This is a collaboration effort done by many of the members of this group who noted me about their tips and experiences. As more members share their experiences as a vendor, and as we attend more conventions, this list will continue to grow, so I suggest you give it a +fav or bookmark it for easy access if you are considering having a table at the convention.
We may be separating this into multiple journals in the future, as I can only see it growing! This guide covers:
getting a table,
designing your table,
what to bring (and what NOT to bring),
Taxes/Money Saving Tips,
and a Resource List!
=============== Getting a Table ===============
Getting a table is relatively easy if you act early enough in advance.
If you already attend conventions, then you already have the basic information you need! While at the convention, you can ask the staff (or vendors if you really cannot find the staff, or for some reason the staff member you asked didn’t know) for the contact information on who to contact about getting a table.
You can also usually look up the information on the website for the convention, as most of them have sections dedicated to this topic.
If you’ve never been to a convention before, or are having trouble finding one, try going to a local comic book shop and simply asking what conventions they know of. There is also websites such as Containment.
Google search Comic Book Conventions in your area, ask at local shops with similar content such as comic shops, and also post on places such as craigslist and yahooanswers.
Once you find the convention, simply look through the website and/or contact the staff. If you cannot find a way to contact the staff, attend the convention and find the information you need there by asking around. It may mean skipping the convention that year, but there aren’t time limits on these things, they’re only growing in popularity, so you can go next year!
Explore pictures of the convention, if you can. Make sure it matches what you plan on selling, and that it is popular with your target age group. Google reviews online, find people who have gone, talk to the vendors, if possible.
=============== Table Cost ===============
Tables are rarely cheap. Small, local events may have $15-$25 charges, or may even offer free tables, but these are very rare.
the average cost for a single table at a popular convention is between $75-$400, just for the table. The larger the convention, the higher the price, and of course Booths are frequently double the cost of a table.
The price is another reason I suggest you check reviews, pictures, and try to attend the convention at least once before purchasing a table. Many times myself, and others, have had to pay all the expenses associated with a convention and made only a fraction of it back. Conventions who change to a poor location or use terrible dates can have a drop in membership.
Expect to lose money your first convention. This isn’t always the case, but it’s extremely common! However, the benefit of going can beat out the initial loss as you now have your name out there, you now have experience, and you now have better ideas for next time.
recommends for your first convention to share a table with a more experienced vendor. She shared a table with me for some time and just had her own table at Phoenix ComiCon that was a huge success! Sharing a table not only helps on the expense while getting your name out there, it lets you pick out things you do and do not like about selling. The person you’re sharing with may have techniques that work for them, but don’t when you try them. This is a learning experience, so be sure not to waste it. Also keep track of what you dislike about what the other seller may do, what potentially loses sales? Experiment, ask questions, and absorb everything you can! But take note, if there is something really unique that they do, don’t copy it as they’re being polite and letting you use their table, and if you take their uniqueness away they lose sales, that’s no way to behave. Instead, realize how important having something unique is and try to come up with your own!
=============== Preparation ===============
Preparing for a convention can be a daunting task, but don’t fret, there are a few basic guidelines that will help makes things easier and a little less stressful, especially if this is your first time.
Get a business license. Depending on the type of event will determine what type of license and how to go about obtaining it, so always ask the convention staff as early as possible. Most often you need a Transient Vendor License
A person/business selling or offering to sell new merchandise to the public on temporary premises and does not have a permanent, fixed location where the business is conducted is considered a transient vendor. A transient vendor can be both a local resident or an out of state resident.
Get this done as early as possible. When I go in, I select the months I'll have conventions and the Department of Revenue helps me sort everything out. When in doubt, pick a day/time the Department of Revenue won't be as busy (usually around 2:00, at least where I am), and explain what you need. They'll help as long as you're polite.
While there, ask everything! "How much do I have to make to file taxes? How do I file taxes? Do you have any programs that can help me out if I have problems?" Explain if you're new to this, or if you've done it before but always been confused.
