Being a printer used to be ‘easy’ didn’t it? Printing stationery, NCRs and a few leaflets. Easy stuff, straight forward, pub by 3pm on Friday! Then something changed and suddenly people were asking about printing a company logo onto a mug, baseball cap or a t-shirt. 


Then along came dye-sublimation printing for the short run, but there’s always screen printing for the longer runs. Bit messy though. Not to worry, screen printing provides some high value turn-over and no one ever complains about the quality, do they? Pub by 4pm perhaps?


Today, object printing, which is something we used to call promotional printing, has become one of the industry’s ‘next big things’. But then someone used the ‘c’ word! Customisation. They don’t want 10,000 linen bags with the same old logo anymore. The nature of trade-shows is changing. Footfalls are becoming less, and in order to get people through the door organisers are looking at personalised merchandise.  The ‘10,000 all the same’ bag runs are now turning into 500 bags with the same logo but with a different name, or a different message, and you can’t do this with screen printing.


Even workwear is becoming a lower volume item with orders being placed at the time of need rather than in bulk for stock, and they want their name or brand on that too! Did we all become so vain that the personalisation of everything is how we accept that people know who we are, or did the marketers just sell us all a blinder? Either way, there is a business opportunity to be looked at and how you approach it is a question that only you can answer, but the technology is certainly there to help you if you look for it. 


For example, Xerox has launched the DTO (direct to object) printer, and it looks a bit like a great big cupboard. In practice, that is what it is, a cupboard with a viewing window that looks a lot like a space-aged-Tardis, but if you want your name on your own water-bottle, no problem! And it certainly looks as if it has been engineered for high production. 


You don’t need to turn this sort of work away, even if you don’t have the necessary production equipment in house. There are some very good trade only suppliers of bespoke ‘objects’, commonly called promotional merchandise. A fantastic example of merchandised products with a print on anything approach is SPS EU in Blackpool. SPS are a trade only supplier of promotional products, covering everything from pens and paper to bags and drinkware - they can do the lot, and in very large volumes too. Take a look at the video below for a tour of what SPS is all about - it makes for fascinating viewing. 



So if you need100,000 printed pens, or 10,000 linen bags just-in-time for a trade-show, or 500 t-shirts with a company logo to be used as give-aways, you know where to go. But for lower volumes it’s pretty easy to turn this sort of thing out once you have the machine and it’s set-up and running. 


In addition to Xerox, companies such as Mimaki, Roland and Mutoh all have their own range of object printers, and if you want to produce printed pens, pencils, golf balls, phone cases, keyrings or coffee mugs, this is where you should be looking. However, for many printing companies with an existing print workflow, there are a number of ways you could already be producing this sort of work without too much additional outlay.


For example, transfer printing is moving on with substrates and curing methods that turn typical laser toner output into flexible, waterproof and sturdy items, often using your existing printing device. Multiple technologies now exist and as with most things there really is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Where it stops is limited by the imagination of the creative types, although the unit cost per item and time to ‘print’ will make this a limited offering to those for whom vanity has no price. Perhaps vanity object printing will become the spray-tan or tattoo parlour of the future?


Speaking of vanity, someone asked me recently about printing stocks/sizes that can be used to wrap coffins. Yes, it is indeed possible with wide format printing and self adhesive vinyl, however with today’s moveable head inkjet technology, why not print straight onto the box? Roland boasts of a machine that can print onto a guitar case; so why not a coffin? Oh, it can be done can it?


Hmm, now that’s what you might call personalised packaging!