Good offset printer in SF?
May 12, 2008 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a good offset printer in San Francisco for a small run of business cards?

I've got a business card design, already formatted in Adobe Illustrator by a friend of a friend who is a graphic designer, now I just need a local printer. I contacted a letterpress shop, but because it is 4 color, two-sided, and a small run (250 cards) the shop owner told me that letterpress would not be a good option. He recommended offset printing instead. I have no idea what offset printing is or how to evaluate a good printer, so, any recommendations?

My priorities (in order of importance):
1. Quality (I want these to be really nice looking)
2. Price (<$100 for 250 cards)
3. Local (I'd rather not order online without being able to see some examples of their work, talk to a real person about the design, etc.)
4. Speed (Not in a rush, don't really need them for a few weeks)

Thanks in advance!
posted by hihowareyou to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am a letterpress printer in Philadelphia, so I definitely agree that 4-color letterpress would quickly blow the budget. But I'm not sure quality offset will be much different.

When you get something cheaply offset printed, it's done as a "gang run," meaning your cards get printed with a bunch of others. This brings the price down because you don't have to make four unique printing plates just for your job. There are drawbacks, however. Color can be off significantly, and they often have poorly-balanced margins or even skewed printing.

We have had quite a few customers who went the cheap offset route, only to come to us when they decided their cards were not of high enough quality.

If quality and finish matters to you, definitely go with the letterpress guy. Your cards will rival all others.
posted by pantsonfire at 10:43 AM on May 12, 2008

Response by poster: Hmm, what you are saying conflicts with what the local letterpress guy said. Here is the full text of what he wrote to me:

A quick glance at your art and the quantity tells me that this job is not really a good fit for letterpress printing. The back would need to be printed in three colors to come out well- the three different shades of grey you have chosen would need to be half-tone screened to be printed in one pass through the press and type seldom looks good when half-tone screened and printed letterpress. That makes it four passes through the press which would put the cost of the card astronomically high for only 100 cards.
Even if cost weren't an issue, two sided printing always involves some compromise with letterpress because the impression shows through onto the other side.
I think for what you want, in the quantity you want it, you'd be wiser to look into having an offset printer do these cards.
posted by hihowareyou at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2008

Response by poster: //I told him I wanted 100, but have since decided on 250
posted by hihowareyou at 11:00 AM on May 12, 2008

I have had offset and digital work done by Fong Brothers. For short-runs like this, you might examine digital, which requires much less set-up work, and is consequently much less expensive than offset. (Offset is somewhat higher in quality and consistency, but under most business circumstances, the difference is unimportant)

Your letterpress guy is right... halftones and two-sided printing aren't a strength of letterpress printing. If you had a one-sided, 1-2 color design, you could have the most memorable cards around (the feel of letterpress alone is distinctive).
posted by toxic at 11:23 AM on May 12, 2008

Go to Staples or equivalent, buy a package of Avery No. 8876 Clean Edge business cards (about 20 bucks for a package of 200), available in several shades. Print the cards on your laser or inkjet printer, pop them out of the form, presto. It'll take you an hour and you won't know the difference between that and offset printing.
posted by beagle at 12:40 PM on May 12, 2008

I'm guessing they are a digital printer, not offset, but I've used PsPrint to print color glossy club card flyers several times. The quality of those was great, the turnaround time was very fast, and the customer service was good too. You should be able to get them delivered within 1-2 days from their Oakland facility, or just pick them up if that's not too far for you.
posted by autojack at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2008

I'll second PSPrint on color quality and fastness. They print digitally, and you can choose from a variety of paper weights and types. If you're not sure what you're looking for exactly, why not have them send you a sample pack of stuff they've printed. Then you can get a feel for what they offer and go from there. The samples are free.
posted by nerdcore at 3:51 PM on May 12, 2008

In San Francisco, I love Clubcard Printing.
posted by kerfuffled at 4:13 PM on May 12, 2008

I think you could go back to your designer and ask him/her to rework the cards so they are only 1 color at 100% of the ink and then go back to the letterpress guy. It would never be around $100 though. Probably closer to $500-$600 if it were 2-sided. As for offset printing, I don't think you'll find anyone to do it for $100 for 4/4 color. Even my super cheapie offset guy couldn't do it for that cheap. I think, again, it would end up being closer to $500. And your quantity difference of 100 vs. 250 isn't going to make much of a difference pricewise because most of the labor is spent getting the press ready, not running them all once it's set up. I highly un-recommend the idea of printing these yourself w/the Avery stock. If you really want them to reflect quality you gotta spend the bucks. The DIY method beagle mentions would, in my humble opinion, be pretty obviously DIY and not in a cool I-silkscreened-these-myself-in-my-garage, either. If staying under $100 is crucial, though, you do what you gotta do. And if the DIY method is where you go, I would only say you should go to a Kinko's or similar where you could print these on a color laser printer at the very least. Inkjet will look cheesy.
posted by apostrophe at 12:21 AM on May 13, 2008

oh, one more thing. I bet you a lot of these cheaper printers mentioned here do rely on the gang-run method that pantsonfire speaks of. The clubcards and the psprints and what have you. The problem for you is that is sounds like your design would ideally be 4 pantone colors, not just CMYK. If there is type in light grey then it will look better to use 100% of grey ink rather than, say, 40% of black ink, because in the second case it will look all dotty/ragged. So to get the cheaper offset printing, you'd have to convert the art to CMYK, and I don't think you'd be super pleased with the results. Sounds like to print the job right offset it will be very close to the cost to reconfigured art printed letterpress.
posted by apostrophe at 12:27 AM on May 13, 2008

sorry, last thing. on a job this small, paper is the least expensive part. it makes sense to use really nice paper. all these insty-card places won't give you much choice on that--and it looks like a lot of them give you a default coated (glossy) stock that will be the opposite feeling of quality, high-end cards. I would recommend at least 120# cover, uncoated paper. A good letterpress printer can advise you on stock and probably has some nice house papers that you will like. If you go quality offset and get to pick your own stock, Mohawk Superfine is always a nice choice. Crane's makes some really nice cotton papers as well.
posted by apostrophe at 1:05 AM on May 13, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the info Apostrophe, sounds like I have some tough decisions to make. The design I have really does need several shades of grey (or colors, I guess, but I really like the greys) for contrast purposes. Could you perhaps explain a bit of why I would be unhappy with converting to CMYK?
posted by hihowareyou at 9:01 AM on May 13, 2008

Well, I'd have to see the design to really tell, but basically the problem comes down to printing very fine lines at percentages of color. If the design is more of a photograph or illustration, CMYK would look nice. But say your type is light gray. If you have gray ink, you would run that ink at 100%, and have a clean, strong line. If you need to do a percentage of black (K), you have dots that, from far away, will look like an unbroken line. But if you look up close, the edges will be ragged and you will be able to see the individual dots. In type, this will be pretty obvious. In a photo, not so much. And there are also possible issues with registration. If, instead of gray, your type is, say, teal, so there's yellow (Y) and cyan (C) mixed together, then if the plates for those colors shift ever-so-much, you will be able to see that. At this point, it comes down to the quality of the press and the skill (or the care, really) of the pressman. Which means, again, probably you would get what you pay for w/the uber-cheap guys.
posted by apostrophe at 7:35 PM on May 13, 2008

Response by poster: Got it, thanks apostrophe. The design is all text (in 3 shades of grey, 1 shade of orange), so it sounds like CMYK would be terrible for me.
posted by hihowareyou at 11:43 AM on May 15, 2008

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