Commercial Printing Finds New Growth Opportunities
Short-run products with pop make up a large percentage of the current demand.
Things keep getting brighter for commercial printing. A little more than 10 years since the first high-speed digital color presses were launched, commercial printing has managed to cross over a major hump.
No longer is digital color an immature technology viable only in controlled market niches; it is now a robust, economical process qualified for the production of many different products. As a result, everyone is ordering commercial printing products—from mom-and-pop pizza shops looking for a new menu to major universities looking to distribute a high-quality course catalog.
These days, "short-run" is the industry buzzword, and Chris Green, vice president of Midwest Color Graphics, Columbus, Kan., knows this very well. "We've been in the business of commercial printing for approximately 15 years, and short-run, four-color process printing has become our specialty," he said. "We typically do brochures, fliers, catalogs, posters and postcards in quantities of 25,000 or fewer down to a minimum of 500. On occasion, we will do an order of 50,000 to 100,000 pieces."
Green believes that the reason that short-run printing is in such great demand—and that traditional forms and long-run printing are not—is because smaller businesses are more aware of the advertising potential of four-color pieces. "It is more affordable and more attractive. There is nice growth in this area, which is good for us," he added.
Andrea Pesci-Jones, executive vice president of Stylecraft Business Forms & Systems, Canton, Mich., agreed. She, too, sees the demand for short-run continually rising and touched on the fact that marketing pieces are now being targeted to more specific, smaller groups, "allowing clients the likelihood of a higher response rate."
At Stylecraft, newer commercial printing products coming through the line include multi-part, large-format NCR hospital flow sheets, and unique and complicated die-cut configurations to enhance four-color process marketing pieces. High-end commercial covers for booked multi-part business forms are also new. Said Pesci-Jones, "Instead of a conventional manila tag, we increased the use of white C1S stock with PMS or even four-color process inks. It's great for brand identification, or just dressing up functional printed products." She added that with commercial printing comes the availability of an extremely wide range of substrates, thus making the product more popular.
Start the Presses
Midwest Color Graphics recently added a third press—a 21x29˝ five-color Heidelberg Speedmaster press with a coater. The press can run four-color process with PMS color and add varnish or aqueous coating. "More companies are now buying these multi-color presses," Green said. "It's a very important trend, and it is something that customers are more aware of, especially with jobs for which heavy ink coverage is a factor."
Another piece of equipment that Midwest purchased within the past two years is a Creo direct-to-plate system. "One feature of this system that is a little different is a unique staccato dot configuration that gives more detail than the conventional dot," Green said. "It is higher-quality compared to a dot-like pattern. This is a broken-up pattern that prevents a screen look reflecting in areas such as clothing or skin tones."
Pick & Choose
Since high-quality commercial printing has become so affordable, opportunities for sales are almost unlimited. The toughest challenge for distributors may be simply picking and choosing which markets to delve into.
For both Stylecraft and Midwest Color Graphics, hospitals are a prime source of consistent orders. "One of our more popular products for this market is flow sheets," said Pesci-Jones. "These are sheets that gather critical information to help doctors evaluate patient status."
Pesci-Jones noted that this is just one example of the endless amount of work available through hospitals. She added that high-end, wrap-around covers dress up a conventional business forms job for any end-user, and add more marketing appeal and brand recognition. "One of our most unique jobs involved a fool-proof reference chart providing a large amount of information," she said. "The end-user wanted to ensure that the customer could not pick up the incorrect numbers. So, die-cut windows were positioned to allow the customer to view only applicable data."
This product was sold to a roofing company—a prime example of just how diverse the markets can be for today's commercial printing products. A few other lucrative markets that Stylecraft has printed for include the retirement, environmental and, of course, printing industries.
Midwest Color Graphics' end-users are just as diverse. "We have brokers all over the country," said Green. "We get everything from brochures for mom-and-pop businesses to hospital and banking orders."
Since commercial printing evolved to include technology for modern services, such as print-on-demand and variable digital printing, many distributors have long attempted to sell these products while still on a major learning curve. But, today, says Green, distributors are more educated. "I would say that the biggest problem in selling commercial printing rests in the distributors' hands, meaning that they need to educate customers," he said. "Our biggest dilemma now is that our prepress comes from the customer, which includes a lot of smaller companies trying to handle the complicated task of design, layout and submission."
Green added that it is up to the distributor now to clearly communicate how to correctly handle all of those steps. "And, in terms of terminology, most brokers clearly understand what a PDF file is, what bleeds are and what types of software are best for small businesses. I suggest that distributors stay up-to-date and take time to keep their customers up-to-date, as well."
Both Green and Pesci-Jones predicted that commercial printing sales would continue to rise over the next few years based on its affordability and the increase of small businesses looking for short-run jobs. "It's just the way things are right now," said Green. "Individuals are able to create work right from their own desktops, and that should continue to provide for endless work."
By Sharon Cole