Quick Print Shops v. Commercial Printers v. Online
Quick printer shops have high-end digital printers and copiers that excel at producing uncomplicated, short run (somewhere in the thousands is probably about where the line is) business and even personal materials at an amazingly low price point. Commercial printers are what we usually think of when we think of printing: cavernous warehouses staffed with humongous offset presses (and sometimes a web press) that provide every service you can think of, from specialized die cuts, different bindings, stamping, embossing, varnishes and more. Commercial printers will be more expensive than a quickie print, but their quality control is top-notch and they’ll do pretty much anything that’s physically possible.
Quick printers will probably be your go-to shop for everyday printing needs like flyers, tri-fold brochures, simple booklets, business cards and folders. They’re also a very simple way to make something professional-looking. When I designed a media kit for my graphic design business, I wanted it to be colorful and simple. I simply had it printed at a quick print shop on glossy paper for pennies a copy, and it looks fantastic and makes a professional impression.
When it comes to longer print runs, unique folds, special effects like embosses or varnishes, and bigger projects like catalogs or books, you’ll probably want to be talking to a commercial printer. They’ll be more expensive, but that’s because they can handle jobs the quickie printers can’t. And when you need their expertise, the price is worth it.
Online printers share a niche with the quick printers, though you ought to consider them more limited. I've used online printing for business cards and found that they, like quick printers, will even do something a little more involved like a spot varnish. Online printers are cost-effective and tend to have particularly helpful submission processes, whose hand-holding is actually pretty welcome. They do have downsides, though.
You can't proof a project other than before printing via PDF (though I believe some do offer costly real proofs), turnaround takes longer than with a local printer, and you may not have as easy a time communicating with a human. I will say, however, that when I spoke to my online printer, they were knowledgable and it was just like dealing with a local company. For service and turnaround comparable to local, you'd be cheaper going locally. If you can wait a few days more for your job, you might want to try online printing.
In the end, it comes down to ability and will. Is this project even feasible to do in house (ability)? If it is, is it worth it in time and materials (will)? Will it positively or negatively impact my clients? Weigh your options, and make an informed decision.