Printing beautiful paper products is super-easy and can typically be done right from your home or from a nearby print shop.
This guide provides a step-by-step set of instructions you can follow in order to produce the perfect printable materials. You can use this guide for printable invitations, home art, cards, planners and more.
The Big Picture
This guide is broken out into sections which roughly correspond to the process of DIY printing.
- Deciding where to print
- Choosing your paper
- Cutting and Trimming
- Printing at Home
Deciding Where to Print
You’ve basically got three options when it comes to picking where to print:
- At home
- At a local print shop
Picking one is mostly a matter of personal preference. If you already have a great printer and are comfortable using it then home is a good bet. If you don’t own a printer or haven’t done a lot of DIY printing before then it’s usually easier to do it at a print shop. Finally, if you’ve got time and/or extremely specific requirements then you might want to order your prints online.
Home color printers are the least expensive option, and printers today offer extremely professional and high quality prints.
If you’re going the office supply store route, save your files to a USB drive and bring it to the nearest Fedex, Kinkos, Staples, etc. There you’ll be able to pick out your desired paper, as well as review a sample before printing the entire batch. You’ll be given the option to cut out the printed designs yourself, or the sales associate can do it for you for a minimal fee.
Online printing vendors are a slightly better option, as it offers slightly higher quality than home printers and office supply stores. The prices are fairly inexpensive, and no cutting or assembly is required. Plus, online printing shops offer more features, like printing double-sided invitations (something you will find nearly impossible to do on a home printer or at an office supply store) as well as using different printing processes (like everyone’s favorite gold foil). Just make sure you take into account the shipping time.
Printing at Home
Choosing Your Paper Type
When choosing your paper consider your printable project and what it will be used for. Art prints can be printed on common printer paper (if being framed), but they will hold up best when printed on a high-quality paper weight. Choose the nicest paper your at home printer can accommodate, especially when printing as a gift or presentation. You want a paper that will allow the ink to dry very crisp and has minimal to no bleeding.
The average home printer can only accommodate a certain level of thickness and that will vary printer to printer. In some cases you may be able to use a thicker paper if you hand feed it through the printer. Most printers are capable of printing on 80 and 100 lb card stock. You will have to test your printer on the use of other paper weights.
CARDSTOCK – can be used for all types of cards: greeting cards, menu cards, place cards, and recipe cards. Also great for art prints, invitations, food tents, banners, calendars, signs, photo booth props, gift tags. It is a must when printing anything that is double-sided.
PRINTER PAPER – food and drink party flags, labels, worksheets, and wrappers.
SPECIALTY PAPER – stickers, labels, tags, invitations.
If your printer can’t get the job done and you want a heavy paper think about sending the project off to a professional printer either locally or elsewhere. Professional digital printing isn’t as expensive as you may think. Staples, and VistaPrint are great budget friendly options.
What paper should I use?
That depends on what you are printing. What’s most important to know is the weight or thickness of paper that can be fed through your printer. There are some desktop printers that cannot print on a heavy weight cardstock or specialty paper over 125 lb cover. If you are not sure what paper weight your printer can print on then it’s best to keep it under 100 lbs cover.
Here are a few suggestions for paper options:
Wall Art: I highly recommend printing on Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Matte Paper. It’s also safe to run through any printer! (This can also be purchased at Staples)
Coloring Page: You can use regular computer paper or even a 60 – 80 lb cover cardstock for a thicker quality coloring page. Just make sure it’s a matte finish and not a glossy or lust finish for coloring.
Banners: An 80 lb cover cardstock or heavier if your printer will allow it. The paper finish can also be glossy or matted depending on the look you are going for. Here is a common cardstock by Hammermill.
Cards: For a nice quality card I would print on Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Matte Paper once again.
Stickers: I have used Staples Sticker Paper in the past and it worked great. You can also look through a giant variety of sticker paper at Online Labels.
Transfer paper: There are many transfer papers out there where you can print out a design, and then with heat, transfer it to fabric like a white t-shirt. Here is one to try out: Epson Iron-on Cool Peel Transfer.
Magnets: Staples once again is my go to for this specialty item: Staples Injet Magnetic Sheets.
Inkjet vs Laser Printers
Currently I use an ink jet printer, but I have a laser printer on my wish list. Why? For starters, laser printers print way faster than ink jet printers (great for when you need to print multiple pages) and they are better suited for printing graphics. If you’re printing photos, an ink jet is the way to go. Toner for laser printers may be more costly, but you’ll replace it less frequently. Nothing is more annoying than when your ink gets low that quality starts to decrease and then printing stops all together because you’re low on ink. I speak from experience, when I printed our wedding save the dates I had to run out to Staples twice just to complete printing (and printing took for-ev-er)
Setting Up Your Printer
In your printer settings you’ll want to set the page/document size to fit the paper size you are printing on. You can usually find Page Set Up under file on your menu bar. Adjust the page dimensions (width and height) to match your paper size, and make sure the orientation of your document (portrait or landscape) matches the direction in which you want to print.
