Where do designers go to get things printed?

There are many online shops that cater towards designers high quality standards for finished design projects. Quality of printing and paper are just as important as a quality design. Printing at low-quality print shops or online printers will ruin your design.

Quality of Printing and Processes

Many online printers now offer offset and digital options for printing. Most of the time the quality is the same or barely noticeable. All offset printing is not the same! Color consistency and printing resolution vary from printer to printer. Check to see if they offer color matching (always extra, so expect a a premium printer to offer this). Just because a printer requires 300dpi artwork, does not mean they print at an equivalent lpi on the their presses. Some “cheap” printers (those business cards you got 5000 for $5?) were probably poor quality halftones. Remember that you pay for quality, service and time, and if any are important, expect to pay for it. If you have the time, ask for sample packs to be sent to you. These are sure fire ways to determine a printers capabilities.

How about foiling or spot UV or other fancy things?

Environmental Impact

When dealing with an online printer, you’ll want to consider paper (FSC?, Recycled?), proximity to your shipping address, types of inks used and waste. Gang-run printers tend to reduce waste by combining multiple jobs onto larger sheets. It does not affect your job in particular, but is a win-win for the printer and the environment. Transportation for your printing is a huge impact on the environment. Try to find a location or print shop close to your location. Choose a local printer if their capabilities meet your needs. Look for soy or vegetable ink printers instead of traditional ink based offset printers. Just a thought…

Paper Options

You’ll want choices most of the time. Most online printers have “house” paper that comes from a paper mill directly. Sometimes they will name it their own thing but they all come from a select few mills on huge rolls or sheets. If you want ultra-high quality paper (for great finished products) your best going with a local print shop who deals in smaller volume than online printers. But since most online printers paper are relatively the same product, below is what your likely to find (thin to thick).

  • Cover stocks
    80# Cover, 100# Cover, 14pt Cover C1S/C2S*, 16pt Cover C1S/C2S*
  • Bond/Book/Writing
    20# Bond (cheap copy paper), 24# (minimum for US Post to mail), 80# Text/Book, 100# Text/Book,
  • Coating (can be found on both cover and book weights)
    NC (No coating) – No added coating.
    MT (Matte coating) – Smooth, no glare coating
    AQ (Aqueous coating) – Semi-gloss, protects image and paper.
    UV (Ultraviolet coating) – High-gloss, add to Gloss stock to make Ultra gloss.
    SK (Silk coating) – Smooth texture, feels soft. Get a sample.

*C1S and C2S = Coated 1 side or Coated 2 SideOf course their are many more options for paper, but these are what I consider the most common. I highly recommend getting a sample kit so you can actually see and feel the difference between the stocks and coatings.

Customer Service

Do not deal with any company that does not put an address or phone number on their website! This is an immediate red-flag. Should there be any issues or questions, you’ll need to be able to contact a real person and resolve issues. Often times, you’ll only be able to know the quality of service after dealing with them at least once.

Finishing Options

If your project has special needs like die-cutting, custom sizes, drilling, folding, scoring, perforating or something like that, be sure to ask prior to placing an order. Not all shops offer custom finishing.

  • Die-cutting – Standard shapes vs. custom dies?
  • Custom Size – Can they trim out multiple designs on a larger sheet (for example you have two designs on 1 8.5×11 sheet that you want cut out)
  • Drilling – what size holes can they drill and at what cost
  • Folding – Standard folds? (bi-fold, tri-fold, gate, parallel, right double….)
  • Scoring & Perforating


Last, but not least, price. You get what you pay for…most of the time. If you are concerned about quality, be ready to pay more than you would on VistaPrint. Always check with you local printers as they will work with you on printing and options. They’ll have tips to save you money and might be running a special that you could take advantage of.

With lower price come greater risk, uncertainty and inconsistency. For some of your projects, it might not matter and you should just go for whatever is cheaper! For everything else that you care about, don’t make price the only determining factor!


One Comment

  1. Martin says:

    I’m doing research on the check printing business, Personal Checks, not business. I’m particularly interested in the technical aspects of it; paper suppliers, machines used ( such as the sequential numbering process, binding etc). Can you steer me to anything of this nature? THANK YOU FOR ANY HELP OR COMMENT YOU MAY HAVE.

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