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Job Workflow — Ending the Digital Divide

March 2007 By Mark Smith
Technology Editor
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FROM THE workflow and business standpoints, there’s becoming less of a need to make a distinction between digital and offset printing. New tools are bringing together the formally divided file processing paths, and digital devices are becoming standard equipment for more offset shops. With concerns about quality largely assuaged, it’s all becoming just printing under one service umbrella.

The one exception is variable data printing, which remains somewhat of a special case from a production standpoint due to the processing required to integrate content from databases.

The market that Western Graphics, St. Paul, MN, is targeting with all of its services (digital or offset) is shorter runs of very strategic, on-demand printing, says Neal Johnson, vice president of operations.

“What we’re trying to push is relevant print with a purpose,” he explains. “The client has a reason to print; we print enough for that purpose and that’s it. We don’t print a lot of extra copies to store on a shelf for six or 12 months.”

To compete in that arena, the company has installed two Xerox iGen3 digital color presses, four Xerox DocuTech 6180 monochrome units, two (two- and five-color) 29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster perfectors and several smaller presses. Western’s operations are housed in one facility that employs about 70 people. It looks to partner with Fortune 1,000 companies and meet their needs for marketing and training materials.

If the printer hasn’t previously produced digital work for a customer, it will ask before printing a new job that way. Once a customer has a trust in its capabilities, the process decision is based on turnaround speed or price, notes the company vice president. “There are some customers who will specify that they don’t want digital printing.”

All jobs first go through Western’s job planning department, which uses crossover charts to determine the most cost-effective way to produce the work. “If it’s close, we’ll do an estimate both ways to see which is cheapest,” Johnson says.

It’s All in the Planning

Once the production method has been determined, the job is planned for that equipment and sent through one common prepress workflow. The shop uses the PDF- and JDF-based Heidelberg Prinect Printready workflow system and MetaDimension RIP. “We end up with an imposed PDF that either goes out to our iGen3s or the platesetter (a Heidelberg Topsetter 74),” he explains.

After jobs are printed, they go back into a common workflow for binding and finishing. The same collators, cutters, folders, etc., are used to process digital and offset pieces.


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