What Are the Advantages of Working with Local Printers and Sign Makers?

Serious concentrated woman in denim shirt standing at large format printer and choosing program while working in printing office

As a graphic designer who works with other businesses to get my client’s print and signage work done, I must be very particular about who I work with because their work will directly reflect on me.  Wood and metal sign makers, screen printers, airbrush and paint artists (for murals and signage), vinyl cutters/printers, are all needed at certain times for the various branded materials my clients need to promote their business.  As a former manager of a print shop, I know all the artwork requirements for print jobs and what to expect from the quality of the end product.  From my experience, I strongly recommend and support utilizing local businesses for my own print needs and for that of my clients. There are a few items I trust to one or two specific online vendors, but they are for a specific use case that I find are better than what is available locally.  Sometimes that happens.  The reason for working almost exclusively with local print shops and individuals is that I get to discuss details with them and bounce ideas back and forth about the best ways to approach specific projects. A lot of times this generates even better results than without this interaction.  Also, when working face to face with someone I believe they really strive for excellence because they want to see how blown away I am with the results.

I am super careful about keeping my clients happy, I do not recommend the use of most online printing services because the results are often substandard.  Even if the cost was less, this is not acceptable.  When it comes to your business, your print materials need to be of the utmost quality, or what was the point in doing it.  Anyone can recognize poor quality work and you don’t want your customers thinking your poor-quality print materials are a reflection of the quality of the services or products your business supplies.

But over the course of my career, I have seen the trend of outsourcing print and design projects because the internet has grabbed the attention of the people browsing for these services.  It is seemingly faster and cheaper than local services but that is not always the case.  Online printers are also often so inundated with jobs that the quality suffers, or they cut costs in the materials or printers they use to provide a cheaper service.

Here are a few reasons why you should try to work with local printing and design service providers, and even better if you can work with a group of designers and printers that work well together.  Because let’s face it, most business owners don’t know about all the services and products available for a given print or signage job. The artwork files that the print shop will need to get the job done are very specific and a designer needs to prepare those files to ensure what you see is what you get.

Local Printing & Design Services are Safer and More Secure

The risk factors are high when you rely on online service providers because you are at an exceedingly high risk of fraudulent activities.  It is harder to confirm if an online business is genuine especially if it is overseas or new.

Here are some of the reasons that make working with local options a better solution.

  • Sometimes data breaches may occur exposing your personal credit card information, or even worse the entire site was made to steal your credit card information regardless of whether they provide a service. It is always possible that newer online print companies will go out of business without notice as well.
  • Recommendations for online from colleagues or other people are not always reliable because of the large volume of orders they handle, and it is quite possible that you do not get the desired results that you expected.
  • If you have issues with an order like not receiving timely service or are not happy with the quality, it will most likely be more difficult to get revisions or refunds if they even offer it. Plus, most of the time, you will be stuck with additional shipping costs.

Local Business Have a Reputation to Uphold

When you are going to work with local printing and design businesses you get to discuss your project in person or at least over the phone. You get to lay out your project for them and have a conversation as to the best materials and services to utilize to ensure great results.  This personal interaction provides you with better results and less miscommunication.  However, I try to avoid working with chain print providers as often as possible as they tend to be more like online vendors due to the volume of work they are doing with equipment that is often not up to par.  I do find them useful though for quick proofs or one-offs because of the convenience however I would never use them for something as important as business cards or other stationary materials in your identity system.

Local businesses are often more reliable and offer faster turnaround times because they are invested in and have established their businesses to support other local businesses and individuals.  Their focus is on providing professional services to keep their local reputation level high.  It is also a numbers game because they work with fewer people so they need to keep their clients happy, or they will go out of business.  Word of mouth for these businesses is critical and they want to only hear good feedback.

On the other hand, the services that you get through the internet or by outsourcing may not be quick and up to date because you cannot judge the reliability and professionalism of some of these companies. Online service providers offer a one-size-fits-all approach, so even if they provide adequate services, you may not get the desired quality.

Remember that digital printing is not for every project and only the local businesses have the manual and digital printing methods available.

Most Online Printers Do Not Provide Physical Proofs

Offshore printers and online printers, in general, provide clients with digital color proofs only. In the case you request physical proofs or paper samples, they will ask you to pay for the shipping charges if they offer this at all and you must wait for them to come in the mail before moving forward or requesting changes.

