Printing for the Masses
Digital proofs, RGB, CMYK, bleeds -- to many business owners these terms are part of some foreign language spoken only by the printing industry. And that's not surprising , according to Printingforless.com (#285, 2002 Inc 500) vice president of marketing, Jeff Batton. "The printing industry has traditionally and purposely made the printing process mysterious and complicated," he says. "We've made it easier for small businesses to buy commercial printing."
Printingforless.com won a 2002 Inc Web Award for its PFL-Net, which keeps its presses and partners' presses humming with activity through a unique job-share network. However, Printingforless.com isn't only about keeping printing presses busy, it is also about changing the way business people use commercial printing.
"We were a conventional printer," says Andrew Field, founder and president of Printingforless.com based in Livingston, Mont. When they were considering going on-line, however, Field and others at the company rethought the printing process. Frequently, when someone works with a printer, he or she faxes over printing specs to the printer, waits for a quote, faxes back changes, waits for another quote, etc. Instead of using the Internet as just a replacement for this tedious process, Printingforless.com wanted to take going on-line a few steps further.
The site offers a number of features that enable businesspeople to more closely control the printing process. At the site, individuals can submit printing jobs and see on-line proofs before the job goes to press. They can also read design tips and information on how to submit jobs to Printingforless.com. Be warned, however, there's not an encyclopedia of design information at the site. Printingforless.com sticks to need-to-know information and doesn't overwhelm users with fancy design techniques or obscure shortcuts. It offers streamlined information to help users optimize their materials for commercial printing. "We're not trying to be fancy or entertaining," says Field. "We want it to be a practical tool for businesspeople."
The very easy-to-use Web site also offers features that have caused a bit of consternation amongst competitors. Printingforless.com accepts all popular file formats, not just Mac or Quark files, and it publishes its pricing on the Web. Its automatic pricing tool calculates the price of the job that you're submitting, without tacking on extra fees for bleeds and gatefolds. "Printers don't like to publish prices," Field says. "We got hate mail [from competitors] when we started doing pricing on-line," he adds.
Actually, Printingforless.com is really just continuing the do-it-yourself revolution that desktop publishing began. "Now the plumbing supply company who couldn't afford to do it before can now afford to create their own marketing materials and buy the printing reasonably," Batton says.
One thing that makes this site work is it's very simple order process. Often, when submitting an order on the Web users have to wade through multiple pages to place just one order. At Printingforless.com, the entire order process, including pricing calculator, shipping information, project details, and payment information, is all on one page. "You see the whole process from beginning to end right there," says Batton.
Your Proof is Ready
When you're proof is ready, a production team from Printingforless.com sends you an E-mail with a project number and a link to a proof of your project. You can view the materials via PDF or Web browser. Once you approve the proof, you're taken to a page that displays a calendar that shows you the ship date and when you can expect the delivery. You also get the option at this point to change turnaround time and shipping information.
Meet the Team
"The customer service aspect is what really makes it work," Field says. Many Web sites hide their contact information, but Printingforless.com displays its phone number at the bottom of each page. The technical service reps Printingforless.com employs are not only well versed in the Printingforless.com process, but they also can provide technical support for popular programs like Quark, and Microsoft and Adobe applications. You can also choose the production team you want to work with after reading detailed descriptions of their backgrounds and hobbies. "We're proud of our production team," says Field. "We have people who go through all four teams until they find out whom they want to work with."
The site's Design Hints page focuses on the basics and is just enough to help you get the printing job done well. The site also dedicates a page to Microsoft Publisher users, which offers information on shortcuts and four-color printing of Publisher jobs. Eventually, Printingforless.com would like to launch templates for users to create marketing materials with, but for now, the site is sticking to offering content that addresses questions that frequently come up from users and information that helps ensure you receive the highest quality print job from Printingforless.com.