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What To Expect From Your Short-Run Packaging Printing Job

Short-run packaging printing jobs produce smaller quantities, making them efficient solutions for prototyping, product launches, and one-time events.

    4 minute read

Your existing packaging is your go-to for everyday use, but sometimes you may need something a little different. If you’re experimenting with a new design, developing a prototype, releasing a new product, or hosting a one-time event, you probably won’t need a huge supply of packaging materials. In fact, having too much stock could take up unnecessary space in your warehouse and lead to waste. 

That’s where short-run packaging printing jobs come in.

What quantity qualifies as ‘short-run’ varies between manufacturers. In general, short-run packaging printing consists of orders of 5,000 pieces or less. To avoid the costs of producing plates and dies, most use a digital printer for short-run print jobs. Smaller offset printers can also retain the quality of traditional printing at a competitive price, but many package printers do not offer this option.

What exactly is digital printing? Put simply, digital printing relies on electronic files rather than etched plates to serve as the original image for printed packaging. Full-color ink and toner is applied directly to a substrate using a roller. Extended gamut printing is another way to enhance the color quality and visual effects of digital. With fewer setup costs, and a simplified process, digital printing brings greater flexibility and adaptability to print—enabling you to enjoy cost-effective, short-run printing. 

Here’s what you should know about the short-run printing process.

When to Use Short-Run Packaging Printing

Your business may decide to use short-run packaging printing whenever you need only a limited number of pieces, but it is especially common in the following scenarios:


A fresh look can keep your products up to date with the latest trends and consumer preferences, but how do you know what design will work best? A prototype is a mock-up that demonstrates what the packaging will look like before you put money into producing en masse. This can also be shown to investors, management, and retail buyers prior to full production.

Product Launches

If you’re introducing a new product, you might not be confident about its long-term market potential or consumer interest. Relying on traditional packaging printing may be a waste of money, and could leave you with unused stock should you decide to change direction or discontinue the item. A short-run project can give you what you need to get the product on the shelf, without the major risks of a large order.

Personalized Packaging

Personalization is a powerful tool to appeal to potential customers on a more human level. Variable data printing is especially common for small batches, because it can generate highly customized packaging. You can alter the text, images, and color scheme to get multiple looks from just one print job, making your product seem more exclusive. In doing so, you appeal directly to individual customers. For instance, you could include geography-specific marketing collateral with fewer costs than you would have with offset printing. 

One-Time Events

If you plan to use packaging materials for only a short time, you’re unlikely to need as much as a traditional run would yield. Again, you don’t want to risk overprinting to the point you end up with a bunch of stock wasting away in a warehouse. With digital printing, you can produce precisely the amount you need, eschewing the costly print minimums common with offset.

The following limited-time events may warrant a short-run printing project:

  • Promotions
  • Seasonal Designs
  • Special Events
  • Subscription Boxes

Effective Short-Run Packaging

Since it can be fast, budget-friendly, high quality, and well branded, short-run packaging is often tremendously effective when used correctly.

If you have a project with a narrow lead time, a short-run job may be your only option. Such projects frequently rely on digital printing, which doesn’t require the creation of plates or dies. This can shave time off the printing process and facilitate quicker turnaround times, to fill urgent requests as they arise.

When you don’t need a large quantity of materials, short-run jobs may be more cost effective. Traditional methods, such as lithographic and flexographic printing, can reduce the per-piece price for large orders, but the expense of plates and dies can be cost prohibitive for smaller jobs—and too expensive for smaller companies. 

Short-run digital orders don’t have these high upfront costs. While the price per piece will likely be higher than for a high-volume project, it will probably still be more budget friendly than producing more packaging than necessary. If you do not have adequate space in your facility to maintain overstock, less inventory can also save your business storage costs.

Despite the affordability and quicker turnaround, a high-quality digital printer utilizing high-resolution files can produce short-run packaging with similar quality to traditional lithographic and/or flexographic printing. Short-run orders use the same careful design process as long-run orders, and can also employ the same stylistic techniques, such as foil stamping and die-cutting. You can send the message you want at a cost-effective price, without sacrificing quality. Notably, while specialty packaging is available for short-run projects, many businesses steer clear, since it can increase the overall expense.

Branding is critical to success, and short-run jobs leave ample room for enhancements. You can be creative, show off your cleverness, and test what works, without a large commitment. Trying out new packaging also shows your commitment to improvement. Characteristics such as creativity and continuous improvement are indicative of a strong company, so a short-run project could elevate your brand in the eyes of consumers.

Ultimately, short-run printing provides you a cost-effective way to experiment with designs and delight customers with new and relevant packaging. 

While most packaging manufacturers rely exclusively on digital for short-run orders, Oliver has the capacity to use either our digital printer or our smaller offset, with no minimum order quantities (MOQs), to better meet our clients’ needs and goals. Contact us to learn more. 


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