Short run digital printing:

Why go digital?

Short run print intro

What is digital print?

Why go digital

Picking the right printer

Preparing artwork

Avoiding problems

If things go wrong

Short run digital print is a much less wasteful printing process than regular litho.

The chemical cleanup processes are between comparatively minor and essentially non-existent, and it is rare for more than a handful of sheets to be used during the setting up process. In fact, this is just as well. The consumables in ink-using digital presses is significantly more expensive than regular offset litho ink, so a few non-chargable test runs of more than a dozen or so sheets can start to affect the producer’s bottom line. The same is true for the consumables used in the other forms of digital printers and presses. This is one of the main reasons why this form of print remains impractical for longer print runs, despite their simpler setup and clean up routines.

The breakpoint where a normal job makes more sense to print digitally than traditionally is generally thought to be near the 1000-sheet mark, but it does depend on how much setup work is involved. For a basic one or two-sided A4 four-colour print, it is safe to say that if you want over 1000 sheets you’re better off choosing regular litho in preference to digital print. As Lawrence Dalton of 1st Byte says, digital printing is best used where the print run is dozens or hundereds, whereas traditional printing is for thousands and up.

Having said that, it also depends how quickly you need the end result. If you need a few thousand full-colour documents printed within a day or two this would be a relatively normal task for digital presses but an expensive rush-job for regular plate-based litho machines.

Modern digital printing presses can produce work which is perfectly acceptable for almost all work. We might hesitate to choose this technology for critical high-end brochures, at least not without careful testing first, but we’ve been very impressed with the output from today’s digital presses. It is definitely a far cry from the streaked, speckled output of the first generations of commercial digital printers from a decade ago.

As well as making short commercial print runs financially viable, digital presses also allow job turnaround times which would be unthinkable with traditional equipment. Need 200 copies of a four-page brochure by this time tomorrow? If your artwork’s ready you’re in luck, and that’s using normal digital print schedules.

In fact, digital printing gives you a viable form of commercial print-on-demand service. Rather than planning weeks in advance and storing boxes and boxes of finished prints you could store your artwork at the print company and order repeat runs at the quantites you need from one day or week to the next.

Speaking of days and weeks, you’ll be pleased to hear that job turnaround times with just about every short-run printer we contacted are normally 24 hours. If you need something printed even more quickly this can often be accommodated, but in every case you’ll be charged extra for the privilige. Be organised and don’t let anything delay your artwork production if you can help it. If you can be particularly on the ball and get things ready ahead of time, ask if there are any discounts for jobs that don’t have to be finished within a day. Some printers offer discounts of around 20%, but you’ll generally need to allow a full week in order to qualify.