The non-profit organization I contribute to has decided to stop spending money on professional print services and use black & white photocopys for any campaign (recruitment, fund raising, etc.).

I think that will make difficult to communicate with our target, diminish our corporate identity and, in short, result on a waste of resources.

The problem is that I am unable to persuade them, and I think it's because a lack of scintific knowledge about the effects of "cheap" supports over target individuals. Or maybe because I'm wrong and that ugly dirty papers are great...

So the question is: what are the PROs and CONs of using low-cost supports as photocopies?

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    By "professional," do you mean "Kinkos" (office supply store with copy department) or do you mean "offset press"? To be frank, if your non-profit is trying to scale down from $0.40 per piece to $.20 per piece, they need a change in leadership. – horatio Sep 26 '12 at 15:58
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    Another cost saving option they might not have considered is using one, maybe two spot colors instead of CMYK. Can be cheaper. Also, if they are a popular cause, it can't hurt to phone around asking printers if they'll give a discount in return for, say, a small logo/credit on each unit. Would beat b/w photocopies, and the worst a print shop can do is say no. – user56reinstatemonica8 Sep 26 '12 at 16:49
  • To support @user568458: My wife is a VP for a non-profit. They don't call around asking nicely, they work relationships and strong-arm people with a smile on their face. The leadership needs to be bolder, and they need to find friendly benefactors who can underwrite. If you do good work, then there is no shame in shaming others into helping! – horatio Sep 26 '12 at 21:03

To me (a designer), a company (non-profit or otherwise) using b&w photocopies as their unique print communication comes across as on a shoestring or no budget, amateurist, college-back-room and underground, maybe even semi-legal. I can't really call this a pro or con -- If these are associations your company and your target audience and benefactors will value, then it's worth a shot. Fair chance, though, is that they don't, and will not feel like they are being taken seriously.

One of the possbile biggest cons is that b&w photocopies will simply never stand out. Barring some really good (and thus expensive) designs, your publications are going to be ignored and cast aside as easily as the cheap material they are made with. Depending on how and where you distribute your printings, this could be not more or less relevant.

As Horatio pointed out, downscaling your print to b&w photocopy is a rather pointless exercise expense-wise, unless you're currently printing at an expensive printer and on luxury stock. These days, there are online printers who are barely more expensive than photocopiers.

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    Amateur, underground, semi-ilegal: these are exactly the things I wasn't able to explain. I accept because here I've found the arguments I was looking for, but the other answers will help me a lot if finally I am defeated :) – simbirsk Sep 27 '12 at 7:13
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    Worth noting that for a charity, looking like you are running "on a shoestring or no budget" - when you are! could be appropriate for a fundraising campaign. – e100 Sep 27 '12 at 12:05

I think the only real con is your limited color space. And that isn't necessarily a huge con...

Some great designers have embraced the photocopier.

One that comes to mind is Art Chantry who, IMHO, is just as responsible for the Seattle Grunge scene as Nirvana was:


Granted, that's a particular aesthetic that may not apply to your org's needs. But there's also lots of great b/w poster design out there. Paula Scher has done some really wonderful poster work in limited color pallets:


Photocopiers today are quite good, so note that I don't think your average person is going to particular notice the device that printed the poster. So your issue isn't so much the photocopier as it is the fact that you are working with a limited color pallet. Some suggestions to explore:

  • colored paper.
  • negative space. Really play with the toner as a medium.
  • tiled posters printed across multiple sheets...perhaps multiple colored sheets.
  • consider color copiers (fairly affordable these days)
  • If the quantities are low, consider adding color via other methods (rubber stamps, spray painted stencils, etc.)

Beyond the copier, if press runs aren't crazy large, maybe explore screen printing.

Bottom line is don't consider the photocopier a limitation, but rather embrace it as a challenge. The best design, IMHO, comes out of a well defined scope. It forces you to push the boundaries more than you may realize.


Whether or not this approach is appropriate is going to depend entirely on who your organization is. Assuming it's not a total branding miss ...

I've done some very low budget black and white work (offset and digital) for commercial clients and cause-based events. You can achieve great impact if you design for the limited palette* and choose your paper well. It's a definite aesthetic choice and you can make that part of your strategy for a campaign.

You can also try to keep your budget under control by using budget printers, mostly online. PSPrint.com comes to mind. Haven't heard much love for VistaPrint.com but I've never tried.

*Others have noted some limited palette success stories. The mid-century (and early) modernist masters come to mind: Tschichold, Lester Beall, Alexey Brodovitch, Wolfgang Weingart, Herbert Mayer, Alvin Lustig, Herbert Matter. They didn't necessarily work in greyscale but their style was geared toward impact over polish.

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