Local printers can more immediately provide you with detailed color proofs and paper samples without additional costs.  If you haven’t used a specific online printer before, it would be a good idea to see if they can provide you with a set of samples and most of them are able to do so.  If you are on a time crunch this isn’t the route you will want to take, but without it, you are left in the dark about the quality of their materials. Without being able to hold something in your hand or view it in person you can’t get a good understanding of the actual printed colors, the scale, the texture, the thickness, or how it tangibly feels in your hand.  Color matching for branding is especially important and when your logo color is off it is a huge deal so be sure to test printed colors before printing anything in volume for your business.

Working With Locals Is a Sustainable and Cost-effective Practice

When you work with online service providers, you must pay the shipping charges and often there are different upcharges for different turnaround times.  Printing that is done locally does not require shipping unless you are dropshipping them directly to your customers (which is also usually cheaper because it is less of a distance), but this is a huge time and financial savings for your business.

It is a sustainable and environmentally friendly practice as well as by the nature of most of these local businesses, they don’t have a lot of waste associated with them due to fewer re-prints and they don’t require large factory-sized production hubs.  When you don’t have to have your products shipped to you there will also be no carbon emissions from the transport of your goods.

Supporting Locals Is a Great Option to Promote Your Local Economy

Wood Sign depicting "The Kirby's Est. 2013" for a local farm market

This is actually one of the most important reasons to shop local for printing and signage because by supporting local businesses you are supporting your local economy and gaining new local business contacts.  It is a fact that personal approaches impact the economy of the country. For example, if you support small businesses and are ready to promote the local talent, it will strengthen your economy, which is the backbone of our country. When your local economy succeeds, a better community comes into being and more expert people join the businesses.

This is one of the reasons why I support using local print shops because often they have very remarkable talent that you can get nowhere in the world.  Also, this local talent already understands your local business market because know it or not, it overlaps with their market as well even if your business is totally different from the print and design service industry.  It also results in the creation of more jobs for people in your area and those people are now making additional revenue that could be used towards your products and services.

Working With Locals Provides Better Understanding for Personalized Service

 When you work with the local service providers you have a complete understanding of the scope of the project, and you can discuss it with them at any time during production or when you get the results delivered. We all know that face-to-face communication is always clearer and more precise than written instruction on forms especially when it comes to handling design and print projects.

The most important reason for preferring the local makers over the online service providers is the quality of personalized service.  Some online printer companies have tactics to make their service seem more personalized, for example having someone who proofed your job sign a card that ships with your product showing that they went through the correct channels to have the quality of your items checked.  While this is excellent, and well I wouldn’t work with an online printer if they didn’t offer this, it still doesn’t hold up to knowing the person quality checking their work and being able to tell them they did an amazing job.  It is always easier to send poor-quality work to someone in the mail than it is to hand it to them in person.

Photo of a gray truck with a vinyl graphic on it that says Prestige Sealing

Installation of your sign work could also be its own section in this article, but nevertheless, it is worth mentioning because online printmakers don’t have a great solution for sign installation.  Think about it, how are you going to install vinyl car wraps that were purchased online or a large multi-part banner?  You will have to find a third-party installer who may or may not be specialized in installing this specific type of signage.  It is best to work with local printers that install their own work so that they stand behind that work as well and are specialized in installing their own products.

Keep It Local and Enjoy the Benefits!

Being the owner and lead designer of Prime Encode, I can confidently say that I enjoy working with the local print service providers for all the print and branding services I need for my clients.  It is seamless to hand off your design jobs to me with the intent of having me send them to the printer/maker that we have in mind for the job.  I know what they require for artwork files, and they are used to working with me.

It is time to keep yourself on the traditional side and avoid using online means to get printing services done.  I will admit that I use two different online vendors from time to time, but they are well-vetted by me, and I know what to expect from them.  If they were local to me, it would be the best of both worlds!  I have many successful clients in the Olcott, New York area and I like being able to recommend them and utilize their services whenever I can.  Here is a list of all my recommendations for local makers that I do business with that really get the job done right!



Michael McAllister is the owner and lead designer of Prime Encode, LLC. Residing in Burt, NY he enjoys graphic design, painting, hiking with his family and their labradoodle named "Dude", and working on trucks and things around the house.

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