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Will a Website replace your neighborhood print shop?

If you spend a lot of time waiting in line at copy shops or huddled over proofs at a noisy printer's, you've probably considered online alternatives such as Kinkos.com, PrintingForLess.com, and Mimeo.com. They're as close as your keyboard, comparable in price to walk-in services, and are often guaranteed to satisfy. But, no doubt, you have a few questions about these services: How do their prices and the quality of their output compare with those of traditional brick and mortars? How fast will they deliver? What about the security of your documents? We'll start by answering a more basic question: What kind of printing can you get online?

The word "printing" means as many things online as it does off. For example, you wouldn't compare the prices of PrintingForLess.com, Mimeo.com, and Kinkos.com and go with the cheapest; the three online shops don't do the same thing. While there is some overlap from one business to the other, Kinko's is best known for making copies; PrintingForLess is a traditional offset printer that now offers its complex four-color services online; and Mimeo.com is an exclusively online digital document creator. Understand the ins and outs of these three and you'll know what to look for and which service to choose.

COPY SHOP

Everyone knows what kind of output you get in a copy shop, though you may not know how it comes about. "Xerography" is a combination of the Greek words meaning "dry" and "write," and photocopiers work by applying dry ink (toner) to areas of a page where a projected image allows less light to weaken its electrostatic charge, then fixing the toner to the page with heat and pressure. Color photocopying works by making several passes to apply cyan, yellow, magenta, and black (CYMK) toners. Copy shop output is often the right choice for fast, low-volume distribution of documents, and you can expect good-quality stapled, comb-, spiral, or ring-bound reports in color or black and white.

At Kinkos.com, you upload a document and specify order details. Default "Quick Order" options let you select papers and bindings for common copy jobs. We compared the prices of Kinko's color copies three ways, and the results were a bit surprising. If you walk into a Kinko's with, say a Microsoft Word document and hand it to the clerk, you pay a $10 rendering fee plus 99 cents per color copy. Online, it's the same 99 cents per color copy, but with no rendering fee. If you walk into a Kinko's and choose self-service, the color copies are 89 cents for the first 10, then half off, or 45 cents each, for the rest. Instead of the $10 rendering fee, you pay 20 cents per minute to create a master on Kinko's computer, plus $1.49 for a Tektronics laser print. Be sure to factor in shipping costs, too, for all three methods.

DIGITAL PRINTING

While Kinkos.com branches off into some digital reproduction, this is all Mimeo.com does. The company makes each page it prints a digital original from a digital press; there are no photocopies.

The all-digital process can take on some jobs formerly reserved for the noisy world of the offset printer (such as printing on objects) but without high setup costs. Digital on-demand printing involves specialty jobs of any quantity, so you don't have to order a warehouseful of documents. But you can also use Mimeo.com for regular copy shop jobs. A color copy costs $1; black and white on 24-pound paper is 8 cents. And the free, proprietary ExactPrint software lets you see exactly how the job will appear with the paper and binding you've chosen before it prints.

Mimeo.com stands out in several ways. First, color and other quality factors are controlled digitally. The print driver you use to "print to" Mimeo.com captures all the fonts and graphics from your document, just as your own printer's driver would, so you see exactly what will be printed in the preview. Mimeo.com has a good satisfaction-guaranteed promise, which we had occasion to test.

Finally, Mimeo.com has remarkable security. Your order can go through the entire process from a triple-encrypted upload through printing, binding, and shrink-wrapping to a locked bin without a single human being laying eyes on it. Mimeo.com goes all out with a high-end temperature- and humidity-controlled facility in Memphis, Tennessee. Generators on the roof protect the building's power supply, and workers are experts in offset printing. The plant requires security passes, and anything printed but not used is shredded. There's even an optional but pricey 63 cents per sheet copy-protect paper available.

WET INK ONLINE

Offset printing: It's what we think of when we hear the term print shop--professional craftspeople in aprons making exact lines on a business card or preparing a two-page spread with bleeds. But now it has a new door: the Web. Offset printing really pays when you want such things as quality four-color brochures in large quantities. PrintingForLess.com has a 250-piece minimum, which helps offset the cost of setup; and once you pass certain quantity milestones, the service beats copy shops for price.

PrintingForLess.com lets more businesses get offset printing done online became it accepts many popular file formats--such as Quark, Illustrator, and Word--something that many brick-and-mortar offset printers do not. Although the job is sent online, PrintingForLess.com still offers professional expertise (400 years combined lithographic experience in-house) and sends you a proof for approval in a day or two. The final output should be ready in as few as five days (eight days for cards).

WILL BRICK-AND-MORTARS BLEED?

It would seem that brick-and-mortar printers that are also online have an advantage over strictly brick shops, but Marilyn Jackson, owner of Franklin's Printing Co. in Decatur, Georgia, isn't worried. "It has not affected my business whatsoever," says Franklin, whose company is a quick printer and copy center. Franklin has been in business 13 years and has four employees.

"I'm sitting back and watching, but what I'm seeing is that larger companies have gotten accustomed to real people coming around to order." Adds Franklin, "It's a touchy-feely business. People want to feel the paper that you're using. Online they can't say, `No, this is not the grade I want,' or `The color is almost there but I want a premixed ink.' They can't say, `I need it by 3 o'clock.' People bring me lunch so I can work through the lunch hour. They can't do that over a computer. It comes back to a person they feel comfortable with."

Whatever you're comfortable with, it's still a good idea to explore online options, and then decide what's best for your business for a specific project.

Weighing the Options

KINKOS.COM

Type: On-demand printing

Minimum quantity: None

Security: Uploaded file is in read-only format to prevent tampering, Credit card security.

Reprint discount: None. Corporate pricing available.

Turnaround: With in-store pick up, 2-4-hour same-day delivery in 60 markets: next-day delivery anywhere via FedEx

Cutoff time: 10 p.m.

Best feature: Clicks-and-bricks combo adds fast turnaround options with local pickup and delivery.

Guarantee: www.kinkos.com/copyright.html

Best for: Black and white or color copies; transparencies; comb- or spiral-bound reports

MIMEO.COM

Type: Digital

Minimum quantity: None

Security: Encrypted upload: no human contact with documents; throwaways shredded; locked bins; pass-required facility; optional copy-protect paper. Credit card security.

Reprint discount: Volume discounts can be arranged

Turnaround: Next day via FedEx

Cutoff time: 10 p.m.

Best features: Precise color control, document security on their premises, copy-protect paper available, project flexibility

Guarantee: www.mimeo.com/customerCare/guarantee.htm

Best for: Black and white or color digital documents, comb- or spiral-bound reports, etc., mixed document orders, custom projects

PRINTINGFORLESS.COM

Type: Offset lithography

Minimum quantity: 250

Security: Credit card security

Reprint discount: Yes

Turnaround: Usually 5 business days (8 for cards) after approval of proof, plus shipping time

Cutoff time: Midnight

Best feature: Handles projects that only an offset printer can do. Online service costs less than walk-in; 4-color printing costs less in large quantities

Guarantee: www.printingforless.com

Best for: Full-color jobs of all kinds (brochures, stationery, business cards, etc.)
COPYRIGHT 2001 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:online printing services
Author:Rohan, Rebecca
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Words:1374
Previous Article:Children's stories.
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