Friday, February 22, 2008

Business Card Printing Round-Up

Business cards. Everyone needs em. And now with online printers and digital printing's coming of age, everyone offers them. So where's the best place to get them? Often with printing, the selection is driven by budget. Many businesses will order cards from whoever offers the cheapest price.

However, there are often substantial differences between all the millions of printers out there, and some businesses are discriminating about quality, especially when it comes to their stationery. They may demand special print methods, colors, and paper. Large businesses want someone who can produce their business cards reliably, cost effectively and consistently - in large volumes, with frequent orders, and a simple ordering process (online) that doesn't burden the HR department who typically handles business card orders. Then there are plenty of small time side workers, independent contractors, or individuals who need business cards, not very many, not very often, not very expensive, but want something better than micro-perf cards they can print at home on their inkjet.

Ultimately, the printer you select for business cards really depends on your business's situation. I always have directed clients and companies I've worked with to various printers depending on the job. In my current situation, the driver was, as usual, price. Not that my current printer was charging too much. Ok they were. They are good, I use them for a lot of things, but the prices I was getting on business cards was at least double what I was seeing online, and seeing how much of my marketing budget gets eaten by stationery, I was determined to get a lower rate. I had previous discussions with my printer brainstorming how we could produce our business cards more cost effectively. I know that printing is a very competitive business, and I appreciate good work, so I did not want to push them to simply lower their rates.

I asked about their options for shells - that's where you pre print high quantities of templates with logos and other standard marks, and then you just imprint the individual person's contact info on top of it - often with a single color - in smaller batches, reducing the total cost per set. I asked about batch orders - printing several cards at once. I contemplated changing specs (we'd already gone from three to two color), and determined that the best option would be to submit orders in batches.

So I carefully managed my batch orders (time consuming!), sending as many at a time as possible, often with the effect of forcing people to wait longer for their cards than I would want them to - and forcing me to print temporary cards on our laser printer until the orders could be placed. Having worked with batch runs on this job and shells in previous jobs, I have experienced all of their drawbacks, and in today's world, on demand is really a superior option. So my requirements in locating a better business card printer - if there was one to be had - were these.

  • Meet or exceed the quality and appearance of our current cards, so that no one would even notice (or only notice improvement in) the difference in the new cards
  • Closely match the other stationery we have, from other printers
  • Easier ordering process, preferably all online rather than email-and-call-and-email...
  • Pricing low enough that on demand orders were realistic
  • Overall savings on our business card costs
I tried four printers during this process (yes we order that many business cards!), they were:

1) Local Business Printing Franchise who I will not name specifically - I don't want to hurt their reputation, and my experience with them has been no better or worse than a variety of similar printers I've worked with - the pros and cons are the same.

2) 48HourPrint.com - up and coming online printer, their name says it all - fast, quality printing is their promise.

3) PrintingForLess.com - one of the "original' budget online printers, popular and successful - low cost, quality printing is their deal.

4) VistaPrint.com - another popular online budget printer, who focuses a lot on the consumer market, and boasts some of the lowest prices anywhere

Two other printers that I had on the list for consideration if none of the above worked out were
a) ModernPostcard.com - an online printer specializing in direct mail (that's what I've used them for and they were good), who also offers a few other standard print products
b) PSPrint.com - an online printer specializing in standard products at low prices. I've used them for greeting cards and they came out great.

I did not start with these because the options they offered were more limited, and would not allow me to exactly duplicate the specs I was currently working with.

Lastly - there's always the "high end" lithography/engraving/specialty etc printer who will tell you they're happy to do business cards, and the results will be stunning (if it matters) - but you will pay a boat load and they will push you to print large runs and batches to make it more cost effective. They're only an option if money is no object, and ideal if distinctive quality is essential. Better to let them handle your annual report.

Specs
My specs were for a quantity of 500, single sided, two or four color (whatever options available), no bleeds (that's where the color goes off the edge of the paper), uncoated matte white cover stock, 100# + in weight or 12-14pt in thickness.

