What’s the Deal with Digital?
What is an effective strategy for introducing the benefits of digital printing while avoiding deal-busting database dilemmas? Why should distributors of label products, in particular, be excited about digital technology? How can manufacturers running both conventional and digital printing equipment determine which workflow is most appropriate for specific jobs?
These are a few emerging issues worth examining as digital printing continues to infiltrate the marketplace. Here, industry professionals offer tips and insights regarding the technology, as they look at how to sell it, where it’s growing and when to use it.
Sizzling Steak or Suffering Succotash
Some distributors are getting so caught up in selling the digital sizzle, they’re failing to serve any “steak” to customers, leaving them hungry for real, practical solutions to business challenges. In fact, Bill Doehler’s motto is, “Think not about everything possible with digital; think about specific digital solutions for particular business plans.”
As the executive vice president of Edison, New Jersey-based Prodigital Printing went on to explain, “I’m seeing a lot of solutions in search of problems, and people being enamored by the buzz words of technology.” The upshot is confusion and frustration. Distributors are being bombarded with all the bells and whistles digital printing can provide. But, when they go out and present these capabilities to the marketplace, they’re discovering the marketplace, in many respects, is not ready to implement broad-sweeping changes to daily operations.
“I can go out and gee-whiz people to death with all the things they can do with PURLs. But, what they really need—and want—are hard numbers, perhaps a way to drive response rates from 2 percent to 8 percent. For example, if the customer is mailing 10,000 pieces, suggest taking 2,500 and trying a PURL or adding a one-to-one element, like a big graphical salutation,” offered Doehler. “Painting a picture of demographic triggers and all the fancy things that are going to happen within the context of versioned documents immediately sets customers on the defensive, due to their inability to provide the data required to do these things. Start slow; if you lead with the bells and whistles, you end up with a client mired in data issues, and a picture that can’t be framed.”
Doehler reported approximately 25 percent of the company’s digital order volume is generated by sophisticated PURL and Web-to-print programs, while the remaining 75 percent is good old-fashioned static, short-run, quick-turn color work produced on the company’s Kodak NexPress.
“The higher unit price connected to digital output is being absorbed by the fact that customers are typically mailing smaller quantities, trying to be more targeted, trying to improve response rates and trying to be greener,” he observed. “All of these factors contribute to run lengths coming down, and as they come down, the higher unit costs connected to digital becomes less of a hurdle.”
Doehler noted the company is seeing demand for quick turns on 250-piece orders of 12-page, self cover, saddle-stitch books, and more postcard applications in which the company is actually mapping the outgoing name and address, as well as doing the full-color printing. In terms of digital print order volume, business cards dominate at Prodigital Printing. “There used to be more call for spot color and companies very specific about a PMS color,” shared Doehler. “Even the biggest, most brand-sensitive companies have come to understand it’s economically imperative for them to accept the CMYK version of their PMS color—it is cost prohibitive to always be running that fifth color just to hit a particular blue.”
Liven Up Label Sales
If digital is a boon for business cards, it’s incredibly lucrative for label sales. John Shanley, president of Labels West, Woodinville, Wash., explained this is a perfect time to educate those customers using labels printed by traditional methods, like flexography, about digital’s pricing, quality and speed advantages. For instance, digitally printed labels help brand managers fine-tune marketing campaigns through ordering smaller quantities for test marketing, regional and seasonal marketing and event marketing, such as custom-printed water bottles for a golf outing.
“Digital printing is much more [prevalent] in the offset world producing cut sheets, than it is in the label world,” he continued. “There are few trade manufacturers who even have this technology for labels. So, there’s [limited] competition; it’s a relatively wide open market. Here is a real chance for distributors to go out and grab new business or convert preexisting label business to digital.”
Shanley explained when printing full-color product labels, changes resulting from different SKUs, color choices and item styles require conventional press operators to stop the machine, hang new plates, ensure proper registration and resume printing—a very time consuming, and thus costly, process.
“It’s not that big a deal if you have 10,000 labels and there’s one change—it might cost a hundred bucks,” he speculated. “But, say you have 10,000 labels requiring a hundred changes—do the math, it becomes extremely expensive. This is where digital would be a perfect option. There are no plates and no changeover costs, and it’s all done on the fly.” (However, Shanley pointed out that when printing 10,000 labels with no changes, a conventional press may be more cost effective since you’re only setting it up once, and digital presses run much slower.)
Digital printing is ideal when producing prime labels for wine and other beverages, personal care products, cosmetics, nutritional supplements, custom packaging and event promotions. Compared to a label run on a conventional flexo press, a label produced on a digital offset press offers customers a more aesthetically appealing product, which can encourage repeat business.
“With digital, you can hold a finer dot than flexo, which also adds to the ‘crispness’ of the printed image, registration is perfect and you don’t have to worry about trapping colors,” said Shanley.
Labels West’s Hewlett Packard Indigo is a seven-color digital machine designed to run primarily CMYK, so there are some limitations on color availability when running a process job. But, since there are three additional ink stations, the pressman can load violet in one, and perform what is called IndiChrome or Hexachrome printing.
“Using CMYK plus purple expands the pallet of PMS colors you can match,” noted Shanley. “Or, if you have a customer insisting on a PMS color that can’t be created using CMYK plus purple, we can order the particular PMS color and load it in one of the stations and actually print it as a solid.”
Since there are no metallics with digital, Labels West achieves a metallic look—perhaps a silver border on a wine label—by using a metallic base stock and putting down white in all the areas where the metallic is not to appear.
“We’ll then over-print on the white, leaving the silver to show just around the border,” continued Shanley. “With the dead-on registrations we can achieve on the press, there is no rough edge, just a nice clean, crisp line. We also just purchased a new foil stamping unit/ hot stamping/ embossing unit designed to work with our digital press. We can run labels through and foil stamp on top as a secondary process. The results we get when we do this ‘fake foil stamping’ are fabulous.”
Where Digital Dominates Now
Of course, Labels West also operates a conventional flexo press, which still produces 80 percent of the company’s label orders. Similar to cut-sheet manufacturers running both types of equipment, Shanley has to determine the crossover point to choose the most cost-effective and efficient workflow for producing a job. Taking into account the number of different items in the run and the total quantity of the run is a good rule of thumb at Labels West.
“We’re also installing a new [software] system that generates a quote for [both types of printing] and then pops up a graphic indicating where the crossover point is,” said Shanley.
Lexington, Kentucky-based WhatTheyThink hosted a webinar titled: “Working the Document LifeCycle: When to move a job from offset to digital.” Ray Schmidt, vice president, One Write, Lancaster, Ohio, and Mounir Murad, president, Imaging Zone, Springfield Va., analyzed the inflection point at which all costs are equal across both processes from the perspectives of price, schedule and cost. Schmidt and Murad discovered that for cut-sheet manufacturers, run length, end-users’ budget restrictions and turnaround time are obvious considerations in choosing a workflow, but, common sense, it seems, rules the day.
Other considerations that contribute to the final choice, they reported, include:
• Number of pages in the document
• Client specifications
• Overall quality sensitivity
• Cost of manufacturing.
The fact is, different operations have different cost structures, and different devices vary significantly in both their initial cost and the cost of operation. (The event archive, which offers a PDF of the visual presentation, as well as an MP3 of the audio portion, can be accessed by visiting www.whattheythink.com.)
As Doehler concluded, “The big buzz word here is not digital, but workflow. Digital is not the end-all and be-all, but it has a real substantial place in that overall space of providing a single-source solution, and providing a solution that best fits the problem.” PPR
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