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Web-to-print pitfalls

A poof of a pudding is in eating it. A short trial isn’t enough to really understand what to expect. We give you some insider information on what to watch out for.

Basic websites

A website for a printing company should not cost you any more than a few hundred dollars, depending on how much custom design work you need. Read about our free website for printers project. The time of paying thousands of dollars for it are in the past. Here are some questions you need to ask:

  • How do you manage the content?
  • How much storage do you get?
  • Monthly traffic allowance?
  • Can you add new functionality later (widgets)?

File uploading

File uploading is simple, but can be quite limiting if not done right.

  • What’s the largest file size?
  • How much storage?
  • How long will the file be retained?
  • What are the traffic limits?
  • Will the transfer resume from the last known point If a connection breaks?

Quoting interface

The main question is usability. Ask a friend unfamiliar with printing and publishing to fill in the form. Most of those quote request forms are way too complex for the average print buyer. Potential customers will not even try to get a quote from you if the form looks complex.

Template preparation

The cost of preparing a template should be no more than the cost of making a design. Existing designs should be easy to convert into a template. Making templates can quickly become an impediment and a major cost center.

  • How much work do you need to do to turn a design into a template?
  • If you make changes to the design, do you need to start it all over with the template?
  • How many different applications do you need to prepare a template?
  • Do you need to start over if you give the design to someone else to make changes?
  • What are file size limitations on the template file?


The files you get from your web-to-print site should be press-ready. The proofs users see should be a user-friendly representation of what the final product will look like, not a 6-up imposed PDF with crop-marks and densitometer scales.

  • Do you have full control over color spaces and spot colors?
  • Can you separate proofs shown to the customer from the imposed files you get for pre-press?
  • What choice of PDF versions and features do you get?

Design limitations

Can you go beyond simple business card designs with straight lines and rectangular images?

Most simple web-to-print systems have very limited design capabilities. The business card demo may look good, but few real life designs are that simple.

  • What parts of design can you make variable?
  • Can you use gradients, transparencies, drop-shadow, custom outlines, perspective, distortion, text on path, lens, blending, filters, clip-paths and other essential design techniques for the variable part?
  • What are the maximum and minimum canvas sizes?
  • What resolution can be used? Is it fixed or flexible?


You will need to upload your own fonts sooner or later, no matter how many fonts are already installed on your web-to-print server.

  • Can you upload your own fonts?
  • Do you have to pay for uploading your font?
  • Do they need to be manually installed?
  • What if you upload two different looking fonts with the same name?

Rules and constraints

Templates need to have a certain level of flexibility for user input variations. Corporate designs require constraints to preserve the branding. On the other hand, making the rules too strict will mean lost business for you in special cases when the rules do not apply because the system will not accept the data and the user will give up.

  • User image quality control: resolution, size, color space.
  • Lengths: minimal, maximal.
  • Automatic formatting and validation: phone numbers, emails, web addresses.
  • Casing: automatic case change to lower case, UPPER CASE, Title Case, Sentence case.
  • Drop downs with predefined values.
  • Will the rules and constraints stay if the template is re-uploaded?

Some software is made smarter than the users. It will not let the user do something it thinks is wrong, even if the user is right. For example, it wants to see all phone numbers as (area code)-phone number and the user wants to enter 1-800-number.

Cost of maintenance

How big are you going to grow your web-to-print service? Will it be 20, 200 or 2000 templates?

How many users?

The maintenance of the product database, prices, user lists, discounts and other details becomes prohibitively expensive as soon as you get over a certain volume. There must be some ways of applying changes in bulk or through

Vendor consulting

Consulting services offered by software vendors are a sure sign you will need them to get their solution going and maintained. Add it to the cost even if you don’t expect to.

  • Can you realistically install their software yourself?
  • Do you need their help with template development?
  • Do you need them to be involved every time you want: a new font, new template, new library image, new user, new something else?