There are 3 main reasons you will get different pricing from different print shops for your job.
There is different equipment in every shop, and it can affect pricing in several ways.
The first way is related to the issue of costs. Some shops pay for supplies such as ink, toner, drums, fusers and belts (“consumables”) as the machines use them up. This is more often the case with older, outdated equipment. Shops that operate this way will look at your art/file/project (especially ink coverage, whether it is light or heavy), estimate how much it will cost them to complete it, and give you a price. The alternative to paying for consumables directly like this is to have a service contract that includes them. This is more common with new equipment. Shops that go this route pay an agreed amount for each “click” of the press (with different pricing for black & white clicks versus color clicks). It’s easier (and more consistent) to price a job when the costs are calculated this way… just count up the clicks, paper and finishing requirements. However, these two methods of pricing jobs can produce very different results.
Next, the type of equipment that will be used to create your job can have a big impact on price. For example, offset presses are better suited to long runs (big quantities) of generic documents when compared to digital presses because ink is cheaper than clicks. The flip side of this is that shops with the latest digital color presses are much better able to handle fast turnarounds on short and medium size runs, and are the only ones that can handle variable data (VDP) jobs where each printed piece is customized for the reader on a single pass through the machine.
The last way equipment affects pricing is capability. When a shop lacks the equipment necessary to complete your job, they may broker some or all of it out, or they’ll use a lot of labor to get it finished on substandard or outdated equipment. If your job can’t be completely and efficiently handled in-house, the pieces that get sent out get marked up and/or the labor costs greatly increase pricing.
It makes sense for you to figure out whether a shop will complete your project in-house and, if so, the type of equipment they intend to use to finish it.
The quality of paper used from shop to shop also varies widely. So while you may call different shops for pricing on 110# (300 gsm) gloss postcards, you aren’t comparing apples to apples unless each shop will use the exact same brand, color and weight of stock. Most places have papers they use by default. One shop may use a low quality cover stock as their “standard” while the next may use a high quality cover stock as their standard. Paper quality makes a huge difference in how much the job costs as well as how you’ll feel when you inspect the finished project.
We’ve actually had customers bring in 110# cover stock they purchased at another shop that didn’t even exceed the weight of our standard 65# stock. So when comparing prices, make sure you know the exact paper to be used by each provider. Ask for paper weights in GSM rather than #.
It’s no surprise that if you have a low rent (or no rent) and a low payroll (or no payroll), you can charge lower prices. So if you’re calling an established shop located in a downtown business district you’re probably going to get different pricing than one located in somebody’s garage in the middle of nowhere. People think that if one shop will do a job for a certain price, everybody should be able to do the same job at that price. This just isn’t true. And you should be considering more than just price when making your decision. There is definite value in the peace-of-mind you get knowing your job will be finished right, by your deadline, by a local provider with a solid reputation.
You’re going to get different pricing from different companies. The next time you try to compare them, think about the things we’ve identified here and do your best to make an informed decision as to which company to go with.