Make a List
and Remind everyone to make a list. This list should include:
- Purchasing the table
- Booking a hotel (if needed. Also, see our Hotel guide below)
- Business Cards
- Creating/purchasing displays
- Purchasing materials
Essentially, your first list will have everything! This is the “if I finish all this, I am 100% ready for the convention” list. You can do a Master List that organizes multiple lists, such as “Things for Car”, “Things I Need to Order Online” “Items I Need From Craft Store”, etc.
If you drive, include putting gas in the car, checking the tire air pressure, perhaps an oil change—the last thing you want is for car trouble the week of the convention.
Think hard about everything you’ll need, and make sure it gets on a list! Stuff to back, timetables (“Must Order Comics By ____”), stuff to pack and bring along, even consider what clothes you’re going to wear each day and make sure they’re washed and ready to wear, and put in a place you can easily find. Check out our What To Bring section for more.
=============== Design Your Table ===============
Most convention tables are 6 feet long and 2.5 feet wide. If possible, find a table that’s about these dimensions and practice set-up. Purchase a tablecloth that is a color best reflecting your product (choose darker colors for teens and above, and brighter colors for 12 and under is generally a good guide, but also keep in mind colors that will highlight your merchandise, and draw over people you believe might be interested in what you are selling. For example, if you have a pirate comic and your table is pirate themed, perhaps get a tablecloth that looks like sand, or a boat’s deck, or the ocean. If you are bringing a number of different comics with different themes, try getting some strips of fabric hemmed and using each color for a different section. Limit the colors on your table, however, to no more than 9, and preferably 5. If you have more comics than that, good for you! But does each one need their own section? Don’t make your table so visually “busy” that people get overwhelmed. Try to make things match as best you can.
Do not use fire.
Fake candles can be used, preferably battery powered ones.
Do not rely on loud audio.
You can have sounds, of course, but if people need to raise their voice to cover your audio, get rid of whatever is making it. If you are selling music, have it playing only loud enough that people passing right by your table can hear, and use a laptop or tablet with some stereo headphones plugged in as a Listening Station. Provide some alcohol wipes next to that station so guests who wish to can clean the headphones before they use them (do not use ear buds for this! …Ewwww. Use stereo headphones, you want the best noise-canceling ones you can get because you want them to only be hearing what you’re selling if they go to listen)
Has a dedicated guide to table set up. I strongly recommend checking it out! Their convention guide is fantastic, and their tumblr offers tons of advice, articles, and videos which will help out a lot! Here's just a small portion:
“Take a tip from point of sale displays in shops - you have two “big ticket” items and the rest are “extras”. Sometimes this may not be the case; it’s up to you to decide which items are going to have your main sales pitch behind them. In our cases, this would probably be our comics. Place the “big ticket” items on opposite ends of the table, in prominent positions. The reasons for this are twofold - they attract attention no matter which direction the customer is coming along the aisle BUT they also force them to look over the whole table. This means that they will have to see all of your other products as well.” - slicedguitars
To sum it up:
- Get at least 1 banner, and hang it up high or have it stand tall behind you
- Don’t let your table look too cluttered.
- Use creative displays to give yourself more space! Stack things UP instead of out.
- Don’t be annoying to your table neighbors. Screaming may get people over to your table, but it will make the other vendors hate you… If you are going to be loud, warn your neighboring table(s) in advance. This means the one(s) directly next to you, behind you (when applicable) and across from you before the convention even begins. Explain what you do when you’re loud, from playing a movie, to telling funny/creepy stories to everyone gathered around your table, to re-enacting scenes from your comic! Do not scream when you have a lotto going on, when you’re having a sale, or just to get people to your table. These tactics occasionally work, but are seen as “desperate tactics” and you do want the other vendors to see you as a professional.
Most conventions have a few restrictions that you should evaluate (ask about them when you register). Remember, conventions frequently have many people in confined spaces! Keeping your booth “open” and clutter free helps people not only feel less claustrophobic, but also helps prevent fire emergencies.
=============== Time Frames ===============
Adding on to Preparations is Time Frames. Your first priority is getting the table, as that can often need to be done, weeks, months, or even a full year in advance. As soon as you find the convention, see about tables; let them know you are interested. If you are too late, get on the waiting list and prepare for next year. Everything takes time! From getting the table, to driving to the convention.
So we’ll say…
Obtaining Table: 3 months -1 year before convention.
