Printing & distribution

Print management

You are now ready to send your project to print! It might mean making sure you have a box of paper and a toner cartridge next to your healthy laser printer, or else a printing company ready to go. Making the decision about how you will print your project is about cost, but also about reliability and quality. Over time, you might develop relationships with a few different printers, from a high speed copy shop to a commercial printing firm.

If you have a strict deadline to meet, make sure you have booked your print job in advance with your printer, and that you meet their deadlines too. You cannot assume they will keep their expensive equipment sitting waiting until you are ready. If you lose your place in the queue, it might add crucial days to your schedule.

However you print, it will require coordination. If you are using a graphic designer, they can often be hired to manage the print process. What paper will be used? What finishing do you require (cutting, covers and binding)? Do you have an environmental policy; for example, choosing recycled paper and soy-based inks?

If you are using a printer they will send you a proof sheet. This is your FINAL CHANCE to make changes before ink hits paper and you become legally responsible for the costs involved. Be sure it is correct. A few errors in a large project are not necessarily a problem, but a spelling mistake on a t-shirt can look very sloppy indeed. Be very clear in the instructions you give to the printers, and make sure they are in writing.

If you are printing your publication yourself, do you have the right equipment available for cutting and stapling? What about postage, envelopes, labels?


An important job, often overlooked. What method will you use (mail, volunteers, community hubs, distribution company, website sales)? How much will it cost? How many copies will you distribute? Will you distribute to your constituents individually or to community hubs? If you mail it to individuals, how far away are they? How much will each copy weigh? Will you sell some material? Where? How can money be handled responsibly? 

Internet, print or both?

To work out the best way to reach your audience, ask questions such as:

  • Will they be online, with a stable internet connection?
  • Would they be more comfortable looking at something they can hold in their hand rather than at a computer screen?
  • Are they so far-flung that allowing them to access your report online rather than in print would help to save you postage and reach more people?
  • What format will have the most impact across all audiences?

Don't be afraid to mix 'traditional' and 'new' media. Make the most of appropriate channels and use multiple strategies to reach your audience and achieve your campaign goals. 

E-books & viral distribution

New and not-so-new technologies offer different and complementary ways of distributing media. Blog posts can be printed out, photocopied and physically distributed; for example, by being left in public places that are popular with your audience, like cafes or community centres. You can design posters using Open Source software and print them using laser-printers. You can ask a journal or print publication with which you want to be associated to reprint your images and messages.

You don’t need to actually print something in order to distribute a 'print' publication. PDF files can contain your finished product in non-editable form so that it can be distributed by email to your network, or via a website. However, if you are unsure of your audience’s access to the internet, you will want to distribute some hard copies. A combination of online and offline approaches is usually the best option.

You can create e-books(containing both graphics and text), and distribute these globally and inexpensively via networks such as Lulu or InstaBook; this allows you to earn income from your digital products.

Compact Discs (CDs) and USB memory sticks are great way of circulating content in areas where poor infrastructure, such as expensive or slow internet connections, makes online distribution inappropriate for reaching the communities you work with. CDs can be distributed at markets or in other public arenas. In some areas this method has been used effectively for distributing content that is censored or banned by the authorities; for example, the whole online encyclopaedia ‘Wikipedia’ was distributed on CD-Rom in this way in some countries.