Buying print FAQs

Ten FAQs people ask about buying print.

  1. I just need a new brochure and a couple of posters. Does it matter which type of printer I use?
  2. How do I get my catalogue or leaflets designed? 
  3. What do I need to bear in mind when ordering print? 
  4. Does the quality or type of paper I choose make much difference? 
  5. I only need a box or two of brochures. Will keeping the numbers down keep a lid on the costs? 
  6. Where can I get the photographs I need? 
  7. Will colour prints reproduce adequately? 
  8. If my prices or other vital information must be altered, how late in the process can I make changes? 
  9. Who is responsible for proof-reading and making sure there are no mistakes in the finished job? 
  10. What happens if I am not satisfied with the quality of the work?

1. I just need a new brochure and a couple of posters. Does it matter which type of printer I use?

Some printers specialise in particular printing methods: litho for stationery, brochures and leaflets; screen process for showcards; and web offset for huge runs of magazines. With the advent of digital techniques it is likely that your local high-street business print and copy shop can offer a service for both posters and brochures, but this will depend on the quantity you require and the exact specification. Ask to see copies of similar print jobs first to ensure they can meet your quality requirements. The quality of colour printing in particular can vary.

All printing requires some degree of design and the production of original 'artwork'. Not all printers have a design or artwork facility so check first. If you are serious about a premium quality design and print job, where the focus is on the content rather than the production, it might be best to avoid high-street print shops and look for a marketing or communications agency or a large, full service printer.

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2. How do I get my catalogue or leaflets designed?

Graphic designers usually come up with the design and produce copy typeset on disk for the printer to turn into the finished job. All printers will be able to handle some design work in-house, but in general it is better to go to independent graphic designers. They will usually have more flair and know where best to place the work, according to the quality required and the budget available. Graphic designers are good at producing eye-catching designs, but will not generally be able to help you with writing the vital copy. This is a problem that may be solved by doing it yourself or by going to a full-blown marketing agency - which will employ professional wordsmiths, but charge you professional rates, too.

Once the printer has all the 'origination' (artwork, photography and text, either stored digitally on disk or in some physical form), your print job should not usually take more than a week or ten days, depending on the complexity of the work and the size of the print run required.

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3. What do I need to bear in mind when ordering print?

Do not order print without being absolutely clear what it is for. Glossy four-colour brochures will be far too expensive for short runs and both unnecessary and inappropriate for, say, a door-to-door campaign advertising a car boot sale. Match the quality to your target market and the positioning of your product or service. Order enough copies to keep you going for the next two or three years. It is cheaper to order a longer run while the job is on the machine than to go back for more later.

If you are not used to buying print, you can save yourself a lot of problems and potential expense by thinking ahead and checking everything thoroughly. Particular points to watch are:

  1. Don't make your leaflet or brochure all image and no information.
  2. Provide clear, written instructions to the printer.
  3. Use professionally taken photographs. No printer will be able to rescue an amateurish shot. Avoid pictures taken with cheap digital cameras.
  4. Insist on seeing a proof of every item before giving the go-ahead to print.
  5. Check proofs away from the printer's premises. Refuse to be hurried. Get someone else to read and check every word as well.
  6. Go through again and double-check every name, every phone or fax number, every web and email address, every price and every product code.

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4. Does the quality or type of paper I choose make much difference?

The paper quality can make a huge difference to the look of the finished job - as well as to the price. Coated art papers are most expensive but provide a slick, polished feel to the finished job. The options, if you include laminates, gloss and matt finishes, varnishes, and so on, can be confusing. Ask the printer to show you examples using different materials and methods.

Most of your costs will be in the machine set-up so try not to skimp on the cost of paper, which can make an enormous difference to the look, the feel and the overall image of the material that represents your organisation.

For runs of less than 1000 it is probably cheaper to order digital prints: you avoid the costs of some processes. You can also order colour copies of just half a dozen to trial with prospects at around £1 each.

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5. I only need a box or two of brochures. Will keeping the numbers down keep a lid on the costs?

Strangely enough, the answer is no. It takes the same amount of time and effort to prepare a press to print two sheets as it does to print two million sheets.

So the greater the quantity you print, the more the set-up cost is diminished, and the cheaper the unit cost becomes. Err on the side of ordering more than you need. Short runs are uneconomical.

That said, there is no point in printing a large quantity if you cannot use them. This is where digital printing comes into its own. Ideally suited to smaller runs, digital printing is more akin to the photocopying process than a traditional wet ink printing process. You might find the quality and colour-matching capabilities of digital are less than perfect, but it does nevertheless provide a viable solution. Ask to see samples first to check quality. Alternatively contact one of the large desk-top printer manufacturers and ask if they can help you with in-house marketing equipment.

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6. Where can I get the photographs I need

Always use professionally taken photographs - the difference shows. Be careful about choosing a photographer. Do not commission the local wedding photographer to shoot factory interiors or pack shots of your products. Do not be shy of telling the photographer exactly what you are trying to achieve - and take along a rough copy of the brochure as a guide.

Alternatively there are numerous online image archives which will let you use stock images for a fee. Royalty-free images are ones you can use without limits after purchasing. Rights-managed images require you to specify exactly how and where you will be using them.

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7. Will colour prints reproduce adequately?

There are two key points to remember. Firstly, each stage of any reproduction technique will erode the quality of the image slightly. Secondly, if an image is poor at the outset (for example, if it is blurred or too dark) it will not improve when reproduced. You get out only what you put in. However, you will be amazed at what is possible with computer image enhancement and retouching. Seek advice from a graphic designer or your chosen printer.

Different printing processes produce different quality results, so make sure that you tell the printer what your requirements are. Check the proofs to ensure that they meet your expectations.

Prints should be larger than the space they will take up on the page, so that they can be reduced to fit. Enlarging a small picture to fill a large space inevitably causes the quality to deteriorate.

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8. If my prices or other vital information must be altered, how late in the process can I make changes?

When designing any brochure, try to put all the information that is likely to change in a separate insert. Your colour brochure could have a life of three years, but a price list - which may change every six months - can be run off as a simple text document. Your printer will probably give you an acceptance form to sign, at the proof-reading stage, to say that any changes after that will be at your expense. If your proofing is careless, it could be costly.

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9. Who is responsible for proof-reading and making sure there are no mistakes in the finished job?

Ultimately, you are. Keep photocopies of the work to check against the proofs you are given. Make all your alterations clearly in red ink and, if the changes are significant, say you want to see revised proofs before giving the go-ahead for printing. Check the proofs carefully and away from the hassle of the printer's shop.

Be clear about the priorities underlying proof-reading. If potential customers cannot contact you because a phone number or an email address is wrong, you lose business. If prices are missing or incorrect, you may miss out on sales or face other problems. If there are more general errors of fact or spelling mistakes, you may be able to ignore them, or you may find you have a brochure that is embarrassing and unusable. All these difficulties can be avoided by careful, concentrated, nit-picking work at the proofing stage. But remember, whatever mistakes the printer had made up to this point, they become your problem once you sign off the proofs.

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10. What happens if I am not satisfied with the quality of the work?

To minimise the likelihood of problems, do not demand the cheapest but go to a good quality printer at the outset. A quality supplier will be concerned if you are not happy and will try hard to find a solution. Before you start, ask what will happen if it goes wrong. If the response is evasive, you may have the wrong printer.

Difficulties usually arise in the grey area between high expectations, imprecise technology and poor workmanship. If in doubt, pay as little as possible in advance in case there is a dispute later. If the job is wrong, providing you have a back-up copy of the artwork you can go elsewhere.

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