Get on this the minute you think about attending a convention, and always member, you can sell/rent your table should something come up where you cannot attend.
Ordering Business Cards: 2 weeks minimum.
Obtaining Comics: 2 months preferable, 2 weeks minimum if absolutley necessary.
Certain places, such as Ka-Blam (if you use them, please put Ravyn or Ravyn Crescent as a referrer, if you can), require a minimum of 28 days (48 if you want 10% off) to get your comics printed and ready. You want the best quality you can, but if time is running out, there are a few options for inexpensive rush orders. They won't be the traditional "comic paper", which is just slightly thicker than magazines, but they will get you comics to sell. Check the bottom of this guide for places to order from.
Prints,PostCards,Flyers,Posters: 2 weeks preferably.
These are for online orders, which can be cheaper, but also, you really do want plenty of time in advance to start making your products in case something goes wrong! What if the printer you go to has suddenly raised their prices and you need to go elsewhere? What if their quality isn't what you expected? What if they didn't send a proof, and what was sent isn't at all what you expected?
Hotel: 6 months preferable.
As soon as you have the money, this is one stress you don't need. See our Hotel section below for more.
=============== Hotel ===============
To help out the convention, it can be beneficial to get a book at the hotel hosting the convention or any of the convention events. This is because the convention usually gets a discount if they can fill those rooms, and they also often have discounts for hotels that you might otherwise not be able to afford.
However... this guide aims to save you money. Guests should stay at the convention hotel. There are events, they often (but not always) are more forgiving about the noise, you can have a pizza party in your room with other guests, you can play new games you hear about, you can bring a game system and have a party in your room (I'm not the only one who does this, right!?)... The possibilities are endless! It really opens things up! I just recommend that if you do have a party. don't just shout PARTY, find a few people you get along with. Being in the hotel really puts you in the middle of everything and gives you the full convention experience.
Vendors... you've worked all day. You need sleep. Literally, most conventions need you there 12 hours a day, if not more, when you factor in that you have to be there and set up before the doors open.
That in mind, I recommend a hotel nearby. If you plan on attending many conventions, I suggest going with a hotel chain that offers discounts and points. I use LaQuinta as I use hotels multiple times throughout the year and the points add up! I've gotten free days, and all their hotels, as I have found, are very similar... I know the quality, so I just search out the cheapest one close to the convention.
Do a GoogleMaps search of the area around the convention, and use Search Nearby for "Lodging" and/or "Hotels". Often they will list the pricing, but not always. You can even contact the hotel you find and ask for pictures of the rooms, if ones aren't provided. Don't be afraid to ask for a discount, either! Let them know you're a vendor for the convention and if you plan on being one every year, as that tells them you might return, and that you likely have an audience to inform about the hotel. This can encourage them to try extra hard, or it might not offer anything, but you have nothing to lose!
Consider joining AAA, as they offer travel discounts, but join them only during a sale/promotion! I spend $45 to get my 1 year membership and have saved over $200 in hotel fees.
Is anyone in your family involved in the Armed Forces? Or a Veteran? See if you cannot have that relative book the hotel for you! They may be required to be there when you check in, but not always. Call the hotel and ask.
Grandparents or parents get senior discounts? Use them, when possible, by having them book the hotel for you.
These tips don't always work, but you want to save all the money you can so you can pass those savings to the customers.
=============== What To Bring ===============
Every table will vary, of course, but these are the basics as offered by , , , , and myself.
- Bottles of water. -- Water at the convention is expensive, and you rarely get the time to leave your table to even go get some! Bring plenty
- Snacks. -- Candy is good! It's quick and has a lot of sugar energy, but breakfast bars, granola bars, pretzels, any small treat works, too. If you're packing a lunch, make sure it doesn't need to be kept a certain temperatures as many conventions have banned coolers.
- Business Cards
- Promotional Flyers
- Safety Pins
- Binder Clips
- Bags for your customers- these can be small, white paper bags you stamp your logo on, as long as they are wide enough to hold your products.
- $50 in $1.00 bills Each Day to make change.
- Cash Box-- Preferably a compartmentalized lockable box. It's beneficial to have all $1.00 bills in the more easily accessible area, and hide the larger $20,$50,$100's. Take this with you when you leave each night! I recommend tying your convention badge to it so you won't forget either one.
