The Best Small Business Printing Options

By Pam Baker | Posted August 22, 2012

While you're putting together all the elements you need for that small business printing project and wondering what happened to the "paperless office" prediction, odds are you're also wondering how best to commit that project to paper.

Sure, you know the options: DIY, online printing, or commercial printer. But which is the best for this particular project? That question becomes even more perplexing if you need your project in both paper and in sharable digital forms for distribution across various device forms. Fortunately there are more options to deal with such duality.

"Printing has evolved in recent years in response to the rise of the digital age and mobile," said Chief MagClouder, Andrew Bolwell, aka Chief Geek and MagCloud cofounder. Bowell is a long-time HP Labs researcher and HP Labs is where MagCloud was invented.

"HP MagCloud helps bridge the gap by allowing users to print traditional, tactile marketing materials while also enabling them to distribute digital versions to any device, including iPad," said Bowell.

MagCloud delivers paper printed products in approximately three days, although some orders may take longer. Digital versions of your order are available almost immediately on the MagCloud site and can be available either for public or private viewing, whichever you prefer.

Prices are reasonable, starting at 15 cents per page for a standard 11- x 8.5-inch product, 27 cents per page for a 12- x 12-inch square product, $1.50 per unit for double-sided 12- x 18-inch posters, and 36 cents per page for tabloid products (larger than letter-sized but no larger than the size of a newspaper).

But how does MagCloud stack up against your other options?

Pros and Cons of Online Printing

The two primary advantages to using online printing services are low cost and convenience. Vistaprint, for example, is a popular online printing service that small businesses often use to cut printing costs and errand time. Print products are shipped right to the business' door.

"I've found Vistaprint's price -- even with shipping -- to be comparable to many local printers, but even if I had to pay a few dollars more for shipping, it's worth it to not have to drive all over town to drop off and/or pick up," said Marjorie R. Asturias, principal at Blue Volcano Media, an Internet and social media marketing firm.

But there are downsides to using online printing services, too.

"Vistaprint's quality can be uneven," said Asturias. "I've received note cards with edges that showed signs of sloppy cutting."

"Also, the 'free shipping' offer they frequently advertise is for their slowest shipping, typically 4-5 weeks," she added. "If you want it faster, you'll need to pay a progressively more expensive premium, depending on how fast you want it. It's best if you can plan your orders in advance if you want to reap the savings on shipping."

Pros and Cons of DIY On-Premises Printing

The three primary advantages to handling your printing on your very own small business printer are convenience, control and security.

There's nothing more convenient than just hitting the print icon on any device and – voila – it arrives at your printer. You can even print remotely to a printer closer to (or actually at) your destination, and thus skip travelling with paper in hand or shipping it ahead. HP's ePrint service is a prime example of just how versatile your office or home printer can be. Buy a Web-connected HP printer, and you can print to another Web-connected HP printer just about anywhere for free.

"The HP Office Jet Pro gives us vibrant spectacular images, something that most people do not expect from an all-in-one printer," said Todd Thompson, owner of a small custom jewelry business, Diamonds Fine Jewelry. "We're able to print from mobile devices, not only in the store but actually out of store. We're able to print brochures. At the end of the day the customer is able to walk away with a spectacular image, and be happy."

But the printer on your desk has its limitations, too. The most common are paper size restrictions and maintenance issues. And honestly, who here has not recently cursed a desktop printer?

"I'm responsible for maintaining all of my equipment, so if there's a paper jam or I run out of toner, I have to deal with the frustration of fixing or resupplying it," explained Asturias. "As most office managers and business owners know, toner is extremely expensive relative to the cost of the printer itself. As a frugal entrepreneur, I have to balance the cost of maintaining my own equipment -- not just the time involved but the financial cost as well -- with the time and cost of outsourcing it to local printers."



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