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IT USED to be that, when a printer had a “Web-facing customer interface,” it was primarily offering file upload and transfer. Maybe online estimating, ordering and job tracking. Perhaps some digital asset management but, beyond the basic interface, there was little going on behind the scenes. Affordable, off-the-shelf tools were simply too limited. The flexible, robust solutions—not to mention customer-specific solutions—necessary for developing the kinds of Web-to-print applications we know today were reserved for larger print shops that could afford custom builds.

Over the past several years, however, the playing field has changed dramatically. Software providers have developed Web-to-print solutions offering a wide variety of services and fitting into an array of business models at a broad range of cost, flexibility and robustness. This software is now driving true Web-to-print, from online storefronts to customizable templates for corporate document management and branding to direct mailings using rules-driven, 1:1 personalization.

For vendors, the rush to provide robust Web-to-print applications software has meant that the barriers to entry have dropped. Printers and trade shops can now get into the Web-to-print market for less than $10,000. For small shops, ASP solutions minimize additional infrastructure investments and make these solutions even more affordable.

Among the vendors offering Web-to-print solutions are Pageflex, XMPie, Printable, EFI (Printer- Site Fulfillment, PrinterSite Exchange), MindFire, PagePath (MyOrderDesk) and PressSense (iWay Prime, as well as Océ’s Prisma Web and part of Xerox Corp.’s Web Services 5). Solutions vary from basic online storefronts to more flexible, customizable template solutions. Some software vendors offer additional modules for add-ons such as variable data printing, database management and integration, personalized URLs and workflow management. Entry-level prices range from less than $10,000 to $50,000 or more.

Numbers Game
Just how many printers have gotten into this market? According to “Digital Printing 2006: Printers,” a special report released this summer by TrendWatch, 9 percent of commercial printers and trade shops now offer some kind of Web-to-print solution for static printing, such as business cards, letterhead and sales materials. This rises to 24 percent of digital printers, defined as shops with direct imaging (DI) or toner-based digital color presses. When it comes to “highly customizable/personalizable brochures, newsletters, follow-up mailers and other print jobs used for targeted marketing,” the percentage of graphic arts firms overall nearly doubles, to 15 percent, rising to 33 percent of digital printers.

Although the topic is rarely discussed, the power of these applications is a well-known secret.

So what is it like to operate in this market space? This article will look at the use of Web-to-print by a number of printers that have been successful with this technology.

Ditto Document Solutions (DDS), a $6 million document management and digital print shop based in Pittsburgh, PA, started out as a legal copying business. It gradually evolved into corporate digital printing, outputting on the Xerox iGen3, then added Web-to-print. It is using a mix of different systems, including PrinterSite Exchange from EFI for static documents and its own home-grown solution for more complex, custom builds. It also works with third-party software developers, as necessary.

Ken Shriber, owner and principal of DDS, describes the company’s journey in Web-to-print as occurring in three stages: crawling, walking and running.

When the company first started out—the crawling stage—it focused on static information. Because of its background in legal documents, DDS served as a document management solutions provider as much as it did a copy center. This allowed it to set up a variety of branded Web portals, where customers could click, print and ship.

Currently, DDS maintains more than 100 different password- protected sites, each of which has anywhere from one to 30 users. Typical products include training manuals, booklets and business cards.

As it grew, DDS began allowing customers to develop personalized flyers, brochures and business cards, with the ability to customize by name, logo or images. This has been a popular application for real estate agencies, which can allow local offices and realtors to customize their own sales materials.

For more complex applications, the company works with software developers like Catalogixx. One customer uses the Web-to-print interface to create custom covers for pre-printed catalogs, as well as mini-catalogs ranging from eight to 16 pages. Fifteen thousand distributors have access to the catalog, creating monthly volumes in the hundreds of thousands. Another customer, College Prowler, uses the site to keep hundreds of its regularly updated “behind the scenes of college life” book titles current, then fulfills them as needed for retailers around the country.

Now that the company has reached a level of comfort in creating and selling Web-to-print applications, it is moving into the “running” stage. At this stage, it is adding automation that will allow the company to become more efficient and increase profitability. DDS is just starting the investigation, trying to marry a high level of automation and flexibility with the ability to integrate with its existing workflow system.

Digital Pays Dividends
Comparing the first quarter revenues from this year to first quarter revenues from last year, DDS’s business is up 60 percent, with color digital printing up 68 percent and black-and-white digital printing up a whopping 73 percent.

Reynolds Dewalt, a $12.1 million printer in New Bedford, MA, has been aggressively implementing Web-to-print applications for two years. It hired a dedicated cross-media team, headed by Scott Dubois, and uses XMPie’s PersonalEffects Cross-Media Edition to custom produce online stores for its customers. It custom develops portals to each customer’s specifications, then maintains the same workflow on the back end for execution.

These stores allow customers to print static, customizable or even 1:1 personalized materials.

A typical application produced by the cross-media team is for a large manufacturer with more than 50 dealerships around the country. These dealers can log into the site, select co-branded collateral, create custom messaging based on whatever promotions are running that month, then customize the mailer with their dealer information and select data based on their location or previous responses to other mailings.

“Using XMPie’s data collection, we can take the data we gather from current campaigns to tweak and refine future ones,” notes Dubois. “We can track who is responding, whether those responses convert to a sale or whether respondents just check out the site and move on. Having this information lets us better serve each dealer’s needs and product distribution the next time. We are offering real-world data collection, not just guessing any more.”

The second way the company uses XMPie is through its PSF (PrinterSite Fulfillment) from EFI. “We can offer printed material that may require fulfillment, whether it is printed on-demand or pulled from the warehouse, as well as literature that they will customize, all in the same application,” says Dubois. “We are using PSF to generate multi-tiered orders. So, if there are four parts to an order, there might be three printed on-demand and one retrieved from the warehouse and shipped.”

