How to evaluate a printer
Your guide to successfully identify a printer for your needs.
PRINT & SHIP
Your printer should have offset printing capabilities
Your print job only uses colors within the CMYK color gamut
Your printer only needs to have the CMYK color profile available
If your print orders are typically < 1,000 items in quantity per order
Color. Lucidpress designs in CMYK and not PMS, so your printer needs to use a CMYK color profile. Some printers may also offer "high fidelity" color which will expand the CMYK color gamut to 6 or 8 colors.
Quantity. The quantity of items in your print orders largely determines what printing press machinery should be used to get the most competitive pricing.
If your print orders are typically > 1,000 items in quantity per order
Your printer should have digital printing capabilities
If your print job requires critical color matching outside the CMYK color gamut
Your printer should have a 6C or 8C color profile available
Not satisfied with your current printer? Let us help you know what to look for in choosing a new print vendor. While we're not a print shop ourselves, use this guide to help outline your requirements and preferences.
For definitions of printing terminology, see the Glossary on pages 7-8.
Know the specs of your print orders
Your printer should offer a broad catalog that includes the materials you need
cost-effective for low-volume (<1,000) print jobs
cost-effective for high-volume (>1,000) print jobs and high-quality output
allows for printing on a variety of surfaces, including cardboard, plastic, metallic film, and cellophane
raises the lettering to create an engraving effect for a fraction of the cost
printing directly on apparel
highest quality printing method and most cost-effective for very long run lengths (tens of millions)
If you plan to print only a few types of materials
Product catalog. How many different types of materials will your frequently print? Some print vendors support a wide variety of print products, while others prefer to print high volumes of a few specific items.
Make sure your printer's specialty aligns with your requests
If you plan to print a variety of different materials
Your printer should specialize in the types of materials you need
Specialization. It is important to know what type of printing your print vendor specializes in—or where they typically make their money. You want them to not only be capable of printing your orders, but also be pros at printing your types of orders so they're not struggling to work with a request they're unfamiliar with.
Below are examples of focuses of print vendors' business models
Your printer does not need to have scoring capabilities
Your printer should not print your order with the gang-run printing method
If you plan on printing folded products only on regular light weight paper
If you plan on printing folded products on thick heavy weight paper
If your print job requires none of the items listed above
If your print job requires any of the items listed above
Your printer does need to have scoring capabilities
Gang-run printing. The gang-run printing method is commonly used to distribute the pre-press setup cost between multiple print jobs by printing a number of copies of a large page with multiple different print jobs next to each other on the same page.
This method dramatically reduces cost but doesn't guarantee highest quality.
Is it suitable for you? Does your print job require any of the following:
Critical CMYK color matching
Colors outside of the CMYK color gamut
Foiling or embossing
Special ink, like fluorescent or metallic
Custom print size (anything other than a business card, postcard, pocket folder, catalog, poster, envelope, letterhead, etc.)
Non-standard paper (anything other than book weight 80#, 100#, coated and uncoated; and cover 80#, 100# 10, 12, or 14 pt.)
Your order can be printed with the gang-run printing method
Folding. Most print vendors are capable of basic folding types, such as bi-folds, tri-folds, and accordion folds. Heavy weight papers, such as cover weight, card stock, and cardboard, need to be scored before folding to prevent the paper from cracking. This is a more advanced feature that not all printers offer.
Side stitch ($)
Make sure your printer is capable of fulfilling your binding needs
Perfect bound ($$)
Tape bound ($$)
Plastic grip ($)
Below is a visualization of common binding methods
Screw bound ($$$$)
Case bound ($$$$$)
Sewn bound ($$$$$)
Spiral bound ($$)
Comb bound ($)
Image source: https://www.designersinsights.com/designer-resources/choosing-the-right-binding-type/
Saddle stitch ($)
Binding. Some printers have binding machinery in-house, others outsource to another location for binding, and others don't offer binding at all.
Loop stitch ($)
Below is a list of common coating and finishing options
You care more about receiving basic service at a more affordable cost
Coating and finishing. Most print vendors offer basic UV/gloss coating, but not all printers offer a wide variety of coating and finishing options.
Make sure your printer is able to fulfill your coating and finishing preferences
You care more about receiving high-quality print products delivered on time with guarantees
Look for the following in your printer: frequent machine calibrations, spot checks on printed products, up-to-date printing technology, site inspections, guaranteed delivery time
Be prepared to do the following: place orders well before deadlines, order extra copies in case of damage or printing errors, double check your own bleeds and margins before printing
Quality assurance. Every printer agrees to different levels of guaranteed service and quality. Of course, the higher levels of service they provide, the more you'll pay for it.
With these specifications, you're all set to request a quote from your selected printer! Please reach out to your CSM if you need any further help!
