Digital Printing 101: Is it Worth it for Small Businesses?

digital printing
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Digital printing is increasing in popularity in the packaging sphere, thanks to its flexibility and the possibility of creative labelling solutions. Ideal for innovative branding and personalisation, digital printing allows businesses to deal with shorter print runs, avoiding the need to create plates and commit to a single design for a long period of time.

To use digital printing, a digital image is transferred from a computer — or even a phone — to media such as cardboard boxes or labels, using high-volume or large-format printers. Digital printing offers an option that is accurate and high quality, and it does not involve the plates that more traditional print options require.

Digital printing in action

Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” marketing campaign relied on the flexibility of digital printing to create labels for its bottles that made use of the most popular names in more than 70 countries, totalling over 1,000 names on their bottles. With each bottle labelled with one of these names, traditional plate printing would have been unwieldy. Instead, Coke chose digital printing as an effective way to get a lot of different label designs on its bottles and on the market, quickly. When the campaign was launched in Australia in 2011, they sold over 250 million personalised bottles and cans in a single summer.

The ability to use variable data within a print campaign enabled Coca Cola to achieve this feat. Using older print methods, large blocks of bottles with the same name on the label would need to be printed in one print run, which would eliminate the possibility of shops stocking a range of labels, as the same names would be delivered together. Instead, digital printing made it possible to print random names in any order, so that the distribution of the bottles included varied names at the point of sale.

Marks & Spencer has also dipped its toe into the waters of digital printing. The store launched a Summer of Flavour Fruit Jellies product that required food-grade, flexible packaging, and utilised digital printing to enable the new product to be trialled in-store — saving staff hours and costs.

What are the consumer benefits of digital printing?

From the perspective of a consumer, digital printing can enhance the buying experience. When this process has been used to decorate the packaging of the products, digitally printed items can be carefully branded and promote the brand image clearly. Products can really stand out and the design can be updated at any time, without the need to create new plates and invest in a long-term print plan to make the most of the existing outlay.

Small businesses and digital printing

Print runs do not need to be on the scale of Coca Cola’s distribution to call for digital printing. In fact, digital printing is ideally situated to manage small print runs, thanks to its flexibility and personalisation options.

Smaller businesses can take advantage of digital printing to manage their day-to-day packaging design, as well as to launch and promote innovative, short-term campaigns. When digital images and designs are printed on demand, there is far less waste, too, which has environmental as well as economic benefits. Response times can be quicker, and designs can be personalised and reactive to short-term events or places to increase customer engagement. This means that small business owners can take advantage of the benefits of digitally printed labels, allowing them to use more creativity in their product packaging and branding.

The quirky design of the Pip & Nut nut butter brand has been enabled in no small part by digital printing. The range of different designs for different products are made possible by the digital print process, reducing the cost of needing multiple designs on relatively short print runs.

While digital printing can be more expensive than analogue options, the possibilities associated with it include less waste, higher consumer engagement with a product, and more creative and flexible packaging options. For smaller print runs in particular, it is not necessarily more expensive, and it offers benefits that older print options are simply unable to achieve. And, as it becomes more established, the price associated with digital printing will invariably begin to come down.

Branding opportunities

When businesses invest in high-quality branding, they want to promote and utilise this on their products and packaging design. Digital printing is accessible to smaller businesses in particular, as a low-cost (especially for smaller print runs) and creative way to share their message. It can also enable versatility, as packaging can be redesigned with ease if it is not making an impact or if it does not fit new branding guidelines.

Like with the print-on-demand revolution in the book industry, digital printing for packaging is transforming and modernising the packaging and printing trades. Inkjet printing, in particular, is an up-to-date way forward for the industry. If offers businesses the chance to produce packaging in the most suitable, affordable way — without the need to commit to a long-term, high-volume print run to make plate production worthwhile.

For more information on the latest updates and trends from the packaging and small business world, head on over to our Small Business Centre.

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Sarah Hickson

With more than seven years experience as a member of the Davpack sales team, there are few who know more about the range of packaging materials we sell than Sarah. She recently left the company to become a full-time mother, but still maintains regular contact with her former colleagues. As well as sharing her own accumulated wisdom and experience on the blog, Sarah is looking forward to passing on stories from the front line of packaging sales. Davpack

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