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.

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  • doxoutput

    You are totally correct. I’ve been in this industry since 1977. Unfortunately, the majority of buyers focus on things like, lowest cost per page, a specific application their current printer can’t do, image quality on files they provide, and perceived reliability. All the points you made are important in a varying degree to each situation.

    I know it’s difficult for buyers to sort through all the marketing hype, sales pitches, and perceptions others have about their current printer(s), but one of the things a lot of them miss is what will they need in the future. Can the printer support growth? Can the new printer expand the applications you can offer? Does the company have a good track record of providing good/excellent service and support in your area?

    The buyers need to understand that they are not buying a load of gravel for the lowest price. They are buying a business solution that will require service and support for several years.

    Buyers also need to be careful with proprietary software solutions that lock them into a specific brand of printer. Eventually getting out of these types of situations can be very painful and expensive in the long run.

    In summary, buyers need to get back to finding the best current and future value. Not the lowest price box or lowest priced "clicks."

  • Scott Baker

    Very well put, Noel… One of my mentors stated years ago that "people will buy bags of broken glass just because it sparkles in the sunlight" If more buyers of presses approached the acquisition process with your list of questions in hand, there would be many fewer disappointments and failures.

  • Pat McGrew


    You hit it perfectly. It’s not the press. It’s what you need it to do. Does it meet your Print Quality requirements — and every printer has different needs to serve their market. Will it fit in your shop? Is the throughput in sync with your business needs? Is the vendor going to be there for you when you get into a pinch? Oh… and what’s the disaster recovery strategy? Thanks for a great column!