The printing industry can be full of jargon and technical terms, alarmingly so for outsiders or for new customers who aren’t familiar with anything more than a desktop ink jet printer. This week, inspired by a post we saw on the American Printer website, we thought we’d try to demystify one common phrase in the digital printing industry: “short run printing.” No, a short run isn’t a five minute jog — a “run” refers to the number of prints a printing press produces during one cycle, from calibration to the actual printing to the end of the job. So when you hear the term “printing run,” think of it as an athlete warming up, heading out for a workout, then slowly cooling down to finish. The press does the same thing during a job, with the run correlating to the athlete’s preparation and hard work in training. Unlike traditional presses, the beauty of digital printing is that each and every file can be different during the course of a run, so customers can group together different items into one order that can be produced at once. Of course, the size and material must be the same for each run, but each flier, label, or brochure can have different text and images.
Digital printing is optimized for shorter runs, but what is a short run? It often depends upon the field that you’re printing in, so a digital printer specializing in marketing collateral may have a different answer than a digital printer specializing in flexible packaging. The standard definition seems to be any job that has 5,000 or less individual items, and that’s the average size of a typical order that comes into Vibrant Graphics. We have a minimum order requirement of 250 labels, but we can go up to 25,000 labels in one run and still be cost-effective, although 25,000 qualifies as more of a “medium run” because it’s quite a bit larger. We work with a company that specializes in producing customized coffee cups, and when we print cup labels for them, the minimum quantity starts at 500. Some digital printing companies will print any number of copies, starting at one, but specialty printers usually have a minimum order requirement since they deal with complex materials and more converting time. As you can see, there’s no easy answer to this question, since each company tends to define short runs differently. Be sure to clarify when you start your next digital printing project, and remember that no matter how you shake it, digital printing is best for short runs of any reasonable size because there are no plates involved and no lengthy set-up time.