As we have been working on this website for two and a half years, we've spent a lot of time researching the print industry, from material supplies to customer expectations and experiences. One of the things that caught our eye (and made us a little sad!) was that frequently, online reviews on other websites for designer-maker small businesses like ours would host a few sad face comments from customers who feel that they have paid quite a lot of money for what they physically see as "just a piece of paper".
We believe that this is really just down to lack of understanding as to what goes behind the scenes from the moment that lovely customers place their orders and they arrive on their doormat, because obviously they aren't there to see it. So we thought we would write a post with insight into what goes on behind the scenes of creating a high-quality print product. On a side note, we advise that you grab yourself a brew and a biscuit because this post might be a longish one!
This factor is especially important with regards to printing because some people feel that they have only "paid for a piece of paper" which we imagine most people don't usually spend much on. Typically as individuals for personal use, we buy plain paper in bulk - about 500 sheets at the supermarket for around £3-£4. This paper is all fine and dandy for everyday use, but not really what anyone would choose to use to print a piece of artwork on - the everyday stuff is just not up to the job. Here at Hippo & Co. HQ, we spent sooooo long researching types of paper, comparing qualities and testing these against our professional printer to make sure we were getting the best quality possible. Believe us when we say that top quality paper does not come cheap, and although we wish we could buy our awesome paper (230gsm archival matte) in a batch of 500 sheets for £3, we really can't. There was a funny moment whereby the reality sank in of how much we had spent on paper stock... Chris said "if someone had of told me that at some point in my life that I would be spending this much on paper, I would of said that they were bonkers (sometimes we still can't believe how much we are invoiced for paper - however, trust us when we say that it is worth it!).
Paper is the most obvious cost, but there are some other finer touches that may not be taken into consideration. How many of us have watched an unboxing video on Youtube? People love opening packages and they love it even more when their goodies look well presented with attention to little details such as twine or wrapping. Take the print above for example... we think it looks like quite a fun parcel to receive in the post. However, there are quite a few materials that must be taken into account when creating a product like this one: cellophane sleeve (to protect it), stickers (to inform you of the perfect frame size for your artwork), label (to add the finishing touch and direct our customers to our social media pages, where they can be the first to know about any upcoming offers/giveaways/competitions etc.), invoice/packaging slips, address labels etc. etc. Other material costs include packaging... but we'll get to that bit shortly.
What can you see the most on the image above? Ink, ink... and more ink. We have a top notch printer that uses a mixture of up to ten (yes ten!) ink cartridges to produce our prints. All of our prints are printed with the highest quality settings possible so there really is no cutting corners and saving pennies here. This is why we charge a premium (but flat) rate of three fine english pounds for all prints that require a colour background as a lot of ink is used to produce these bad boys (we think it's totally worth it though!).
Ok, probably the most important cost to consider - we are going to whisper this one...there is no such thing as free postage and packaging! There really isn't. Online shoppers just love the idea that they are getting free postage (and we as individuals feel this too!). Let's face it, nobody enjoys happily getting to their basket and finding a nasty surprise for shipping extra. It's a cost that most of us don't take into account until faced with it at the checkout and sometimes it can make us question our purchase altogether (we are totally guitly of this!). No, we all like to reach the checkout with the final figure in our head that we had envisioned through the happy-basket-filling-process. This means that the cost of postage and packaging must come from somewhere - we'll let you in on a secret, where possible, it's hidden in the final cost of the item and is all taken into account when an online retailer goes the process of costing their product. Realistically, depending on the size of the goods, the materials used to protect and package it as well as the courier costs will take up a minimum of 33% of the total cost of the product alone (or at least ours does anyways!).
When we were researching packaging materials, cost was one of the last things on our mind. What we were most concerned with was selecting the best possible options that would get your prints from our studio to your homes safely. Some print making companies choose to send their products rolled in a cardboard tube; not only is this method cheaper (as the overall size of the parcel is reduced), but this is also a pretty safe method because there are no corners to be bent. However, the deal breaker for us was the idea of rolling our precious prints and a fear that once the customer unrolls it, what if it doesn't flatten out perfectly again? With that decision made, we set out examining sample after sample of postage supplies to find the best quality possible that would allow us to ship our prints to you completely flat ready for framing. Finally, we found some superbly stiff cardboard envelopes (like the bee's knees of cardboard envelopes!) + extra cardboard boards to be on the super safe side so all of our stuff can be shipped flat hooray! What this means is though, is that our postage and packaging options are really not the cheapest method, but if this means that our customers open their goodies with smiles on their face, then we reckon it's worth reducing Mr Hippo's performance-related pay to fund it!
