While the digital printing trend has taken a stronghold in the industry, in some cases offset is still the right choice for the job. Given that, how does a printing services provider educate clients on which is the best process for the job and their budget?
Essentially, it comes down to the budget, contends Andy Rae, Heidelberg’s senior vice president for equipment.
As a rule, the output quality of both digital and offset can be matched, he said. But high-end pieces needing a lot of special effects can only be produced offset, he added.
On the other hand, “many of our customers are using such outdated offset equipment they have no idea how low that break-even point is between digital and offset,” Rae noted.
Generally, “no one wants to pay more for the printed product,” said Clarence Penge, Heidelberg’s vice-president of sheetfed product management.
“That’s driven by the print buyers,” he said. “The printers are looking for ways to improve margins and be competitive.”
Printing service providers do well by offering resolutions addressing offset, digital and inkjet “today and going forward”, said Penge, adding that print cost is indeed the driving factor toward offset.
“You would also argue quality in terms of when there is added value to the piece. This is where customers are trying to increase the value of the printed product,” said Penge, adding that encompasses such factors as special effects and spot coatings.
“From there, you end up with the age-old question which is what is the delivery time, where can I produce it and what’s the most efficient way to produce it at the lowest cost,” he added.
Certain work flows automatically plan and output the job based on costing parameters – bypassing a tangible human decision, said Rae.
“The job gets put into the system, which determines based on the cost rate the cheapest way to use that piece of work,” he said. “That’s the ultimate in terms of hybrid production.”
Kian Hemmen, RMGT’s Western US sales manager, said as digital print quality has increased over the past decade, the cost of producing higher quality offset has been reduced with faster make-readies and more automation.
“The technologies that surround offset printing, including LED UV from Panasonic and other energy-curable solutions, simultaneous plate changing, and artificial intelligence have given printing service providers the ability to bring the break-even cost against digital below 500 sheets,” Hemmen noted. “Digital is often thought of as the easy way, when in reality there can be a plethora of challenges digital can bring in post-printing applications.”
When evaluating the client’s needs, the printer needs to keep in mind the substrate on which the product is being printed, notes Hemmen, adding that soft papers will respond better to offset.
Finishing applications needed and durability of ink on paper are considerations, he added.
“Often, the decision on what device to produce the printing on will have a direct correlation with the success of the final product,” Hemmen pointed out.
With more printers achieving G7 status, customers can count on their products to have a more accurate color match from job to job with offset as well as have greater flexibility with Pantone matching and specialty effects, he added.
“Due to the variety of toners, liquid inks and fusing process in digital printing, exact color match from one printer to another becomes very difficult, whereas offset printing has Pantone, GRACoL and other methods of color management, best practices, and certifications that we do not see today with digital,” said Hemmen.
Eric Frank, KBA vice president of marketing and product management, noted that in determining whether to choose offset versus digital, printing service providers need to consider run length, number of colors, whether there is a Pantone color involved, what finishing options the end user is looking to achieve and the quality level to which they are committed.
“Many times, format size of the printed piece such as a large box or an oversized poster cannot be printed from digital presses because of the limitations of the format size. That’s where offset makes sense,” he said. “If someone needs personalization, versioning or an ultra-short run, then digital would fit that equation.”
Roland Ortbach, vice president of sales for manroland web systems, pointed out that “for the foreseeable future, offset will prevail as the primary print process platform because no other process comes close to the advantages of offset.”
The three primary driving factors are prints costs; the mass-volume, high-performance aspect of fast sheet fed and web offset printing, and the quality that is readily obtained on a variety of substrates using offset, he added.
Variable print is the only area not covered by offset because it was never designed to do so, said Ortbach.
“As soon as a printer is required to produce variable print for his customers, he has to consider digital printing,” he added. “Where high quality is required, this would mean toner. If medium but very acceptable print quality is required, this would currently mean inkjet.”
The next question could be whether to go cut sheet or production web, said Ortbach
“Sheetfed printers who have gone to toner or inkjet have typically gone with cut sheet solutions,” said Ortbach, indicating that is the case for 70 to 80 percent of the North American market.
“Web printers with a higher volume of work have often elected to go with production web for inkjet printing solutions,” he added. “This question is key to every printer because it determines the type of finishing equipment that also should be purchased concurrently with the purchase of a printing system.”
In the past, finishing was an afterthought, noted Ortbach. “But this has changed to some extent because the right finishing systems makes the difference between making money with digital printing or not.”
In today’s market, digital print and offset are very complementary printing processes, said Ortbach. “Integrating these two printing processes in the same pressroom delivers a high degree of flexibility, creating virtually unlimited production possibilities and opportunities to increase a revenue.”