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Printers Share Crossover Points for Running Shorter-Run Static Print Jobs Offset vs. Digital

July 2014 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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With digital printing hogging so many of the headlines in the printing industry these days, most casual print buyers may be operating under the assumption that cutsheet digital output has its foot on the neck of sheetfed offset's neck. And they may be right.

But they're not.

Sure, when it comes to variable data work, digital printers are the ones doing touchdown dances. And on the long-run end of the spectrum—someone, somewhere is gearing up for a 100,000-count run...we just don't know where—offset printing still reigns supreme. But in the realm of short-run, static work, where digital and offset both frolic, there is harmony in the versatility of being able to use one production process or the other.

A popular subject during the digital era has been the crossover point, the magical number run length (500, 1,000, 1,500, etc.) that dictates a printer use his/her sheetfed offset press as opposed to digital output devices. It's magical because it's all about money—the per unit cost when it begins to make fiscal sense to use offset and not digital.

Times have changed. Though it's still all about the money, other variables factor into the decision on whether to use offset or digital for static, short-run work.

Just ask Mitch Schilkraut, the other half of the husband-and-wife owned Jam Printing of Elmsford, NY. Jam Printing boasts a trio of presses—two Heidelbergs (a two-color, 18˝ Quickmaster 46 and a five-color, 20˝ Speedmaster 52) and a Jet envelope press. On the digital side, Jam relies on a Konica-Minolta bizhub PRESS 8000 and a soon-to-be installed Ricoh Pro 901.

According to Schilkraut, any number of factors can influence which machine a job lands on: price, quality, timing, paper requirements. "The biggest factor in my mind is timing—how fast the customer needs it," he says. "It may be cheaper to do it on (offset) press, but then we might not be able to deliver it to the client in the timeframe they're looking for."

Jam Printing produces a strong amount of direct mail, continuing education materials for hospitals, and work for the financial and education spaces. Its first introduction to digital came in the early 1980s with a Xerox 9500, then DocuTechs. After getting away from digital for a spell, Jam returned full-force about five years ago.



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