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On-demand Printing--Directions for Digital Output

January 1998
Across the graphic arts landscape, companies are making on-demand digital printing their vehicle of choice as they hit the road in search of a competitive edge and long-term success. Here, four diverse businesses share their travelers' tales.

Digital Ink is the brainchild of former architect Jamie Wollens and Josh Weiss, co-founder of the Spectra chain of photo/digital processing labs, who anticipated the growing demand by New Yorkers for high-end prepress and rapid-turnaround printing services—and recognized the potential of digital technologies to fulfill those needs.

In a few years, the operation—which started out with a single color copier for final output—has evolved into a 10,000-square-foot, 26-employee production facility with a range of digital printing equipment, including a Scitex Spontane, an Indigo E-Print 1000+ and Canon color copier-printers, along with Color-Span wide-format printers.

Clients are designers, print brokers, ad agencies and walk-ins, among others. Presently, digital printing represents about a quarter of the company's overall revenues, with an additional 15 percent to 20 percent derived from large-format output. Scanning and other pre-production services, such as proofing, still comprise the largest piece of the sales pie.

While that business/product mix has proven successful, Wollens anticipates those percentages to shift, with digital printing accounting for as much as half of the company's revenue by 2000. "We have to keep growing," he declares. "If film fades as expected, that growth will be in direct-to-press markets."

Digital Ink bought its first digital printing system, the Spontane, more than two years ago and, Wollens claims, was the initial delivery site for the unit. "The Spontane is much faster than a color copier, its straight paper path lets us run card stock, and the Scitex front end allows us to achieve great color. It's a color copier on steroids," he reports.

While not a be-all, end-all digital printing solution for Digital Ink, the Spontane serves its purpose—well. "Spontane output doesn't have that 'offset look,' " Wollens points out. "But, that said, it still fills a marketplace niche." A sample job would be same-day turnaround for 200 copies of a 50-page color booklet.

The company purchased the Indigo E-Print 1000+ digital offset color press about a year ago, after moving to its current, more spacious location. "We can register back-to-front dead-on on the Indigo," Wollens comments. The press can also handle 12-pt. cover stock.

"We produced 50 50-page books on the Indigo with laminated covers for a customer that was pitching a cartoon series for TV," Wollens recalls. "The client sold the show to Disney on the merits of that book."

Now, Wollens and Weiss are focusing on maximizing digital printing profitability. "The Spontane has been profitable, partly because it's a 'no brainer'; you don't need a press operator," Wollens explains. "The Indigo is sharp; but, if you're not running it 16 hours a day, you're not making money. We're getting close."

Wollens is also considering adding a four-up digital press for longer runs (of 500 to 2,000). "We'd like to be a $10 million business in two years," he comments.

KEN HOFFMANN, president and COO of Valencia, CA-based Delta Direct Access, attributes his digital printing success, in part, to 23 years of conventional offset experience.

In that time, he helped grow Delta Lithograph from a $5 million shop to a $34 million commercial printer, serving as president and CEO after Delta was purchased by Bertelsmann AG.

At Bertelsmann's request, Hoffmann expanded Delta's operations to include an on-demand facility in Northern California to print documentation for Silicon Valley inhabitants. "Bertelsmann phased out that plant, but the experience really sparked my interest in digital printing," Hoffmann recalls.

Divine intervention (an earthquake) and the redirection of Delta Lithograph by its parent convinced Hoffmann to transform his interest into a full-time business. "It was sign up or move on," Hoffmann reminisces.

He moved on—to create Delta Direct Access with Rick Barrios, a mailing and fulfillment expert. Three years later, Delta Direct is a 30-employee, $4 million turn-key supplier of on-demand printing, mailing and fulfillment solutions.

The technological cornerstone of the operation is T/R Systems'

MicroPress cluster printing system. "With the MicroPress, we can grow according to our actual market needs rather than buy a high-priced press and then try to convince people to use that equipment," Hoffmann reasons.

Currently, Delta Direct has half a dozen PressDirectors controlling 16 color and 12 black-only engines, along with four full-duplex 11x17? Minolta CF900s.

"I have no plans to get back into offset," Hoffmann emphasizes. "I want Delta to be fully digital."

Products and applications include short-run books, personalized catalogs, collateral pieces, brochures, customized mailings and industrial publications. Hoffmann estimates that 50 percent of Delta's work incorporates variable data.

One noteworthy job was a scratch-off contest piece. The shell was preprinted conventionally, then Delta Direct used the MicroPress to add personalized information and create the scratch bar itself.

The company is simultaneously sophisticated and simple. "We believe in sticking to the basics—demonstrating commitment to customers and concentrating on the consultative sell," Hoffmann says. His printing background has given him a "good handle" on business and customer development.

Priorities for '98 are process control and improvement. "We just want to be best at what we do," Hoffmann concludes.

"DIGITAL PRINTING offers a speed advantage," Tom Sepanski, a partner at Royal Impressions in New York, states flatly. And when time is money—which holds true for many of Royal's clients, including investment banks, other financial institutions and retailers—every second counts.

In its latest effort to push the pedal to the metal, the $8 million, 40-employee firm has added a 180-ppm Xerox DocuTech 6180. So, what are Royal's impressions?

"The 6180 works in conjunction with our DocuTech 135 to form a powerful alliance," Sepanski reports. "We can scan in on one and output on the other. Plus, we're getting a lot of horsepower—we can run more than 50,000 impressions an hour." The new DocuTech has also boosted Royal's variable-data capabilities.

The firm also offers full-color on-demand solutions, running a Xerox DocuColor 40, Canon CLCs and a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI. "We were in the color-copy business," Sepanski notes. "We went digital right after the advent of the RIP."

On the color side, Royal is producing a lot of fast-turnaround brochures containing time-sensitive data. "If a client needs 5,000 or 10,000 color copies the next day, we can do it," Sepanski declares. "The more color equipment we add, the more color printing we sell—and that's new business, not work taken away from the other machines."

Royal will also preprint pages on its Quickmaster DI then customize them on the 6180. "The key to success is educating clients about how their business is applicable to digital printing," Sepanski explains. "We're often dealing with large clients that have been doing things a certain way for many years."

He is anticipating 15- to 20-percent annual sales growth—and the need for constant technology upgrades. "The minute we don't have the horsepower to handle current and new projects, we're in trouble," Sepanski acknowledges.

ARMED WITH an arsenal of Xerox DocuTech 135s and powerful database capabilities, Document Xpress, in Savannah, GA, had earned its stripes as a provider of on-demand printing and comprehensive direct marketing services.

Recently, the firm boosted its firepower with several digital color systems: two Canon CLC 1000s and a ColorMax-600 wide-format printer.

"Digital color gives us an advantage over conventional offset printing companies," asserts Peter Larmey, marketing coordinator. "We can print 500 business cards in a day at an attractive price."

Clients are satisfied with the quality of digital output, Larmey adds. "We're achieving sharp, deep colors at very high speeds." Typical products are brochures, promo pieces and posters.

He expects that Document Xpress, currently a $7 million operation, will double its overall revenues this year, due in large part to the new color machines.

Of course, the company's expansive market research department and PRIZM database, linked to the four DocuTechs to produce customized materials, don't hurt. "The DocuTechs are running 24 hours a day and we're making the most of our systems through target marketing and variable data apps," Larmey declares. "We'll continue to expand our network and plan to incorporate variable data into our color technologies."

—Dawn M. Greenlaw
 

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