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.

Books, again, were a leader in the first case. Color covers and inserts can be produced on one device and then fed into a black-and-white digital production line, via the bypass unit, to produce a finished piece.

Making color systems more competitive for black-and-white work has since become a trend in the industry. Also, determining the best production method can involve more than just considering the cost per page for a given device. Productivity gains and labor savings from using a one-pass, automated production line can offset a higher cost per page.

The offset/digital hybrid production scenario entails preprinting and storing color “shells” that are produced on an offset press. Using a DI/digital offset press makes it practical to do shorter runs on-demand to reduce the volume of inventoried components. These shells then can be imprinted on a black-and-white digital system for more timely production or use of variable data.

One argument made in favor of this approach is that the total production cost is lower than printing the entire piece on a digital color press. It also potentially offers a way to get started in variable data printing with a lower capital investment. In addition, issues with the quality of digitally printed vignettes, spot colors and even full color, for the more demanding customer, provided support for this approach early on.

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