My next printer review, after having used them, RA Direct! These guys specialize in oldschool look/feel of printing, and also being WARP SPEED fast! Here’s how my experience went.
I first found these guys via twitter, when they followed me. Being every curious about printers, I checked it out. One thing that irked me a bit about Ka-blam, as a professional designer, and print one at that, was the lack of a proof, and the inability to submit a PDF file.
So it was with great delight, when I checked em out (I check out pretty much everyone who follows me via twitter, and if I like what I see, I follow back) that I found out they accepted PDFs, in CYMK and they offered hardcopy proofing at no additional cost!
The other thing that made me sit up and take notice was the turnaround. They promised a very very reasonable turn around of a week or less. Unlike Ka-blam, which had required me to send stuff a month and a half in advance (or longer) to get a decent price. This was enough, that when I needed more of my comic books, I decided to give them a whirl.
Unlike Ka-blam, they do have a minimum quantity of 25, but in terms of small printruns, especially going to conventions, that’s not really a big deal. You’d probably want at least that many anyway. If you order a few weeks in advance, get your proof, you can check your pagination, colors, etc.
When I had questions, I asked them over Twitter and they responded very quickly, which was great, and I arranged everything through that. Communication and service was top notch, its clear they care about their customers and are serious about winning over a piece of the small press pie. When I explained my tight timelines, and the issue of me being international, they worked out a way to get me my comics as cheaply as possible.
Their submission form was pretty strait forward, web upload, which was easy. Their invoicing process was reasonably painless, payment on order. I used a credit card, and it was all good.
My only issue was when I received my comics, they weren’t as nice as I had hoped. Ka-blam had definitely outdone them in terms of color and quality. The paper stock was thinner, although that wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if the colors had been a bit more vibrant and less muddy. My comic used a lot of dark tones and gradients. It isn’t easy to reproduce, I’ll grant that, but its possible. Looking at the paper too, it was more coarse and looked ‘rough’ compared to the Ka-blam version. The gradients had some issues in a few places and the dots were extremely visible, unlike the Ka-blam gradients which were extremely smooth. It did give the comic a more ‘vintage’ look, but unfortunately that wasn’t really what /I/ was going for. I can say I prefer the more vibrant colors and smooth stock that Ka-blam uses. To be clear, the quality wasn’t really bad, it just wasn’t as good as Ka-blam. But the service RA provided was MUCH better.
Overall RA Direct rates the following from me in terms of a printer choice:
Ease of submission:****
The upload area is part of their website, and you can upload a single PDF which is much more convenient in my book than trying to send a bunch of TIFF files or other single files. As a proper printer, they require CYMK converted files. Having do to proper pre-press preparation without templates and such might be a bit challenging for a person who is unfamiliar with it.
They will send you a PHYSICAL proof if asked, or a digital proof if you are in a hurry and just want to check things like pagination. But this really cuts down on the anxiety factor when you at least have a sense of what you are getting. This is included and does not cost any extra. Which is as it should be, as far as I’m concerned.
The price is pretty competitive with other services, although slightly more expensive, especially if you play with the paper stock (which you will probably want to, the default is somewhat flimsy). For the service though, its worth it, especially if you’ve got a tight deadline and need prints fast.
Turn Around: *****
Holy fuck these guys are fast. FAST. They turned around an international order in literally 2 days and it didn’t cost me a cent more than the original quote. They did their best also to assure me the lowest cost and fastest possible shipping. If you find yourself in need of a dead fast turn around, these guys deliver. They also have great communication. Their standard turn around is about a week, but they can do it in as little as a day. An A+++ on the turn around time.
Product Quality: ***
I’m not sure if it was the speed they turned my order around, or the equipment, but the printing was not as nice as what I got from Ka-blam. Some of the gradients suffered a bit from screening issues and the blacks weren’t nearly as crisp. The colors were also somewhat darker with a lot of roughness on the stock, suggesting that perhaps I should have selected a more robust/higher quality paper stock for the ink coverage, although I had no such issues with Ka-blam. While its what i would consider ‘okay’, its definitely not wow-ing me. Maybe part of the problem was drying time on the ink before binding as well. It was rushed after all and the little roughed ink blotches could be from mild page sticking.
They did their damnest to get it to me in the ridiculously tight time frame. They got it to me within the week they promised, even if it was a bit off for the timeline I needed, it’s not their fault I don’t have mail service every day. But I did get it within the 2-3 days promised. Unfortunately one was kind of chewed up, but that was due to being sent in an express envelope to get it to me on time. Compromised speed for packing, although each set of books was wrapped in plastic, so the rest were fine.
Would I print with them again?
Yes, I would. But I’d probably work in a few caveats. First would be to go with a higher quality paper stock. I have a particularly high ink coverage in my comic, and its full colour with a lot of dark, graduated blends. I’d also probably try to allow a LITTLE more time than a week and a half to have them turn things around. Although I do have some concerns around the screening issue, it might have to do with the types of screens they are running. RA does produce a specific ‘look feel’ of old, classic comics. They even print on old newsprint to get it, which suggests they are using an older, half tone dot screen rather than running a more modern stochastic screen. I prefer stochastic screening for the smoother gradients and less ‘static’ look in modern publications. This would probably require some further chatting with the RA folks (who are extremely nice by the way), in terms of determining what their capabilities in terms of screens are.