By Olivia Cahoon
Traditional analog printers still exist but digital printing continues to advance into these facilities. By adding a digital press to an analog-only print shop, print service providers (PSPs) improve printing processes with faster turnaround times while expanding their offerings into point of purchase (POP) displays and posters when a wide format digital printer is added.
Above: Ross Printing of Spokane, WA integrated digital printing capabilities into its lithography/flexography shop in 2001. Today 50 percent of the shop’s work is digitally printed using HP Indigo presses.
The wide format market is over 25 years old and includes PSPs with digital as well as analog technologies. For some print shops, this includes digital-only capabilities and a mixture of digital and analog.
“The earliest wide format graphics systems offered to the commercial printer population were more or less turned down as being so far out of scale as to what they did,” says Mark Hanley, president, I.T. Strategies.
For nearly ten years, Hanley says those same surviving commercial printers saw the errors of earlier assumptions and became an important channel for digital wide format graphics—expanding digital printing into local shops in various locations. “Commercial printers globally take in $7 billion of revenue from wide format digital graphics at a conservative minimum,” he offers.
In the wide format business, 80 to 90 percent of printing establishments use digital printing equipment, says Tim Greene, research director, hardcopy solutions, IDC. “That’s not to say that 80 to 90 percent of production is digitally printed, but that the penetration of digital equipment is at the 80 to 90 percent level,” he explains.
According to Greene, the primary reason analog printers go digital is to respond to customer demands for short runs and fast turnaround. “Fast turnaround drives a lot of the investments in ever-faster equipment,” he says. “I think this is one thing that surprises analog printing companies at first. They need to continually reinvest in equipment to meet these customer requirements.”
Analog-only shops add digital printers and finishers to their production for a variety of reasons including customer demands and cost-efficient short runs. PSPs with little to no knowledge about digital print technology or its investments may be discouraged about the possibilities of implementing digital due to the shop’s size or services.
A PSP’s shop size typically doesn’t impact its ability to invest in digital technology. According to Greene, the investment in digital printing equipment is often low so that shop size isn’t a significant barrier to entry into the digital printing business. “I believe any sized shop can go digital,” he offers.
For PSPs concerned about costs—especially when considering wide format devices, latex and water-based digital printing capabilities offer an affordable entry to digital printing. Steve Urmano, director of wide format, Keypoint Intelligence, offers, “any size shop can add digital printing—aqueous and latex wide format printing is the most affordable that it’s ever been.” Water-based technology is often used for applications like fine art, indoor posters, photography, and POP displays.
However, using a water-based device typically restricts users to indoor signage unless the print is laminated. This is because aqueous and water-based inks are susceptible to UV fading and the ink sits on top of coated media.
As an alternative, latex technologies offer outdoor durability and are used for banners, soft signage, and signs. “Today’s latex wide format printers are quite affordable, less than $5,000, and can be used for unlaminated outdoor signage,” says Urmano.
Analog-only printers that invest in wide format digital technology broaden their services to applications like billboards, garments, outdoor floor graphics, packaging, POP displays, trade show signage, vehicle wraps, wallcoverings, wayfinding signage, and window graphics.
According to Hanley, printers originally did not understand the appeal of wide format digital graphics as a driver for enhanced POP sales based on a local supply of micro quantities at high cost. “Not only have digital wide format graphics offered high margin, new business to printers who already serve the same users, but it has further opened the door to enhanced retail print and communications support services to printers beyond the graphics themselves,” he explains. “Retail is not the only source of business of wide format graphics either, but it is one of the biggest.”
Application types typically don’t impact how analog printers implement digital printers and finishers. However, Greene believes it helps if the shop experiences demand for a variety of applications rather than one digitally printed application.
“Shops investing in digital printing equipment typically use it for a variety of applications,” he offers. “We do find shops that have dedicated wide format printing equipment but often print shops new to digital have one wide format printer that produces whatever jobs their customers ask for.”