- "Bring sketch cards and some stuff to draw with. I've had some kids request certain characters I didn't have, and it will save you from being bored during those quiet times." - JesseDuRona
- Hand Sanitizer
- "table cloth (flame resistant in order to keep to health and safety codes - I personally use a single flat bed sheet but you can make a custom one yourself) - I suggest making sure that your table cloth is big enough to cover a standard convention table which is normally 6ft x 2ft with a height of 3ft." -Davy Shirley
- Dress in layers! You have no idea if the convention floor will be sweltering, or if you'll freeze so back you're actually turning blue! Make sure you use layers so you can add or remove as necessary without having wardrobe issues.
- All Natural Cough Drops. -- You will be spending hours smiling, talking, laughing, generally engaging the customers! Your throat will start to hurt! Try water first, and if the pain keeps coming, suck on a cough drop, preferably a non-medicated one that won't make your breathe smell medicated. Sometimes hard candies work! Do not offer any medication to customers, though, that's a liability waiting to happen.
- A large tablecloth/bedsheets/roll of fabric that you can use to cover your table at the end of each day
- A trash bag for trash
What not to bring.
- Anything that can spill! Get lids on all drinks and keep those lids on! You can love your friends/fans, but I've not been to a convention where someone didn't leave at least 1 open, partially full drink on my table. PHXComiCon 2012, it was a mostly full, open can of Hawaiian Punch... so bright red if it spills. Every time you're not busy, look at your table from the front and re-adjust things that have been moved, and pick up any trash anyone has left.
- Knives. If you must bring an exacto-blade, keep it as hidden as possible, and never do anything with it someone might view as threatening. Try hard not to bring any, use scissors when you can.
- Earbud headphones. You may be in a lull and bored, but you'll scare customers off.
- Fireworks/fog machines/dry ice. Some conventions may allow it, but you need to be sure it's okay with everyone around you, as that stuff spreads, smells funny after a bit, and people can be allergic or have asthma issues. Plus, they're dangerous in confined spaces.
- Too much stuff. Try to only bring enough materials for each day at the convention... How much is appropriate depends on the convention.
- Messy food
=============== Pricing ===============
Pricing is one of the largest factors. Not only as a merchant, but as a customer. Customers want to feel like they are getting a deal! One of the largest complaints I hear is when someone makes a purchase, only to turn around and find it cheaper elsewhere! At a convention, your competition is all around you! In the same building! That's down right terrifying.
Again I must point to this convention guide as it provides a lot of detailed information we only briefly touch on here.
"Merchandise: Have a theme. If you do cute stuff, keep it cute. Have your stickers, keychains, etc. match your prints and other stuff. A huge part of this is to know your audience. Don't try to market marvel characters to an anime crowd.. it doesn't work well unless you are drawing Thor with big chibi eyes...
Selling: Don't scare away your customers. Act normal, don't scream random words in languages you don't understand. Smile, be friendly. Just talk to them, ask what their favorite tv show is. Have lots of business cards on hand. People might not buy now, but they may ask for commissions later.
Know your purpose: If you are just looking for fans for a webcomic, or want hits for your webpage, then have lots of FREE stuff on your table that has your web address written all over it. If you want to make a quick buck fast, then have something that people are looking for. (Probably fanart, or merchandise) These items should be sold cheaply and made cheaply. If you want to gain a respectable audience and are willing to make less sales but bigger sales, focus on high quality prints and more expensive items. Don't be discouraged if your items aren't selling like hotcakes. All three of these strategies accomplish something, it just depends on what you are looking for." - ladyarrowsmith
We also must state quality is important as well as cost. When saying "made cheaply", what is meant is that you need to find the best price for the best quality. You do not want cheap paper that bleeds through, you don't want to print your business cards on standard printer paper, you don't want poor quality. You just want good stuff discounted.
When you are pricing your items, order them first as it can even factor in where you go to order them!
If you get 100 comic books, for $150 (including shipping... and this is factoring in if you get them at such a low price), it essentially costs you $1.50 per book to get them sent to you.
This doesn't factor in the hours it took to get them ready.
