Finding Your Web-to-Print Solution
DO A QUICK Web search for the phrase "Web-to-print" and you'll be served up several million citations. Refine to "Web-to-print solutions" and the list narrows to a mere 110,000! Don't worry, there are not that many solutions on the market (thank goodness), but there are dozens of viable solutions, and trying to figure out which is the best fit for your shop can be a daunting task.
The first step is to determine what you want to accomplish with a print e-commerce offering. Think of it as a needs assessment for your shop, but more importantly, for your customers. Would it make your customers' lives easier to be able to order print projects on a self-service basis (that's ultimately what most consumer-based e-commerce stores offer)? Do you want to offer templates for common products, like business cards or stationery and allow them to customize orders via a browser interface? How about special projects, like event posters or meeting binders with inserted tabs, or offering online design via a browser interface?
You might provide document management with pick-and pack of stored pieces. Maybe you want to help manage personalized marketing campaigns and interface with your organization's database or CRM system. The list of what a shop can offer via a Web storefront is limited less by what the vendors offer than by your customers' needs.
Sorting It Out
We can put the things that can be accomplished with a Web portal into several big buckets that make this easier. While many of the vendors would like their solutions to be all-things to all people, and there is crossover between them, the business models for Web-to-print portals tend to fall into these categories:
Print Procurement: This would be the e-commerce-style store, where users can buy print or related products. These storefronts may allow for ad-hoc upload of client files (with or without a preflight component) or customization of pre-loaded templates. Many offer instant quotes and a shopping cart interface for payment, with credit card and sales tax support.
Julie Shaffer is Vice President, Digital Technologies at Printing Industries of America. She heads up the Digital Printing Council (DPC), as well as the Center for Digital Printing Excellence at Printing Industries headquarters in Sewickley, PA. In her position, Julie plays a lead role in developing programs and tools to help members grow their businesses with digital technologies.
Known for her graphic production expertise, Julie has a 20-plus year background in pre-media and print. She is often called upon for training, presentations and to provide on-site consulting throughout the industry on diverse range of topics, including PDF, color management, digital printing, social media and Web-to-print implementation. Julie is co-author of several books, including "The PDF Print Production Guide" (1st, 2nd and 3rd edition), the "Web-to-Print Primer" and the forthcoming "Field Guide to Social Media."