Is it cheaper to print your own business cards?

When you buy your own card paper, is it really cheaper than getting professionally printed business cards?

Eclectic Tech's new professional business cards.
My new professional business cards.

Some people print out their own business cards on Avery business card sheets, and there's some legitimate reasons to do so. You're running to a job fair, and just need 10-20 business cards, and you need them TODAY. I get that. Go for it!

However, I was genuinely curious in a very geeky way: what's the price breakdown of creating your own homebrew cards versus getting a set of the least expensive business cards (and not from VistaPrint -- I'll do that price breakdown later). I started running some numbers just to see. I didn't apply discounts, coupons, or specials on either end. I assumed that someone had their own design (or did something very simple on their own) when figuring out my prices.

So let's show 3 options: the 200-250 low quantity category of cards, the 1000-card mid-range, which is the most popular in my experience, and the 2500 card high-test for the most avid networkers and larger busier businesses.

250 cards

When your needs are very modest, just a few networking events scattered around the year, and you don't have many client-facing appointments, you might only need 250 cards. Or if you don't have a logo design locked down, or any branding, and you're brand-new in business. You haven't figured out your target client yet, and you "just need a card" to hand out while you're figuring things out -- the 200-250 range card set MIGHT be for you. (Or a business brainstorming session, but I digress...)

Avery (200 cards) versus my supply your own design (250 cards)

Avery

Staples price: $17.99 for 200 cards (based on Avery #5871 laser 200 clean edge cards)

Avery price per individual card: $.08995

Note: I picked their most expensive 200-250 pack on purpose. I cede the 250 card category: I lose on price alone, unless it costs you a good client because of poor quality. I win hands-down in the 200-250 card category on quality.

Eclectic Tech

$32 for 250

Price per card: $.128 (your own design, shipping included)

I never claimed to have the absolute best price on 250 cards. Usually I discourage customers from printing just 250 cards.

1000 cards

The most popular product category for the average business or sales person. It's usually a card for an individual who is exercising their networking muscles and getting out into the field.

Avery 1,000 vs. Eclectic Tech 1,000 cards

Avery

$59.99 for 1000 (based on Avery #8471 Ink Jet 1000 cards, Staples price)

Price per card: $.0599

These are inkjet compatible cards, so don't get them wet. And don't feed them after midnight.

Eclectic Tech

$37.99 for 1000

Price per card: $.03799

At this point, let Eclectic Tech spend 1/2 hour ($35) making your design pretty and professional, you get $10 off the card order, and save time, frustration, ink, and embarassment. Well worth $3 bucks extra ($35 design, 27.99 cards = $62.99).

2500 cards

Avery 2,500 vs. Eclectic Tech 2,500 cards

Avery

$113.09 for 2500 (based on Avery #5911 Laser cards, Staples price)

Price per card: $.045236

These are laser cards again. I didn't see inkjet-compatible packs of 2500 cards.

Eclectic Tech

$51.99 for 2500

Price per card: $.020796

I rest my case.

Results

The answer is "maybe" depending entirely on the quantity of print, which paper pack you buy, and the cost of time & ink, much of which I couldn't account for. I didn't take into account any wasted Avery cards from faulty set-up. Let's assume you are perfect in lining up the cards in the template, send it through the printer correctly, and everything goes well so that the entire pack of cards you make on your own is usable. Then the 200-card Avery pack comes in cheaper by about 4ยข per card when compared with 250 digitally printed cards. So the inkjet pack of 250 would be even less expensive than digital printing of 250 cards.

When you move up to 1000 cards, the magic of digital printing shows. I chose the most economical pack of 1000 avery cards that I saw on Staples.com. When buying 1000 cards, going to digital printing wins both on price and on quality.

Conclusions

I'm not very surprised by the outcome here. But I want to summarize my professional opinion for the layperson.

Avery

Pros:
  • It's cheaper for small quantities.
  • Same-day results.
  • Can make several versions.
  • Can make smaller sets of different cards for employees.
  • Cheaper for small quantities.
  • Order professional business cards, and use these for the week that you're waiting for the real cards to arrive.
Cons:
  • There's always that "perforated card" feel, even for the higher quality ones.
  • The paper is not as thick, durable, or professional feeling.
  • You're on your own.
  • Can be frustrating & wasteful.
  • May get poor results.
  • Expensive for larger quantities.
  • May be time-consuming, not a customer-facing activity.
  • Using these as temporary cards may cause real-card procrastination.

Eclectic Tech

Pros:
  • Will look more professional.
  • It's cheaper for mid-to-large quantities.
  • If the print itself comes out wrong, either Eclectic Tech or the print facility are responsible to fix it.
  • Less expensive and easier to re-order if you run out.
  • Can get an expert opinion & feedback on your design, included.
Cons:
  • Requires either good artwork or design time.
  • Requires careful proof & proof approval.
  • If you approve a mistake (wrong phone number, etc.), you need to pay to reprint it.
  • If you outsource the design you can get back to making money, and just need to approve the design.
Avery card suggestions:
  • Good for last-minute trips to job fairs and similar non-corporate events.
  • Good for easy information exchange when picking up someone at a bar.
  • Good for testing out a design idea to "see if you like it" when it's on paper, or to bring several proposed designs to a focus group.
  • Good for designers to present different card layout ideas to a client.
  • OK for event announcements (come to my party, here's the info).
  • OK for craft show vendors and other informal hobby businesses.
  • NOT a good idea for "real" businesspeople.
Eclectic Tech card suggestions:
  • Overkill for someone who only needs a hundred or so cards, ever.
  • Inexpensive enough to even make real cards for a temp in your business.
  • Terrific for event invitations if you want 200+ guests at your event (get 1000 cards, give them to everyone and leave them in relevant places).
  • Look GREAT next to homegrown business cards on community bulletin boards!
  • If you get frustrated, outsource the design.

Everything has a place, and that goes for the Avery business card sheets. I own some laser-compatible business cards! I've used them, I'd suggest you use them if you really need them. Obviously, people find them useful!

If you want to put your best foot -- or image -- forward for your business, I strongly suggest you leave printing to the professionals. You may think you're saving time and money by doing it on your own, but the risk of ruining the cardstock, having it print lopsided or be of lesser quality than perfect, or the poor quality of the cards themselves may end up costing you more in the long run than the few dollars it would take to make sure it's done professionally.

Good luck with your print project! If you need a similar comparison for postcards or other printable products let me know.


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