Printed vs Digital Letterhead: Which is Right for Your Law Firm?

July 19, 2017

You’d be surprised by how often we are asked by our branding clients whether or not to get official letterhead printed, or whether using a digital letterhead is enough. There’s no question about it, in this day and age, there is no reason why your firm shouldn’t at least be using digital letterhead. Every law firm uses letterhead in some form, whether printed or digital. To confuse matters, digital letterhead can also be printed. However, it’s not an either/or situation: digital letterhead is definitely a must. It is a very cheap and targeted form of brand reinforcement for your firm, plus it adds a level of professionalism and brand consistency to your correspondence that once set up, is almost maintenance free. So what is the difference between print and digital?

Digital letterhead

Digital letterhead is a template that is designed and set up in your word processor, typically MS Word, with your firm-logo/graphics and firm address built into the header and/or footer. This allows your lawyers and staff to send official communications via email while maintaining brand recognition and consistency. Of course, digital letterhead can be printed by whoever receives the document, but the quality of the print will be completely determined by the capabilities of the physical printer being used and whether the printing is done in black and white or in colour. The design will also be affected, as office printers are usually limited by at least a quarter inch margin, meaning your design does not have the option to bleed off the page. Make sure your designer coordinates with your IT personnel, or whoever will be using the letterhead the most, in order to ensure any technical considerations (such as office printer capabilities) are incorporated into the design while keeping the template user-friendly.

Printed letterhead

Printed letterhead, on the other hand, has been designed and taken to a professional printer who then produces the physical sheets of paper complete with firm branding. This paper is then fed into your office printer for use whenever you need to print and mail official documents. This ensures that whatever documents are sent out on official printed letterhead are as consistent with the brand, and with each other, as possible. Make sure that whatever design you come up with ties into the look and feel of your digital letterhead to maintain brand consistency.

Left: the wide margins of this design allow for both digital and printed letterhead. Right:while this design bleeds off the page and looks best with printed letterhead.

Which letterhead is the right fit for your law firm?

With this in mind, ordering printed letterhead is an investment, albeit a small one. In this increasingly digital age, is printed letterhead worth it? I would say it depends on the size of your firm, the state of your branding and your combined goals and priorities. Before you get started, it’s important to gauge your current letterhead demands.

Still not convinced that you even need digital letterhead? Allow me to erase your doubts! Chances are your firm already produces some or all of these things:

  1. Cover letters to accompany other documents
  2. Internal & external official correspondence via email
  3. Invoices via email
  4. Articles
  5. Applications (such as patents etc)
  6. Lawyer resumes

If you know your firm does any of the things on that list, then you should be using digital letterhead. It’s a no-brainer; it’s easy to set up and maintain and gets your brand out there in a different way. However, should you go the extra mile and get printed letterhead? Consider whether your firm does any of the following:

  1. Mails official letters or correspondence
  2. Mails estimates or proposals
  3. Direct mail or letters of introduction
  4. Mails invoicing (if your accounting software doesn’t already force you into a certain template for that)
  5. Printing articles or other firm publications

If your firm commonly uses letterhead in most or all of the ways listed above then perhaps you should think about getting printed letterhead. Before you decide though, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.

Pros of Printed Letterhead

  • Maximized print quality. Your printed letterhead will be produced by a professional printer, which means that the colours and graphics will be crisper, more saturated, and more true to your brand than you could possibly reproduce on your standard office printer. If your firm puts a lot of importance on maintaining brand consistency, especially with colour matching, then printed letterhead is definitely a good choice.
  • Flexibility of design. Because professional printers have capabilities to print right to the edge of a sheet, it gives you, and your designer, flexibility in the design of your letterhead, allowing the graphics to bleed off the page if you like.
  • High volumes= better value. In the event that you do use a lot of printed letterhead, the price per sheet can be dramatically lower than the cost of printing from your office printer, especially when you take into consideration the high maintenance costs of printing, such as ink and toner. You will be getting higher quality printing and paper for a lower cost than printing it in-house.

Cons of Printed Letterhead

  • Minimum quantities. This could be on the pro or con list depending on the size of your firm and letterhead demand. Most printers have about a 500 page minimum for printing letterhead, which means you need to be using a high enough volume on a regular basis to justify the printing cost.
  • Storage. Since you will need to be printing in bulk, you will need somewhere to store your letterhead. If you have small firm or limited storage space, this could prove to be an issue for you. (Although some printers will offer to store it for you, so it’s not a deal-breaker).
  • Permanence. Once you’ve printed all that letterhead, you’d better be sure that none of your office contact information changes before you use most of it up. Otherwise, your letterhead will be heading straight for the recycling. The same goes for your brand; if you don’t have an established brand that you are happy with, you might need a change before you use 2,000 sheets of letterhead. If you know you will be undergoing changes in firm name, logo/branding, moving office locations or other contact information that appears on your letterhead, then pre-printed letterhead is something you should either avoid or put off until your firm has settled in on all of these fronts.

You need to look at the pros and cons and decide what your priorities are as a firm, how you prefer to use send/receive each type of document listed above, and, more importantly, how your client or end-user would like to receive these items, and how the look and feel of them alters their perception of your firm. Good design can go a long way to creating brand recognition and instilling confidence in your firm.

Still not sure where to start? Feel free to ask us about what type of letterhead is right for your firm. We’re ready to help you make the right impression.

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