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If you spend a lot of time waiting in line at copy shops or huddled over proofs at a noisy printer’s, you’ve probably considered online alternatives such as Kinkos.com, PrintingForLess.com, and Mimeo.com. They’re as close as your keyboard, comparable in price to walk-in services, and are often guaranteed to satisfy. But, no doubt, you have a few questions about these services: How do their prices and the quality of their output compare with those of traditional brick and mortars? How fast will they deliver? What about the security of your documents? We’ll start by answering a more basic question: What kind of printing can you get online?
The word “printing” means as many things online as it does off. For example, you wouldn’t compare the prices of PrintingForLess.com, Mimeo.com, and Kinkos.com and go with the cheapest; the three online shops don’t do the same thing. While there is some overlap from one business to the other, Kinko’s is best known for making copies; PrintingForLess is a traditional offset printer that now offers its complex four-color services online; and Mimeo.com is an exclusively online digital document creator. Understand the ins and outs of these three and you’ll know what to look for and which service to choose.
Everyone knows what kind of output you get in a copy shop, though you may not know how it comes about. “Xerography” is a combination of the Greek words meaning “dry” and “write,” and photocopiers work by applying dry ink (toner) to areas of a page where a projected image allows less light to weaken its electrostatic charge, then fixing the toner to the page with heat and pressure. Color photocopying works by making several passes to apply cyan, yellow, magenta, and black (CYMK) toners. Copy shop output is often the right choice for fast, low-volume distribution of documents, and you can expect good-quality stapled, comb-, spiral, or ring-bound reports in color or black and white.
At Kinkos.com, you upload a document and specify order details. Default “Quick Order” options let you select papers and bindings for common copy jobs. We compared the prices of Kinko’s color copies three ways, and the results were a bit surprising. If you walk into a Kinko’s with, say, a Microsoft Word document and hand it to the clerk, you pay a $10 rendering fee plus 99 cents per color copy. Online, it’s the same 99 cents per color copy, but with no rendering fee. If you walk into a Kinko’s and choose self-service, the color copies are 89 cents for the first 10, then half off, or 45 cents each, for the rest. Instead of the $10 rendering fee, you pay 20 cents per minute to create a master on Kinko’s computer, plus $1.49 for a Tektronics laser print. Be sure to factor in shipping costs, too, for all three methods.
While Kinkos.com branches off into some digital reproduction, this is all Mimeo.com does. The company makes each page it prints a digital original from a digital press;