Here are the results:

#1 - Local Business Printer
Pros:
  • Flexibility in specs
  • Attractive results (the standard by which others were measured)
  • Relationship
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Manual ordering process
  • Slow timing

Cost:
158.50 printing
17.06 shipping and fees (averaged from several orders)

The local printer runs every business card as a custom print job - just as if it were a brochure or a flyer or stationery. I got to pick the inks and papers - we were printing with spot color, which is often a necessity on business cards to get crisp text and intense color, as well as perfect corporate color matching. The paper was a popular stationery stock, in a nice bright white, a heavy 110# cover weight, and smooth finish. I also have a relationship with this printer, so they are never more than a call away, and they "know" me - the paper we use, they have our logo and fonts on file, and we can work together well.

The problem was, their pricing was different for each run, depending on how many different names we ran. It sort of bothers me that their pricing is something of a mystery - perhaps I could figure it out if I crunched the numbers every time, but who has time for that? So I felt in the dark. Every order was charged setup and washup fees, regardless of how many were ordered. Even with my discussions with them about printing in batches, I found that the savings was not substantial in the batch sizes we were printing.

Also, to make their own lives easier, the printer was reproducing the print-ready files I was sending them (I asked them not to, and offered to change the way I was designing the files if necessary, but they seemed to do it anyway) and as we all know, every time that happens there's the chance to introduce errors. None of the errors they introduced made it to print, but it did make me lose some confidence in them, and scrutinize every proof from them in detail. The timing was also slow, both because we had to batch the order, and because they were a typical small printer with probably a single press - maybe two! They would always expedite orders if I requested it, but I think rushing every order can damage the relationship with a printer, and cost you more, so I did not want to do when it was not absolutely necessary.

#2 - 48HourPrint.com
Pros:
  • Beautiful results
  • Great price
  • Sent overruns
  • Fast turnaround
  • Streamlined, simple, automated ordering process on very nice website
Cons:
  • Limited paper options.
  • No spot color offered
Cost:
50.00 printing
12.86 shipping & fees

I had used 48HourPrint for flyers and had good results, so I gave them a shot for business cards. True to the name, the cards came back in 2 days + shipping time, faster than #1 whose typical turnaround was 2 weeks. The results were beautiful, with crisp printing and nice intensity - even from 4 color printing. The paper options were limited to coated only, although a dull option was available so I ordered that. Two of the three recipients raved about the dull coated paper (in comparison to the original cards - the other guy just didn't care because he'd never seen the old ones), but the CEO preferred our original uncoated vellum so that canceled them out! Also the brightness of the paper was noticeably lower than that of our original stock.

Their minimum quantity was twice what I normally order, which is fine since the cost was still low. They also sent overruns, probably 25% worth, at no charge (this is where they print extras by nature of how the art is imposed on a sheet - most printers throw these out, or add a "plus overruns" fee to their pricing and charge you extra for them) . Overruns were not really necessary since I was already ordering more than I needed, but a nice gesture. If the paper had been a little brighter white, I probably would have considered talking our CEO into liking the new paper!

#3 - PrintingForLess.com
Pros
  • Offered uncoated paper
  • Can do custom options for paper and color upon request
  • Personal attention
  • Nice results - the ultimate winner
  • Great pricing, low shipping, increased discounts for larger orders
Cons:
  • UI on website is showing its age
  • Normal turnaround is not as fast as 48HourPrint, although they gave me a free upgrade to 3-day shipping for my first order
Cost:
49.95 printing
9.95 shipping and fees

PrintingForLess.com is very prominent on the web, and for good reason. Although their website looks dated and the UI has not changed in years (meaning it's rather kludgy - but works reliably), they make up for lack of slickness with service. It's unusual to see an online printer that actually tells you the name of the technicians working on your order, to get personal emails from them (and not for problems - just letting you know that they are available if you need them), as well as a follow up call to make sure we were happy with the results. And we were.

The result was the closest of any to the original I wanted to duplicate. I did order four color from them as a first try, and was pretty pleased with the color. I got a quote for using spot color, the cost was more, but still less than what I'm currently paying. I felt like the four color was close enough that I didn't need to pay extra for the spot color. The turnaround was fast, but not quite as fast as 48HourPrint. PrintingForLess does offer rush pricing and shipping in varying degrees, allowing you to conveniently pay exactly what the timing is worth to you. I hear that's actually where they make most of their money - on rush orders. But as a side, since becoming my own "director of marketing" I've all but eliminatated "rush order" from my vocabulary - planning ahead and proactivity are my preferred style!

