Firstly, what exactly is printing on demand?
Well, Print On Demand (‘POD’) refers to the process of ordering and printing only as many copies of an item as are really required for immediate or imminent use. This could be just one copy of the printed piece, or multiple copies. Crucially, however, no significant quantity of extras tend to be ordered for keeping ‘in stock’ when using the print on demand approach. This is quite different to how professional printing worked in the past, and is only economical now because of recent advances in printing technology, as we’ll see.
Historic economies of scale
Before the relatively recent advent of digital presses, commercial presses were mostly of the lithographic (or ‘litho’) variety. Litho printing technology requires separate printing plates (even physical film separations and manual reprographic work until just a few years ago); with one metal printing plate being needed for each additional ink colour. So with litho there was historically quite a bit of set-up and cost involved before the printing even began. Therefore litho printing typically worked out relatively expensive for short run (low quantity) printing and only became significantly cost-effective for medium and longer print runs (this is still generally the case today). Hence people would order, say, 5000 brochures rather than a thousand so each individual copy didn’t cost a fortune — even if they only intended to use a thousand or so initially. The remainder would have to be kept in safe and hopefully dry storage for weeks, months or even years on end and, of course, the initial outlay was significant. This larger quantity was ordered simply to keep the individual ‘unit cost’ down to a sensible level. Of course, in recent times, litho printing has advanced but the same theory remains true in essence, even today.
Digital printing; the game-changer
In contrast to litho, with today’s digital, on-demand, printing you would tend to order only the number of copies you really need right now and this is possible because digital printing does not require the ‘old school’ type set-up; there are no film separations, no manual reprographic work to do and even printing plates are no longer required in many forms of digital printing. So you can hit the ground running with very little up-front set-up or cost. In stark contrast to litho printing, this makes the individual unit cost affordable even for the lowest print quantities.
Benefits of ‘on-demand’ digital printing
- A low unit cost even for just a handful of print-outs;
- No need to order vast quantities which will take months to use up;
- No need to store boxes and boxes of marketing collateral;
- A cheaper initial outlay;
- Order only as and when printing is really needed;
- Much faster output than litho (for small to medium quantities);
- If you move address, you are not left with a load of useless stationery or brochures which would otherwise end up in the bin;
- Digital print files can be kept on file and later re-used at the click of a mouse.
So you can see that on-demand printing, using digital presses, will be particularly useful for things like letterheads, business cards, other pieces of corporate stationery, brochures, flyers, leaflets and any marketing literature which has the potential to have a short shelf life. It helps spread the cost out over time and particularly suits those who do not have significant storage space – because you only order what you need at any particular point in time.
So where does that leave litho printing?
Litho printing still has its place, of course. If you need very long print runs and pin-point accurate spot colour work then litho is unbeatable in terms of quality and economy. But digital printing works out cheaper and faster for low-to-medium quantities of print and it is this fact which makes ‘on demand’ printing affordable these days. (A detailed comparison between the two technologies, including the benefits of each, is available in our previous post).
Firstpoint Print: your on-demand, London printer
It goes without saying that if you have any printing requirements, whether low quantity ‘on demand’ printing suited to digital, or larger quantities or spot colour work more suited to lithographic printing, Firstpoint Print would be delighted to help. Quotations and advice are fast, free and without obligation. Contact us here (we have 3 London branches to choose from) or request a print quotation using our online quotation form here. We’ll be straight back to you with a price and answers to any queries and can also help with large format/display printing and a graphic design service should you need it.