Quality Print-On-Demand: 3 Questions to Ask

I talk to a lot of customers about how to manage print production for training and educational manuals.

Most of the time the discussion centers around production run lengths, inventory control and content changes. I can’t help but feel sorry for association and institute staff members who are trying to manage this decision-making process on their own. Here at Omnipress, we have a whole division dedicated to these services, and it has taken us a long time to understand the complexity of balancing per unit production cost with inventory expense and timing of content changes.

Modern Printing = Less Inventory = More Flexibility

With current digital print technology, this decision-making process may be a lot simpler than you think. It’s certainly a lot simpler than it was five years ago. The new production-level digital print engines now make it possible to print short runs (less than 100 units) at a very reasonable per-unit cost. This means less inventory, greater content flexibility and, if you’re working with the right production house, high-quality print.

Short-Run Printing “Is” Quality

When I talk to publication managers, they sometimes tell me they’re skeptical about digital print quality. Many managers still feel that if they move to digital print engines and away from offset production, they will sacrifice quality in order to get to cost-effective short-run production. This does not have to be the case. With today’s technology, there is no reason why short-run digital print quality cannot be as good as (or better than) longer-run offset print quality. You no longer have to trade print quality when going to shorter run lengths. The key is finding the right vendor with the right equipment.

Without the right production house, their fears may be justified. Many print houses do not use production-quality digital print engines for print-on-demand production, and this has given short-run digital print production a bad name. Quality issues may come in the form of tracking marks, missing pages, poor page orientation, curled paper or poor resolution. These problems are all symptoms of not using a production-quality digital print engine. If you’re working with a true production house and not a quick-print shop, most of these problems can be eliminated quickly.

True production-quality digital print engines avoid many of the above problems by allowing you to insert covers, tabs and color pages inline without disrupting the production cycle. With inline insertion, you eliminate the need for collators and manual insertion, which is where many of the quality issues arise.

Questions You Should be Asking

When looking for a print-on-demand company to print high-quality publications, be sure to ask these three questions:

  1. Is the print engine a duplex printer? Duplex printers print on both sides of the paper at the same time, thus improving print consistency and preventing paper curl.
  2. Can paper can be loaded and unloaded without disrupting the production process? If print engines stop and start during the production cycle, you’re introducing print quality variation into your project.
  3. Will special pages, tabs or colored dividers be inserted inline or collated offline? Like I mentioned before, inline insertion cuts down on quality issues.

Just remember that you don’t have to give up quality to get cost-effective short-run production, but you do need to work with the right vendor. It’s worth your time to check around and find the right vendor for your job.

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