One of the first big decisions I had to make when getting started in my first church communications job was selecting a printing company for the church. Prior to my arrival, they were using a quick print company and I felt pretty certain there had to be a better option. We were paying too much and had too few printing features to choose from with the quick printer.
So I set out to find a new printing partner but I was clueless where to start. After years in church communications and after experiences with dozens of printing companies, I have a few tips that will hopefully help you if you find yourself in a similar search.
Online companies often do a higher quantity and have less overhead, so generally you can find a better price. Also, they usually have the latest equipment and offer easy methods of file delivery (usually an online upload and proofing tool). However, if you want to see a physical proof, you are out of luck with an online printer. There are also the issues of longer turn-around times and extra costs associated with shipping.
Local printing companies also tend to offer a little better personal customer service. There is something nice about being able to pick up the phone and call someone if you have a question about color matching, paper weight, or imposing.
For me, I never liked the thought of being just another customer and I certainly viewed my printing company as a partner in ministry. It was a blessing to be able to minister to the owner of a printing company I once worked with by visiting him in the hospital after his cancer surgery. It is those relationships that cause me to personally prefer local over online.
Whichever route you decide is right for your context, here are a few questions to ask and things to look for:
Obviously, you want to find the best quality for the lowest price. Just make sure you are comparing apples to apples when price shopping. Things often included in the price with one company might be add-ons for another company (premium paper, pre-flighting, binding, collating, delivery fees, etc.)
Some printers will have minimum quantities for certain types of publications (500 business cards might be a minimum order, for example). Others give discounts at certain quantity tiers. If you order 10,000 weekly bulletins a month—and are willing to commit to ordering that many for six months—you can probably negotiate a discount with some printers.
Digital vs. Traditional
Some projects lend themselves better for printing on digital machines, others require traditional machines (think huge printing presses with mixed ink). Did you know letterhead has to be printed using traditional printing because of the type of ink required? Toner from a digital press would smear if run through an office copy machine or office printer.
It’s nice when a printing company has both digital and traditional presses in house, but most do not. In those cases, your printer will have to outsource when they don’t have the right type of machine.
Standard Turnaround Time
If you are going to need a quick turn-around, such as with a weekend bulletin, you need to factor that in to the printing company you choose.
File Formats & File Delivery Methods
The preferred method for receiving your file and the preferred file type and configuration will vary from printer to printer. If you do most of your designing in Photoshop, for example, you will want to make sure to find a printing company who can accept that file type and handle the large file size.
Some printers I’ve used had a web based file uploader. Some assigned me an FTP account. Others preferred me to upload a file to my web server where they could get it.
These are all factors to consider in your selection process.
Designer On Staff
Sometimes you need a designer to lay out a publication for you. Though I am a designer myself, it was handy when the printing company had someone on staff who spoke the same language as me when talking printing. And if you’re not a designer, it helps when the printer’s staff can translate printer speak into English.
There are lots of “extra” features that printing companies can offer. A few examples include variable data, binding, special finishing effects like UV coating or die-cutting, etc. Ask prospective printers what extra options they offer for your print pieces.
Choosing a Ministry Partner
Ultimately, when choosing a printing company you are choosing a partnership. When a wise choice is made, a good relationship with them can make your life as a church staffer a lot easier. I recommend informally interviewing prospective companies, asking to tour the facilities and generally beginning a dialog. Remember, as will any vendor you work with as a church organization, you don’t want to be just another company. You are representing Christ and will ultimately have the opportunity to do ministry as a result of this choice.
We’re thrilled to partner with Creative Missions (our nonprofit parent, the Center for Church Communication, handles the Creative Missions finances). Learn more about Creative Missions and this year’s trip to Alaska and consider a financial donation to help church communicators help other churches communicate better. Check out Chuck’s write-up of the 2012 Creative Missions trip.
For more helpful tips like this, check out Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It’s a booklet of articles by Creative Missions alumni offering a crash course in church marketing basics.