Adding Dimension to Print

The onslaught of digital print, e-paper and e-publishing have already put a heavy hit on the commercial print market. Small and large printers alike are seeing a serious drop in orders and profits. Small printers are shuttering their doors, medium size printers are being gobbled up by bigger printers and newspapers and magazines are folding.

It’s not pretty, but it’s not the end of print. It is the beginning of the next evolution. If you remember the evolution from letterpress to offset, you know there are still a few letterpress machines around being run at a profit, but very few folks who know how to run them. And cold type? It might be good for boat anchors.

The evolution from offset to digital took a similar course. Where are the Compugraphics, the typesetters, the halftone cameras, the strippers and the color keys? Gone, along with those operators who didn’t learn to play nice with computers.

But even though prepress is pretty much entirely digital, heavy iron is still churning out millions of tons of printed paper. Yes, the capacity is shared by digital presses of all manner.

What seems clear is that simply applying ink to paper is not going to keep printing companies in business even for the short term. Instead, print providers are learning to do what only they can do; what no hand-held digital device will ever be able to do. They are leveraging their finishing capabilities to produce products only they can produce.

We’re talking metallics, varnishes, diecuts, embossing, textured papers and the like. Print providers have suddenly realized they can operate in three dimensions—something digital devices can only approximate. Print has touch and feel and depth.

Expect to see a huge surge in the percentage of printed materials that take advantage of the dimensionality of print. That will be great for the producers of specialty inks and varnishes and folks who know how to work minor miracles with complicated diecuts and fancy embossing dies. And it will be good for paper companies who can come up with unique textures and colors for their products.

Stephen Beals is a veteran prepress manager with some 30 years of experience in the commercial print business. He has written hundreds of articles for dozens of publications and owns the website "Printoolz" for software for print and multimedia production. Stephen also founded his own murder mystery dinner theatre troupe and is a Presbyterian pastor.

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