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Print on Demand – a short talk

POD – Print on Demand

This is from a short talk from a Workshop of University Presses, held in July 2017 in Sydney. All pictures are copyright and from the production facilities of SOS Print + Media Group in Sydney unless otherwise noted.

1. Definitions and Terminology

With the improvements of digital print in the 90s regarding quality and affordability, digital printing of books became an option and enabled the production of smaller quantities. Through digital print publishers are able to service the long tail and when a digital master was available, no book needed to be “Out of Print” anymore.

  • Short Run (Digital Print):
    Low quantity digital print run to replenish inventory or to produce books for a particular purpose
    a.k.a. SRDP; ARP; Marketing copies
  • POD:
    Print on demand of exactly the quantity required. Usually there is no inventory and he book has already been paid/accounted for. POD is often distributed from the manufacturer directly to retailer or end user (“drop ship”). GAP (guaranteed availability program)
lifecycle of a book
The book lifecycle (quantities are an indication only and depend on production technology and capability available)

POD news clip
The start of our POD program (in the background one of our photocopier-like machines)


2. Technologies and Economies

Offset print & traditional binding includes a number of components and processes that are not required for digital printing:

  • High resolution proofs
  • Metal plates
  • Press setup
  • Make readies
  • Folders
  • Binders
  • Overs
  • Storage
  • Inventory management


Workflow components

  • Document repository (PDF)
  • Specification database (XML)
  • Electronic Data Exchange

Workflow processes

  • Automatic order processing
  • Automatic file processing (check; correct; prepare; route)
  • Online proofing
  • Automated production
  • Distribution
  • Reporting and invoicing

3. Limitations and Opportunities


  • Stocks
  • Inserts and picture sections
  • Embellishments (but they can be done)
  • Book sizes
  • Binding:
  • Perfect binding
  • PUR binding

There are limitations: some technologies can only use limited range of stocks. For inkjet a lot of R & D has gone into stock development, but there is still a lot of work to be done until colour reproduction is on par with toner and Indigo. Inserts often require manual labour, so standardisation to one stock throughout the book is recommended. Embellishments usually have high setup costs, so are only feasible from 300 upwards. Many printers limit the range of book sizes the produce to help automation.

With digital colour there are a number of different quality levels, from inkjet via toner to Indigo, which is usually perceived as the highest quality. However there are toner presses that can print in five or six colours, achieving colour gamuts higher than CMYK offset print. Some of these can also handle spot colours.

Digital printing offers a lot of opportunities:

  • Segmentation
  • Customisation
  • Personalisation