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10 Steps to Print Automation for Custom Print Business
When it comes to modern businesses I don’t think I need to explain what is “automation”. Chances are, it's already some part of your daily operations. Whether it's how customers place their orders or the way you mark an order as ready for shipping, every step we can automate means fewer manual tasks and less room for errors. The result? Faster, cost-effective, and more accurate order processing.
In this article, I’ll cover print automation essentials for those who sell custom prints. If you're scratching your head wondering where to start, stick around. I've got you covered.
Key components of print automation
First, let's start by breaking down the different stages where print automation can be applied. Since you can't automate everything all at once, you need to first identify which processes are the most costly in terms of expenses, resources, or simply those that consume most of your time. Here are the different stages of custom print workflow and what can be automated at each stage:
- Order Management: Software that automatically processes orders, schedules print jobs, and manages inventory.
- Pre-press Automation: Tools that automatically check and correct design files to ensure they're print-ready. This includes tasks like color correction and format checks.
- Print Production Automation: Machines programmed to adjust settings automatically based on the print job, minimizing manual setup.
- Post-press Automation: Systems that manage cutting, binding, and finishing processes without the need for manual intervention.
- Shipping and Fulfillment: Integration with shipping services to automatically print labels, manage shipments, and notify customers.
After identifying the areas that are the most expensive or most resource-intensive, you'll be able to move to the research stage. This is where you'll strategize the most effective ways to integrate automation into your entire printing process. And of course, some parts will be easier than others.
Challenges in Custom Print Automation
At first glance, it might seem like I'm tackling this topic from a reverse angle. However, depending on the maturity of your business it's essential to weigh the challenges you'll encounter when trying to automate a specific process. Otherwise, you might find yourself pouring time and energy into automating just one slice of the entire printing pie (process). Before you start, ensure you've considered the following:
Complexity: Custom orders come with their own set of unique demands, which can make automation a tad tricky. Think about the variety of product designs, components, materials, and printing limitations. All these factors make automating your print workflow more complicated than a standardized print business.
Integration: Your automation tools need to play nicely together. This means they should integrate smoothly with your online store and any software you use, be it for design, printing, or other tasks. When picking out these tools, ensure they're compatible and won't demand custom tweaks on your end.
Training: Staff needs to be trained to use new automated systems effectively. Even though it seems easy. Think about who is going to introduce the new process or tools to the team and how much time will it take to start using it efficiently and at full capacity.
Initial Costs: Automation isn't always cheap. While it doesn't hold true for every aspect, such things as new software or new equipment can be costly. So make sure you calculate the ROI.
After discussing the challenges let’s move on to implementation. I’ll cover all the steps to automate a certain print workflow in your business.
How to implement print automation for custom prints?
Let's take one component of print automation as an example: Order Management.
Implementing an automated order management system can save a lot of time for a custom print business. Here's a step-by-step approach you should take:
1. Understand Your Current Process:
Map out the workflow: Document every step of your current order management process. This includes order intake, processing, scheduling, and fulfillment.
Identify main pain points: Where are the bottlenecks? Are there frequent errors or delays at certain stages? And what are the parts that could be optimized?
2. Set Clear Objectives:
What do you hope to achieve with automation? This could be faster order processing, reduced errors, better inventory management, etc.
3. Research Available Solutions:
Software Platforms: There are numerous order management systems available, both generic and tailored for the print industry. But custom prints require additional features for handiling different customer designs, enabling product customization online and etc. Web-to-print tools are made adressing custom print business needs and allowing to automate more than one stage of print workflow.
Custom Solutions: If your needs are very specific, consider working with a developer to create a custom solution.
4. Evaluate Features and Compatibility:
Integration: Does the system integrate well with your existing tools, like design software or e-commerce platforms?
Scalability: Can it handle your current order volume and scale as your business grows?
Features: Does it offer features like real-time order tracking, inventory management, or customer notifications?
