As a designer I have experienced how competitive the printing industry is first hand: printers strive to provide high quality prints, variety of custom options and printing materials, to stand out among hundreds of others -which for us, the clients, means that there’s a number of options that can meet our particular needs and that there’ll be (at least) one priced right.

For example, I like to find printers that have a broader range in paper and finish selections than a those with the lowest price. Why? Usually the super low prices are for cookie cutter products -blank envelopes, plain business cards, etc. If you want to be unique, you need superior and different printing materials for your design. I use these guys for custom print projects -still on a dime. I like them because they ship worldwide and have very affordable prices and low minimums.

And they’re not the only ones; there are many local and international printers fighting to get our projects. According to Global Industry Analysts, the world printing machinery and supplies industry is expected to exceed $ 21 billion by 2015. If that number alone does not prove that print is not dead, I don’t know what does.

Take advantage of this solid industry and their aggressive competition to make the most of your own projects. Here are some of the most outstanding benefits I have found using online printers for my freelance design business:

Ultimate Convenience

Isn’t it comfortable to be able to buy from your couch? Yes. It is indeed. Well, you’ll probably be at your desk, but you will save a lot of time on phone calls and trips to the local printers looking for a specific product or finish in several places; you already know what you need and how it must look: compare several providers and go from there.

All you need is to browse for the item and read the available specifications, chances are they have what you want -if not, live chat is usually an option. In addition to saving time and avoiding crowds, it is obvious but important to mention, that you can order the date and time that best suits your schedule and actually verify in real time how the budget varies if you change that.

Greater Variety of Customized Print Items

I like to be up-to-date with the latest design trends for businesses and while it was not an easy task to find an e-business specialized in printing services that carried the vast selection of products and finishes I need, I eventually did. Personally, I like to order multiple -if not all- print products for a project from the same provider to ensure color accuracy and accountability.

One of the things I’m on the lookout for when selecting a provider is how often they update their catalog. For one of my latest projects I had to work on a new window display for a local store, I was very pleased to find that the same provider I mentioned above had window graphics for advertising and decorating purposes, both as window clings and perforated see-through vinyl (see here). I was impressed with the results.

When you’re looking for your own provider (it pays to keep working with the same company, as you become a VIP client for repeat business alone) consider:

  1. Standard or custom sizes offered
  2. Paper types available
  3. Minimum quantities
  4. Specialty and Novelty Finishes
  5. Turnaround time
  6. Unique shapes and die-cut capabilities
  7. Proofing options
  8. Variety of printing products in the catalog
  9. How often they add new items
  10. Customer support -the more channels, the better

Premium Quality

The quality of printing products can be determined by digital and offset printing options, luxurious paper stock and various finishes you can choose from. When I order online, I always get free proofs before paying, if possible. If you want to have a better perception of an online printing company, check their experience in the industry and follow them on social media networks. See what others are saying and posting; you will be able to find helpful customer reviews.

Incredibly Fast Turnarounds

Digitalization has made printing more efficient as it minimizes turnaround times: in today’s fast paced world, technology plays an important role in the printing industry so companies can deliver impressively fast prints (even the same day). In case you have one of those last minute projects – from the “I need it yesterday” clients we never seem to shake off- you can still have successful results without breaking bank or over-billing.

Do not forget to take note of the available payments methods and if they meet current transaction-safety standards.

First-Rate Customer Service

The first time I ordered online, I thought there would not be a dedicated team available to solve my questions; there are so many companies with automated menus nowadays that getting to talk to a live human seems to be a feat of significant proportions. Luckily, I was wrong! You just need to make sure you choose a printer focused on providing high quality customer service, you’ll be able to tell by checking their social media networks and response rates. Live chat can also be a great communication tool. Finally, make sure the company provides different contact methods, like emails and alternative phone numbers.

I hope you can see the advantages of using an online printer as opposed to the local print shop with the information above. Have you used an online printer before? Please share your experiences below.