Short-Run Printing – The New Digital Megatrend

It’s no secret that we live in an on-demand world. Technology has provided us with immediate gratification in nearly all aspects of our lives. Print on demand is a perfect example of how the digital age has redefined the what, how and when of our printing needs.

Albeit a less popular buzz-word, short-run printing is becoming an ‘industry equivalent’ in many respects in the world of commercial and industrial printing.

Manufacturers need to enable their clients with the ability to produce smaller, customized quantities in a cost-effective manner. This is proving as necessary on the industrial printing side of the industry as it is the consumer printing side.

“Customers want to do shorter runs. They want to do shorter runs, because they want to version, or they want to have personalization, or they want to run very specific campaigns. We see those same megatrends that are happening in the core (publishing, transactional, commercial printing) are happening in the packaging industry”, said Eric Weisner (VP & GM of Hewlett Packard) in a recent interview.

The Benefits to Companies (Large and Small)

Although digital printing has been commonplace in the home and office environment for some time now, it is still referred to as a change of revolutionary measure in the professional printing world.

The efficiency and profitability that digital printing creates is stirring up a world of possibilities in the printing industry. It is driving innovation and pushing companies to new limits, all very good things.

Among short-run digital printing’s many benefits is the fact that it is not company size-centric. While the benefit to small businesses is obvious, larger companies with hundreds of products benefit equally. The ability to print the amounts needed at a particular time (and apply changes ‘on the fly’) makes short run printing just as appealing to big business.

It’s all about meeting deadlines and staying within (or below) budget, regardless of who you are.

Endless Opportunities: What the Numbers Are Saying

Commercial printing currently makes up close to 40% of the worldwide $901 billion print industry. Over the past 20 years, digital printing has literally transformed the industry (initially at the consumer level). Think about how receptive the market was to the introduction of personalized cards and calendars? We love the ability to make something ‘our own’ through personalization.

Digital printing has given us the ability to innovate endlessly. High quality, short run capabilities (with constantly improving technology), offering the ability to print on virtually anything…in small amounts and with variations as well.

Digital short run packaging has hit a high gear with the private labeling of in-demand goods, personal care products, food  and beverages, seasonal packaging and special events to name a few. It has also created an affordable and flexible means for brands to test the waters with short runs of new products, as well as testing those new products in different languages.

Industrial Printing: Short Run and the Manufacturing Process

Digital short run printing (for both decorative and functionality purposes) during the manufacturing process is another large segment. Medical devices, automotive parts, textile and glass are all industries that are prospering from both digital and its short run capabilities. When it comes to innovation, market testing and customer requirements, digital short run is becoming more and more an obvious choice.

“The migration to customized digital solutions that satisfy the needs of brand owners and product managers is why equipment manufacturers are developing new and innovative solutions in imaging, inks, material deposition, and printing technologies.” says Ron Gilboa, Director of FIPS.

When we stop and take a look at the substrates that digital short run printing can print on (from both the decorative and functional perspectives) it is easy to envision the boundless opportunities and the inevitability of growth. The technology now exists to digitally short run print on metal, glass, plastic, wood, wax, fabrics, ceramic…even food.

Direct-to-Shape: Replacing the Printed Label and More!

As Marcus Timson well stated, “Printing and placing labels onto packaging and products is big business.” As a segment of the printing industry that is approaching $50 billion, there is no shortage of innovation brewing as to the possibility of replacement of the printed label. Businesses are starting to realize the economics of it, while also beginning to embrace the new possibilities that come with direct-to-shape. The flexibility of direct-to-shape compared to printed labels allows for more customization and more creative freedom. The ability to effectively print directly onto various contours opens a world of possibilities.

Decorative Examples

  • Clothing
  • Fabrics
  • Home Furnishing
  • Flooring
  • Toys
  • Bottles/Jars
  • Helmets
  • Signs
  • Candles
  • Glasses

Functional Examples

  • Circuitry
  • Sensors
  • Batteries
  • Catheters & IV’s
  • Instruments
  • Display Panels
  • Antennas
  • Dashboards
  • Switches

…the list goes on!

 Conclusion: So Much Can Be Done In the “Short Run”

Digital short run printing within the realm of industrial manufacturing is opening the doors to enormous opportunities. When technology creates the ability to innovate cost-effectively and with less and less creative limits, a renaissance of sorts occurs. Companies are able to introduce new products in a manner that is less risky, new markets are created at a faster rate, and providers of the technology are continually inspired to invent new capabilities. This is what the age of industrial digital printing is creating. A kind of new “Industrial Age” in and of itself.

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