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

Mallery Mele, of Mele Printing, installed a five-color, 20˝ Heidelberg SM 52 Anicolor with coater to output short-run jobs.

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.”

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  • MidwestPrinter

    One shop I was in recently had an interesting take on the digital/offset crossover. They have a large fleet of digital equipment, and six 40″ presses. Most of their work is quantities under 1,000. The plant manager says they go digital when the click charges would be less than the cost of plates, and they go offset when the cost of plates would be less than the clicks. He was talking plate purchase price (no labor) vs. clicks. Their break point was well below 250. Bear in mind, they are highly automated, and their offset makereadies are the fastest I’ve ever seen.

    We are a half-size shop, with slower makereadies, and calculate 275 sheets as the breakeven. In-line booklet-making on the digital equipment takes that number closer to 400 for us on 8.5×11 booklets.

    Bottom line: do the math for your unique situation.