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Monochrome Digital Printing--Back in Black

May 1998
Color permeates the world around us—as advertising agencies love to remind us. Live in color, they tell us. Dream in color. And we listen.

The nation's infatuation with all things bright and beautiful has not gone unnoticed in the digital printing market, where a variety of devices, many sporting a Xeikon engine, provide colorful output.

So where does this leave monochrome machines? As full-color digital printing systems steal the spotlight, will monochrome devices fade to black?

Not likely.

"The glamour and glitz is in color now," admits Bonnie Robinson, the "B" in B&J Typesetting, a small desktop publishing operation in Boise, ID. "But because of what I do, I don't need a color printer. The publications I do are not in color. And there's a lot of work out there that isn't in color."

B&J benefits from black-and-white work, and a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 5000 helps. Although Hewlett-Packard didn't officially introduce this monochrome laser printer until March, B&J had been beta-testing the machine since last July—with pleasing results.

According to Robinson, the LaserJet 5000 acts as an excellent proof printer. And since the laser printer provides 1,200-dpi output, B&J has also been using the device to create camera-ready copy.

"I needed a really high-resolution-output, plain paper printer," Robinson says. "This exactly fit the niche. It does full bleed on 11x17˝, and it is really, really fast. It's blazing."

Todd G. Thatcher, of David Smith Printing, tells a similar story about his company's Xanté Accelerator 8200. Although three computers feed large files into the Xanté, this monochrome device doesn't choke.

"The speed is very good," Thatcher says. "We have a lot of big files, and it does pretty well."

Thatcher works in the design department at David Smith Printing, a commercial printing company in Harrisburg, PA. He points out that his department uses the Xanté primarily for proofing purposes. Here's how.

Whenever a file comes in, Thatcher's department RIPs it to the Xanté. Customers and a company proofreader then look over the output, checking the fonts and other aspects of the piece. Once the job is approved, it goes to film.

Like the LaserJet 5000, the Accelerator 8200 delivers resolutions of 1,200 dpi. And like B&J, David Smith Printing occasionally uses its laser printer to generate camera-ready output.

B&J and David Smith Printing both provide examples of what companies can do with desktop monochrome printers, but what about larger devices? Do machines like the Xerox DocuTech and Océ DemandStream still have a place in a color-saturated market?

Yep. Consider Technigraphix Inc. in Sterling, VA. This book printer has made a mark in its market with monochrome digital printing. "We saw a need in the book world to be able to do shorter runs," explains President Jack Tiner. "Traditional book printers make customers buy thousands of books to be cost-effective."

Technigraphix wanted to give customers a solution for ordering 1,500 or fewer books. The company's digital printing department has made this possible. Technigraphix's digital monochrome equipment includes two Océ DemandStreams. Both webfed devices were installed last November. Both are ideal for short-run, cost-effective printing.

According to Tiner, customers love the DemandStreams. That's because the DemandStreams deliver true on-demand, short-run printing. Once clients submit their work, Technigraphix stores the files electronically. Print buyers can then place additional orders at any time, requesting as little as a single book if that's all they need.

Printing All Night Long
While Technigraphix runs three shifts, seven days a week, the DemandStreams don't require an entire crew of operators. "That's the nice thing," Tiner notes. "One person can run two of them." All the individual has to do is load and unload the paper.

Ease-of-use is just one of the features that Tiner praises about the DemandStreams. He also lauds the machines' versatility, quality (600 dpi) and speed (30,000 iph). That latter figure is particularly important. As Tiner points out, his company needs to be fast to remain in business. "We compete with book printers," he says, "not copy shops."

Ron Koff, president of Astoria Graphics in New York, also enjoys the quick turnarounds of digital printing. His company operates two Xerox DocuTechs 135s, as well as a Xerox DocuColor 40, in its digital department.

Products printed on the Docu-Techs include private placements, news releases and other types of time-sensitive materials for the financial segment. Koff believes that this market has really pushed the DocuTechs to the limit.

"When you're doing financial printing, you may have three hours to do a job," Koff notes. "Reliability is a key factor because there is no time to redo it. A typical job could come in at seven o'clock at night and still have to make FedEx at 9:45."

While the financial market may be unforgiving, the DocuTechs don't often put Koff in a position where he has to say, "I'm sorry." Good thing, too. In Koff's line of work, it's uncommon for customers to give second chances.

"In the niche business I am gearing ourselves toward, it's very rare that there are three strikes and you're out," he says.

Fortunately, the DocuTechs boast a great batting average. Koff calls the machines reliable—and fast.

"[The DocuTech] produces 133 copies per minute, collated, in-line," he says. "It's a tremendous asset."

Koff is especially impressed with his DocuTechs' ability to handle on-demand work. He adds that a variety of binding methods accompany the Xerox DocuTechs, so Astoria can turn out finished products almost immediately.

Astoria's capability to meet sudden deadlines has been a blessing for financial companies that order private placements—products that Koff describes as "pitch books" for potential investors. A tool to raise capital, a private placement contains information about a company that should not be released too early or too late.

"The reason it is so time-sensitive is because the material is confidential," Koff explains.

By printing on-demand, Astoria can assure that private placements arrive just in time, without leaking private information at an inopportune moment. Furthermore, Astoria can assure that the private placements will look sharp and professional. After all, the DocuTech is not a low-resolution machine.

"It's excellent quality," Koff says. "You're talking about 600 dpi."

And when you're talking about monochrome digital printing, you're talking about a market that won't go away. By addressing diverse applications and providing high-quality, on-demand printing at reasonable prices, monochrome digital devices have ensured themselves a profitable place in the graphic arts industry.

"Black and white is a niche market that will be around for a long time," Koff claims, "and it's extremely strong right now."

—Jerry Janda


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