The weight this adds to your car to use up more gas.
The time it takes you to carry the heavy box to the convention floor.
The months or even years you spent making the comic!
You are not going to sell them At Cost. Your goal isn't just to make money, but also to increase your order for next time.
In every single product, you must also factor in a few other expenses!
- Expense 1: The cost of your table.
- Expense 2: The cost of any/all freebies you give away
- Expense 3: The cost of any sales you do
- Expense 4: Food while you're at the convention.
- Expense 5: Gas to get there and back.
- Expense 6: The hotel (when applicable).
- Expense 7: Cost of a business license.
- Expense 8: The cost of everything you ordered to get ready for the convention!
This needs to be considered for all your items. You need to make up all these expenses by selling as few items as possible! Because you don't know how many you'll sell! Don't make it so you have to sell-out on everything to make a profit! You won't be attending many conventions like that... as you can never fully tell how much you're going to sell.
You need to price your items while keeping all that in mind, and also being competitive with the vendors around you. They likely won't have the exact same items as you, but do understand many people won't stand around to hear what a comic is about, they're going to factor in how much it costs and what that leaves them in their budget. If there are many places they want to buy from, their price limit per table drops dramatically.
and others have advised:
Have lots of items of varying prices. This will give your table variety.
You want to have a few $1.00 items. $2.00 and up, these are the items you'll sell the most of... but if you have a few t-shirts for $13, bring them! In a convention, there rarely is a "my customer demographic usually spends___" because it is such a wide range of people in attendance!
I've seen tables sell products that cost over $100. Now, they only sold one or two during the convention, but they still sold them.
Advises that you have your pricing clearly listed! Of course, people will still ask, but many times people will think an item must cost more than it actually does, so they won't come over to properly see it.
If you're selling things at a very inexpensive price, don't make it look like they're worth a fortune unless you have huge signs saying "Necklace $5!"
She also suggests: "Payment: Mark prices VERY CLEARLY and visibly. Get a Square Up Card Reader and take credit cards. It's free to set up. Put up a sign saying you accept credit cards. Have plenty of petty cash on hand for change. And for heavens sake, lock it up and don't leave it out! It will most definitely get stolen."
ladyarrowsmith Brought new items to Phoenix ComiCon and found she needed to raise their prices as the convention went on! This is fine! Especially if you have a new item, you need to see what people value it as to adjust pricing accordingly! No matter how many conventions you attend, you never stop learning!
Wishes to remind people to have realistic expectations. You may not even come close to breaking even on your first convention. Or your second. Don't assume a new product is a guaranteed best seller-- people are frequently shocked by what turns out to be the best selling item, and what doesn't sell at all! "Realistic expectations. If it is a large convention you are "competing" against the the large industry names (Marvel, DC, etc.) So don't expect immediate superstardom or even large sales (a fellow booth-person who just recently published a story with Image comics didn't sell anything at all for a whole day... you can imagine what his face looked like... but things improved later on). Just talking to a few people and getting word out is a good thing to aim for."
Don't ever take it personal if someone says something is too pricey. Don't drop your prices if other people are buying it. Have deals! If they purchase 4 stickers, they get 1 free. If they order 5 sketch cards, they get 1 free-- convince people to go in on it with their friends! Offer to combine orders! Make it worth their while to purchase more, and if someone comes in saying they cannot afford $2.00 for a character sticker, remind them that it's original art, that you factor in the cost of the materials to the price, and that "if you order 3, you get 1 for free so you're lowering the cost of all of them."
Listen Closely to your customers while they browse. This allows you to go "Well, if you purchase 4 badges, you get 1 free, and you've already pointed out 5 you like! You'd get them at a discount."
If all else fails, make these products available online. Have a flyer, card, something with the pictures of a few of the items as reminders and a website link.
And please, always have the tax included in the cost of the item, when possible, or cover it from your profit, this saves a lot of time, hassle, and allows customers to feel they've gotten a deal!
=============== Taxes/Money Saving Tips ===============
This is essentially just a guide on how to add up what you make in order to file taxes, as well as so you can evaluate your sales in order to increase profits in the future. It’s also methods I have found to save money.
Now, I wrote this all out, looked it over, and removed most of it… which I have put in my own journal, because this guide is already long enough.
