Cheap Professional Printing in Tokyo

Greg Lane

printing in tokyo

Big, traditional Japanese printing companies offer awesome quality printing at awesome (as in huge) prices.  30,000 yen for a set of business cards is not unusual.  This is exactly why they are getting slaughtered by low-cost competitors.  The ‘Lehman Shock’ (as it is known in Japan) also marked a big shift in the approach of many Japanese companies to their printing.  Whereas before they were willing to pay high prices for flexibility, assurance and quality, now they were willing to sacrifice some of this for much lower prices.

Some Printing Basics (skip to the bottom if you just want the info)

Before we talk about printing in Tokyo, it’s important to note that not all printing is created equal and also to cover what exactly constitutes quality.  There are two basic types of printing – offset printing and digital (on-demand) printing.  Offset printing is the image you have of big printing machines with rollers spitting out massive volumes of printed materials.  Whenever you start one of these machines, you need a specially made printing ‘plate’.  Offset printing provides the best quality but this initial set-up cost means it costs more for small quantities.

You can think of digital printing as a big inkjet printer – although much better than the one you have at home.  For small print runs, digital is cheaper but there is a quality trade-off.

So what does quality mean in printing?  Basically colour, clarity, cutting and setting.  Unless you go with Pantone or DIC (the Japanese alternative to Pantone) ink which is very expensive, colour can be quite imprecise in both offset and digital printing.  As a rule, offset produces truer colours.  For clarity and sharpness, offset wins hands down – the smudgy edges are usually the big giveaway that something has been printed digitally.  Both cutting and setting are not necessarily related to the technique used.   Poor cutting could include cutting in the wrong place so that the contents of the printed item are not correctly aligned or jagged, fluffy or chipped edges.  Setting (or colour setting) errors are unacceptable no matter how little you pay for your printing.  This is when the printer has failed to allow the ink to dry properly and it’s either become smudged or it has transferred onto the back of the item above it.  Another (and one of the most important) determinants of quality is the paper that you choose.  This isn’t really the printers fault though – it’s up to you to choose the right paper.  Most printing companies – even the cheap ones – will send you free paper samples.  It’s well worth doing this before you make the mistake of printing on the wrong paper.

Part of the 'idiosyncratic' order process on Gr@phic. I think you can defer payment until your bonus!
Part of the ‘idiosyncratic’ order process on Gr@phic. I think you can defer payment until your bonus!

So you probably came here looking for cheap printers rather than a lecture about techniques and quality! I have direct experience of using the following three printers. Graphic and Mojo offer English ordering while Printpac is only in Japanese

Gr@phic

** September 2016 update – Graphic got hacked and all their customer data was stolen – including credit card information which was stored unencrypted – so use at your own risk **

We used Graphic to print the Tokyo Cheapo business cards as shown at the top of this post. The cost for 500 copies of 3 different cards with full colour on both sides was 7,000yen including delivery. We went for a 7 day turnaround – if you select a shorter turnaround, it costs more. The order process is available in English and is fairly straight forward – although a little idiosyncratic (a simple order generated 20 seperate emails!). You need to use the templates they provide, so if you’re going to use Gr@phic for your printing it might be an idea to use the templates from the start of your project otherwise you’ll have to do everything again.  We made a slight mistake with our printing – we chose 180kg paper which is a little flimsy. Instead, we should have gone with the slightly heavier 220kg option. Still, it suits our image! Gr@phic will send you free paper samples, so we should have known better to print without checking the paper first.
They also have a good selection of promotional print goods – such as cardboard fans.

Mojo

A large number of foreign owned and run companies in Tokyo use Mojo Print, which is an agent for King Printers in Osaka.  They offer an English web site and their printing is actually quite cheap – especially compared to the traditional printing companies in Japan.  However, it’s still quite a bit more than some of the cheaper printers.  If we’d gone through Mojo, our cards would have cost 9,700yen. However, with Mojo, you get a polished English (or Spanish) interface and support – so that’s part of what you are paying for. Like Gr@phic, you use their templates for submitting your print data. If you want really cheap, you have to go local – which means either study up on your Japanese or hope you can use the Google Chrome Translate feature to get yourself through.

Printpac

One such cheapo printer with no English option is Printpac. If the website doesn’t make you blind, you’ll find some good deals here.  They have a range of pricing for each item based on when you need it.  If you’re dis-organised and you need it tomorrow, you’ll pay more than if you give them a week.  As a rule, printing always takes longer than you think.



