How to Select a Label Printer
1. Find a printer who specializes.
Printing is a broad term; it captures everything from your graphic T-shirt to the fast food menu hanging from your doorknob to the Skymall magazine that is somehow more interesting than the book (also printed) you brought for the flight. You’re probably familiar with the idea that there are different kinds of printers, but what you may not know is that there are specializations even within label printers. Printers focus on bulk labels, pharmaceutical labels, food and beverage labels, performance labels, and on and on. Finding a printer with the right specialty is crucial to the success of your product. It will help you avoid costly errors (using a paper that breaks down with moisture if you have a beverage, choosing an adhesive that is permanent if you’re making stickers for kids, etc.) and also should improve the overall design and performance (understanding what finishes will work with what papers, which colors will translate well under a varnish, etc.). The best way to find out about a printer is to see and talk about their work. Don’t be afraid to call and ask about what type of projects they’ve worked on, what their specialties are, and if you can see some samples.
2. Find a printer you can talk to.
If you’re ordering business cards or stationary, you might not need to talk to a human being. It’s a sheet of paper, there are great websites like Moo.com and Vistaprint that specialize in making it easy to order basic printed materials. A label for your product is not basic printing, it’s a custom manufactured component of your packaging. It requires a conversation about your product, how it’s produced, where it’s stored, how it’s distributed, and what it’s used for. There are a lot of variables and many areas for potential problems in a printed piece. Working with a printer who takes the time to understand your product significantly reduces the chance of an error. If you have trouble getting answers to your questions, or feel like you are being rushed through the process, it’s a good idea to start looking elsewhere. If a printer doesn’t want to invest time in the relationship up front, they definitely won’t be of much help when you need them in a pinch.
The first thing to keep in mind is that your printer of choice should be in the correct price range, not the lowest cost. Once you have a good understanding of what you need in a label (quantities, type of material, adhesive, application technique) it is probably a good idea to get several quotes. What’s important here is that you’re getting a range the price should be in. Picking the lowest price isn’t the goal, discerning the price range is. It is one thing to pay a premium for good service; it is another to pay too much because you didn’t shop around. Remember, the cheapest printer of all is one you have a good relationship with. A good relationship means no reprints, no finger pointing should problems arise, and no missed shipments because of miscommunications. Cost is definitely a factor, but it should be a box to check, not the guiding criteria for who is going to be responsible in translating your brand into a printed label.
These three steps hopefully give you some guidelines on picking a label printer. They might seem pretty basic, but I can tell you from experience, going about these steps in a different order will result in a lot of wasted time and money. If I could simplify it even further I would say this, go with a printer you trust and will take time to talk to you. That’s the mark of a good printer.