Still, I'm taking most of this from my own experience, but JesseDuRona, H2yk, slicedguitars, ladyarrowsmith, and ndbag all do conventions frequently and have stated their ability to help others, so feel free to check them out! (Many other members also attend and have contacted me, but these are the 5 that contacted me specifically stating they have experience and have tried everything out to know what they can, for sure, recommend.)
Start every day with $50 in change, and have as much of it as possible in $1.00 (Not, for different countries, I am terribly sorry if you feel any of this excludes you! It was not in ay of our intentions! You can look up currency converters, but these are general guides. You may find you only need £25 each day, etc. Keep the majority of your change in smaller forms of currency).
At the end of each day, or early the next morning, count out everything in your cashbox, coins included, and take out $50 from it. Whatever is left is how much you made that day. Once you've done that, put all that money in an envelope and on the front of that envelope mark the date and the number. Do this every day! You can keep records in Access, or Excel, or Words Pad, or a notebook as well, but I find the envelope system works very, very well and I often also use Excel to track what I made that day.
Take the empty Cash ox, and put the $50 in that you did not count in your daily profit. Now you're ready for another day at the convention!
The $50 will always be "removed". It's money you came with, so it is an expense, not a profit. Making change essentially cost you $50, okay? For tax purposes, it's an expense.
At the end of the convention, you add up all the money you made and subtract:
- Hotel (if you stayed in one)
- Supplies (everything you spent on the stuff you brought!)
- Parking (if there was a fee)
On a separate list, keep an inventory of supplies that will be fully paid for after this convention.
If you purchased a tablecloth, you won't need another one for the next event, as an example.
Whatever is left over is your profit. That's money you didn't have before the convention! You also got your name out there, and hopefully had a good time! So congratulations!
If you have leftover supplies/products/etc., make an inventory of it and a general idea of how many you’ve got! Now, business cards are HARD to count out, but do try! At the very least, mark "Won't need more" after it on the list... but counting them is preferred.
This helps you save money in the future! I used to purchase all new supplies for every convention... bad idea! That’s no way to save money. While you should introduce new products, you don’t want to be re-ordering every single time! Unless you’ve sold out! So make sure your designs are versatile, and with information you expect to remain factual for at least a few years.
For more information on that, check out my journal.
Other ways to save money:
- Sharing a table with someone? Split the cost of the business cards and have 1 side feature you, the other side feature your table mate. Have your side facing forward on your side of the table. Make sure yours feature your art so they will remember you.
- Don't make purchases without sales/coupons. This may mean spending the year watching for sales, and ordering at less than perfect times, such as months before you need them, but it's worth it. Expect to plan your purchasing around holidays like Memorial Day.
- Build your own frames. There are companies that sell convention set-ups, but unless you really cannot figure it out, or have no time to, try and build your own. You can find guides online.
- Order online when possible, but check local places as well for pricing. Bring them quotes from online printing places and ask if they can match, or beat it! Don't be afraid to ask. If they can print magazines, they can print comics.
- Shop around. Try not to get in a situation where you have to order from whatever place can get it you in time. It happens, of course! But your ultimate goal is to prevent that.
- Craigslist and Ebay. Search for your base supplies like building material, storage equipment, etc. You may find it for free!
- You don't need to purchase banner stands from the company you get the banner from. Search online with the banner dimensions and see if you can find it cheaper elsewhere, before even ordering the banner made.
- You can use bedsheets instead of tablecloths. This not only can be less expensive, but can drastically improve your design choices.
- Dollar store! They have cheap storage bins, temporary tablecloths if you need one quick, etc. I primarily shop there on holidays to find their over-sized window stickers.
- If you get a hotel, use not only the advise in the hotel section, but pair up! ring your friends who want to attend, other vendors, etc.
- Bring your own food. Convention halls are notorious for having expensive food, and your whole goal is to make money there. Now, if you're going fine in sales, or if you want something Hot/Want to try something new, go for it. Conventions aren't all about money, they're about having fun, too!
=============== Resources ===============
I've heard from many who get their products printed at Staples, or Kinkos, or similar. And while those places do good quality, their prices leave something to be desired! So here are some alternative sites.