Before contacting your printer, be sure to have the following information on hand:
Product type. Are you printing business cards? Or brochures? Or a banner? Help your printer catch your vision, then provide more specific details.
Size. Especially if your prints are not a standard size, be sure to specify how big you want the finished product to be.
Quantity. How many do you need? Prices per unit often drop as the quantity increases. Ask about where quantity breaks might occur. Are you willing to pay for a few over or accept a few under your desired amount?
Paper. Be as specific as possible with the grade, cover, weight, color, and finish. Keep in mind that paper often makes up 30%-60% of the cost of the print job.
Colors of ink. Indicate how many ink colors you'll use and specify if the print job is one-sided or two-sided. For example, a black ink one-sided would be K/0 (the zero indicating that one side is blank). If the print job is in color on both sides, that would be CMYK/CMYK, or 4CP/4CP.
Coating/finishing. Should your prints have a UV coating, foil, or velvet finish? We recommend adding UV coating to documents that will be handled frequently, such as business cards and postcards.
Binding. Some print shops offer a variety of binding techniques. Be sure to know if you want a side stitch, saddle stitch, spiral bound, perfect bound, or other type of bound product. Remember that thicker paper needs to be scored.
Timing. This is a key aspect to explore with your print shop. When is your deadline? Will you need to place a rush order? Be sure to give your printer plenty of time to process your order.
Proofs. Will you want to print some test dummies before printing the real deal? Keep in mind that making changes to the proofs will incur more costs.
Budget. If you have a set budget for the print project, be sure to mention it. You may have to make some adjustments to your specifications to fit the budget, but it's always better to know that sooner rather than later.
After you have selected the printer you wish to use, it's time to request a quote for your printing project. In order to get an accurate quote from your printer, it is important to provide them with specific details of your print job.
Requesting a quote
We know some of these terms can sound pretty foreign if you're not familiar with the printing industry, so we've provided a few definitions to help get you up to speed on the printing lingo!
Accordion fold: alternating folds to create multiple panels of a similar size
Aqueous coating: a clear, water-based coating that can provide a gloss or matte surface and is less likely to crack when folded that UV coating
Bleeds: the margin of error between the margin of your document and the edge of your printed product; protects against frustrating, unpredictable white borders
CMYK: "cyan, magenta, yellow, key (black);" a subtractive color model used for printing
Digital printing: a printing process that prints directly onto a substrate from a digital file which is sent directly to an inkjet, laserjet or other type of digital printer; cost-effective for low-volume (<1,000) print jobs
Embossing/debossing: pressing a pattern, text, or image into the paper to create a three dimensional design
Flexography: a printing process that uses flexible rubber plates to allow printing on a variety of surfaces, including cardboard, plastic, metallic film, and cellophane
Foiling: a premium printing method that stamps a metallic foil die onto your product
Gang-run: a process where printers combine multiple jobs to print on the same sheet; this process helps to significantly reduce prices by dividing the set-up/production costs across several jobs; generally used with sheet-fed printing presses and CMYK process color jobs
Gravure: highest quality printing method and most cost-effective for very long run lengths (tens of millions)
K/0: indicates that one side of the print uses black ink and the other side is blank
Matte: a non-glossy, dull finish
Offset printing: a printing process that uses plates to transfer an image onto a rubber sheet, which is then used to transfer the image onto paper; cost-effective for high-volume (>1,000) print jobs and high-quality output
Paper weight: given in pounds (#), is a measure of paper thickness. There are two types of paper weight:
Text weight: lighter paper; akin to high-quality printer paper
Cover weight: heavier paper; used for items like cards or folders
For reference, 50# text weight paper is what you might find in a household printer, and 100# cover weight paper is often used to make business cards. Please note that 100# text weight and 100# cover weight will have different thicknesses because they use different types of paper.
PMS: "pantone matching system;" a universal color matching system where colors are pre-mixed with a specific formula of inks prior to printing to produce a more exact color
Scoring: mushing the fibers of the paper together at the score to weaken them so the paper is thinner and much easier to fold
Screen printing: a printing process to print directly on apparel
Thermography: a printing process that sprinkles resin on the ink while it is wet and exposes it to heat to raise the lettering and create an engraving effect for a fraction of the cost
UV/gloss coating: a clear-coat applied to printed material that gives the material a glossy look, helps protect it against damage, and enhances the brilliance of its ink. We recommend adding UV coating to documents that will be handled frequently, such as business cards and postcards
Varnish: essentially a colorless ink that manipulates how light relfects or is absorbed into a sheet
Velvet/soft touch: a soft finish that appeals to touch rather than sight
6C: a color profile that includes the four CMYK colors plus two others to expand the color gamut
8C: a color profile that includes the four CMYK colors plus four others to expand the color gamut