2019 Best-in-Class Innovator: Color Ink Thrives on Change
Innovators don’t come to their plants in the morning saying to themselves, “Today, I’m going to innovate.” That’s not what innovation is about. It’s more a reflex than a behavior — a continuous state of mind that leads both deliberately and serendipitously to transformative results.
The printing industry’s innovators are energetic, inquisitive, and intrepid people who don’t wait for things to happen. Sometimes they strategize outcomes. At other times, facing threat or opportunity, they instinctively choose the right course of action. Either way, these relentless innovators always manage to achieve something that lifts their companies to new levels of capability, performance, and profitability.
The accounts of 12 businesses that exemplify innovation in the printing industry came together in the October issue of Printing Impressions. All of the profiles are based on interviews with the sources and on their responses to questionnaires filled out in support of their applications to be selected as Printing Impressions’ “Innovator of the Year” for 2019.
Innovation starts with an attitude: a determination not just to adapt to change, but to thrive on it. This is the story of Color Ink, described by the president of a trade association it belongs to as “the gold standard of print evolution” in its transition to nearly 100% production with inkjet printing and digital finishing.
In 2007, recalls Color Ink President Todd Meissner, output from the company’s four six-color, 40˝ litho presses lifted sales to a peak of $30 million — but at margins so low that they were “disheartening.” A plunge in commercial print sales during the next two years convinced him that the time had come to begin replacing the litho equipment with technology better suited to the rising demand for short runs in the markets Color Ink wanted to pursue.
Today, only one litho press remains. Among the devices taking the place of the departed iron are one Agfa Jeti and two Inca wide-format digital flatbed presses; a Fujifilm J Press 720S sheetfed inkjet press; a Komori Impremia IS29 sheetfed UV inkjet press; an MGI JETvarnish 3D digital spot UV embellishment system; and a Highcon Euclid III digital creasing and cutting machine.
With the help of this eclectic assortment of digital output devices, Meissner says, “profits are better than they’ve been in 25 years.” The company remains strongly grounded in retail graphics, which accounts for about 60% of its business. Butnew opportunities have opened up in trade show displays, promotional and prototype packaging, and other verticals where the emphasis is on short runs, fast turns, and maximum added value for the customer’s dollar.
Meissner says Color Ink’s digital prowess was on full display in Milwaukee’s recent Brew City Cigar Festival, an event celebrating cigars, spirits, beers, and wines. For the fête, the company produced print advertising, direct mail, signage, and banners; it even fabricated display tables for the exhibiting vendors. Color Ink also has branched into product launch kits consisting of highly embellished sample boxes in runs of 50 to 100.
The value of digital finishing shines through in projects like the latter, reports Meissner, who calls the MGI JETvarnish 3D “an unbelievable addition to the mix” in this respect. He believes that teaming the device with digital printing and laser diecutting on the Highcon Euclid III adds up to a “one-two-three punch” of capability that will help Color Ink win more work.
“The technological transformation to digital-based production solutions has allowed us to become more competitive in shorter-run projects,” Meissner observes. “Our production facility is cleaner as a result, with a lot less paper and ink waste.” To help other printers toward transformations of their own, Color Ink joined the Great Lakes Graphics Association in hosting a ColorUp Digital Boot Camp to promote digital technologies and their applications.
Meissner acknowledges that when lingering “myths” about digital printing’s limitations and costs filter down to customers, no one’s best interests are served. That is why his goal is to get his peers “thinking differently” about digital and the benefits it can bring to their companies — just as it did to Color Ink.