Print & Conquer, pt. 1: Printer Choices

Your graphic designer is only as good as your printer.

If you spend hundreds or even thousands on amazing branding and logos and graphics, and print it at home on Staples copier paper, that's money well wasted.

Unfortunately a lot of designers leave clients hanging when it comes to printing options, if they don't print in house. Take a look at part 1 of this quick guide for a look at your options, as well as to learn the importance of print consistency.


  • Budget. This is a big one for most people! I'm sure you've heard of Vistaprint or other online printers such as Smartpress (a personal favorite of mine). If you're on a low budget, these online options are great, and are usually quick and easy to use. However, if you have a larger budget and are looking for more individual attention, invest in a local printer who lives and breathes print to help you with any print decisions you need to make.
  • Paper. Gloss. Matte. 100# Cover versus 80# Text. Kraft or eco-friendly. Folded, perforated, die cut, laser cut... read on to learn more.
  • Audience. Are you handing out flyers at an art festival, or sending gala invitations to political representatives? The impression you provide with your print items matters.



Online vs. Local

As I mentioned above, budget comes into play when it comes to which printer to use for your product. It also depends on what you're printing. For example, if you want to print high-class laser-cut wedding invitations, you're not going to depend on Vistaprint or Staples - you'll probably feel more confident with a local printer.

  • Online printers are great for promotional items, flyers, business cards, etc on a budget. However, quality assurance isn't a huge focus (despite what website policies / marketing say). For instance I have often gotten cards or brochures in the mail from an online printer that are cut oddly or have been busted with bad packaging. Talk about only getting 75% of what you really paid for! Still, if you're looking for ease, an online printer is the way to go. I personally prefer Smartpress over Vistaprint for paper products, but to each their own...
  • A local printer is a wonderful idea for those who want to have more control and involvement in the printing process. When sitting down with a person face to face it's much easier to convey exactly what you want, feel different paper stocks, establish a timeline and quantities. Whenever I've worked with a local printer I've always had my items hand delivered, even when one of these printers was an hour and a half away. Sure, local printers are often more expensive, but in my personal opinion worth the investment for the attention you get. (I know I've hated having to wait 2 more weeks for each reprint of items I ordered online because the quality was never good enough - no fun.)



All this being said, I have a few recommendations for online and local (if you're in the Baltimore area) printers:


  • Vistaprint: I've used Vistaprint for quick and easy projects, such as my own business cards and promotional mugs. Fortunately with Vistaprint you don't have to bulk order any promotional items, and can order one-offs of a mug or shirt or something similar. They often have sales so are definitely budget-friendly.
  • Smartpress: Smartpress has been a tried and true online printer of mine. They're fast and you can customize your turnaround time for extra fees if you need something in a jiffy. They don't provide promotional items so much as they print marketing materials, invitations, signs, decals and more. Their designers and representatives always double check every file sent to them too, so it's unlikely you'll have any mess-ups when it comes to the size or resolution of your printed items.
  • Cards & Pockets: Cards & Pockets is good for invitation printing of simple designs. They provide plenty of paper samples for itty bitty prices (maybe a dollar or two for each sample of everything from paper swatches to belly bands to patterned envelopes), so you can see what you're ordering before you actually order it. Their print quality isn't as great as Smartpress', but their products are a nudge more affordable.


  • PCA: I've worked with PCA at two different companies and have been very pleased with both of my representatives. They have multiple locations (I've worked with Towson and Timonium) and are extremely friendly and professional, and I've always gotten great products from them no matter how small or big my project was.
  • Friendship Creative Printers: I've worked with Friendship Creative Printers a few times and have gotten extremely attentive service from my representative. He drove an hour and a half from Frederick to Towson to deliver me business cards two days after I ordered them, and the quality was great. Talk about service!


Keep an eye out for the next piece in the Print & Conquer series where I'll go over paper types and applications - thanks for reading!

Need designs for your paper products, from marketing materials to invitations? Let me know!


Graphic DesignJo Bayne