~~~~~ Business Cards/ Post Cards/ Banners/ etc. Printing. ~~~~~
I always use Got Print. I used them for my banner and even with shipping I saved a bundle. Their quality is excellent and I have never, ever had a problem with them. They ship internationally
Vista Print Occasionally has discounts where you get X amount of product for free, but you pay to upload the images (only once per image), and you pay shipping. This can be a great catch, but does require waiting for the proper deal. I haven't found a better place to get folders made inexpensively.
Fire Ball Printing Smackjeeves user xkrazydog recommends them as being super cheap.
CostCo Photo Center. We strongly suggest staying away from kinkos or other such places as they do charge a great deal. It's been heavily that you use CostCo. Not only is the quality fantastic, but the workers are also fairly paid and treated well by the company, so they are more eager to be of assistance to you and help you out.
~~~~~ Comic Printing. ~~~~~
Ready Comics "PRINTING: We got you covered for all of your printed needs! We print comic books, paperbacks and manga so you can tell your story! We print posters and sketch cards so you can show off your artistic prowess! We also print business cards, flyers and on apparel so you can advertise!" Ready Comics is also the only place I've seen offering Custom Sketch Cards, a must have if you're doing sketch cards at all!
Ka-Blam (please tell them Ravyn or Ravyn Crescent sent you). Is one of the highest ranking ones I've heard of. They ship internationally. And they have an offer where if you get their t-shirt, and get pictures of yourself wearing it at comic related events, you can get money off your order. They also provide an option to get your books on IndyPlanet, a website that sells independent comics.
Comixpress, Smackjeeves user xkrazydog also recommends them as being very consistent. They also have the option of putting your comics for sale in their online shop.
Transcontinental is recommended by Smackjeeves user overlordrae. Overlordrae also recommends:
Active Media, which is run by the webcomic writer who does Wayward Sons.
Create Space is recommended by Smackjeeves user 3XLT who says "Pricewise they aren't as competitive for low page counts as Comixpress or Kablam but you get listed on Amazon and get an ISBN. For pagecounts of books 48 pages or above there prices are very competitive."
Lightning Source is recommended by Smackjeeves user eishiya who is extreamly trustworthy and says, "I've also heard that Lightning Source has pretty good quality for a POD printer (they're pretty expensive, but they also offer distribution channels, might be worth it)."
Now! These are great sites, but are not the only option, especially if you find you have very limited time. PHX ComiCon 2012 brought me into a sudden issue where the comic I had intended to feature wasn't done, so I had to quickly make prints of my other comic so as not to have a blank table...
Here's now to do it, and do it inexpensively!
First off, I got the general advice from this article.
But I tweeked it. For one, I tried going with the recommended company, but my rules strictly state: No Sale? No Deal!
That's when I found Lion Press, and given the comic I was printing, they were the choice I found best, as well as ironic. Lion Press contacted me the very next day giving me options for a discount (I had ordered too many pages and they wanted to confirm this is what I wanted, it was, but I liked that they checked and wanted to save me money), and confirm my specifics. They really let me explain what I wanted, and they accept many print formats.
I strongly recommend you use a PDF. I also suggest you do a test print somewhere local to see how your comic prints with laser printing, as many others have recommended to me. If you have Adobe Bridge, it can do it. Mess with the settings till you get them how you like, and feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org), should you need assistance.
Now, after this phone call, I received no communication from them... But they do list all their contact information and I did have their phone number, I didn't attempt to call them.
When you order and get the call, you can say I recommended you, but they might not remember XD I do not believe they offer discounts for that. Anyway, tell them specifically the date you need your order by. I got my books right at the point where I start panicking and pacing in front of my mother's laser printer, with a stapler in my hand. I didn't tell them when I needed the comics by, so learn from my mistakes! I still got them in plenty time, but don't stress yourself like that. Printing pages on standard paper and stapling them together should be your very last option.
~~~~~ Promotional Products. ~~~~~
Quality Logo Products is one I've used many times.
Graphite is one specifically for pens and pencils.
Motivators is another I tried and liked
Pencils another one for pencils!
These promotional products can be sold. They do not have to be freebies you give away, keep that in mind.