No matter the size of your small business, or the type of business it is, at some point you will need to have printed documents. We are getting closer and closer to an all-electronic world, but we are still not quite there. So, whether you are a dog walker, a small online retailer, or website designer, you will need to print at some point.
Most small businesses need three types of printing: business forms and communication, marketing collateral, and signage. You might be able to get all three types of products done locally, but you will probably save money by sourcing these separately.
Business Forms and Communication
Depending upon your clientele, you might be able to do all of this electronically, but it is unlikely. There are still too many people who want a printed copy. Whether it is a packing list, an invoice, or a legal document, customers and even other businesses want to be able to see something “in writing,” so to speak.
It makes sense for businesses to have a small printer in the office for these items. There are three types of printers to consider: laser, inkjet, and all-in-one. When choosing which type of printer you need, consider how much printing you need to do, how fast you need it to happen and what kind of paper you need to use. Be aware that many printers will only print on 8.5 x 11 paper. If you need to print on legal (8.5 x 14) or tabloid (11 x 17), make sure the printer is able to do that. Another aspect to review is the cost of cartridges. In the long run, this might be your biggest expenditure for printing. You will want to make sure you get the best cost per page you can.
Laser printers have two advantages. They print quickly and they have a low cost per page.
Laser printers were more expensive in the past, but they have come down in price. They also have color versions now that are affordable. You will pay more for the printer itself and the cartridges, but they will last longer than an inkjet printer. The laser cartridges have a higher yield than most inkjet printers, so you will get more pages from each cartridge. Also, sometimes inkjet cartridges will dry up if you don’t use them regularly. Not so with laser printers.
Due to the difference in technology, laser printers are faster than inkjets. Also, because they use toner which is dry, rather than wet, you don’t have to wait for the pages to dry or worry about pages that have heavy coverage becoming rippled.
The advantages of inkjet printers are size, price, and versatility. Most inkjet printers are smaller than laser printers. If space is an issue for you, this might be the way to go. Once you fold up the input and output trays, many inkjets’ footprints are not much bigger than a piece of paper.
Also, if you are not printing a large quantity of pages, they have a low cost. The initial cost for the printer itself can be very low and the cartridges are inexpensive. However, if you do a lot of printing, you will go through the ink cartridges quickly.
Inkjets really shine through their versatility. Most will print on a variety of paper sizes and a variety of paper thicknesses. Also, they can produce stunning graphics when you use the right paper and settings. In a small office where, in one day, you might need to print a contract on letter paper, an invitation on cardstock and a postcard on photo stock, you cannot beat an inkjet printer.
These are the jacks-of-all-trades type printer. They can print, fax, scan, and copy. They come in both laser and inkjet styles. Depending on your needs, this might be overkill, but if you need them, they are handy.
Being able to occasionally make a copy of document is handy. It never fails you need a copy of something for your client meeting in an hour. That is not enough time to run to the copy shop. Also, being able to scan something and then drop the image into a document is a big advantage.
Often an all-in-one printer will be wireless and network enabled whereas the other two might not. This means, more than one person in the office has access, and you can easily print from your phone or tablet.
This technology is new and still seems futuristic to the many people who do not understand how it works. However, as the price comes down for the printers many small businesses will find them useful in certain instances. If your business is creating physical objects, it would be very useful to be able to print prototypes. Also, you could create marketing giveaways or at least samples. As the technology improves further, more uses will be found.
Marketing collateral can be as simple as business cards or as complex as full color, full bleed brochures.
No matter what your business, it is unlikely you will gain much traction without a business card. Most people still want a business card to get your contact information. They can be printed in your office, on special business card stock, but this is usually not economical. With the many online printers, you can get 500 business card for about $50. You could not print them in house for that price and they probably will not look as nice.
The same is true of printed brochures. If you need marketing materials that contain static information, the look and price from a professional printer will always beat items from your office printer. The exception is if you only need a few sheets. Also, it is hard to create a piece that is 8.5 x 11 and prints all the way to the edge.
The biggest question becomes not if you send it out for printing, but if you use an online printer or a local shop. Consider who will design the pieces, how many different pieces are needed, and the quantity of each piece. If you have designed the logo and other pieces yourself, they are not too complex, and you have adequate lead time, an online printer will probably work well. I would just make sure they offer proofs, and they have a way to contact them for problem resolution.
If you need someone to design your pieces, or you need something that is a little more complex (say: full bleed with a custom cut and folds) you would be safer with a local shop. The in-person conversations and proofs make the process easier and less error-prone.
Signage is not necessary for every business, but at some point most businesses will need something. There are many different types of signage, and for this article, it is not about building signs. Here signage refers to banners, window signs, posters, etc.
Even without a storefront, there are times when signage is needed. If you participate in local business fairs, farmer’s markets, or trade shows you will need some type of sign. There are elaborate set-ups for trade show booths, but mostly a small banner and/or easel sign will work well.
If you ever sponsor a charity event or golf tournament, you will likely need some form of sign. You also might want a magnetic car sign so your business name is seen every time you drive.
Large format printing, like banners and signs, is a specialty market. Depending upon the size of town you live in, there might be a local printer capable of large format printing or there might not. Luckily, there are many large format printers available online. Chances are, if you take the job to a local printer, they will farm it out to one of these companies. Make sure you have a good dialogue with them, get quotes in writing and hard copy proofs.
No matter what type of business you have, you will need printed materials of some sort, if not daily, at least on a regular basis. The hardest part of deciding how to get your printed materials will be determining the specifics. Once you are clear about the specifics of your project or needs, the type of printer needed becomes clear.