Where Digital Dominates
More than 155 vendors came to Philadelphia to showcase the latest digital printing solutions during the ON DEMAND Show, May 15-18 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center—a “must attend” event for those trying to identify their rasters from a hole in the ground as digital printing takes off in dynamic, profitable new directions.
Strong themes at this year’s show included equipment that is costing less to operate and doing more, digital-printing supported Web-based efficiencies, workflow simplification, more user-friendly processes and print quality that’s virtually indistinguishable from offset—all of which are helping to accelerate digital printing adaptation.
Scott Sipherd, category business manager for Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Barb Anselm, vice president, marketing communications for Xerox, Stamford, Conn., both noted that customers are intermixing their full-color, high-quality jobs with B/W and other work on the same device. This practice is significantly driving digital print volume. “Lots of customers are finding the flexibility of an equipment mix to be cost effective,” said Anselm.
Sipherd commented that a rise in hybrid workflows—where one workflow drives offset and digital—and hybrid documents that combine offset and digital materials are other factors helping to grow the market. “Equipment that allows more flexibility in sourcing media is also reducing costs and driving page volumes,” he added.
Another benefit of substrate flexibility, according to Michael Abergel, executive vice president of MGI USA, Melbourne, Fla., is that operators have the ability to use the same substrate that will be used for large jobs on offset presses, and print proofs on digital devices for a more accurate product.
While digital B/W printing remains strong, industry professionals are definitely seeing the migration from B/W to color, particularly high-quality, full-color collateral. “There may even be a slight dip in B/W volume, but we’re seeing more than 20 percent growth a year in digital color printing,” reported Anselm. Sipherd pointed out that a digital device’s ability to precisely hit corporate colors is a huge selling point for many enterprises concerned with corporate identity. He went on to say the exceptional image quality of the Indigo is driving significant growth in Web fulfillment of photo-related applications. “To support this growth, we’ll be introducing a new light cyan and a light magenta ink,” he said.
Of course, the benefits of digital technology exceed short print runs and variable data imaging. “There is a whole range of capabilities to make the way we work more efficient and easy, whether it is digitized templates for creating and proofing jobs or Web-based monitors in production devices that alert users to schedule proactive repairs,” said Anselm.
Many equipment manufacturers are helping to boost the market with more attractive pricing. “We need to provide today’s graphics professionals with the ability to generate more short- and medium-run jobs. These are shops that prefer 10 orders of 2,000 pieces to one order of 20,000 pieces for greater profitability,” said Abergel. “At MGI USA, we are tackling as many applications as possible, offering customers who are printing and finishing paper and plastic very aggressive price points, environment-friendly solutions and open, Mac- and PC-compatible platforms.”
Pressed into Service
An entire issue could be devoted to the many amazing tools and workflow solutions presented at ON DEMAND, but here are just a few of those that created a buzz on the show floor:
The 250-feet-per-minute Kodak Versamark VT3000 Inkjet System is an affordable solution enabling mid-volume service bureaus, corporate print operations, direct mail houses and commercial printers to blend transaction and promotional information into full-color, integrated TransPromo customer communications.
The VT3000 printing system delivers throughput speeds of up to 1,090 impressions per minute, and can be upgraded to higher speeds with no change in floor space. The flexible, modular system offers a simple upgrade path to support increased volumes and business changes.
The sheet-fed HP Indigo 5000 offers quicker starts and stops, less waste and the ability to run 1/0 prints at 16,000 impressions per hour for a high-speed color digital press that can run just as fast or faster than popular B/W-only devices. It is being touted as the first universal production device—a digital press that offers the same level of convenience and usability and prints anything from one to seven colors.
HP’s roll-fed W3250 now comes with an inline primer. Customers can use virtually any paper, and if it needs to be coated, it’s done inline while the job is printing.
The Nuvera Digital Production System from Xerox offers extremely high monochrome resolution, speeds up to 144 ppm and wide media latitude. It has a wide range of gray levels and uniform blacks to give images excellent contrast. Xerox cyclone cleaning technology automatically removes any stray toner and particles for crisp, sharp text and images. The system is driven by the Xerox FreeFlow DocuSP Controller and users can select scanning, feeding, imaging and finishing options.
The Multi-substrate Meteor digital press DP 40 Pro from MGI USA is the second of its generation, and is unique in its multi-substrate versatility. An operator can switch from 20 lb. bond paper to a 110 lb. cover Kromcoat 12 pts. to a PVC or polycarbonate within 45 seconds without changing any supplies or equipment. Digital and non-digital substrates can be used, and heavy plastic, such as polycarbonates, PVC, polyester and vinyl, and synthetic paper, such as Teslin, can be fed through the non-friction, non-pull system. The DP 40 has been designed to fit between a high-end color copier and traditional offset to do medium- and short-runs.
The Océ VarioPrint 6250 printer was awarded Best-of-Show at ON DEMAND for its offset-class quality, near-perfect registration and breakthrough performance at 250 letter-, 160 legal- and 132
ledger-size duplex prints per minute, making it up to 70 percent more productive than any other printer in its class.
The printer is based on revolutionary, single-pass Océ Gemini Instant Duplex Technology, which presses toner images onto both sides of a page simultaneously without turning the paper. The Océ VarioPrint 6250 supports from 400,000 to 6,000,000 impressions per month, and features the industry’s largest in/output capacity for larger media sizes.
As of January 2006, InfoTrends’ On Demand Printing & Publishing Consulting Service, Weymouth, Mass., reported that digital printing accounted for only 3 percent to 4 percent of the total commercial printing market, so the potential for growth is practically unlimited. In fact, InfoTrends predicts that the number of pages printed on production color devices in the United States will grow from 27.5 billion pages in 2005 to more than 161 billion pages in 2009 at a compound annual growth rate of 42 percent.
“While the majority of printed pages out there are offset, there are actually more jobs, although smaller runs, being produced digitally today,” observed Anselm. “Digital offers new ways to profitability, but it is a different business model. You will have a different velocity and a slightly different overhead when dealing with runs of 1,000 pieces vs. 20,000 pieces.”
Said Sipherd, “Adopters are increasing. More creative agencies are gaining an understanding of customer/marketplace trigger points and how to build relationships using high-quality collateral. They’re reaping great benefits,” he observed, “but, it takes data from IT, a savvy marketing manager and a creative agency to put it all together.”
Distributors are also playing an important role in growing digital print volume as they increasingly think in terms of offering print programs rather than quoting print jobs. “They should look at applications that are making the migration, learn how they’re getting done and then find providers who can do it,” suggested Sipherd. “Distributors need to understand that this is where their end customers’ competitors are going. So, if they want to keep their customers, they better get on board quickly.”