The Rest

The following were found through a combination of word of mouth and scouring ‘ni chaneru’ (2 channel) which is the only site on the Japanese internet where people will say (very directly) what they think about a company.  It’s a bit like comments on Youtube though – reading too many will eventually reduce your intelligence.buyer beware and all that.

Insatsu Tsuhan JBF

Rakupuri.jp

Tokyo Colour Insatsu



Hong Kong

If you’re willing to take a risk, as the article I linked to at the start mentioned, you could try doing your printing offshore.  Print100 is a company in Hong Kong that offers incredibly cheap printing and unlike the Japanese sites listed above, they have an English interface to their website.  The one experience I have with them, they didn’t do such a good job on the cutting of some business cards – but it was so cheap it didn’t really matter.  They also offer free worldwide delivery.  Be aware if you order a huge volume of printing from overseas that it may face customs duties when it arrives in Japan.

Tokyo Cheapo doesn’t endorse any of the printers listed in this article, so if you have issues you’ll have to deal with them.  Also, these are all what you might call ‘low service’ providers.  If you’re used to sitting down with your printer over a cup of coffee and making lots of last minute changes, then these won’t be the right fit for you.

This post was originally published on May 7, 2012 but was last updated to make it more useful in December, 2013.
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26 Responses to “Cheap Professional Printing in Tokyo”

  1. Good info as always – thanks.
    Just been looking through the gr@phic website and they do have an English section ( http://en.graphic.jp/ ), but the product range is much smaller than in the main Japanese site.

  2. Good info as always – thanks.
    Just been looking through the gr@phic website and they do have an English section ( http://en.graphic.jp/ ), but the product range is much smaller than in the main Japanese site.

  3. CheapoGreg

    Thanks for pointing that out.  They definitely didn’t have that when I last used them.  The product range is smaller but it’s a lot more comprehensive than I would have expected for what must make up just a tiny percentage of their business.

  4. CheapoGreg

    Thanks for pointing that out.  They definitely didn’t have that when I last used them.  The product range is smaller but it’s a lot more comprehensive than I would have expected for what must make up just a tiny percentage of their business.

  5. terence

    Yes, print100.com is really cheap. I try it’s new fancy paper digital printing and the quality is good~~!!

  6. terence

    Yes, print100.com is really cheap. I try it’s new fancy paper digital printing and the quality is good~~!!

  7. I own a screen and digital print company in Lexington, KY and will be traveling to Tokyo in Sept. 2012. Do you know of any printers in Tokyo that would welcome a tourist visit or are most very secretive? – thanks

  8. I own a screen and digital print company in Lexington, KY and will be traveling to Tokyo in Sept. 2012. Do you know of any printers in Tokyo that would welcome a tourist visit or are most very secretive? – thanks

  9. crazyfruitbat

    I have had experience with Tokyo Colour Insatsu, they are ok – quality is generally good though they have had some issues with binding in the past, but they are very very cheap and only speak in Japanese. Print shop is pretty small but they were doing quite decent runs for 60odd page booklets for us. The guys that run the place don’t speak English at all but are friendly enough – though the website is pretty hardcore for the non-japanese speaker.

    Also I should also note, while not cheap at all, Obun Insatsu do a lot of big commercial jobs and they have really good quality and checking and look out for their clients – again only in Japanese though. They have offices in Tokyo but the factory (which is pretty big) is in Sakado in Saitama. If money isn’t an object, I’d always use these.

    • CheapoGreg

      Thanks for the comment. Not having to pay a premium for English speaking services was one of my incentives for learning Japanese! I got some cardboard fans printed through Tokyo Color Insatsu a few years ago – quality was OK and it was really cheap (I said I had no experience with Tokyo Colour Insatsu when I wrote the post, but I forgot about it).

    • FlyerInsatsu offers great prices and native English speaking staff. Email sales@flyerinsatsu.co.jp

  10. John Matthews

    Hey TC friends,

    I use meishishop.com for my card printing (podcast and personal/professional). They don’t carry anything above 180kg, but coating and pricing is pretty well-rounded. Price sheet here: http://i.imgur.com/vLcHc3e.png

    For full-colo(u)r you can pay between 1,050 and 2,100 per hundred cards; I’ve ordered a few cards and the sleek glossy coats are nice, but they’re still 180kg stock.

    Hope this helps.

  11. Adam Moore

    I use vistaprint in the US… even with shipping it’s almost half the price of doing it here.

