Short Run Digital Printing

Short run digital printing is cost-effective and high quality. It opens the door to creative designers who also now have access to digital design tools. This article is about the benefits using digital printing to print greeting cards.

To do that, let’s go back to lithographs and the days when images for commercial printing had to be drawn by hand. The technique of lithographic printing dates back to the end of the 18th century. The word comes from the Greek word for stone (lithos) because the first plates were made of stone.

The process works on the principle that oil and water don’t mix. The image is drawn on a flat plate of metal or stone with greasy ink. Then the plate is coated with with a mixture of acid and gum. This fixes the greasy image and etches into the remaining parts of the plate.

The plate is moistened and then greasy printing ink is put on the plate. Because the printing ink is greasy, it only sticks to the parts where the image has been drawn.

A Plate Can Produce Thousands Of Prints

With some other printing techniques such as letterpress the plate is pressed into the paper. With lithography the plates just touches or slides by the paper during printing. Because the plate isn’t pressed onto the the paper, it lasts a long time and a plate can produce thousands of prints.

As with all printing techniques, the original image is reversed when it is printed so the image on the stone has to be drawn back to front.

Offset printing solves this. It works by using a second plate or offset. The image is first transferred and then reversed a second time during printing.

The Impressionists were quick to see the advantages being able to work quickly with ink on stone and make multiple prints. Event curators, cafe proprietors, and others commissioned Impressionist painters to make reproductions advertising exhibitions, cafes, and meetings. And they plastered them all around Paris and brought the attention of a wider public to their art. Who doesn’t know Toulouse Lautrec’s Folies Bergere prints, or the advertisements for the Black Cat cafe?

At the same time printers perfected the technique of inking a photographic image. Being able to use photographic images meant that more or less anything could be printed for the mass market.

The Economics Of Printing

The limits on the economics of lithographic printing are that each design needs its own plate. And a lot of the cost of lithographic printing is in setting up the plate. So to make lithographic printing economical, several hundred sheets have to be printed from each design.

Also, if you are a commercial printer with a lot of customers, each with their own designs, you have to store all those plates to use the next time around.

Short Run Digital Printing

With digital printers, the software renders the digital images directly onto the press. That means there is no need for a plate, so it is quicker and cheaper.

The early software was crude. Nowadays digital-offset printing machines can print to the same quality as lithographic printing. That means small print runs of high quality prints can be done economically.

Each design is stored as digital information rather than as a plate. And that has resulted in an explosion in the number of designs.

What this has done of course, is to enable independent greeting card publishers to print small runs on demand.

Now, instead of 500 copies of each new design, a designer can run off, say, 24 copies per design.

This reduces cash outlay and it keeps down the stock that a card publisher needs to hold.

From a card publishers point of view short runs free up creativity. A new design might not sell, but if there is only a small investment in the new design, a publisher can test the market without much penalty.

Take this greeting card of a Herdwick ram. I photographed it and then processed the photograph digitally in Photoshop and converted it to a format for uploading to the commercial printing firm that prints our cards. Once there, their offset printers read the files and set the layout on a sheet ready for printing.

Designing For Short Run Digital Printing

Printing is one end of the process. At the other end is designing the cards. Digital design tools mean that the whole process can be done digitally and transmitted digitally.

A designer at one end of the country can employ a printer somewhere else entirely. The only variable cost then is the cost of transport of the finished products.

Digital printing is cost-effective and high quality, and it opens the door to creative designers who also now have access to digital design tools.

If you like the image of the ram at the top of this article, It is available as a greeting card. And if a framed print takes your fancy, and you like contemporary art, then perhaps our yellow pepper framed print would be your thing. And if not yellow, then try the red pepper print.

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