Why use a designer rather than a printer for your artwork?

When following up on a proposal recently, I was asked by the prospect to clarify what was different about what Pixooma would provide, versus other suppliers. Specifically one from a printer which was significantly cheaper. This was a great question and although I was able to answer it to some degree during our phone call I did spend some time afterwards putting together a more comprehensive answer. It was such a good question I thought it would be a great blog topic…

Why do designers charge more?

Let me be clear from the start I am not trying to belittle the artwork that most printers produce. My training came from working in a busy printer studio so I know what can be achieved (and how hard they work). I also know that, like with anything else, quality will vary enormously from printer to printer, but I think there are some generalisations that can be made.

  1. A print company’s primary concern is getting the print work, as they have significant overheads and need to keep the presses running. Essentially the artwork is a means to an end, but not their main focus. Many printers will provide artwork services as this means they have complete control – and their artwork provision can vary from a member of staff who is trained on the software, all the way up to a dedicated artwork studio with one or more experienced team members. Keeping these overheads in-house means they have the ability to discount the artwork or even offer it as a loss-leader in order to secure the print contract.
  2. In my experience, the reason they need to do this is that the majority of customers who approach a printer first (rather than a designer) are focussing on the end product (the printed item they will take away) rather than the design. This, in turn, can mean they are surprised when they are told that design and artwork would be chargeable at all, let alone that it might be at a fair market rate.
  3. Because of these two factors, there is rarely a lot of budget available for the design/artwork element and therefore not a great salary for the members of the studio. Naturally, this may mean that although the artwork can be of a credible creative level, it is less likely to be equal to the creative output of a larger agency or specialist freelancer.

Design vs artwork

In my experience, there are 4 basic levels of artwork, and within a studio or agency you will get team members capable of three of them (and they will be priced out accordingly to each client):

    1. Layout– i.e they can use the software and get text and images on the page to create a functional arrangement.
    2. Artwork – They have experience in laying out the supplied content neatly and with an eye for suitable margins, grids, alignment and whitespace etc.
    3. Creative artwork – They can bring some innovation and creative input to the layout and create a more attractive and easier to read document.
    4. Design –  They are able to assess the content provided (the client aims and/or the market) and make changes to order of content, change/add headlines, convert copy into bullet lists etc. Additionally, they will have the confidence and experience to make suggestions to the client, are experienced in searching for good quality photography, and have an ‘eye’ for creating layouts that ‘work’ i.e are attractive and easy to read/digest. In short, it is a much more consultative approach.

Now obviously I am suggesting that I (and therefore Pixooma) am number 4 (no surprises there!). And in my experience, most good printers offer something that is between numbers 2 and 3, which is what I was doing when I trained as a graphic designer at a print company nearly 20 years ago. This is perfectly fine, but there is a BIG difference in the way an experienced designer works with a client.

My experience and expertise, combined with the trusted partnerships I have built up over time, and the fact that every Pixooma project comes with a satisfaction guarantee, are why I think that when it comes to design we offer great value. Clearly, the prospect who raised the question in the first place agreed, as we are now working together on a number of projects. Why not give us a call and see how we could add significant value to your next project?

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