Printing: In-House vs. Outsourcing




A question that I am asked in some form or another with some regularity by other stationers is whether they should I print their stationery in-house, if they should outsource their printwork.  Every stationer faces this choice and, as with almost everything, there is no right or wrong answer.


Initially, I wrote this as one post, however it grew so long that I decided to split it into three separate posts, this first one being a broad overview of the topic with the next two covering the benefits and drawbacks of each.


When I was first beginning to create stationery, I printed everything in-house on a fine-but-not-great home printer.  I never felt fully confident in the quality of the print work and I hated fighting with the machines. Now, over six years later, I outsource a great majority of my print work and for me, it has been a great decision. That is not to say that outsourcing is completely without its own stresses or that I never print anything in-house, but I have learned many of the pros and cons of both options and now I always know the best method for me personally depending on the project.


Here are some things to know about each method to hopefully help you discern which may be a better fit for you overall or for a specific project.


Printing In-House

Choosing to print in-house is how most stationers begin. When you print in-house, all things printing and production related falls to you, which can be a good thing or a challenging thing.  These are a few items that you will need or need to know in order to be able to produce quality products in-house.


Tools and Supplies

The quality of mid-priced home printers available today is far greater than it was six and a half years ago when I was first taking on this task.  Specific printers is a topic for another post, but doing your research - reading reviews and talking to other stationers who do their own printing - is key as well as making sure that any printer that you purchase can print on the types of papers that you will be working with and the type of designs that you print.  This will most likely mean that you will need both a laser and an inkjet printer.


You will certainly also need a good quality paper cutter.  You do not need to purchase an industrial stack cutter, a guillotine is almost always fine, but remember that you will also be cutting all of your pieces out by hand.  Other helpful tools include a deckle edge tool for tearing, and a scoring board.



Printing does take time. When you take on this task yourself, it is you who will be spending the time printing - and probably also cutting and any other production step required for your design, scoring, tearing, etc.   While you can often print a stack at a time and only have to monitor that the paper is feeding through properly rather than hand feeding each sheet, it still does take your time to oversee and carry out all of the printing and all of the other production tasks mentioned above.


Also if you are working with finicky product, such as handmade paper, you may find yourself having to feed one sheet at a time and removing the almost inevitable ink scuff marks that occur.



Printers are not perfect - they jam, pull crookedly, leave ink spots, print an inch lower than your print file appears; there are a myriad of other issues that can arise and it is up to you to troubleshoot and fix the problem.  Sometimes these issues are easily fixed and other times they can bring you to tears.


Also, each printer will print color slightly differently.  You must make sure that your printer is printing accurately and do color adjustments if something is off.  This a requires you to have a good eye for the details of your work and be meticulous when it comes to the quality.


Your print job can go perfectly smoothly, or it can take double the time and eat through your paper.  Most of the time, things do go well, however you need to accept that there will be times when it will not.  That being said, there are several stationers that I know who keep most of their printing in-house and it may be the option that is best for you as well.


Sending your work out ot a commercial printer is the other option for your print work.  There is a little less here about outsourcing as you do less than if you are printing yourself.  Here are a few things that you will need or need to know in order to outsource your printing.


A Commercial Printer

First of all, you will need to find a printer.  I always recommend that you try to find a local printer because it facilitates easier press checks and eliminates shipping time and costs.  It also allows you to have a face to face relationship with your printer which is always a good thing. You will need to do your research; find some printers in your area and then reach out to them, introducing yourself and asking them your questions.


It is good to be prepared and know what papers you work with and ask if they print on them, to find out about turnaround times and pricing, minimums, how they do press checks, how they like their files to be set up, etc.  That being said, do not be afraid to be honest with them if you are new and have never worked with a printer before.


When I was starting to outsource I knew nothing and I was honest about being a beginner and my printer could not have been more kind to help show me the ropes of file set-up, and what could be one on different types of paper.  I will always be so grateful for that.



Hiring a printer to print for you is more expensive than if you print in-house (however don't forget to account for your time when you price if you are doing your own printing!).  If you are pricing your work correctly, then you will be accounting for this cost and will not be losing money, however you will make a little less profit. The thing to remember about this is that you are paying someone to do this so that you do not have to and therefore your time is freed up to other things.



When you outsource your work, you are giving away a piece of the control for those pieces, namely with the timeline.  You are one of your printers many clients. At busy times, which can vary for your printer depending on what types of work they do - it may not be all weddings, turnaround times may be longer and they may not be able to accommodate rush jobs.


Also, commercial printers can run into problems as well and there are some times when that may end up putting your job behind and then you have to deal with the sometimers stressful task of still making the deadline for your client.  


As with printing in-house, usually things go perfectly smoothly, but there have been times for me and other stationers that I know where problems have arisen.  It is good to be aware of the things that can happen and to know how you and the printer will handle things. Again, I outsource almost all of my work so clearly I think that it is worth it for me and my situation.


I hope that was clear and helpful to be a little introduction to some of the basics of both printing in-house and outsourcing.  I will be posting the next two installments on this subject soon which will discuss in more depth the benefits and drawbacks of each method.


What do you find to be a better fit for you?  Let me know and if you have any specific questions please do not hesitate to reach out.