Other Less Obvious Costs
Unless you've really sat down and thought about it, we reckon that most people haven't really considered the unobvious costs of making a print product. One element is font licences - yep you read that right, font costs are a real thing and some of them cost a fortune! Anyone could Google "free commerical fonts" and come up with a bunch, but why do that when we can shop for fonts to make the designs unique and special?
Another thing to consider is the editing software that comes with running a small business that designs and produces prints. You probably don't realise this but we use a minimum of four software programmes to produce our goods and keep our website looking top notch. These programmes (as well as things such as accounting services, email hosts and website providers) are a rolling cost which means that every month (or every year), we have to pay for the luxury of using them, so this too must be factored into the equation when calculating the cost of each product.
A lot of time and care is put into producing our lovely prints, as they are made to order to your specification by us in our little studio. Adding personalisation increases the time we must invest in your print, as this usually means that we must alter the layout/position of the design to meet the requirements of your added text. Even the most simple of personalisation can mean a re-aligning of the artwork before exporting and printing. We at Hippo & Co. HQ decided that we wanted nothing but fair for our customers and for them to essentially "get what they pay for". What this means is, is that if you don't require personalisation, you will not be charged for it (remember that free postage and packaging myth we just busted?). Well we suspect that there is no such thing as "free" personalisation either. Many companies will calculate the labour cost into their overall costing of the product. We instead charge only those who want personalisation a flat rate of £1 for basic personalisation, whilst those who do not require it receive their item a little cheaper. Similarly, with our white background/coloured background options, we think it would be unfair to charge all customers the same if one product has only a little ink, whilst another has a huge wad of ink. With us, you really get what you pay for, or the other way around - you only pay for what you want. That's fair right?!
Our lovely wedding print above is a more detailed personalised print, so the time taken to produce the product will be reflected in the pricing. Here is what I bet you didn't know... prints like the one above are aligned to the exact micrometre (1/1000's of a milimeter!) required to fit the customer's personalisation. We manually calculate the space required between each line to ensure that every line is evenly distributed in relation to the overall surface area of the paper. We can't tell you our secrets as to how we do it, but what we can say is that it can be time consuming and every step bar the last one is done manually (the last step we employ a calculator and the distribution is exact to the exact point, so for some designs, this could 5.435mm. That's pretty precise right?! Rest assured that our costing for that blasted piece of paper is truly fair for both our customers and for us (after all, we have to make a profit so our business can grow by producing more fun things, but make it value for money so people actually want to buy our lovely stuff!).
But...but...couldn't I just print this myself on my home printer?
Hmm... well you could, BUT that wouldn't be very fair (or ethical!). All of our creations are copyrighted (except our free digital prints of course - check out our blog posts for more info on that one!) so this wouldn't be a cool move. Aside from this little detail, let's assume that you kick ass enough at using professional design and production software so that you could replicate our products with your eyes closed. You would also need the skills to print it like a ninja too. Our printer is not your average home printer, we use ten different ink cartridges to produce our prints and have the ability to produce colours that standard home printers do not have (because they are poop for this kind of task!). Another thing that I bet you didn't know - what you really need to make sure the colours you see on your screen is the same as those produced by your printer is a colour calibration device which calibrates your screen to your printer. Hold up though...even if you get past this hurdle then you'll still have to go through a long process of professional printer profiling (by using a spectrometer) to your specific paper type (remember our epic paper we were talking about earlier? Well that plays an important role in this process too!).
The bottom line is, unless you really know your stuff, have professional equipment and a lack of respect for copyright, you're better off leaving the job to us - trust us on that. We have spent years, many samples, lots of trials and errors, blood, sweat and tears (Mr Hippo is such a softie!) into making our prints the best quality they can be - really we're saving you from a lot of grief here.
I still don't get it, couldn't I just go to the high street for something cheaper?
Yes absolutely, but please understand the reason why some stuff on the high street is cheaper. A lot of high street goods are mass produced that have often been manufactured in another country whereby labour is cheaper and potentially corners have been crossed with regards to quality. Another factor to consider is that high street big boys can probably afford to buy (and have storage!) in bulk to an extreme level which usually means a hefty discount. Lots of small online businesses like ours, do not a) have the funding to do this (we're talking thousands upon thousands of pounds) and b) do not have a huge warehouse to store it (as a lot of us work from home studios to lovingly make each individual product).
If you have made it this far and stuck with us, then you sir (or madam!) are a LEGEND! We hope that you have found this to be an interesting read and have a little bit more understanding about the printing industry because we want every single one of our customers to feel like they're getting so much more than just "a piece of paper". We'd love to hear your thoughts regarding this post, so give us an insight in the comments below.
Thanks for reading