Print on demand, also called digital printing, is printing smaller quantities of brochures, posters, catalogs, books (or whatever else you want printed) instead of a large print run where you print thousands of something and throw many away because they are outdated or all of them aren’t needed. With print on demand you print as many as you need and then print more when you need them. You have to set this up with a commercial printer with expertise in this.
Print on demand is great for the environment and marketers because generally when something is printed in large quantities, prices or some other information changes and can’t be updated so brochures have to be thrown out. It does cost more per individual printed piece to do this so there’s a trade-off.
About Print on Demand
With the introduction of innovative new technology and digital presses, commercial printers can now cost-effectively offer offset quality print jobs for small print runs. So instead of printing thousands of brochures, catalogs or direct mail pieces, a small business or non-profit organization can print smaller quantities and set it up to let the printer know when you need more printed.
Digital printing technology also allows marketers to customize “batches” of direct mail for different groups of people or even create and print personalize individual direct mail pieces.
Examples of how companies use digital printing
Customizing 3-5 different elements of a brochure to be most relevant to different groups of customers
For instance, a college asked prospective students some basic information online (what majors they were interested, what they liked to do in their free time) and then customized the follow-up direct mail brochure to include information only about what they were interested in. Students interested in liberal arts majors who liked sports received a different brochure than other students who were considering a business major and liked music/the arts.
Creating different versions
For instance, you may want to send different direct mail messages and offers to existing customers, your best customers, customers who haven’t done business with you for a while, prospective customers, new move-ins or new businesses in your area. Digital printing allows you to do this.
Personalizing each direct mail
An effective technique is to customize different elements of the direct mail so it will be most relevant to the respondent based on what you know about them and adding a pURL (personal URL website address) to direct the individual to a web site “just for them.” This is a very effective approach for high-priced products or services with a longer sales cycle like for cars, high-end travel, financial services, universities, manufacturing equipment, professional services for businesses.
TIP: You can also apply this concept of print on demand by printing using your office printer for things like reminder cards to patients or clients or for tri-fold brochures or flyers. You print as many as you need and send them out in batches versus all at once. That will also help with customer service because everyone won’t be responding at the same time like they do with a large mailing that’s sent the same day to people.
Who can help you with digital printing
Know this: Many commercial printers have not invested in the digital press equipment to be able to offer this. So first you need to find a commercial printer with a digital press and then you need to do more research to find one who has as much expertise as possible in print on demand and personalized printing to take advantage of their experience versus being their guinea pig. Digital printing requires a very different type of competency than traditional offset printing.
Look for commercial printers who have indicated they have experience in personalized/digital printing. Then look at what advice they’ve given and look to see examples of the personalized printing they’ve done.
PODI is an industry group of commercial printers who have digital press equipment. They have a “find a service provider” listing tool. What’s helpful about their tool is you can look to see how many digital presses a printer has. From our experience, if a printer has several digital presses, they will have more expertise and people who know about digital printing versus a commercial printer who has just one digital press.
Questions to ask when selecting a printer for digital printing
Some commercial printers may have invested in buying one digital press but they don’t have much expertise in using it. Other commercial printers will have developed a specialization in this type of printing. Call and ask some qualifying questions like: How many digital presses do you have? If it’s more than one, then consider going to visit them. If it’s just one press, ask more questions on the phone before deciding if they have enough expertise in using this type of equipment.
How much of your overall revenue comes from digital printing jobs?
How much are your digital presses used during a day or week? Many printers buy a digital press and use it occasionally when clients ask for work that needs to be done on that type of equipment. You don’t want to be their press team’s “guinea pig” in learning how to use this equipment. You want to find a printer whose digital presses are busy and who have press operators who specialize in digital printing.
How many digital presses do you have? The more presses they have generally the busier they are with digital printing work and the more experienced they will be in handling your job.
Ask to meet their digital press operator(s). Properly setting up a digital printing job is very different for working on a traditional press. You want people with expertise in computers, who are comfortable dealing with databases and variable data. And people who love doing this type of high quality, specialized work.
Ask to see print samples and have the digital press operator tell you about the samples. This will give you a clue about their knowledge, attention to detail and pride in their work.
Ask who manages the project/process for a digital printing job. Is this the sales person or does the printer have people dedicated to account or project management? The latter is a much better option for you as the account manager is not paid on commission – their expertise is in project/process management.
Know this: Commercial printer sales people are generally paid a small salary and make most of their money on commission. So they’ll be most attentive to clients with large print jobs that represent the largest commissions on. Digital printing jobs are a lot of work/hassle for a sales rep to deal with and are generally small print runs so they don’t represent much commission income. The owners of the printing companies are the ones who are the champions of digital printing because it is profitable and often represents ongoing repeat business for the company once a job is set up.
From our experience: Choose a printer to handle your digital printing carefully. Printers say “there is no customer loyalty anymore with our clients” which is true for most commercial press jobs. However with digital printing it’s different. There is a huge initial investment on behalf of the printer and the client to set up a digital printing job. And then once a job is set up, it’s very fast, easy and cost-efficient to have more pieces printed “on demand” and to make variations.