Digital and Offset Printing: Seeking Workflow Oneness
HYBRID PRODUCTION was originally defined as combining digital and offset printing to produce a finished piece. Common examples include color shells pre-printed via offset and imprinted digitally, and pieces bound together, such as offset covers for digital books or customized/variable digital inserts for static offset pieces.
Advances in technology and greater adoption of digital printing by previously offset-only shops led to a broadening of the term to include the ability to drive both production platforms from a single workflow. The goal is to increase the efficiency of job processing, but also provide the flexibility to more easily direct jobs to one printing process or the other in response to customer demands or pressroom status.
With acceptance of digital printing continuing to grow, now the concept is being extended even further to achieve a continuum of production capabilities that can span from digital (toner and ink-jet, including wide-format) through sheetfed and web offset printing. This means having an integrated workflow that can feed all of the printing platforms, as well as implementing color management and having substrates available to “match” the printed results across the board.
Support for this operating model can be seen in the extension of the G7 proof-to-print process beyond its origins in the sheetfed offset print realm, all the way to wide-format digital printing. Often erroneously referred to as a color standard, G7 is formally defined as a method for reproducing a similar visual appearance across printing platforms, including digital devices. Printing companies of all types and sizes—nearly 350 companies, according to the IDEAlliance database—are now marketing their standing as a G7 Master Printer.
Despite having a diminished profile in the industry of late, the Job Definition Format (JDF) specification also continues to be a key enabler of workflow integration. Solutions that can drive platesetters and digital presses from a common file preparation system is one notable area where JDF has already seen real-world use and remains the focus of active development. This is still not a plug-and-play scenario, since the links are tailored to specific digital devices as the following examples from some recent announcements illustrate.