All of my printables are downloaded as PDF’s which means you may need to tweak your printer settings manually to get the correct print size. Adobe reader will automatically shrink a page if it senses that it is too large for the page and vice versa when it senses that a page is too small.
To make sure you get a print true to size make sure that any of the following options are CHECKED:
- Print actual size
- Print at 100%
Make sure that the following is UNCHECKED:
- Fit to page
This will especially come in handy when printing a 5×7 print on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.
Your printer will automatically try to guess the type of paper you have chosen to print on, while it has good intentions most of the time it is wrong and you will need to make the necessary adjustments. To find Print Properties go to file on your menu bar, then print – you should see a properties section where you can change the paper type and quality settings. Try playing around with these settings (selecting a heavier paper type, adjusting the quality settings, etc) to achieve the best results.
Feeding The Printer
Depending on the thickness of your paper you may need to hand feed your printer the paper. Keep in mind that even if your printer has the capabilities to print on your paper thickness you may only be able to feed the printer in small batches of paper at a time. For example, when printing our wedding save the dates I was only able to keep 5 sheets of paper in the tray at a time or else the printer started to act wacky.
When you’re ready to print your art print remove all regular paper from the printer and put in your paper of choice. For top-feed printers you will typically position the paper all the way to the right edge, but this may vary by printer model. Adjust the printer guides if necessary, but leave a tiny bit of wiggle room between the paper and the guide (if it is too tight the printer will have a hard time grabbing the paper).
Using the right size and layout
In most cases the easiest way to format your paper is to simply use your computer’s “autofit” option in the print dialog, which is typically smart enough to handle scaling and paper layout for you.
If auto-fit isn’t working then use common sense or any printing instructions that came with your template. For example, if the template is horizontal then you should probably print in landscape mode. Also keep in mind that for most printers, the printable area of a page is not always the full size of the template.
Other Printer settings
Your printer will have a specific set of settings and it is impossible to cover them all, but here are a few tips for common options:
- Unless you have a good reason not to, you should choose the highest quality possible.
- Generally using color mode (even if your template is mostly black, white and grey) will result in higher quality prints
Printed color doesn’t match what is on screen
- Due to back lighting and brightness levels on computer and device screens, what one person may see on their screen can vary from what you see on your screen resulting in a discrepancy in color tone. Keep in mind that color will print slightly duller than it appears on-screen.
- For ink jet printers: check your ink levels and replace if necessary.
- Adjust the print quality in the print properties – I recommend using the highest quality setting (using a draft quality setting may result in faded and unclear text).
Printer won’t feed the printer
- Try feeding the paper one at a time instead of in a stack.
- Make sure the paper is positioned correctly in the printer.
- Try changing the paper quality in your print properties to a heavier weight.
The text is cut off in some areas
- Make sure your settings are set to the proper paper size.
- Adjust your margins to allow for a larger print area.
Printing at a Local Print Shop
What kind of paper?
As with printing at home bright white card stock or heavy weight paper give good results. I prefer photo paper as it makes color prints more vivid and seems to do better with fine detail, like on digital burlap or chalkboard.
If printing an editable PDF that you’ve edited, make sure they will open and print the file within Acrobat Reader to pick up your changes.
Ask them to print at Actual Size (no scaling) unless you request a custom size.
And don’t forget about laminating! It can make any print writable with dry-erase markers! FedEx/Kinko’s does a great job with laminating.
My two favorite US print stores are FedEx/Kinko’s and Staples. If you have other local or chain printers near you, it’s worth giving them a test – some are excellent, others may not provide a quality or consistent experience.
If you’re printing for a big event or gift, it’s worth it to leave extra time for making test prints and communicating with the printer.
There are many online printing options! You can order with them and they’ll ship to you. Here are some of the best:
http://www.mpix.com (try their linen paper for an extra rich look!)
Also, physical print stores like FedEx/Kinko’s and Staples will ship if you’re not nearby.
Cutting and Trimming
If your printable needs trimming, good-quality scissors are always an option.
For a cleaner edge, especially if you have a lot to cut, paper trimmers are great.
I’ve always like using a cutting board, straight edge and exacto knife – just be careful not to slice the side of your finger as you hold the ruler! (I also really like using scalpels – they seem more precise.)
For a fancy edge, there are decorative-edge scissors, like these from EK Tools or X-Acto. And fringe scissors from Martha Stewart!