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DIGITAL PRINTING — SUCCESS BY DEVICE

October 2006 BY MARK SMITH
Technology Editor
FOR A time, it seemed as if the only point of distinction in digital printing was the simple fact of it being digital. The term became virtually synonymous with short run, quick turnaround printing, maybe with a little variable data work thrown in.

Companies looking to invest in digital printing services typically evaluated the full range of equipment options available, a trend that continues today. At first blush, all the machines seem more alike than different—in terms of format, speed, resolution, etc.—and are capable of getting the job done.

Some vendors like the connotations—solid, durable, productive—of the “digital press” designation. Other have opted to use “digital printing (or production) system” in order to shed any baggage of heavy iron or an old-line industry. Digital copier/printer denotes a lower volume device and, of course, inclusion of a scanning unit.

Earlier this year, the TrendWatch Graphic Arts (now “The Industry Measure”) industry research firm, based in New York City, released a report titled “Copiers & Printers: Serious Competitors in the Digital Print Marketplace.” Interestingly, it found that 32 percent of digital printing operations rely on color copiers for variable data output and 25 percent said that was their primary variable data printing device. Another 10 percent said they relied on desktop ink-jet/laser printers as their primary VDP output device.

For many printers, the support a vendor can offer has been at least as big a factor in the buying decision as the capabilities of the output device. Leading system sellers have made significant commitments to and investments in providing resources for digital printing market and business development.

Matching Sets

Investing in one production-level, color device has become the norm for launching a digital printing operation. When shops look to upgrade from previous generation equipment and/or add capacity, the majority of them opt for the same brand if not an identical machine.

Standardizing on a digital printing platform enables jobs to be easily moved between machines should one go down. Efficiencies can also be realized in managing consumables and spare parts.

The first major source of differentiation in the market came with the introduction of solutions for on-demand book production. This was pegged as the first “killer app” for digital printing. Ironically, what sets these systems apart are their finishing capabilities, the most conventional part of production.

Hybrid printing—using separate color and black-and-white devices to produce a finished piece—was another digital production strategy that developed early on. There are two variations of this approach—digital/digital and offset/digital.
 

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