If you use business cards, you’ve probably thought about printing your own. After all, you own an inkjet printer, a computer, and some graphics software. How hard could it be to save a few bucks?
To check out how well this works in practice, my employees and I conducted a small experiment. We created 3 batches of business cards, using 3 different techniques.
The first technique was fairly straightforward: We took the business card down to our neighborhood print shop, and asked them to print up some more. We brought a blown up copy of our logo, which served as “camera ready artwork.” The copy shop took care of the typesetting, proofreading, printing, etc. It was fairly painless, although it did involve physically getting to the print shop. Next time we’ll email them a TIF file. We had planned on getting 500 cards, but the price for 1,000 was only a little higher, so we went with the larger quantity. The cards took 5 business days, apparently because they were not printed on-site, but rather outsourced to a wholesale printer.
The second technique may sound unorthodox, but it worked. We used a custom made rubber stamp to create the cards. This was fun, though it took a while. We also wrecked a few cards by stamping carelessly.
Finally, we created some cards on our inkjet printer, an Epson Stylus C84. There’s special software available for placing the images 10-up on the page, but we opted to use Adobe PageMaker, since that’s what we’re familiar with. We printed the cards on Avery #8871 Clean Edge Business Card paper.
All three methods have their proponents, and none of the methods was clearly the best choice for everyone. The rubber stamped cards were definitely funky looking. If you work at a bank, don’t even think about it. On the other hand, if you just need a few dozen cards for your part time cookie baking business, rubber stamped cards might be just what you need to convey the “home made” impression. Art stamp enthusiasts often have fun with multiple ink colors. The more ink pads you have, the more variety your cards can have. The cost of rubber stamped cards was 12.4 cents each. Unfortunately, our 8 year-old assistant got bored, so we aborted the experiment after an hour and a half, and about 150 cards.
The inkjet printed cards were a little harder to evaluate. The image was clear and sharp, and we chose to use the printer’s abilities to mix several colors and a blend on the page. However, the designing is not quite as trivial as it sounds. You can easily end up designing a card that’s too busy. Also, our first few designs had type that went too close to the edge. If you’re not a professional designer, count on printing out some experiments to look at before you hit the “Print” button for 200 cards.
No matter how careful you are, however, you still end up with cards that look like they were printed on an inkjet printer. The “clean” edges were still perceptibly perforated, and the ink ran a little when it got damp. An informal poll of small business owners in New England showed that inkjet printed cards still convey a “less serious” impression. Of course, this could be fine for many businesses, but it deserves some consideration. All together, we spent about 3 hours designing and printing 200 cards. We saved the design, so next time it could be quicker.
We expected the inkjet printed cards to be much cheaper than the professionally printed ones. That was before we tallied the cost of ink cartridges and paper. The paper was $16.88 online, plus $7.95 shipping, for 200 cards. That works out to 12.4 cents per card. If you include a 10% waste factor, the final paper cost is 13.66 cents per card. Then we calculated the ink cost. Overall, we averaged 42 cents per page, or 4.2 cents per card. (Each page had room for 10 cards.) Again, a waste factor of 10% meant a final ink cost of 4.62 cents per card. Total cost for ink and paper was 18.28 cents per card. An excellent price if you only need a few dozen, but for larger quantities, we could do better.
The professionally printed cards were simple 2 color (black and dark blue inks) raised printing on an off-white card stock. The raised printing and lack of perforations won the thumbs up from the New England small business owners. One middle aged woman observed that “they look like a real business printed them.” The price of professionally printed business cards varied quite a bit when we called around, so it may pay you to do a little shopping. Remember that you’ll likely use the same printer again in the future, if only for the convenience. Most print shops keep your data on file for quick reordering.
The print shop we chose charged us $43.00 for 1,000 cards, which works out to 4.3 cents per card, or about a 76% discount from the inkjet printed cards. Had we chosen to order only 500 cards, the price would have been $38.00, or 7.6 cents per card. That’s still a savings of 58.4%. More importantly, we felt we had a good looking card. While not exciting, it was professional enough to hand out anywhere.
A few other points to consider: The price we paid at the print shop was for a fairly simple job. We didn’t choose, for example, to have solid ink coverage extending all the way to the edge (a “bleed”.) Nor did we have a custom color mixed up for us. These charges can add up, so if your design isn’t set in stone just yet, you might want to check with the print shop about their policies. Also, we chose to do our inkjet printing on specially made inkjet paper. You can save money by choosing a cheaper paper, but we haven’t had good results with any we’ve found so far.
Our verdict: Go with the method that’s right for you! For the homemade cookie business, get a rubber stamp. If you only need a few business cards, and aren’t overly concerned with appearances, go with the inkjet method. However, for most people in business, the professionally printed business card wins on convenience, cost, and professional image.