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Jacci Howard Bear

Printing and Selling Greeting Cards

By January 22, 2008

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Is it cheaper to print it yourself or take it to a commercial printer? That question comes up a lot. And the answer? It depends. Really, it depends on what you're printing, how many you're printing, and how you're printing it. It also depends on how much time you have to devote to the printing process. A reader writes:
I am planning on setting up my own greeting card company... I'd like to know if getting your greeting cards printed by commercial printers is cheaper than buying your own printer and doing the printing yourself. I keep reading and hearing contradictory answers in that one.

Also I'd like to know if you could tell me roughly what percentage from the sale of your cards would shops make, if I sell my cards at 2.50, how much from that would the shop that sold the card make.

In deciding between in-house and off-site printing you need to consider several things.

In no specific order:

  • Quality. Do you have or can you afford to purchase the equipment needed to print your cards at the quality that is needed to sell them at the price you want? Cheap printing can affect how much you can get for your cards. Desktop printers designed for small offices won't generally produce the same results as commercial printing equipment and commercial equipment is expensive and generally takes up a lot more space than a desktop printer. The quality of paper counts too. Can you get a printing setup that will use the quality or type of paper you need to use?

  • Quantity. For very large runs, an established commercial printer can probably print your cards much more inexpensively. Some printers will give a good price on short runs. I'd recommend talking to several printers, get some quotes both locally and over the internet to see what kind of per card price is normal for the type of cards and printing you want. If you're wanting large runs, can the printing equipment you're considering for in-house use handle that quantity?

  • Upfront Expense. Can you afford to buy your own printer that can handle the quality and quantity you need? Don't forget to calculate the cost of supplies (like ink). If you go the commercial route, you'll have to pay for the printing before you get money for the cards, but is that initial cost more or less than purchasing your own equipment?

  • Time and Expertise. Printing a card or two from your desktop printer is quite different from printing dozens or hundreds or thousands of cards. Do you have the time to devote to the process? There's more to it than just loading the print tray. And don't forget about scoring and folding the cards. If you're purchasing equipment that goes beyond the usual desktop setup, do you have the time to devote to learning to use the equipment or can you afford to hire help?

  • Special Printing Needs. Will your cards incorporate die cuts, foil stamping, embossing, varnish, or elaborate folds? How many colors of ink? A commercial printer is set up to handle these kinds of printing and finishing needs -- are you?
If these answers (questions) seem less than definitive, it's because there is no definitive answer. If you have more time than money and an $800 desktop color laser can produce cards that are good enough for you, then doing it yourself might be more cost effective. If the cards you plan to produce require more sophisticated printing equipment than you can reasonably afford (or learn to operate) you may save money by getting your cards commercially printed. Get some printing quotes for the types of cards you plan to produce. Investigate the cost of in-house printing equipment (including the operating costs).

As to the second part of your question, it's not really my area of expertise. But I'd suggest doing some research through these resources for Self-Publishing Greeting Cards.

Readers, what advice do you have? Have you set up your own in-house printing operation? Share your experiences.

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January 24, 2008 at 6:43 pm
(1) Bill: Grace Design says:

I have been doing printing now for over 10 years. you have to plan and plan right. Money makes the difference! I am a small home-base business. I was told to start small if I did not have the money and as my business grew then I would grow. example: I get my greeting card stock for a office supply store, already scored and glossy or other styles. Look for bargins, a lot of times they change the look just a little. But they need to get it off the shelf (a great bargin there). As my name grew so did the business. I say start out slow. Make your business pay for it self. Printers, ink and laser both print great these days, most of my customers can’t tell if it was bought or made at home, until I tell them to look on the back. The right look on the back and they still will not be able to tell. The main thing is take your time work your way up the latter.

January 25, 2008 at 10:02 am
(2) Mike Wofey says:

The difference between success and failure with a new business is often just a matter of overhead. So if in doubt, leave it out.

In other words, only go to the more costly option when it is obvious and often unavoidable to do so. If you can make quality cards on your home printer, that is something very valuable in your initial market research. You can see which cards sell well before you load up a press sheet with your top-selling cards. There is no point in having boxes of inventory that people don’t want and running out of your most popular cards.

Still, given that, don’t skimp on the home printer. Do not use dye-based inks, because those don’t belong on a keepsake. Go for good, pigment-based inks and archival stock. This will raise the cost of your at-home printing, but it’s the right way to make something that someone may keep for years. Don’t fold, use a scoring bone. Trim the cards on a decent hand guillotine. If you’re going to print on the back of the card, make the reverse ink-light or do it in a single color to avoid show-through. Quarter fold cards (which are only printed on one side) are sort of passe these days, but then again, you never see them, so they might be new again.

Once you find yourself printing more than about 5 of each card per day, that’s a good sign that it’s time to go to a commercial press.

Finally, avoid making ink-heavy designs when you print at home, although it doesn’t matter so much on a commercial offset press.

January 27, 2008 at 12:11 am
(3) Mark Alexander says:

Both Grace and Mike make excellent points. Expounding on the ink-heavy comment, ink jet printing can be expensive when there is a lot of coverage. For example, an 8×10 photo can use up to $2.00 in ink.

Scoring before folding helps the fold to have smooth, unbroken edges, especially with thick paper. I used to use a Fiskar rotary trimmer that came with a scoring wheel for this purpose.

When thinking about going to a commercial printer, consider designing your cards with two spot colors instead of full color. You can get a lot of use out of two colors, and the cost will be a lot less from the printer.

February 7, 2008 at 10:04 am
(4) Diana Ratliff says:

Taking a completely different tack – if your purpose in creating your own business cards is to highlight either photography or verses, it is much easier and less expensive to use a service such as Send Out Cards. Since you can add photos (even to the cover) and modify verse on any card, it’s a more convenient way to develop a custom line of greeting cards, and you can start almost immediately.

June 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm
(5) Peter says:

I have been creating greeting cards and post cards for about 5 years. I learned that I was spending too much my time emailing clients, finding website to host and everything needed to run a business. I stopped and now I spend most of my time doing design work and use sites like supprint.com to sell my work.

November 21, 2009 at 2:13 pm
(6) hugo garcia says:

Do you guys know some useful websites for what you just metioned? like; inks, guillotines or even printer services?


Hugo Garcia

April 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm
(7) Lana says:


What printer would you recommend for printing at home?

Thank you

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