Graph Expo-Digital Color Printing

Graph Expo-Digital Color Printing

By: Bob Hall

There is little doubt that digital color has already stolen the show. In fact, offset iron’s presence at GRAPH EXPO/PRINT shows has been in steady decline for some time. Any pundit or prognosticator you consult will tell you that digital color has steadily outpaced offset color in growth and versatility. That said, there are still some kinks that need to be ironed out.

According to a recent special report in Larry Hunt’sColor Copy News, most printers view digital color as having about the same quality as offset but only 10 percent see it as slightly or much better in quality. Nevertheless, the vast majority say they are satisfied with their digital color output devices. Why the seeming discrepancy? It all boils down to applications and expertise. In other words, digital color has strong suits and weak points, and quality depends as much on the operator as it does on the capabilities.

Let’s tackle expertise first. Printers who concentrate heavily on high-end digital color work also have invested in the skills of the operators and the needed equipment maintenance, profiling, etc. Those who do not do so seem to be the ones who most often find deficiencies in the output quality and machine versatility. According to one Kodak trainer quoted in the Hunt report: “I hear time and again the lament from digital press operators that they are not allowed to do what is necessary to make the digital press perform.”


Digital color covers a lot of ground. It is found in the large-format, packaging, production, and mailing environments. It also includes both inkjet and electrophotographic output. In fact, inkjet is making inroads on electrophotography (toner) market share just as digital color as a whole is eating away at the offset market share. A recent Xerox report predicted that in 2014 digital color would account for 459 billion pages—37 percent inkjet and 63 percent electrophotography. With all the variations, I asked several major vendors for their take on the growth and direction of digital color applications.

“In the area of digital color there are a number of applications that are prevalent and important to printers,” according to Ricoh”s Tim Vellek, senior VP of marketing. “One area overlooked is the area of color management services, which allow the folks overseeing quality to develop an effective color management strategy and meet color requirements from their customers.”

Vellek also noted: “Other applications include book publishing, transactional or transpromotional, and direct mail— all of which are also growth areas for production inkjet. This goes hand-in-hand in many ways, and as new inks and media become available and inkjet’s color consistency improves, the cost effectiveness is definitely driving many printers to look to digital color versus traditional offset for a large variety of print applications. There is definitely much growth to be seen in areas and applications like marketing collateral, signage, catalogs and magazines, and short-run book publishing.”

“Digital color applications in the packaging and publishing sectors are growing very quickly,” added Avi Basu, director of marketing and business development for the HP Graphic Solutions. “In the $11 billion packaging industry, there is an opportunity for digital printing to take more market share, as only seven percent of the industry is currently printed digitally. Shorter runs, variable data printing, and reduced environmental impact trends are creating demand for digital print.”

According to Basu, there is an opportunity for printers to take a considerable portion of the market by providing customers with capabilities such as the ability to print multiple designs and strategic runs to keep up with re-designs, seasonal packaging, and point-of-sale campaigns. “Many driving factors are not volume focused but value focused such as speed to market, increase annual turn ratios, and virtual elimination of inventories,” he noted.

“Similarly, the publishing industry is primed for digital print growth due to print-on-demand,” said Basu. “Publishers can save storage fees by producing short runs of books and printing small amounts of titles as needed. It is also common for educators to order personalized, short runs of textbooks and change chapter content year-to-year to fit the needs of a particular course. Digital printing allows for this agile publication style and lets educators only order the needed books.”

Back at Kodak, Rick Mazur, director of marketing and VP/business manager of Inkjet Solutions, had this to say: “This is a very exciting time for digital color printing, with existing applications growing every day and new applications coming on the scene, Currently, direct mail is a growing area as marketers leverage the wealth of consumer data to directly target consumers with focused messages and customized content,” Mazur pointed out. “In fact, all variable-data color applications are growing as the availability of data increases and the costs come down. Another vibrant area today is in book publishing, where publishers and content owners are able to deliver books on demand and dramatically improve the supply chain by reducing waste and more closely managing inventory.”

Beth Ann Kilberg-Walsh, VP of marketing communications and customer engagement at Xerox, added:“Digital printing continues to grow, and a cluster of key applications lead the pack. Direct mail, book publishing, and transpromo are gaining momentum as the most promising sources of growth for graphic communications providers, who continue to find digital printing helps them expand their businesses. It feels good to be on the upside of print’s resurgence. Retail catalogs, brochures, and photo specialty products are finding their way back into the mainstream, too. Thanks to high-value substrates, specialty media enable unique applications that entice greater response rates and can open the door to new markets. These high-value applications offer one of the simplest paths to higher margins.”

Sam Errigo, senior VP of Business Intelligence Services for Konica Minolta Business Solutions, sees the fastest growing application in the commercial printing space as multichannel marketing solutions. “Marketing is a different game than it was a couple of years ago,” Errigo explained. “Consumers now have the power to choose the channels—email, mobile, social, or traditional print—through which they want to receive communications. Successful commercial printers are embracing this trend by evaluating and implementing cross-media marketing solutions as a way to expand their traditional printing business.” Errigo also noted that multichannel marketing platforms such as Konica Minolta’s EngageIT XMedia allow commercial printers to offer integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels with tools for data management, segmentation, and creative design. “They can print full-color direct mail campaigns or send promotional text messages via a user’s preferred means of communication which can help them expand their business with digital marketing solutions while also increasing their color direct mail business,” he said

 More Than Machines

This article was written just prior to GRAPH EXPO 14, where several new color digital equipment announcements from a broad range of vendors are expected. At press time, many still were under embargo awaiting formal announcments at the show. However, in perusing the available information it seems clear that the industry has moved away from its fixation on speed, speed, and more speed toward concern for quality, versatility, and workflow. Digital color vendors also are continuing the trend of offering marketing solutions, including multichannel solutions, to help their customers build their business and feed the machines.

All of these new offerings are indications that vendors know that print firms need more than machines that are capable of great digital color output. They need help in marketing that output, managing their workflows, and communicating with their customers. However, the fact remains that no matter how great the capabilities and support might be, the bottom line is commitment and competency in the print shop. As the Kodak trainer noted in Hunt’s special report, “Digital printing can be great … if the company has highly skilled operators and free rein to replace worn components and time to do the maintenance and calibration.”

Source: My Print Resource

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