In order to present your business professionally, you want all of your marketing materials to look as good as possible while being as affordable as possible to reproduce. How can you maximize your marketing materials’ impact while saving money on printing while still making materials that look good and don’t say “homegrown”?

By making a few simple distinctions between producing different types of designed materials, you can print some of your own materials while creating a kit of materials to promote your business that looks as professional as possible. That way, you can save some money on your marketing — but you can save that money in all the right places.

Which marketing/ branded materials can you print on your own? The best bets for printing yourself are marketing materials that can be created on a standard (letter or A4) sized page, with a margin around the edge, such as flyers or simple letterhead. Another factor to consider is customization — any piece that will need to be highly customized (think anything beyond “mail merge” capabilities) will need to be run on a piece-by-piece basis. Finally, if you’re only planning to print a few of anything – like binder covers — you might want to print them yourself for convenience and to save money.

  • Flyers: Since flyers are usually for a limited-time promotion, then their temporary nature means that you can take the liberty of printing them yourself. Of course, if you’re handing out hundreds or thousands of flyers, it might make more sense for you to have them printed. Or at least copied. You can get really affordable color copies from digital print houses.
  • Handouts or PowerPoint slide deck summaries: Since these are usually for a single event or talk, printing them yourself makes sense. It wouldn’t make sense to print them professionally—unless you’re presenting to thousands of fans!
  • Proposals, Invoices: These materials are printed on a one-off basis and are highly customized; printing them on your printer is the only reasonable option. You could print them on your letterhead, but you’ll still want to run the “meat” of these pieces on an individual basis.
  • Letterhead: If you only print a few physical letters in a year, then printing up an entire batch of letterhead doesn’t make much sense; especially when most printers have a minimum of 500 pieces. As a side note, letterhead and envelopes are also the only materials I don’t recommend printing with digital printers because the paper stock doesn’t look very high-quality.
  • Mailing labels: Printing envelopes costs a lot, and many small businesses wouldn’t use enough envelopes over the course of a year to justify the price. Mailing labels work on either #10 envelopes or larger envelopes or packages, and are a much more affordable option. Avery labels are a great choice for professional-looking labels.
  • Binder covers and spines: Again, unless you’re producing many copies of your binder, than buying blank binders at an office supply store and slipping your artwork into the plastic sleeve makes more financial sense than custom-printing on the binder itself.

Which materials can you absolutely not print on your own? This is a list of materials that will either suffer quality-wise or suck up all of your time if you choose to reproduce them yourself. You also want to make sure that you’re not producing materials yourself that require bleeding to the edge of letter-sized paper — like brochures – because standard printers can’t do that. And, you’ll want to minimize trimming as well, because it can be difficult to do well and is very time consuming. Printing your own business cards or postcards may not be a good idea for this reason.

  • Business cards: Between printing a bunch of cards, trimming them, the thin papers available for home use, and the low cost of printing cards digitally (currently less than $100 per thousand cards — and the minimum run starts around 50 cards for much less), there’s no real reason to print these at home.
  • Postcards: If you’re printing a postcard, you’ll run into some of the same problems with business cards. Trimming them straight, thin paper will all make your postcards look less-than-great. There’s also the issue of aligning the fronts and backs of the postcard — which can be challenging on even the best non-professional equipment. Then, if you’re doing a postcard campaign of any size, you have to factor in the added difficulty of mass production.
  • Letterhead: I know, this was in the “can print at home” section as well. For letterhead, it really depends on how you intend to use it. If you use more than a few copies of letterhead in a year (or, if you could think of other ways to use more copies of your letterhead, like printing speech handouts, creating flyers on it, et cetera), then I recommend going to the expense of printing the letterhead. It will pay off in the long run by making your business look much better put-together.
  • Brochures: Have you ever seen a trifold brochure that’s printed on a personal printer? They’re pretty obviously done at home, and they tend to look pretty poor. First of all, the paper is usually just regular printer paper—not thick or glossy like a nice brochure should be. And, home printers almost always leave some sort of margin around the edge of the page, instead of having a full bleed. Then, there’s also the problem of folding them evenly — this is best left to the printing professionals with their professional folding machines.
  • Envelopes: Unless your printer is pretty advanced, then printing envelopes might make you a bit crazy. I know that on every printer I’ve ever owned, the “envelope feed” function doesn’t work smoothly. The printing may wind up crooked, or the envelopes might get jammed and make you fix your printer over and over again. This has gotten better over the years, but printing envelopes can often be more frustration than it is worth. Better to get them professionally printed and avoid having to pull your hair out in frustration.

This list will help you to determine where you can save money by printing your own materials, and when it would take more time for you to produce those materials yourself. It will also help you to determine when printed-at-home materials look good enough, and when your materials will need to be printed professionally in order to stand up to — and stand out from — the competition.