(Product-specific examples of the convergence in technology can be seen in the accompanying sidebar.)

A logical extension of technological advances is convergence at the production level. Preprinting of color shells via offset production for subsequent imprinting on black-and-white digital systems has been an important enabler of print-on-demand and personalization applications. This “hybrid” production concept continues to evolve as digital color systems become more robust.

The latest hot area of development has been short-run book production, with digitally printed covers and inserts fed into high-volume black-and-white production lines with integrated binding/finishing systems to turn out finished books. (The April issue of Printing Impressions will include a more detailed look at this application.)

IKON Office Solutions of Malvern, PA, sits at an intersection of many of these lines of convergence in digital printing. The company offers direct sales and support of digital printing solutions, provides onsite facilities management and operates its own print production centers, chiefly to provide backup capacity for clients. Its customer base includes commercial printers, in addition to a spectrum of corporate and institutional organizations.

From her perspective as senior vice president of marketing, Cathy Lewis sees a number of trends reshaping the marketplace and having implications for commercial printers.

Striving for Consistency

On the technological front, Lewis believes the question of print quality being a barrier to adoption has shifted to a focus on sustainable image and color quality. “Most of the systems today can be tuned to produce a nice initial image quality but, if I’m a commercial printer, I still need to make sure that level can be maintained over a reasonable run length,” she advises.

“Still, digital shops shouldn’t try to claim that they are replacing offset. The premier type of application for the technology will be a piece that’s personalized and customized. Today’s technology offers enough quality to drive that market.”

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