How has this affected business? Two years ago, the company was running one digital press, one shift a day. Eighteen months later, it upgraded to a more productive iGen3, which it runs three shifts around the clock.

When asked about how the company’s business philosophy relates to its success in Web-to-print, DeBois points to the larger transition to digital printing and applications development that occurred at the same time. About two years ago, Reynolds DeWalt did a substantial retooling in digital printing and applications that topped $1.5 million. Of that, $300,000 went to Web-to-print. But it was not an investment that the company saw as optional.

“The worst thing you can do is tell a customer ‘no, we can’t do that,’ ” says Dubois. “This investment has allowed us to be ‘yes’ people.”

Eighteen months ago, Reynolds DeWalt was “Reynolds DeWalt Printing,” with a tagline that read, “the smart choice in printing.” Today, it is simply Reynolds DeWalt, and its tagline reads, “cross-media specialists and printing.”

Asheville, NC-based Daniels Marketing Support Services, an expansion of the original Daniels Graphics, recently made a hefty investment in Web-related services. After developing a significant client base in VDP, it launched into online templates for collateral materials and digital file archiving using PrinterSite Exchange. It also added Web fulfillment services with PrinterSite Fulfillment and digital asset management with Xinet’s WebNative.

Customer Focused
“We are looking for customers that have a lot of collateral material of one sort or another,” notes Brad Lena, director of new business development. “Clients with numerous departments, numerous art directors, lots of people in the field, that are looking to protect a brand.”

One Web-to-print client specializes in seminars and educational materials, all produced around the country. Rather than having dozens of different art directors doing their own thing, the customer wanted to gain administrative and cost control by implementing a centralized system. Daniels Marketing Services created a branded Web portal, with all of the documents password- protected and different levels of authorization applied. Now, art directors can key the event particulars, such as location, time and fee, and upload their mailing lists.

They also have access to a repository of graphics and logos, branded to different parts of the organization, and can produce documents with as many variable or unique elements as required, within the defined framework of a template. Proofs are automatically generated online.

Since the client was also looking for cost control, the program is set up with a variety of pricing matrixes at various levels of authorization. This allows departments only to spend allotted amounts which, if they are exceeded, require authorization from a supervisor.

“It’s not just a standalone Web-to-print application,” says Lena. “It’s part of a larger approach that this organization is seeking.”

Not only does Daniels Marketing Services gain the lion’s share of the printing from these applications, it also gains revenue from any online archives of digital files, both high and low resolution. Its fees include site development, maintenance, hosting, file modification and hosting fees. Some of these fees are ongoing. Others are one-time fees.

“We adopt the role, not of Big Brother, but as service providers here to serve them,” concludes Lena. “It requires training. And you have to get the buy-in of senior management that recognizes the problem.”

Royal Impressions, a $10 million digital printer and marketing services provider based in Manhattan, is one of the marketing leaders in Web-to-print, having developed a custom solution called the Marketing Collateral Ordering System (MCOM) eight years ago. Royal Impressions has a stable of high-profile clients using the system, including Sun-America, OppenheimerFunds and Prudential Financial.

In addition to offering the applications described elsewhere in this article, Royal has also developed some very sophisticated one-off Web-to-print applications. For example, OppenheimerFunds used to create high-end client proposals using a manual process. Now, financial advisors access the Oppenheimer Website to input the recipient’s financial information, interests and goals related to the proposal. Then, the MCOM moves them onto a special Website developed by Royal’s partner in the project, Thompson Financial, where they input the specifics for the detailed financial projections.

Based on complex mathematical formulas, the Thompson system generates the hypothetical and saves it as a PDF. In the final step, the hypothetical is returned to Royal’s MCOM system, where the PDF is integrated with a variable-length proposal document. A process that once took days has now been reduced to hours.

One of the hard-learned lessons from this technology leader is that the market is becoming increasingly crowded. And, with the number of packaged solutions available, what used to be an application that locked a customer into a long-term relationship isn’t so sure anymore. Royal Impressions is currently facing the expiration of a four-year contract and, while the customer has been pleased with the results, the shop is now being asked to put out bids like other vendors.

“It was a sophisticated custom build,” notes Christopher DeSantis, president of Royal Impressions. “But with everyone saying they can offer Web-to-print now, it puts us in a position of having to re-prove our value at the end of the contract. It’s not an automatic renewal.”

Another lesson has been that custom builds can create applications that ‘wow’ the client, but each custom build requires a certain level of internal maintenance. The more custom builds you do, the more staffing time it requires to maintain them. As the number of custom builds grows, the amount of time can put a real drain on profitability.

Now, Royal Impressions is carefully walking its clients through the benefits and drawbacks of all the bells and whistles they desire. “I might suggest that, while it might be nice to have all that, if they stay within certain limits, they can save a lot of money,” says DeSantis.

Web-to-print is a growing application. As customers become increasingly aware of the technology and how it can change the way they not just print—but fundamentally handle their document management and marketing collateral—the demand for these services will grow. As they do, the number of competitors entering the market that can offer similar services is also growing.

For this reason, if there is an overarching lesson that can be gleaned from those who have been there, it is the same lesson that printers these days are learning in every other critical digital printing application and value-added service. It’s not about the technology. It’s about the ability to help customers identify document management or marketing communications challenges within their own organizations, then bring whatever technology they have to bear on those challenges. This requires a fundamentally different approach to marketing, sales and pricing for many printers.

Just consider the names of the successful printers profiled in this article. There is a reason that not one has the word “printing” or “graphic communications” in their names. PI

About the Author
Heidi Tolliver-Nigro is an industry writer and analyst specializing in digital technologies. She can be reached by e-mail at


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