What to Look For in an Online Printing and Copying Company - And What to Avoid

These days more and more copying and printing companies are going digital, offering their services over the web - sometimes exclusively - to a wider pool of customers than ever before. It should be no surprise then that online companies, like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, are not all the same. Some are digital, some are offset, some are both. Some are great to work with, and some are not.

So what should you be looking for when you're ordering color printing online? What should send up a red flag, and what should you avoid completely?

1. Dedicated Customer Service (Phone Support)

If the company doesn't list a phone number, just walk away. If they do have one, give them a call. Does the person that answers speak English? That shouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker, but if it sounds like the company is routing their phone calls to a call center in Mumbai, that's not a good sign. Make sure you're actually talking to someone at the company, preferably in the same building as the printing house. If the customer service reps don't have a direct line of communication to their production people, you can bet you're going to run into problems somewhere down the line.

2. Automated Quote Generator on the Website

This isn't altogether common, but it certainly should be. A few companies have a price calculator built into their site so when you enter information into the order form, the calculator automatically updates the price of your job. This saves countless hours of phone support. If you have to call or email in to get a quote on a job, that's indicative of a bigger problem. It suggests that customer service reps spend a lot of time running up quotes, which means they give less attention to detail on your job.

3. Green Companies

Take a look on the website and see if they give any information about their efforts to be sustainable. This industry is particularly wasteful, and it's important to keep in mind the things a company could do to reduce their impact on the environment. Do they offer recycled paper? What percentage of it is recycled? Do they recycle their ink/toner bottles? Do they recycle paper waste? If not, find a different company.

4. Digital / Offset / Other

One of the first things you'll want to check on is whether they run digital or offset presses, or a combination of both (or other sorts of traditional presses). Find out also what they'll be using to do your job specifically. If you can, find out what sorts of digital presses they use. Some companies want to keep this a proprietary secret, which is ok if you can get some other assurance that the quality will be crisp and clear.

5. Samples

If the company will not send you samples of past jobs, just walk away. They clearly have something to hide. And when they're not telling you what sort of presses they use, how are you supposed to know what quality you're going to get?

6. Research the Company

Do a Google search and find out more about the company. Read what past customers have said, not just the cherry-picked testimonials on their website. Angie's List is a good place to read consumer reviews. If a bunch of people were not happy with their jobs, chances are you won't be either.

7. Proofs

If it's your first time using a company, you should probably order a proof, especially if you haven't seen samples. Most companies will charge you for a hard proof and then await your approval before running the rest of the job. If you're not happy with the proof they will usually try to fix whatever is wrong with it, and if they cannot, you should not be charged for the job. Though you will probably still be charged for the proof, it's better than having the whole job printed just for it to look bad.

8. Exclusively Online?

This does not necessarily indicate the quality of their work one way or the other. Some companies offer their services exclusively through their website. Eliminating walk-in business can allow them to focus on their specialties and keep the work flow smooth and consistent, which can improve the quality of service substantially. But others who operate exclusively online may be hiding something. It could just be some guy in his garage with a Xerox machine! So take the other suggestions into account before basing your decision solely on this criterion. Order samples or a proof and research them first.

Of course there are other things you need to keep in mind when choosing an online printer to work with, but these eight should be a good primer. Got an experience with an online printer you would like to share with us? Let us know in the comments section!

Roe Pressley is a public relations practitioner for Docucopies, an online color copying and digital printing company. They specialize in discount color copies, booklets, books, postcards, business cards, and other digital printing products. Orders can be priced out on the website and placed any time of day.