VDP: Debunking Urban Legends
AS DIGITAL color printing reaches the tipping point, it’s time to set the record straight on popular misconceptions about today’s systems.
Which of the following is a true statement?
Tapping the side of a can of soda will prevent its contents from foaming over when you open it.
The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object that is visible from space.
Offset presses are still the only real option for high-quality color printing.
The answer: None are correct. In reality, tapping a can of soda does little to prevent foaming, the Great Wall is barely visible at altitudes of 180 miles, and today’s digital color printing offers a “no-excuses” complement to offset.
Still these urban legends persist. And, in the case of digital printing, a handful of urban myths continue to warn many creatives and print buyers about digital printing pitfalls that either no longer exist or are easy to avoid.
Fortunately, these urban myths—grounded in what was reality less than a decade ago—are easier than ever to dispel. So set aside your preconceptions and see how you, too, can bust the urban myths of digital printing.
• The image quality isn’t good enough.
In reality, several digital color presses released in recent years successfully complement offset output. Digital print quality compares to offset as digital photos compare to analog shots. Each technology has distinctive characteristics that affect output, but the quality achieves professional standards in nearly every application.
From a technical standpoint, today’s premier four-color digital presses typically achieve a larger color gamut than four-color offset presses. For example, some digital color presses can match about 80 percent of PANTONE colors, compared to about 67 percent on the Heidelberg Speedmaster.
Perceptions of digital image quality usually are favorable, as well.
“Digital print quality is equal to or better than offset, and most of my clients don’t notice a difference,” claims Linda Dickinson, director of print production and purchasing at Meridian Communications, a Lexington, KY-based advertising and public relations firm. “For me, deciding between digital and offset printing is more about turnaround time and costs—and other factors, like printing variable information. We print more jobs digitally all the time because the quality is there, the fast turnaround time is there and, often, the cost is equivalent to offset.”
Digital print quality holds up on a wide range of applications. At the 2006 ADIM (Art Directors Invitational Master) Conference—a four-day event surveying the latest computer-based design tools for designers, illustrators, art directors and photographers—participants digitally printed wine label design comps, final labels and promotional posters in a personalized book.
“The print quality is stunning,” says Russell Brown, senior creative director, Adobe Systems and a founder of the ADIM Conference. “The personalized book is a powerful reminder of what this technology can do.”
• Digital printing is too expensive, and our run lengths are too long for digital presses.
Offset will always have a cost advantage on longer runs. But, as digital technology improves, its cost advantage extends to increasingly longer “short” runs. And many are willing to pay a slight premium for digital printing’s improved workflow efficiency, faster turnaround, elimination of warehousing and obsolescence of out-of-date materials through print-on-demand, and personalization of every piece in a production to improve relevance. In many cases, these benefits compensate for the higher cost of digital printing by delivering big cost savings and better results.
For example, Heritage Education Funds recently ran a controlled, apples-to-apples test comparing a customized communications program to a traditional campaign. Heritage reduced the cost of acquiring a customer by 21 percent with the digitally printed one-to-one campaign, despite a 36 percent higher printing cost than the traditional method (72 cents per piece vs. 53 cents).
Other digital cost savings can include: Lower paper-related costs—one-pass printing of stationery and content eliminates costly production and storage of letterhead, while simplifying paper loading, which can reduce labor costs; lower labor costs—labor is one of the highest costs at any printing establishment, and digital printing workflow systems can be highly automated, reducing labor needs; and lower delivery costs—once a file is print-ready, delivering it over the Internet for local printing can speed up job deliveries by hours or days and cut costs by replacing or supplementing overland shipping.
• The papers available for digital printing are way too limited.
In 1999, most of the available papers for digital color printing were uncoated, white stocks in a narrow range of weights, which were all the leading xerographic printers could handle. The industry has come a long way since then.
First, today’s leading digital presses perform better, printing a wide range of coated and uncoated substrates, from the very light to the very heavy—60 to 350 gsm for uncoated stocks, 90 to 350 gsm for coated stocks.
Second, paper manufacturers have continually developed new substrates for digital printing. In recent years, many printing needs have been met with coated one- and two-sided papers, parchments, off-white graphics stocks for text and covers, and specialty products for ID cards, labels, transparencies, photos, transfer to textiles, carbonless paper for digital color printing of multi-part forms and other applications. Many newer papers have been designed to run well in both digital and offset presses.
These substrates can provide a competitive advantage. For example, carbonless paper for color printing has permitted Beyond Signs & Graphics to move its multi-part forms printing business in-house, reducing turnaround from a week or more to hours, while boosting customer satisfaction and revenues. “Time- and money-wise, digital carbonless paper is a much better value for us (than outsourcing),” reports Annette Cogburn, production manager.
Further, today’s wide choice of stocks enable digital presses to produce some of the most elegant and demanding applications in the graphic arts. For example, Sands Des Roches, a wedding dress designer, recently worked with Atlanta-based Impel Media to produce an elegant catalog of its designer-quality wedding dresses. Impel produced the catalog on a digital color press using an 80-lb. cover stock with a matte finish and warm tone that enhanced the photographs and helped convey the lush opulence that Sands Des Roches sought.
• We don’t have the sophisticated data to leverage variable information (VI) printing, which is digital printing’s real value.
In reality, many of the most effective one-to-one marketing pieces make creative use of the most basic data sets. Color name-only personalization has been shown to boost response rates by 135 percent over a comparable static black-and-white piece (source: Romano and Broudy).
And simple personalization has proven effective outside the lab, as well. For example, Pantone Inc. recently promoted its Spyder2 color monitor calibration device with the company’s first personalized direct marketing campaign, using data points for name, title, company, address and industry served. The hook: photographs of extravagantly tattooed models under a headline, “Nobody touches my color but the pros,” and PANTONE Matching System chips positioned as if for a live job. Greetings were personalized, copy was customized for photographers or creatives and, when multiple pieces were sent to the same company, three different layouts were rotated to generate interest.
The result: an 81 percent increase in sales over the previous year’s promotion. “It accomplished what I was trying to do better than anything I’ve done in the past,” says Doris Brown, vice president of marketing at Pantone.
Similarly, Lorraine Press worked with H Theory, both of Salt Lake City, to create its first variable information piece to invite customers and prospects to an open house showcasing its new digital color press. The invitation incorporated a flipbook animation of a magician conjuring up the recipient’s name. Fifty percent of the invitees attended (150 out of 300), and the piece also won industry awards.
“The open house was a grand success,” says Robert Miller, president of Lorraine Press. “Everyone wanted to know how we did the flipbooks.”
Pantone and Lorraine Press are not alone in achieving such stellar results. Today’s vanguard digital presses, breadth of paper technologies and professionals who know how to apply them to generate business results, are busting urban myths about digital color printing every day.
And that’s not an urban legend. PI
About the Author
Bob Wagner is vice president/general manager of the Creative Services Business segment of the Worldwide Graphic Arts Industry at Xerox Corp.