A small business’s letterhead is one of the most essential marketing pieces. A letterhead enables you to send your company’s brand out on all of your communications with your clients and vendors. This not only gives you the opportunity to build up more recognition of your brand, but it also makes your business look established and credible.

But many small businesses don’t wind up sending out a lot of printed communications—instead, they’ll send out an email with their document attached. And if they do need to print up a piece to mail, it will often just mean printing a few documents over the course of a year. Which brings us to the question of whether it’s really worth the cost for your business to invest in a stack of printed letterhead.

The disadvantages—and advantages—of print letterhead

One disadvantage of printed letterhead is the cost of getting it printed. Many traditional printers will begin to print with a minimum order of 500 pieces of letterhead. The price per-piece of letterhead will often be very high at this low of a quantity. It makes more sense from a pricing standpoint to print at least 1000 or 2000 pieces of letterhead.

Another disadvantage of printed letterhead is its’ permanence. Once you’ve printed those thousand pieces of letterhead, you’re stuck with them as they are. If you move or change any of your other contact information, your letterhead immediately becomes outdated. The same goes if you change your tagline or your logo—all of those costly printed pieces head directly to the recycling bin.

The advantages of print letterhead are that it often looks more professional than printing up a single copy of a digital letterhead on your home printer. When you create a professionally printed letterhead, you can also have bleeds—where the ink goes all the way to the edge of the page—whereas on a digital letterhead, you have to leave space around the edges for your printer’s margin allowance. Bleeding the ink off the edge looks more sophisticated.

The advantages and disadvantages of digital letterhead

A digital letterhead’s biggest advantages come from the fact that it is a digital file. That makes it easy to change contact information in a digital letterhead; you just make changes to the header image file and pop the new file into Word. A digital letterhead also doesn’t have the added up-front production cost that printing physical copies of a letterhead has; so it’s less expensive to create a digital letterhead. And with a digital letterhead, you can choose to either print out the finished piece or you can create a PDF of the document and attach it to an email. If you choose to attach the document to an email, then your document will get to its’ destination more quickly than it would by mail. Plus, it’s more eco-friendly to send a digital file than to use a piece of paper.

The biggest disadvantage of digital letterhead is that it is digital—and if you’re printing it out, it will look like a digital letterhead. Clients will be able to tell that you’ve printed the letterhead on your home printer (though, if you invest in a nice printer and some high-quality paper, this can be less obvious). And, as mentioned before, you’ll have to design the letterhead to take the margins of your home printer into account. If you’re planning to email the document out, you may want to make the margins pretty large so that the recipient’s printer won’t cut off your contact information when they print out your document.

The other disadvantage is that if you’re emailing a PDF to someone who’s not technologically savvy or who is having computer problems, it can be difficult or even impossible for them to get the document to open. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can be frustrating for the recipient.

With all of these advantages and disadvantages, how do you determine which route is the correct path for your business to take? Do you need a printed letterhead, a digital letterhead, or possibly both?

How to figure out which form of letterhead you need

1. Determine how you plan to use your letterhead. Common uses for letterhead include:

  • Writing personalized letters and other correspondence
  • Direct mail and letters of introduction
  • Invoicing (though if you use an invoicing program such as Quickbooks, you’ll just need to insert a digital copy of your logo or a digital page header into the template invoice design)
  • Creating estimates and proposals
  • Formatting contracts and other client intake materials (such as questionnaires or forms)
  • Reprinting your articles
  • Creating speech handouts
  • Submitting orders to vendors

Think about how many of these uses (and any others you can think of) apply to how you run your business.

2. Decide if you’re more likely to send a physical mail piece or an email. Matching your letterhead format to your business preferences can help to streamline your business. For example, it may help to speed up your client acquisition process to have a digital letterhead for your contracts. Or, you may get paid faster if you have a digital invoice, since clients won’t have to wait to receive their bill in the mail. But if you give talks frequently, you may want to get printed letterhead created so that your handouts will look fabulous.

3. Think about which format your clients would prefer to receive your communications in. The simple step of considering your clients’ communication preferences can help you to create a better—and smoother—client relationship. If you’re catering to eco-friendly businesses, they will appreciate the reduction in paper that digital correspondence brings.

4. Weigh this information along with the advantages and disadvantages of each type of document as listed above. For example, if you know you’ll be moving soon, then creating a digital letterhead may be the way to go so that you can change your address when the time comes. But, if having every piece of communication that comes from your business look as professional as possible is important to your business’s success, then consider creating a printed letterhead so you’ll make the best possible impression.

Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of printed and digital letterheads, and then going through the process of evaluating what you need in your business can help to make sure that you get the right kind of letterhead designed to serve your business’s needs.