#4 - VistaPrint.com
Pros:
  • Inexpensive
  • Nice color intensity
  • Brightest paper, nicest feel
Cons:
  • Imperfect Registration
  • Card size is non standard
  • Fees for everything
  • Slower service

Cost
42.98 printing (including paper upgrade)
14.45 shipping and fees (including upload and proof fees, which no one else charged)

VistaPrint is another prominent online printer. They target the budget market quite effectively, even offering "free" products (albeit with their name printed all over the back). Their advertised prices are so low it seems too good to be true, and it is. They upcharge you for every little detail: even an automatic PDF proof is $1.99 extra. By the time you're done adding it all up, the price is close to - maybe a bit lower than - the competition. They seem to push users to order with their predesigned templates, which are downright god-awful (ok I'm a snob), and charge you extra per file to upload your own design. Sorry, I'm a real designer here, I do it all myself. They charged extra for non-coated paper as well. Their pricing includes bleeds, but at the cost of reducing the overall cards size by about 1/16" which just bothered me. I'm sure their logic is that most would not notice and it allows them to print bleeds without using extra paper, but I do - especially when I hold it up to other business cards. And I didn't even order bleeds, yet I had to get them trimmed to the smaller size anyway.

On the upside, the card itself looked quite nice, with the brightest, heaviest paper of all of the printers (even better than the original). But the registration was ever so slightly off, giving the text that "halo" effect which, at a distance, made it look less than sharp. Not bad enough to complain about, but noticeable. Their turnaround was slow considering they are an online printer, many of whom make speed their value proposition - their "priority" turnaround was 7 days. Bottom line? I would use them for personal postcards or business cards even, for occasions or holiday printing, etc... But not for business. Also, although this order went smoothly, in the past I have contacted their customer service with quality issues and received no response whatsoever. This does not give me a lot of confidence in trusting them with all of my business cards - something that should be a simple non-issue.

In closing, PrintingForLess won out because they were superior on most points. Pricing, turnaround, quality and service were all excellent. I also liked that they gave me the option of doing custom jobs, which most online printers won't do. 48HourPrint was a close second, held back only by their limited paper options. My local printer came in third, because their price was just too high, despite their good quality. VistaPrint came in last, because I just do not feel they are a professional caliber printer - even if they are inexpensive.

31 comments:

Andrew said...

Hi Rae,
Thanks for the great, detailed review. As one of PFL's founders, I'm always interested in our customers' opinions and experiences, both with us and with our local and online competition.

We've known for some time that the UI on our pricing/ordering pages was, as you say, "dated." While we have favored superb functionality over slickness, it was definitely time to freshen up the look and feel, without sacrificing functionality. We just rolled out a complete revamp of those pages. We tried to strike a balance between a more modern look, but not so much change that we degraded functionality. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Now we just need to freshen up our home page...

Andrew Field
CEO
PrintingForLess.com

Rae said...

For the sake of brevity, I did not go into much detail about the functionality of the UI on PrintingForLess' website - but I will say that as Andrew mentioned, their ordering page works flawlessly and is simple enough for anyone to figure out. I will always take a straightforward UI that works over a sexy one that doesn't!

When it comes down to it, I don't think their ordering page is a significant detractor. However I do think that updating the look of their site in general will help give them the image that matches who they really are: a high quality printer.

Thanks Andrew!

J.J. said...

Very cool review. I have been using vistaprint and have not been too happy with my orders. I have pretty much had to get reprints down 9 out of 10 times. They happily do that but I don't want to be the QA department for them and it is a waste of paper. I will give PFL a try on my next order!

Steve said...

Rae,

I found your comments helpful as we are looking for a printer for our business needs as well.

I went to printingforless.com to place an order for business cards only to find that when you get into quantities greater than 500 (We need several runs of 2,500), their price is much higher than their online competition.

Printingforless.com charges $239.95 for 2500 cards

48hourprint.com charges only $99.00 for 2500 cards

Both quotes are with 14pt stock, full color on both sides.

