Posted on December 28, 2010 by ari
Since every job we do is different, Shira and I have worked with all sorts of printers: the fanciest boutique printers with the nicest stocks, Union shops that mean your dollars are supporting organized labor, green printers and on-demand printers, banner printers from cotton to vinyl (though no one should be using vinyl!!). Here’s a quick roundup of the best we’ve found so far, and some thoughts on the politics and ethics involved in making printing choices.
There is political and ethical significance in our production choices – what environmental impact are we having? Are we producing things that could be communicated in other, lower-impact and possibly even more effective ways? What does the flashiness of our printing quality and design work say about the accessibility and appeal of our communications to target audiences who may be turned off by such displays? (Are we choosing an appropriate technology?)
I learned this last lesson from a client. We were discussing the design for a new pamphlet, and she emphasized that she wanted it to look cheap. They were going to print it in their office and photocopy it; it should be black and white and very plain. I was dubious, thinking we should make it more attractive since it was on such an important issue (increasing access to U.S. citizenship), but these folks realized that no pamphlet was going to draw the interest of the audience they hoped for. They would have face-to-face conversations, and then hand over the modest pamphlets after trust had been established. The flashier the piece was, the less successful it would be. This project was not about me having a chance to be super-creative, and it was not about making something pretty, and it was not about the pamphlet at all. It was about the efficient production of something that was very much second banana to the real communication: A conversation. You can’t design that – or at least, that part wasn’t my job!
Point being, just because you’ve seen attractive advertising and postcard campaigns and so on, don’t feel like that’s where you have to put your resources. For some audiences nice printing is essential (say, for major donors being invited to a gala fundraiser), but for others, setting up a Facebook page or putting up a flier could be a much more effective use of time and money.
- 48HourPrint.com – these guys have the best pricing on both standard and custom jobs that we’ve been able to find so far. Their site has a pretty rigid uploading and proofing tool that can make custom jobs (especially multi-piece jobs like invitations) a bit of a pain. Their customer service is usually prompt and good, though they don’t hook you up with a dedicated account representative, so bigger jobs can get unwieldy. If you use their standard products and templates though, your job will be a breeze.
- Jakprints – a good runner-up to 48HourPrint.com, a little pricier, similar setup.
- Esigns – though I’m not a fan of vinyl it can be the most accessible option for some grassroots groups in need of a long-lasting, professional-looking banner. These guys are super affordable in that regard.
- Print Net – cost-effective green printing, including cotton alternatives to vinyl
- Ecoprint – wind powered, carbon-neutral, recycled paper, vegetable oil inks
- Blurb and Lulu and CafePress.com – on-demand printing, useful for books, posters, and other things you want to make and sell online. Folks who order prints pay for them to be printed, and you get a cut, with no cash outlays and less printing waste.
- Spectrum Plus – I’ve been working with Meryl Gropper at Spectrum Plus for years on higher-end jobs like annual reports, event programs, and invitations. If you’ve got anything custom about your project, and/or if it has multiple pieces to deal with (card plus envelope plus reply card plus smaller envelope…), these folks have your back. Instead of wrestling with the annoying web-based file proofing systems of the cheaper printers, you’ll have a dedicated account rep who will help you make sure your files get checked out and proofed and so on in a very customer-friendly way.
- Night Owl Paper Goods will print your designs on wood – hot! Via Tricia Wang.
Are there other printers you recommend, in addition to or instead of these ones? Please leave a comment to tell us about them!
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