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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

What’s the Best Digital Color Press?

With a few variations, a recurrent question in some of the LinkedIn groups I frequent is something along the lines of, “What’s the best digital color press?”

This is a bit like asking, What’s the best car? Based on many of the responses, I have visions of some respondents touting the glories of Yugos just because they had one that didn’t biodegrade around them.

Equally unsettling is that those posing the question are thinking in such narrow parameters. It reminds me of a phone call I got a couple years back asking me about inkjet presses. The caller was sure he needed to buy a big 30-million impressions-per-month machine to stay competitive and sought my recommendation.

Some questions revealed that he was running a four-year-old toner machine at about half its rated monthly capacity and had limited prospects to much more than double that figure. And his applications needed higher quality than an inkjet device could deliver. I encouraged him to work to increase his volume and consider buying another toner box.

So the “what’s best” question keeps coming up and most answers, somewhat distressingly, come from
  • (a) other printers who claim whatever press they have is the best, or
  • (b) people who sell a particular brand of digital press.

The discussions go in strange directions, sometimes directly comparing mid-range and high-end color presses as if they are interchangeable because they both put color toner on the page.

In the real world of Actually Useful Information, the question of which press is “best” should be answered with a series of other questions. There are lots of questions, but the key ones should cover:
  • Applications required and expected.
  • Print quality requirements.
  • Range of substrates by size and type.
  • Finishing requirements.
  • Datastreams and file formats needed.
  • Average and peak print volumes per month.
  • Variable content needs.
  • Controller capabilities and functionality.
  • Budgetary constraints.
  • Workflow needs and expectations.
  • Level of operator skill available vs. that required for a new press.
  • Service and support capabilities of dealer or vendor.
  • How the print provider plans to market the new device.
  • How a machine can support customer needs moving forward.

There’s more, of course, and even these all have additional layers of detail, yet few on the LinkedIn forums bring up these points. The answers to these questions begin to narrow down the choices for any given print shop.

Those on the forums who do peel back the layers are either consultants like me or print providers who’ve gone through this process and know first hand where the gotchas are. Most of the sales guys on the forums (who frequently disguise themselves) blithely claim that the new NexGendigo CL8050 they’re schlepping is the only machine worth considering, while sometimes pointing out the negatives of competing devices. Price is a big deal to some sales guys on the forums, a few of whom may be better off selling used cars.

At the end of the day, though, the real question should be, “What’s the best press for your operation?” And the answer comes with an analysis of your business, where you see it going, and how a new press may be able to help you get there.

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