    • CheapoGreg

      Adam,
      Thanks for the feedback!
      It might be a matter of preference but I can’t stand Vistaprint. Somehow their free cards seem to end up costing you money and their pricing structure in general is opaque – it looks cheap at the start, but when you start adding ‘options’ like full colour front and back printing, it suddenly ends up costing more than using a printer like Gr@phic. Their constant email torrent annoys the hell out of me too.

  12. Nice article Greg. Good to see you update it. I believe their name is Mojoprint (no space). I’m a frequent customer of theirs, and go back often because of their great service (goes a long way even if it does cost a little more). I’ve used Gr@phic as well, and though their website is in English, I haven’t had luck finding a customer support person to assist me over the phone.. Price-wise, for the same turnaround as offered by Mojoprint, Graphic costs a whole lot more..

  13. crazyfruitbat

    Seeing there are a few updates to the original post I thought I’d add a few myself too. I’m a designer here so I don’t deal in anything English, so it’s Japanese all the way:

    For general printing I can also recommend Suprint http://www.suprint.jp/ they are pretty cheap and seem a bit better organised than Tokyo colour insatsu though the website is a little confusing if you’re not a printing guy (having said that, Tokyo colour’s website is a shock to your eyeballs!)

    We also shopped around to find the cheapest-ass roll banners we could find. Normally they are about ¥10,000 upwards, but if you check out Prio http://oleshop.net and they do the banners from about ¥6,800. Sure, they ain’t gonna last long, but if it’s a one-off event this is a steal! Just bring duct-tape in case it breaks.

    • CheapoGreg

      Thanks for the the recommendations! I’ll incorporate them when we update the post in another year or so 🙂 I’ve looked around for large scale one off printing (A0 posters) before and I found Kinko’s was surprisingly cost effective.

  14. Thanks for such a great article! I’ve had experience using the other English websites for printing, and although business card prices sometimes aren’t bad, flyers and posters I found to be a little pricey. Since I prefer using an English website and would rather pay by credit card, I recently discovered http://english.flyerinstatsu.co.jp, which seems to be the English version of FlyerInsatsu, which has been around for quite a few years. I ordered 2500 A6 flyers, full color on the front and B&W on the back for 4,900 yen, delivered in 2 days. I also ordered an A2 roll up banner with bars on the top and bottom that was made out of a kind of plastic material for 15,000 yen (and also delivered in two days!!). The website was easy to use, and uploading the data was also fast and easy. If you prefer English, I recommend this site.

  15. Azellius

    Sorry to comment on a 2 year old article.
    I’m looking for print shops that can do custom printed corrugated shipping boxes. We only need a small batch for samples. Any recommendation is greatly appreciated!!

    • Azellius

      Ok NVM, I should have actually gone through the shops in the article before I asked my question!
      Gr@phic does custom box manufacturing and printing!
      Again thanks for the article!

  16. Jonathan G Morton

    DO NOT GO TO GRA@PHIC – huge waste of time – spent 2 hours – cannot print on existing cards – could not explain anything & could not recommend anyone to take care of my printing needs. 0 out of 10 – go elsewhere before you waste all night like I did!!

    何でも説明 amp @ GRA PHIC へ巨大な時間の無駄ではありません既存のカードで 2 時間」 – 「プリント」 – 「できないことはできませんでした。私の印刷ニーズを大事にする誰にでもお勧めできませんでした。 0 の 10 をすべての廃棄物を夜にはなかった ! の前に別の場所に移動!

    • CheapoGreg

      Jonathan, I’m not sure what you mean by printing on existing cards. You mean overprinting the cards you already have? That’s quite an unusual request to make of an offset printing company. They typically print onto a very large sheet of card that may be up to A0 in size and then cut the cards to size. I’ve never heard of a printing company that will feed each of your business cards into an offset printing machine – unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re trying to do. Typically, with printing if you have special needs, you pay a lot more. With a company like gr@phic (and most of the others) you have to follow their very restrictive system – that’s why it’s so cheap. Perhaps Kinko’s might be a good place to ask?
      Also, I appreciate that you want to get your message out, and don’t take this the wrong way, but the Japanese part of your comment doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – you might want to delete that bit.

  17. I would defenetely NOT recommend Gr@phic, because of insecurity of their website. In July there was a leak of personal information and they needed the whole TWO months that information of credit cards they kept in their server was stolen too.
    Unprofessional.

    • CheapoGreg

      I absolutely agree with you. I’m the author of this article, but we were affected too. Shocking but not surprising that they were storing credit card information unencrypted. I’ll update the article to mention this.

  18. Ray Camacho

    I work for Global Speed, and we are very competitive and offer english and Japanese customer support. https://globalspeed.co/


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