specific way… that’s on you to do. Whereas a professional printer has big fancy machines that trim projects down to size and that can fold them up in a specific, calibrated, always-the-same kind of way.

There is so much to consider when you’re having something printed that it can be in your best interest to at least chat with someone with experience. They may even be able to introduce you to something you’ve never considered that takes your project to the next level.


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