I thought I'd try out one of the on-line business card printing services the other day, to see if they could do a decent job, and was a little surprised by the results. I say a little, because some of it was better than I'd expected, other aspects were just oddly daft, but nothing really woeful.
I wanted something local, or at least some service that worked directly in my own currency. After a bit of Google searching, I'd drawn up a short list of a few to check out further, and out of the handful that I perused, VistaPrint.com.au seemed to be the slightly leading contender (pricewise, features, services, and simplicity). Since it was a bit of a gamble, as there was no way to see their work for real, I wanted something that wasn't expensive.
It appears an Australian service, but it's merely a front for a foreign service. While there's nothing wrong with being overseas, it's not readily obvious, and the .com.au domain name is just a bit misleading. The disadvantages with using a foreign service are that it's harder to resolve any problems (if there are any), postage delays, and postage costs. It looks like one of those turn-key franchise internet businesses, like many web hosting services, where you buy into some package, and you just act as an agent.
They offered a free service, so long as you paid for the postage (which really was an inflated price). So it would have been less deceptive to just offer a cheap service, plus (reasonable) postage. This “free” service was a bit limited in what you could do, so I plumped for an alternative cheap offer with a bit better options, albeit still with expensive postage options.
There were three postage options, cheapest being about $10 for a 21 day wait (which I opted for, and they arrived on time), and you could pay quite a lot more for a faster result. Too much, in my books. And the postage costs accumulated with your order, which tends to burgeon disproportionately as you make your order.
You start off with designing a basic business card, putting words in a template, and being able to fiddle around with layout (but only “by eye,” there's no way to accurately align things). You can add a graphic for a fee (a fee for uploading, not a fee for printing ink—which seems an odd way of doing things). You'll be charged a fee if you want to see a PDF proof. Which also strikes me as being odd, as this is automaticaly done by software, not human labour. And, if you reject the job, you won't be charged, as you haven't given your details yet. But if you accept the job, it's lumped on. Just as well it was only around $3.
Once you've settled on your design, you move onto turning it into an order. You're asked if you want plain card (around $10) or more fancier card (around $24), and shown different prices. But it's not clear whether the other prices are alternatives, instead of the plain card prices, or if they'll be added to the plain card price. I had to go further through the checkout process to find out that they were add-on pricing, and quite significantly. So I backed out, and changed the order back to plain card.
Then you get asked if you'd like to add anything else to the order, with some other specially priced offers being presented to you (stickers, business card holders, etc.). I had a bit of a play with those offers, and found out that each extra bumped up the postage costs quite a lot, and by more than seems reasonable. I ended up adding the business card holder to my order (the type you put in your pocket to keep your cards from getting wrecked). A nice, simple, metal case, but it only holds about 10 cards. As you progress through the checkout system, you get asked a few more times about adding to your order. I half expected it to ask, “And would you like fries with that?”
So, what was the end-result like? Well, reasonably good for cheap cards, but a bit peculiar…
Rather than doing what normal printers would do, using over-sized card stock and cutting it down to business-card-sized stock, they start with business-card-sized stock (90 mm × 52 mm), and cut it down to a smaller-than-normal-sized business card (87 mm × 49 mm). Granted that they do describe that on the site, if you look at the specifications information, but I can't imagine why anybody who's supposedly professionally producing business cards would do that. If I go to a local printer and order business cards, I get normal-sized business cards as the end result.
The plain card stock, and most of the printing on it, was reasonably good. I was a little concerned about printing on plain card, as I've seen some plain-card cards that look worse than home made, but these weren't anything like that. I've got a few stuffed into my wallet, and I've had a card sitting on the desk that's been fiddled with it while on the phone, shuffled it all over the desk, etc., over a few weeks. I haven't managed to rub off the printing, nor have I mangled them any worse than any other business cards.
The black text was printed very nicely, as good as cards I've had printed by traditional offset printers. There were a couple of coloured words, and they'd printed a bit worse than I'd hope for, with a bit of dithering pattern to them. It wasn't awful, but you can see it's not quite as good as the black text. This is where going to a proper printer who uses spot colours, rather than getting their printer to mix colours, produces better results. I'd added a picture to mine, and that printed fine enough. It also has a bit of a dither pattern, but it wasn't anything ugly, and not too dissimilar than the printing of pictures in a magazine. About the only thing that annoyed me about the picture was being unable to have the image run past the edge of the card, their layout tool insisted on having a blank margin along the edges of the card.
Would I use them again? Perhaps… I was more than a bit annoyed at their registration process stupidly refusing to accept my e-mail address as being valid, I had to use another one that I'd prefer not to have used. Their pricing wasn't too bad for what you get, though I'd look for someone else who could do normal-sized cards, first. But if price was an issue, and some local printers only want to print very large volumes of cards, whereas I only wanted a couple of hundred, I might. Though I'd create the entire card on my computer, and upload one graphic for the whole card for them to print. And I'd use bold black text, rather than coloured bold text for emphasis.
Judge for yourself, below is a small rendition of the card, and it's a link to a large picture taken of the card.
For comparison, you can see the original image file of (the video camera) that I uploaded to VistaPrint on my page about the Panasonic F250 camera. The image on the card is reasonably representative of a quite hard-to-print image. But the nicely shaded background, and the tripod legs, get cut off rather than run right to the edge of the card as I'd have liked.