So you’re looking for a commercial printer. Maybe it’s been a while since you printed something because you’ve been focused on your digital efforts like social media or SEM. Or, unfortunately, maybe the relationship with your current printer is a little shaky and it’s time for a change.
No matter the reason for your search, finding a printer can be a time-consuming task. You have to locate ones in your area, research those that look promising and then reach out to them to get a few estimates to see if their pricing seems right. You invest time in this mission while you’re most likely also handling other job responsibilities. Once you finally find a new printer to work with you’ll want the relationship to go well. You won’t want to do a search again anytime soon.
How can you make sure you find the right printer? Evaluate them on five key attributes: capabilities, reputation, interest, “the basics” and respect.
Early in your search you have a simple question to answer: do the printers you’re finding have the capabilities you need? You have a project to print—the printer you choose must be able to handle it. If you need a sign printed, do they offer large format printing? If your brochure needs to mail, do they have in-house mailing services?
A printer’s website should provide the information you need to understand their capabilities. If after taking a look at the company online you’re still unsure about what they can do, you could call and ask. On the other hand, you could get a little wary. Because if a printer’s website isn’t easily understood, they might not be very good communicators. That, you don’t want.
The next question is a harder one to answer: what kind of reputation do they have? Are they honest? Do they provide a good customer experience?
Determining what type of company they are without experiencing their service firsthand is challenging, but not impossible. You can look for signs about their reputation in their marketing materials or online presence, such as:
- Do they have long-standing customers?
- Do they have well-known or prominent customers?
- Do they share testimonials or customer feedback?
- Do they have reviews available online?
You can also try to discover their reputation by using your professional network. Have any of your contacts heard of the company, or do they know someone who has? Can you use your network to find a contact at one of the printer’s customers? Is the printer engaged in any of the professional associations, groups or events you’re familiar with?
Although this is a tough question to answer, getting firsthand information about the printers you’re considering could be the most important thing you do in your search.
As you narrow your search to a few viable options you’ll need to reach out to them to discuss your project and get additional information. These discussions are a great time to evaluate your prospects to determine if they would be an innovative partner for you.
Do they ask questions to better understand your project, or do they just take the “order” with little interaction? Do they try to learn more about your company and your printing habits? If your project is complex, do they offer suggestions to improve the cost, turnaround time or quality?
They should be curious about you, your project and your goals. The more a printer understands about these things the better their estimate and proposed solution can be. It helps them deliver on one of the next key measurements in your evaluation: fair price.
As you discuss your project with a printer you’ll have the chance to learn how they score on the basics—speed, quality and price.
When it comes to timing, what kind of turnaround are they estimating? Do their timelines seem reasonable? If you were able to get feedback from colleagues familiar with the printer, can you confirm that they meet their deadlines? It’s one thing to promise fast service but it’s another to actually deliver it.
The primary way to evaluate quality is reviewing samples that are similar to what you’ll need printed. How do their samples look? How were the samples presented or sent to you? Do they seem to be recent projects or do you get a sense they’re from ages ago?
If you have the time, another way to evaluate quality is to visit a printer’s facility. Touring a facility with this intention can show you a lot. Is the shop clean and organized? Do the presses and equipment look well maintained? If a printer puts in the time to take care of their facility you can be sure they’ll put in the time to take care of your project.
As far as price, it’s common for people to want to do things as inexpensively as possible. But as the old saw goes, sometimes you get what you pay for—so beware the low bidder.
With this in mind, get cost estimates from a few printers and compare prices. Look for anomalies, like prices that are a lot less or a lot more expensive than the others. Ignore those and focus on the middle. One side note—if you really like a printer but their estimate comes in real low or real high, reach out to them to make sure they had the specs correct. Even the best printers can misinterpret specs once in a while. As long as you feel a printer is providing you a fair price and fair value they should remain an option in your search.
By this point you should feel comfortable with the capabilities, reputation, service and cost of the remaining option (or options). The final factor in making your choice is respect. Has the printer you’re about to choose treated you with respect? Have they been courteous and attentive? Have you felt good dealing with them? Put simply, have they made you feel like they want your business? If it feels like they do, you’ve found the right printer.