LANGE GRAPHICS — FINDING DIGITAL FOOTHOLDS
IT’S STRIKING for so many industry trends to be encapsulated in a single company, especially a mid-size printer with just over 50 employees. Denver-based Lange Graphics continues to make major investments in sheetfed offset capabilities while expanding its digital printing business. Both production platforms have the capability to support the firm’s diversification into printing on plastic, static cling and removable vinyl materials. The shop also is in the process of rolling out a Web-to-print solution.
Lange Graphics originally established a separate business—Digi Colorado—as a vehicle for its move into digital printing, but is now offering offset and digital printing services in an integrated approach. Its Jetway Envelope business continues to be operated as a subsidiary. Founder and President Bud Lange manages the family run organization with his sons, Keith (vice president of sales and marketing) and Ed (vice president of production).
Plenty of Experience
The elder Lange has been in printing for almost 60 years. He struck out on his own in 1977 as a broker with no equipment for the first four years. The shop since evolved into a high-end commercial printer with half-size sheetfed equipment, including a five-color with UV capabilities initially installed to produce coated covers for a web printer.
Trade printing accounted for a significant part of Lange Graphics’ business when it installed its first digital press, an (HP) Indigo UltraStream 2000, in 2001. At the time, management saw advantages in having a separate identity through which to offer digital printing services to that market and others.
The company is now on its second generation of digital printing technology, having upgraded to an HP Indigo press 5000. Short runs of high-end color and variable data round out its applications.
Along with the ability to print on non-paper substrates, Lange says support of Pantone colors was a factor in the product choice. He also notes that the technology has matured into a more stable production platform, but says the quality of HP’s service was also a consideration. The smaller footprint of the HP Indigo 5000 compared to the competing digital presses the company looked at was another issue.
In the past year, the shop’s digital output has about doubled to more than 300,000 impressions per month. “The variable data work runs in spurts,” Lange says. “We have two accounts now that are 100 percent variable. Overall, we’re probably in the 35 percent variable range currently.”
One of Lange Graphics’ newest digital programs is a direct response piece for a nationwide bank. It won that contract, in part, due to the HP IndiChrome Offpress special color capability because the piece features the bank’s distinctive two-color logo.
“We won the entire project because we could (digitally) print their small quantities with Pantone colors, too,” explains Taylor Elder, prepress manager. “Printing corporate colors wasn’t a ‘nice to have’ feature in this case; it was an essential part of Lange Graphics winning the entire job—offset and digital.”
Digital runs of the six-color piece have to match what’s produced on the shop’s conventional press, adds Lange. HP mixes up the special ElectroInk colors that are needed. “We do the regular CMYK and then, if it has a PMS color, we have that mixed and keep it on hand for the particular job,” he notes.
Building VDP Work
One of the firm’s largest variable data jobs so far is a promotional mailing for a regional housing developer that is sent out three times a week in quantities ranging from 250 to 2,000 pieces. “We also do promotional books, maybe 10 copies of 50 pages each, for real estate companies that are making presentations for land sites and building proposals,” Lange says.
“Sometimes we’ll proof pieces on the digital press that are going to be printed conventionally,” he continues. “We do full-color page proofs of a national magazine acclaimed for its photography. We can send the file to the (HP Indigo) 5000 and get proofs for much less. What jobs get sent to the press depends on the size and number of pages.”
Static cling and adhesive labels are among the specialty materials that the company also produces digitally. Lange says the press’ triple paper bin facilitates switching between substrates. Specialty materials account for about 35 percent of the shop’s volume overall, he estimates, but that business is still being built up on the digital side.
As another element of the nationwide bank program, Lange Graphics has been implementing a Web-to-print solution to handle both offset and digital work. “This was the first application big enough to justify the effort and expense,” reports the company exec.
According to Lange, the firm elected to work with Printable Technologies in deploying a solution because of the resources that would have been required to put together and maintain its own system. Training internal staff and customers on how to use the system is challenging enough, he says.
Inventory management is to be part of the online system since the shop was offering fulfillment services even before it got into digital printing. In the case of mailing services, it provides customers one-stop service, but has developed a relationship with a nearby outside firm to do the final processing.
The veteran printing exec traces his company’s involvement with digital printing back to being an early adopter of computer-to-plate production with a then-Creo system. “It (direct-to-plate production) was probably the development that has helped printing the most,” he says.
Some customers use both offset and digital services while others do not, but they are all served by the same sales team, Lange says. Not all salespeople are equally successful selling both, so he has considered adding digital specialists.
Lange Graphics obviously still sees big things ahead for its offset business, as well, having just invested in a six-color, 41˝ KBA Rapida 105 press with hybrid and full UV capability. This machine is replacing a five-color, 26˝ press, leaving it with two 28˝ sheetfeds.
Having already developed a niche printing on plastic and vinyl with its UV capable half-size press, the company is now pursuing larger formats to grow that business even further.