In the previous post, I gave a somewhat broad overview of some of the differences between printing in-house and outsourcing your print work to a commercial printer. In this post and the next, I wanted to look bit more thoroughly at the benefits and the drawbacks for both in-house printing and outsourcing.
As most stationers begin with in-house printing, let's start there. Below are some of the benefits and the drawbacks that I have found to printing in-house.
Benefits to printing In-House
When you keep your printing in-house, you have the ability to provide immediate quality control, because you see the final product as it is coming off of the printer. This is good because it saves time on print checks; if there is an issue, you will see it right away and have the ability to correct it and reprint quickly rather than having to wait for it to come back from your printer, notice the error, try to fix it, send it off again… You can see how this can be time consuming.
If you are printing pieces that require any type of color matching, you have the ability to quickly test, tweak the files, and reprint as many times as needed to get the colors to match. This can take many rounds of slight corrections to get just right, especially if you are printing multiple pieces on different printers, because each printer will print slightly differently. If you are printing the invitations on on an inkjet and the vellum wraps on a laser printer, the two will not necessarily print the exact same color, even if the pieces are printed from the same artwork files.
Additionally, occasionally commercial printers will make errors and when that happens, you may not know until you receive all of your printed pieces, leaving you with quite a stressful situation to deal with.
You are not your printers only customer. When you send your files off, there will be a turnaround time which is typically at least two weeks - sometimes faster for digital work. If you are in a rush to get the pieces back, whether it is you or your client who has caused the rush, a commercial printer may or may not be able to accommodate that shortened timeline. Also, if you are not working with a local printer, you have to allow for shipping time.
Of course if you have planned ahead and have built the correct amount of time into your timeline, this is not a problem. However, even the best planned schedules occasionally end up being altered and then you can suddenly find yourself in a tight situation and being rushed in the assembly process because you are waiting to get your pieces back form the printer. Printing your own work means that you are in control of the printing timeline and have control of the turnaround time.
Printing in-house is cheaper - probably. What I mean is that obviously you will not have an invoice from your commercial printer that needs to be paid, however you must not forget that you need to include your ink and paper costs as well as your time when you are calculating how much printing in-house actually costs.
Overall, if things go relatively smoothly, then printing in-house is cheaper, however do not forget that printers can be finicky and you may end up spending far more time fighting with your machine than you expect - especially if you are printing on challenging paper stock.
That being said, it usually works out that it is less costly to print in-house. You will be charging the same amount for the job, and so, as long as your printing work is high quality, you will be making a little more profit for the extra time that you spend on the printing.
Drawbacks to printing In-House
You can achieve good quality prints in-house, but the truth is that unless you invest in a high quality printer, you will most likely not be able to produce the same level of quality print work as your commercial printer with commercial grade machines is able to achieve. I have a few different machines in my studio and I still feel that the work that I get back from my commercial printer is always just a tiny bit better. Perhaps he has little ink fairies that help him.
Of course investing in a quality machine can yield beautiful results in-house.
Of course if you are going to take on the task of printing in-house, that is going to be taking up a portion of your time. Some jobs will be more or less time intensive than others depending on the type of paper and the number of printed elements, however any job takes time.
If you are printing 150 suites and each set has 5 printed pieces, that is 750 pieces that will need to be printed and possibly cut, duplexed, etc. While some can be printed two-up, it is still a lot of printing especially if you are working on pieces such as envelopes where you may not be able to just set a stack in and walk away.
It is worth considering that the time that you spend printing is time that you are not spending designing, or on other aspects of your business that only you can do.
Problems with equipment
There is little that is more frustrating than fighting with a printing machine that is not working properly. Paper pulling incorrectly, jamming, printing an inch too low even though you have checked times and all of your setting seem to be correct, everything printing blue when your file is in greyscale mode (this has happened to me - anyone know why?) are a few of the number of other problems that can arise. I don’t know about you, but I hate dealing with that and would rather pay someone else to fight those battles for me.
What I mean by this is that most studios, even those who have very good digital printing capabilities, do not have the capability of producing other products such as letterpress, foil stamping, laser engraving, and other high-end finishes. If you do not have any clients who are in the market for these types of finishes, this may not be an issue for you, but if you do, you will most likely have to outsource these projects.
In my experience, it has been so helpful to have built relationships with these types of vendors so that when a project comes my way or an idea comes up, I know exactly who to go to and how it will work rather than only having experience with digital in-house printing.
Clearly there are both good and challenging aspects to printing in-house and for many, it is the way to go. Hopefully this is helpful if you are considering what the best method will be for you.
What have you found is the best printing method for you? Do you prefer to keep things in-house or do you love sending your files off to print?