5. Budgeting and Costs:
Consider both the initial investment and ongoing costs. While automation can be an investment upfront, the long-term ROI in terms of efficiency and reduced errors can be significant.
Pilot Program: Start with a small pilot program. Implement the system for a subset of your orders to test and refine the process.
Training: Ensure your team is trained on the new system. This might involve formal training sessions or learning as you go during the pilot.
Feedback Loop: Encourage feedback from your team. They'll likely have insights into any issues or potential improvements.
7. Full Roll-out:
Once you're satisfied with the pilot, roll out the system for all orders.
Continuously monitor and adjust as needed. No system is perfect from day one; be prepared to make tweaks.
8. Review and Optimize:
After a few months, review the system's performance. Are you meeting your objectives? Where can further improvements be made?
9. Stay Updated:
The world of automation is always evolving. Stay updated with new features or tools that can further enhance your order management.
10. Seek Feedback from Customers:
Your customers will notice changes in order processing speed, communication, and accuracy.
Their feedback can offer valuable insights into areas of further refinement.
Remember, the key to successful automation is not just about implementing new technology but adapting your business processes to leverage that technology effectively. It's a journey of continuous improvement, but one that can offer significant rewards in terms of efficiency, growth, and customer satisfaction.
Benefits for Custom Print Businesses:
- Efficiency: Automation reduces the time taken from receiving an order to delivering the final product.
- Cost Reduction: Automated processes can reduce waste, minimize errors, and optimize resource use.
- Scalability: Businesses can handle larger order volumes without proportionally increasing manpower or resources.
- Enhanced Flexibility: Businesses can easily adapt to changing demands, be it new product types or fluctuating order volumes.
- Consistency: Automation ensures that every print job meets the same quality standards.
- Customer Satisfaction: Faster turnaround times and consistent quality can lead to happier customers.
- Reduced Turnaround Time: Automated processes can significantly reduce the time between order placement and shipment.
The Current Landscape of Custom Print Business
Last but not least I want to talk about the current situation in the market. As custom prints are not a completely new thing, the competition has grown stronger as well as examples to learn from. Whole web-to-print industry has formed for easilyt customizable prints. So if you’re still thinking about whether to invest in automation, the answer is definitely yes.
Here are the main trends we’ve noticed in the recent years:
Diverse Product Offerings:
- The range of products available for customization has expanded beyond traditional items like T-shirts and mugs. Today, businesses offer custom printing on everything from phone cases to home decor, and even footwear.
- Print-on-demand services have grown, allowing businesses to print products only after an order is placed, reducing inventory costs.
Personalization and Niche Markets:
- With the ability to cater to specific niches, many custom print businesses specialize in particular markets, such as pet-related products, specific fandoms, or localized designs.
- Personalization is not just about design but also about product types, materials, and packaging.
- With online platforms, custom print businesses can cater to a global audience, expanding their market reach.
- However, this also means understanding and catering to diverse cultural, aesthetic, and quality preferences.
- Digital Printing: Traditional offset printing is being complemented (and in some cases, replaced) by digital printing, allowing for faster turnaround times and cost-effective short runs.
- Online Platforms: Many custom print businesses have shifted to online platforms, enabling customers to place orders, upload designs, and customize products directly through websites and apps.
- Design Tools: Interactive online design tools allow customers to create or modify designs in real-time, offering a more personalized experience.
- There's a growing demand for eco-friendly printing practices. This includes using sustainable materials, reducing waste, and adopting energy-efficient printing processes.
- Consumers are increasingly looking for businesses that align with their values, making sustainability not just an ethical choice but also a competitive advantage.
Alright, wrapping things up here. If you're in the custom print business, you know time's precious. Identify which parts of your print workflow need that automation magic the most and evaluate the main challenges that lie ahead there.
Focus on the areas that'll help you produce more, maybe save a bit on costs, or just get orders out the door faster. It's these small tweaks that can make a big difference and keep you ahead in this competitive space. After all, it’s all about making choices that help you run your shop smoother and serve your customers better.