In part one of this look at the future of commercial print I explained my belief that not only does print have a future but also it can thrive in areas where it is unique. This of course means that many commercial printers have some challenges to face up to. I’m not referring to the massive printing plants which can churn out work by the 100,000, as long as business require any kind of print (for example instructions leaflets), they will have work. Nor am I referring to specialist boutique printers which do high individual cost, small run projects, nor the low quality, cheap online suppliers like Vistaprint.
I am referring to what used to be known as jobbing printers, the high street printer, or the small printing businesses. These are exactly the kind of printer I would like to use more of, to support local business, and it is they who have the biggest challenge to face up to in the world of print. In the first part of this look at commercial printing I outlined the areas where print will continue to thrive and grow. These are the areas where jobbing printers need to look. They are unlikely to be able to compete with the massive printing firms, and online suppliers on terms of cost. Equally they may not be able to complete with craft printers on the small run, high quality hand printed products. It is my belief they should aim right down the middle. Better quality and more variety than is offered by standard cheap printing outfits but less expensive than boutique printers for a creating a more individual solution for their clients.
This means keeping their eye on the ball and putting more thought in to projects for all their clients. I have recently seen an increase of projects where I provide the design and artwork, and the client buys the print directly. However this leads to inexperienced buyers looking to get a service from occasionally disinterested printers. Rather than take time to discuss the project and learn what the final printing is required for they often print to a cheap, middle of the road standard. Although this keeps the cost down it can weaken the desired effect of the final product. Cheap middle of the road printing will present the best ideas and most interesting organisations as cheap and middle of the road.
For example when supplied with a design using an intense black and high contrast colours, printers have been known to print on thin, standard art paper, rather than pick a more sturdy stock with a high gloss which would enhance the design and increase the value of the printing to their customers. Equally I once designed a Christmas card and made use of a monochrome image with a strong red and metallic silvery grey. When printed the printers used a cheap matt board which absorbed the ink and killed the image. This made the cards look dull and washed out. They didn’t seem to consider the specialist boards that are designed for greetings cards at all, or even to ask to get in touch with me to discuss the best solution.
I suspect that when dealing with inexperienced customers and those without specialist knowledge many jobbing printers work thoughtlessly on automatic. They seem to pick standard papers and card they have in stock and revert to basic and off the peg solutions. When they are engaged and interested better results are immediately available. I have had great results using high street printers for a range of jobs. For example matt finish high quality business cards on think board, or a specially folded fixture list made from a single sheet of A4 and folded to a pocket size ‘booklet’, or a high quality six page A5 brochure for a Christmas party making use of matt laminate. In all cases the better quality results have been achieved by thought, planning and discussion, working as a team, designer, printer and client.
This is where high street printers need to focus their energies in the exciting, challenging, and changeable future they face. They are uniquely placed to be able to offer a better quality product, and unique options, to the cheap and not so cheerful online printing providers. By talking projects through with clients, learning how the printed items are to be used, they can offer something better, something more suitable, and something more successful, rather than a template based options from online suppliers.
Also, many of these jobbing printers have years of experience, and they are able to challenge the boutique, high end printers at their own game. By providing unique solutions and new ideas, but backing them up with the affordability of scale which they can offer, they are a great alternative to the hand printed art studio top quality printers as well. Many of the struggling high street printers of today go back decades if not generations. They have staff who have worked in the pre digital age, through highs and lows, and will have worked on high quality projects. If they utilise this experience, find unique solutions for their clients they will stand out and attract new customers of all sizes.
High street printers could very easily be squeezed from both sides of this equation. Clients could look for cheaper options online assuming that the quality is the same. Equally if looking for something special customers could fall for the sales pitch of boutique printers. Of course no one is more suited to preparing the best marketing materials to sell these high street printers than the companies themselves. For example a small print shop based in Yorkshire approached me for work by sending across their brochure, which they had designed and developed to showcase the full range of their services. This included blind embossing, high gloss sport varnish, matt laminate, cutting to shape, special Pantone colours, and different paper stock all in one publication. This illustrates perfectly how this kind of print shop is ideally placed for a future where print isn’t dead, but shall be living a different life.