by Cassandra Balentine
It is often the case that technology is only truly limited by creativity. While the tools exist to create high-impact, tactile graphics that stand out in mailboxes, on store shelves, billboards, and even the floor, a great design that is properly executed is the recipe for success when it comes to printed output.
There are many layers to design and how print providers approach it. For some, print-ready files are the only way to go. Most print providers have designers on hand to at least preflight, while others staff designers as part of their service offering.
Design tools continue to advance, becoming more accessible within business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) web to print (W2P) platforms. Within W2P, this could be in the form of limited template-based editing options that, for example, are approved by a brand in a custom storefront and only accessible to a tiered range of employees; or freestyle platforms that offer the ability to utilize design tools in the cloud from a blank canvas or through the customization of pre-made offerings.
In any event, Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas, notes rising demand for a streamlined, efficient process from design to print. “Online design tools offer a fast and efficient platform for design creation and edits,” he shares.
Many cloud-based design options are already found in W2P systems, mainly associated with B2B usage. In this case, pre-approved design templates are available to employees or franchises through branded, custom storefronts. The design capabilities are set by administrators to ensure products fit within brand guidelines but eliminate much of the back and forth once required for requesting and proofing print products like business cards and marketing collateral through levels of management.
A majority of the collateral is designed and approved by marketing teams but still require changes like personal information and different images based on user details. “Managing it manually takes a lot of time,” comments Naresh Bordia, VP, global sales, OnPrintShop, Radix Software Service Pvt. Ltd., recalling one client that served a customer with thousands of employees. “Everyday they were getting 20 to 30 orders of business cards and their graphic designer had to change the design and send it for approval before printing. This process was time consuming and took days to complete small orders,” he recalls.
The integration of online design and editing tools are incorporated more frequently to streamline the design process, speed up ordering, and ensure files come over within required specifications. “Incorporating online design tools make things easier for the buyer and provides an option for those that may not have design in house,” agrees Carissa Smith, marketing, North America and Canada, Infigo.
In addition to integrated design and editing tools, many B2B-focused W2P solutions allow customers to choose themes and branded storefronts for companies/employees ordering through the portals.
McGady feels that website templates and themes are important as they relate to W2P presence. This is because print providers look to templates and themes to get their online presence up and running quickly while maintaining brand control.
“Never have these been so available or cost effective at entry level starting from WordPress/WooCommerce with W2P API plug-in tools. A working site could be up for under $5,000 that could secure that same value in work per month if the marketing and product types are right for the market. Most existing website technologies can support a link or plug-in W2P API functionality,” shares Kelvin Bell, sales director, Vpress.
Just like any business website, print providers should routinely update W2P branding, suggests Ben Parker, director of sales, Rochester Software Associates. “Branding updates can be completed for a variety of purposes—to stay in touch with users, promote the shop’s value, update services and functionality, and keep pace with changing design and web trends.”
Sevostyanov sees the demand for print shop website templates rising alongside the growth of W2P platforms. “These templates are designed to create professional, user-friendly online storefronts that enable customers to easily browse services, create and submit designs, and place orders. However, while there is a growing number of these templates available, finding one that perfectly fits a particular print shop’s needs and workflows can still be a challenge. As such, some may choose to customize a template or develop a website from scratch to best match their specific requirements.”
“Using well-thought out themes is a must for W2P stores,” states Bordia. “As of today, B2C and B2B client expectations are similar. All clients demand an ‘Amazon’ experience, so they always need modern UI/UX, which is easy to order and attractive.”
Even before encountering a W2P platform, designers of all levels have access to intuitive, cloud-based design programs for free or for a nominal fee through emerging options like Adobe Express, Canva, and Picsart. With these tools, novice designers create and download professional-looking graphics. With today’s tools, they can also scale up what was intended to be a Facebook post to a poster that can be strategically placed or a printed flyer to distribute.
Ricky Forizs, head of professional services and UX, Infigo, feels that cloud-based design tools are no different than local design tools. “You need to have an eye for detail and know the tools and how to use them to create something amazing. W2P tailors to any and all skillsets. A creative customer can upload designs created in any other software and customers who don’t have the creative skillset just go through easy-to-understand steps defined by designers to select a template, tweak, and add their own information, getting a high-quality result in the end.”