Analog PSP Concerns
One primary concern of analog printers moving into digital printing is how a company that goes digital can fight commoditization and maintain margins. Greene believes this is the same battle faced across many segments of the graphic arts. “Companies need to look at what value they can add and consider digital printing just one of the necessary tools to enable that value to be applied,” he explains. “The more companies embrace that digital transformation, applying digital workflows, big data, analytics, and other tools, the more value they will be able to apply.”
According to Urmano, implementing a digital press into an analog-only printing environment isn’t a difficult task. “Most printers whether they are analog-only or digital have learned desktop publishing techniques long ago,” he explains. “All they have to do is setup the equipment, install the drivers, select an image, scale it to size, and print it.”
Additionally, wide format digital printers typically require minimal cleaning and maintenance. Greene believes this shouldn’t affect the PSP unless their press room is in a dirty environment. If so, he says the wide format printer needs to be placed in a clean environment with a comfortable temperature and regulated humidity. “Remember, if it’s comfortable for you, it’s comfortable for the printing device.”
Analog-only printers considering digital printing technology should be aware that digital printing is a necessary tool in today’s signage and graphics market, recommends Greene. “It is not a panacea—great relationships with customers and high standards for quality and service are still required.”
On the more practical side, Greene suggests PSPs research prospective digital print investments due to the variety of sizes and shapes available. He offers, “many shops don’t get all that they could if they haven’t planned out their investment along with technical aptitude and sales and marketing capabilities.”
Urmano agrees and advises PSPs to take time when selecting a digital device. “Buy a name brand device as there are many available based upon width, price point, and indoor and outdoor printing applications,” he advises. “Speak with your peers, they are probably printing wide format digital already.”
101 Years of Printing
Founded in 1917, Ross Printing Co. started as a forms and business papers provider for local businesses, financial institutions, and healthcare in Spokane, WA. The company operated with six employees in a 5,000 square foot work area with a two square mile market area. In the early 1920s, the company entered pharmaceutical packaging, primarily labels.
When lithography evolved as the main reproduction process after World War II, Ross Printing became a vendor for full-color lithography advertising and promotion opportunities. In the late 1970s, it created a flexographic division to accommodate more efficient production of pharmaceutical packaging, supplements labeling, and food processing requirements. This led to integrating digital roll printing in the early 2000s.
Today, Ross Printing is a full-service print provider with flexographic, lithographic, and digital capabilities. The company offers folding cartons, labels, marketing materials, packaging, POP displays, posters, and sample pouches. With 25 employees, it operates in a 40,000 square foot facility and ships its products worldwide with most of its volume sending to CA, OR, and WA.
In 2001, Ross Printing entered the digital space with an HP, Inc. Indigo press to achieve rapid cycle time, improved color fidelity, short runs, personalization, and scheduling flexibility. “The company was typically an early adapter of both on-press and prepress digital technology as it became available,” says Eric Smith, GM, Ross Printing.
With digital printing, it produces pharmaceutical, supplement, health/beauty, and food/beverage applications. According to Smith, the digital print process has opened many new customer relationships for the company around the region and the U.S. “It buffers us well from the diminished market demand for lithographic products,” he explains. “It also complements our lithographic and flexographic offerings to create a unique value proposition few providers in the U.S. can provide.”
Currently, 50 percent of Ross Printing’s work is digitally printed using its HP Indigo presses.
According to Smith, the marketplace for simple four-color labels is becoming commoditized over time. “The higher margin opportunities require unique finishing to add value to the label,” he reveals. Demands for films are also increasing as well as the replacement of conventional pressure-sensitive solutions.
With over 100 years of printing experience, Ross Printing maintains a positive outlook on the future of print. “Digital machines are becoming faster as time goes on, which raises the efficiency or breakeven for analog machines to compete,” explains Smith. “The remaining benefit for analog-only printers would be longer runs where digital continues to struggle with speeds or other online capabilities unique to conventional flexographic machines.”
A Digital Tomorrow
By investing in digital technology, analog-only print shops expand services while improving current offerings with short runs, quick turnaround, and customization. Before investing in digital printing, print providers should research prospective investments and applications. Adding wide format digital printers, for example, allows for moving into new markets.
June2018, Digital Output