Online Printing Versus A Local Print Shop: Which is Better for Your Small Business?

If your small business relies on a significant amount of printed material, then you may have considered using an online printing service. But online printing has its pros and cons. How do you decide if printing your materials in the cloud is really the best choice for your business?

What is Online Printing?

Online printing sites are basically print shops in the cloud. Though offerings may range a bit from site to site, these companies typically support a full range of printing services, such as the ability to produce fliers, catalogs, posters, business cards, and a professional-looking brochure in various sizes, paper stocks, and finishes. Many Internet-based printers even provide some design assistance as well, ranging from interactive online design tools and templates for the do-it-yourself types, to live one-on-one sessions with a graphic designer.

Once your files have been uploaded or designed, you will then be asked to choose the quantity, paper stock, and any other features that you may want, as well as a method of delivery (many online printers offer several delivery options ranging from next day air service to standard 3-5 day ground shipping).

One feature you should definitely look for when deciding on a service is the ability to get a preview or proof of the printed item before filling the order. Some online printers will even send you a hard copy of the printed material and have an employee check the file for any obvious errors. The potential amount of time and money that you will save by taking advantage of such a feature is something you should strongly consider- especially since it may help you to avoid some of the drawbacks mentioned below.

What Are the Possible Pros of Using an Online Company to Print Business Material?

The two biggest advantages to using an Internet-based printing company as opposed to a local print shop are the cost savings and flexibility involved. Since online printing companies don’t typically have a brick-and-mortar shop to maintain, they have lower overhead expenses and can thus afford to charge less than a physically-based shop. You can also avoid a trip to the local printer which will help you save time as well as money on gas. If you need to process recurring orders, then the simplicity may be an additional factor to consider.

What Are Some Potential Drawbacks to Using an Online Printing Service?

But before you rush to an online printing service, be aware that it has its cons as well. Small, local business owners may do better using the services of a local print shop. Why? Because it’s less generic. While you may be able to get a quality print job from an online printer, your materials may lack a certain flavor or personality that would be needed for your particular community. This, however, may be something that a community-based print shop owner and its employees may be able to point out to you.

Moreover, if graphic design is not your thing, then you may benefit from the face-to-face, hands-on contact that a brick-and-mortar print shop can offer. This can help to reduce costly errors, such as the use of an inappropriate graphic, bleed (when objects overlap the border of your document), or trim, in addition to textual typos or other design mistakes.

If you need a rush job that must be completed within a few hours, then an online service may not do either, since you have to factor in the printing turnaround time (which can range from 1 to 6 days depending on the service and the job) and shipping time.

How to Decide Who to Use for Your Online Printing Needs

Just do a simple Google search for terms like “online printing” and “brochure printing online,” and you’ll see from the sheer number of the results you get back that printing materials in the cloud has become a big business. But as I have to hinted above, to get the biggest payback from the use of an online printing service, you need to choose a competent company that offers a full range of features. You should also be on the look out for customer references and the company’s overall online reputation.

In short, online printing offers a frugal option for many small business owners in need of professional design services and printed materials but who would like to avoid the professional prices. If you’re a small startup with a need to fund these new expenses, read up on an auto title loan. Just make sure you do a little research to see if it fits your particular business, and make an informed decision before settling on a specific online printing company.


  1. Neal Gladden says

    Online vs Local?
    When comparing apples to apples, the quality, service, and price of the local professional printer wins every time.

  2. Marc says

    I’m with Neal.
    There was a period of 3-5 years where faceless, monolithic, online print companies were giving away business cards, postcards, and photo albums in order to establish their market share. Now days those ads aren’t for FREE business cards, they’re for CHEAP business cards. When you read the fine print you’ll see that those cards will also come with an ad for the printer on the reverse side and flimsy card stock. (If you want the good stuff, you’ll find their prices for the upgrade really aren’t all that low once they have their foot in the door)

    At this point, the local print shops that have survived really know their stuff, and will be able to steer you toward quality products that will compete well with any printer online. Add that to the sheer volume of knowledge a career printer has on the subject, and they have any minimum wage button pusher beat.