It is important to note that while standalone design tools like Canva and Adobe Express have certainly gained popularity for their ease-of-use and comprehensive design libraries, many feel that they do not eliminate the need for integrated online design tools within W2P platforms. “This is primarily because integrated, design tools within W2P platforms are often tailored to the specific needs of the printing process, including aspects like print layout, color management, and print file formats. Additionally, integrated design tools streamline the workflow from design to print, ensuring a seamless process that standalone tools can’t fully replicate,” asserts Sevostyanov.
The consensus is that standalone cloud-based design tools are handy and enable design creation without graphic skills, which Bordia says may be acceptable for social media campaigns, online advertisements, and presentations; but for print on demand products, there are multiple type settings, formatting rules, and color spaces, which are critical in printing and are still a limitation in these online tools.
Smith feels that while these types of tools won’t take the place of advanced design software, they do provide another option for design.
Forizs adds that a design tool within W2P has to offer a user benefit over and above established tool kits and it is difficult to see what that might be. “A ‘minimum touch point’ automated production benefits the printer but probably does not mean very much to the customer, particularly as designs submitted through W2P are often relatively straightforward.”
Limitations and Advantages
Design tools are increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence (AI), poising them to grow exponentially over the next few years.
“The rapid developments in AI are set to make significant inroads in the role of design tools. A possible advantage is a single point of access to design tools and print services, but to succeed the tools need to match the ‘best in breed’ otherwise the professional designer will not be engaged,” offers Camp.
Users in the B2B space may have a variety of design experience and time available to learn all the capabilities of the tools. For that reason, Parker feels it’s helpful to provide order placers/users with starter designs so they don’t have to develop an entire design on their own.
“Online design tools are highly accessible, allowing for quick and easy design edits without the need for specialized design knowledge or software.
This can greatly speed up the design process and ensure a faster turnaround for printed materials. Furthermore, the integration of these tools into W2P platforms creates a seamless workflow from design to print, which can reduce errors and improve overall operational efficiency,” points out Sevostyanov.
Within W2P, design and editing tools make it easy to personalize quick to order. “Limitations are applied selectively to ensure high-quality results, easy step-by-step personalization, and quick ordering specifically oriented towards businesses who understand that time is money,” adds Forizs.
For solutions governed in accordance with the brand owner, Bell points out that there doesn’t need to be any additional software used and they can support controllable spend to approved supply chain. “Limitations are the ones put in place by the brand owner to maintain brand integrity as the software can handle most if not all design options that could be desirable.”
Therese McGady, marketing manager, and David Graves, VP of sales, Aleyant, point out that B2B-focused options that offer controlled storefronts with integrated design bring brand control, the ability to have limited inventory, and ease of printing on demand while keeping up to date with branding and messaging.
“Limiting the options available when creating a design helps B2B customers choose the correct corporate standards for fonts, colors, and other assets when creating or modifying a design,” notes Parker. Templates are created to allow for creativity and limit options depending upon the experience level of the B2B target user population. In addition to allowing creativity, these solutions can also produce output that is print ready with imposition and bleed without the order placer needing to do know anything about these print production concepts.
To reduce errors, Smith points out that file requirements can be set to alert the buyer that the design file may not be up to specifications and can be adjusted before printing. This also helps the print provider as it removes the back-and-forth email or discussion around the file.
Beyond Branded Templates
Standalone, cloud-based design tools, and any design functionality incorporated into W2P brings with it new potential.
Sevostyanov feels that integrating online design tools into W2P platforms aligns with the evolving nature of the printer/client relationship, which is moving towards greater transparency and trust. “By giving clients more control over the design process, printers foster a more collaborative relationship.”
“Customers can start with a blank canvas or be given a selection of pre-made starter templates that they can modify to create their own designs like flyers, posters, mailers, media posts, and ads,” explains Parker.
Camp sees a move away from integral designers to a growing demand for automated production of personalized documentation utilizing AI and managed data. “This approach maintains the brand, eliminates errors and the need for proofing, while saving many staff man-hours using design tools by individuals who are not trained designers.
The world of W2P continues to evolve, further entrenching its necessity for today’s B2B and B2C print providers. In addition, designers of all levels are finding it easier to access professional scale design tools through cloud-based systems, making it simple for nearly everyone to churn out printable designs from business cards to posters, signs, and t-shirts.
Read more on W2P online at dpsmagazine.com and tune into a recent webinar we hosted on this topic.
Oct2023, DPS Magazine