So although printingforless is competitive for 500 cards, they are extremely overpriced on larger quantities.

-Steve

Rae said...

@Steve - thanks for your input, I'm sure others will find it helpful. That's a good thing to be mindful of, as you get in to larger quantities, the best price may not always be with the same place. I have also found 48HourPrint to be more competitive for sell sheets...a whole other can of worms!

Matt said...

Thanks for this post! I'm in the process of a redesign and selection of a new printer. This was just what I was looking for!

libya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hotel key card printing said...

hi,

I think it is one of the fastest online printing methodologies adopted for printing blogs and documents.

Anonymous said...

I went to AREA Printing and you can print with large format with any size that you want like poster glossy, canvas or vinyl banner. Also you can request to print at the promotional stuffs like umbrella, mug, ball sport, pen and other material printing.

Eltron ID Card Printers said...

For pete's sake why hasn't anybody heard of 4over1.com ????
It is the Best company that has been printing my business cards for years!

plastic business card said...

Many thanks for quality printing options. After choosing good design obviously its important to bear in mind the quality of printing.
plastic business card

mdb123_3000 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cell phone said...

Nice post.

Hotel key card printing said...

Your blog very nice.

mdb123_3000 said...

an even better option than those sites (in my opinion) is PrintsMadeEasy, their design system is great and so is their pricing

Adin said...

I have got my business cards designed & printed from PrintingForLess & got wonderful discounts.

PRINTINGREQUIREMENTS said...

If you're looking for a printer with good quality, pricing, and up front shipping cost take a look by pasting and copying http://www.printdirectforless.com/cgi-bin/affiliates/clickthru.cgi?id=rick4856 They've been in business for over twenty years and know the printing business. Do yourself a favor and take a look you'll be pleasantly surprised.

jai said...

pls see this site
http://www.usaprintingtrade.com/

Don Mullen said...

Hi Rae,

This is a great blog, good content and very thoughtful.

Thanks for the review of 48HourPrint.com business card printing. Since your original post, we have added the ability to custom quote and have recently added recycled paper options. Here is the link: http://www.48hourprint.com/custom-printing-quote.aspx

I too have a Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy! She is a wonderful dog, but my goodness she gets into trouble!

Best Wishes

Don Mullen
VP, Sales and Marketing
48HourPrint.com

Plastic Cards said...

Hi,

Your blog is appreciable,and the review is very cool,Thank for giving useful information about to the many business cards.

Plastic business cards said...

Your blog is appreciable because of detail review.

Full Color Printing said...

Hey Rae - geez all this work and comments and i bet you didn't know about XpressPrint-Online.com - i would love to hear your feedback on our site. We've developed the engine behind the scenes for nearly two years and it should be a pretty streamlined approach for any customer. We also have tons of planned upgrades coming in the coming months.... Give us a try - i'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Jimmy Anderson | CEO
XpressPrint-Online.com

Card printing said...

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Anonymous said...

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and

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Anonymous said...

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Paul said...

Printing diversification is strategic in providing clients with marketing options outside of the box.

When you learn who their target audience is you can then recommend a print project around their objectives. Our custom printed picture frame is just one example of allowing the client to advertise or brand their message while also supplying a useful product with a high perceived value.

Here is the link: http://www.colorprinting4u.com/pictureframes.php

Paul Steinle
President
ColorPrinting4u.com

Anonymous said...

We have been very satisfied with the product quality and pricing at www.uvcards.com

Even more to the point, their customer service is outstanding. If we have ever had a concern about a finished product, they have gone above and beyond to make it right.

For my money - I would recommend UV Cards.

Design Dept said...

I like a lot of the sites everyone has posted but I think I found the next big thing the design and shipping is free 1000 Business cards cost $58
LiddellGraphics.com

Plastic Cards said...

Excellent ideas for business cards. Its all depends your business criteria that what is the situation of your business this time...?

Elie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elie said...

I suggest the place to go to make custom, quality, most cost-efficient, business cards is http://www.printsmadeeasy.com. They specialize in designing custom postcards, business cards, lables, stationery, brochures, invitations, envelopes, flyers, greeting cards, letterhead, pens, & posters.