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Wednesday, 11 November 2015 | By Bob Boucher, Senior Copywriter

Personalized calendar

Imagine yourself in China. You’re witnessing the birth of woodblock printing – an amazing solution for printing on textiles and on paper. You’re so excited by the technology that you sign on as an early adopter – and we do mean “early.” It’s the year 220 AD.


Or, perhaps you were in China a mere thousand years ago for the launch of movable-type printing. How about attending a trade show (drupa 1436?) to see old friend Johannes Gutenberg demo his faster, more durable printing press?

Okay, enough with the time travel. The question is this: Do you think these geniuses from printing antiquity could ever fathom what they started? Wouldn’t it be fun to see their faces as you describe lithography, flexography, or digital printing? The icing on the cake would be when you casually mention that printing is a US$901 billion industry?

The Era of Digital Printing

How might you go about explaining online printing? You’d probably have to start by talking about the Internet and its effect on the print industry, and the phenomenal rise of short runs and personalization.

Online printing has quickly carved out a niche – albeit a very big and lucrative niche. In fact, online printing, or print-on-demand, is in all respects the industry’s most fascinating game changer. It’s a hyper-convenient, low cost resource for producing short run books, personalized calendars and photo albums, custom flyers, newsletters, mailers, business cards, brochures, and so much more.

The online printing landscape features what are today very familiar names, like market behemoths Vistaprint and Flyeralarm that focus exclusively on online printing. Many others, like Staples, Shutterfly, and FedEx have integrated online print services into their business models. Well-known firms, such as EFI, GMC, and Mimeo, design powerful, automated online solutions for print providers.

The primary underlying technology for online and on-demand printing is digital printing, though some providers use offset technology. Digital enables printing directly from an electronic or digital file to a toner- or ink-based printer. For small quantities and quick-turn order, digital is the go-to solution vs. offset.

Sophisticated End-to-End Online Print Solutions

Customer-facing online print companies offer all forms of printing and finishing services. Their solutions receive electronic files, typically over the web (hence the term, online) that quickly make their way to the press. Whether the specs call for color or black-and-white digital printing, the workflow is almost entirely automated. From end to end, the hands-free process covers file management, jobs queuing, printing, laminating, scoring, trimming, binding, and collating.

While online printing delivers many of the hottest print applications, it also represents a satisfying user experience. The very act of entering and submitting an order induces intrinsic rewards for customers—a sense of control, efficiency, ease, and productivity, for starters. Using online templates or preset branded templates, users drop in the text, images, and account information, press a button, and voila, the job’s in the queue for printing!

Customers can have their order shipped to their doorsteps, usually within a few days. It could be and urgently needed product brochure, personalized calendars, or self-published books produced in small quantities or even in single pieces.

New Revenue Streams for Online Print Providers

Online printing solutions have allowed providers to add many new and profitable products to their portfolio. Publishers can keep backlists active without amassing huge piles of unsold or returned books. Printers can offer items for a fixed cost per copy, regardless of the size of the order.

Granted, the unit price for each copy is higher than with offset printing, but the average overall cost of producing short runs is lower, especially when you’ve eliminated the high setup costs common to offset printing. Beyond lower costs, online printing or print-on-demand offers additional benefits versus offset: set-up is quicker; handling costs are lower; and expensive inventories, storage and waste have been removed from the profit equation.

Naturally, online print providers need to be mindful of maintaining the quality of their products. The upside for providers, however, is the potential to increase offerings to customers, build buyer loyalty, generate more revenue, and increase profitability.

Not a bad scenario if you’re a purveyor of online printing, or seriously thinking about it.

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