At Cunningham Graphics, color is just as likely to mean digital production. “The advances in color digital printing quality have been fantastic,” Mays notes. “We now have clients that will accept digital, as well as offset, for very high-end work.

“If you look with a loupe you are going to see differences between offset and digital output, but I maintain that the typical end user isn’t going to notice the difference. Still, there are pieces of which clients prefer be done offset. That’s why we have three (soon to be four) six-color Heidelberg sheetfed presses equipped with aqueous coating and one MAN Roland just in our headquarters facility alone.”

Most of the printer’s work falls somewhere in the middle, combining digital and offset components, according to Mays. Preprinted shells, covers and inserts are printed in color via offset, with variable data and short runs produced digitally on-demand.

“Our main objective, certainly for the past 12 months, has been integrating digital printing into our workflow,” adds Ned Hood, chief technology officer. “We sometimes make the decision about which jobs will go digital at the very last minute, as the jobs are ready to be imposed. The way we direct the work depends on the schedule and load in the plant.”

Mays believes any quality compromise buyers may perceive in digital printing is outnumbered by its advantages. “There is a tremendous amount of offset printing out there that could be produced digitally and be more cost-effective, while providing the flexibility for versioning and variable data capabilities. Even high-end print buyers are starting to understand that they can get better response rates by using variable data than just trying to get the absolutely best-looking printed product.”

Cunningham Graphics has been working with clients to convert some hybrid work to all-digital production, the company exec adds. One example was an offset-printed pocket folder into which digitally printed sheets where added. The piece was redesigned to be a customized and personalized, self-contained book printed digitally. “The daily volume requirements make it practical for the program to be managed in a digital workflow,” Mays explains.

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