Pass the Word

Published Wednesday, 20 January, 2010
Picture Gallery
(as seen in the January 2010 issue of Print Professional magazine)

Pass the Word

Get the latest scoop on digital printing

 By Elise Hacking Carr

Sometimes, less is more—especially with 
regard to digital print. The ability to produce shorter runs (quantities below 5,000) is one factor helping to make digital the industry's significant bright spot. Think about it. The economy is still in a recovery phase and companies are now feeling the burn from mistakenly ordering too much last year. Lesson to be learned: if less is ordered, costs will be reduced or eliminated.

Paul Edwards, CDC, president of Fenton, Missouri-based FormStore Incorporated, expanded on this concept. "If you look back to 2008 to 2009 and the change in the economy, what happened is a lot of people bought a lot of stuff. Not just printed stuff. They ... put it in a warehouse [and] it just [sat] there. ... Companies that slowed down had way too much inventory," he observed.

Edwards believes print-on-demand (POD) will be the driving force behind digital throughout much of 2010. In fact, he is starting to see customers who made an ordering blunder last year switch over to a digital POD model. Why? Because it allows end-users to print what they want, when they want and have it shipped anywhere.

"It might cost a bit more, but you don't have to make it, ship it into a warehouse, then have the money tied up, pay for storage and insurance, pay to repackage and redistribution and to reship it. Or for the obsolescence," he noted.

Edwards went on to say distributors that fail to embrace digital technology and combine it with their e-commerce technology might stand to lose their short-run business altogether. This is a big problem for small- and mid-sized distributors that sell a lot of short run.

"And more of their bigger customers are going to be ordering shorter runs as well and I don't necessarily mean 200; I mean 500, 1,000 or 2,000 instead of 10,000. If they're not equipped to do that, they're going to look back on this year and they'll find significant segments of their business is gone. And when it trickles out 500 here, 1,000 there, 1,500, 200; when it trickles out like that, there's no big sucking sound. It's more like a slow leak in a tire. But eventually, the tire is flat," he stressed.

In addition to ordering shorter run quantities, Anthony Rouse, president and CEO of Carol Stream, Illinois-based Team Concept Printing & Thermography, has noticed a surge in popularity for variable data printing. "Many of our higher-end clients are looking to upgrade their image and increase their return on investment by utilizing variable data to the extreme," he said.

He recalled a specific project his company manufactured that was both exciting and cutting edge. "We ran a mailer that had variable in a six spot on the announcement. It also had two inserts with variable to match that piece; another piece was included that had variable with a scratch-off on it as well as a poker chip," he mentioned. "In addition to all of that, it was placed into a six-color envelope (CMYK plus two spot colors) that was printed and converted with full variable as well."

Tracy Yelencsics, vice president of Norwalk, Connecticut-based Xerox agreed with Rouse on the power of personalization. "We've got a commercial printer over in Croatia that's running direct marketing campaigns and the run length is 500,000. He's running all of that digitally and he's doing that because it's all personalized," she explained.

Yelencsics continued, "Personalization can increase repeat orders by 47 percent and lead to 25 percent higher order values."

Yelencsics also believes digital printing will continue to frequent the packaging segment. "We announced a digital automated packaging solution at Print 09. We see that reaching about a 6.75 billion market by 2014. And we have a number of customers today who are producing these digital folding cartons on our iGen3 and iGen4 products. So this is the first ever completely inline automated solution to enable specialized packaging, personalized promotional products like personalized golf ball sleeves," she commented.

Yelencsics was upbeat about Xerox's personal golf ball sleeve project. The sleeve contained three practice balls on the inside. "It was great because this automated packaging solution put blank packaging board in the press and it prints it, coats it, diecuts it and it's all ready to go to folding and gluing. So it's a wonderful solution," she enthused. "We sent this piece out and got a 6.5 percent response rate, which was pretty good considering this is a brand new market for it."

Edwards remains enthusiastic about dimensional print and predicts it will continue to get hotter as the new year forges ahead. He shared dimensional print is fairly easy to do with the right designer. It also requires users to brush up skills using a quick demo, easily found on YouTube.

Edwards likened this technique to adding another layer. "From a more layman's perspective, what dimensional digital allows you to do is raise specific areas. You can vary the amount they are raised and you can put a texture in it," he stated.

He explained printers can raise the feathers of a bird, texture leaves on a tree or waves in an ocean, for example. "We took a picture of a white egret in Florida standing on some grass, so we did it both ways. We textured the grass and not the bird, then the bird and not the grass. So it gives you a lot more flexibility when you're doing the design," he said. "The designer selects what they want raised, how much they want it raised and then each portion of the design that they raise, they can put in a different graphic 
effect. Little circles, little strokes, little bumps."

Monster Equipment

It's clear digital print can be used in a variety of applications, but certain machines help to produce that quality finish. Team Concept uses the HP5500 Indigo and the Xerox iGen3—the latter Rouse described as a "true work horse" and named it as the primary product machine since run speeds are faster and sheet sizes are bigger. The Indigo, he said, gives Team Concept the ability to run true spot colors and up to seven colors in one pass.

FormStore Incorporated utilizes both Xerox iGen and Kodak NexPress color digital presses. The company uses Kodak B&W Digimaster equipment with inline booklet maker as well. "The Kodak NexPresses are five-color machines with clear toner, either standard or dimensional clear. The clear toners give us the option to provide a super high quality NexGloss finish, a variable matte security or watermark feature or the raised, textured dimensional digital print," Edwards stated.

And Xerox clearly holds onto its reputation as one of the masters. The company unveiled a lot of new equipment at Print 09 and will continue to do so in 2010.

MGI USA, located in Melbourne, Fla., is another heavy hitter in the digital world. "MGI's Meteor DP60 Pro continues to offer versatility not seen in any other digital press on the market. Exclusive features include extended size Super Format printing (up to 13x40"), true multisubstrate capabilities (paper, plastic and envelopes, up to 14 pt for paper and 16 pt for plastic, no special treatment or coating necessary), laser-safe printing and a very economical TCO," said Giselle de la Moriniere, marketing and communications coordinator.

The truth is digital is here to stay for quite some time. Yelencsics noted that digital color printing volumes are expected to increase by about 10 times by 2015 to about 330 billion pages in the United States with similar growth in Europe. Digital printing offers customers convenience since it can provide more services in a single shot. Therefore, the time to embrace digital is now. And finding a manufacturer to partner with on this journey is key.

"The natural inclination in this economic environment is ... to pull back, but it's more important now than ever for print service providers to evaluate their businesses and look for ways they can expand and grow," Yelencsics affirmed. "Digital print is a way they can do that and be well positioned to take advantage of new opportunities as the economy recovers. Be well positioned for the future."