Printers On How They Select Sheetfed, Web Offset, Digital Printing Run Lengths
Let us all bow our heads in respectful silence as we say goodbye to using run lengths as the primary indicator as to whether a job will be produced on a sheetfed offset press or a cut-sheet digital printer. Say a prayer and take a moment to reflect on the benchmarks of yesterday...2,000 to 2,500 and 3,000 to 3,500. Under 5,000 was a crowd pleaser, as well.
But let’s be honest, it’s not 2005 anymore. Heck, it’s not even 2012. Production digital printing devices have learned how to stick the landing—borrowing from gymnastics’ parlance—by making gargantuan strides in printing quality and lowering the cost per sheet to a level more in line with its sheetfed offset stepbrother. There is now but one major crossover point that is a slam-dunk determining factor in a printing environment now devoid of most time-tested rules.
Variabe data. Will content be swapped out? Yes? Well, there you go. Crank up the digital device.
GLS Cos., the pride of St. Louis Park, MN, sports a trio of facilities, including a marketing agency in nearby Minnetonka. GLS offers an expanded range of marketing services from strategy development, content creation and original creative to traditional sheetfed, web printing, digital printing, mailing services and distribution. The firm relies on Heidelberg for its sheetfed offset output, while HP delivers on the digital side via a 7500 and a pair of 29˝ Indigo 10000 digital presses. The Indigo 10000s have been positively disruptive, notes Jayme Wisely, president and COO of GLS.
A Change of Digital Plans
At the time GLS acquired the 10000, the backup plan was to take some short-run, static jobs off the six-color, 29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster and output them via digital equipment. Those projections never quite transpired; there was precious little static content. Variable content, on the other hand, made a stronger showing than anticipated.
“We found that, as we help customers with strategies and ‘market manufacting’ capabilities to help grow their business, more and more of our customers are making the decision to go to variable content,” Wisely notes. “Not just address blocks, but full variable image and text swapping, because their marketing strategies are becoming more personal.”
Wisely recalls a recent four-up job that consisted of 76,000 sheets, two-sided. The run was split between the two HP Indigo 10000s. In fact, GLS is churning out plenty of long, highly variable content through the 10000.
“When you talk about a tipping point of 2,000 or 2,500, it’s not comparing apples to apples anymore,” Wisely points out. “Marketing strategies are evolving differently, and that has driven our digital strategy much more than ‘like’ product.”
Again, quality considerations have gone out the window, as all of GLS’ presses are fingerprinted to one another and are G7 calibrated. To the common eye, there is zero difference between web, sheetfed and digital output at GLS. Even finicky artists who rely on GLS for their art prints have moved their jobs from offset to digital.
“Now, they can order in variable quantities. Instead of ordering 5,000 prints at the beginning, they’ll order a couple thousand at a time and (reorder) three or four times a year,” he says. “If an artist, with a discretionary eye, is willing to go digital, then we should be able to do just about any work that way.”
Wisely credits HP’s improvements to the Indigo 10000 as being a critical factor in the quality uptick from simply being able to produce “pleasing color” to being able to match sheetfed offset press output. Previous issues such as banding and ink adhesion have disappeared.
The MATLET Group, a packaging and commercial printer based in Pawtucket, RI, is a relative newcomer to the digital space. The firm offers sheetfed and web offset printing at its Central Florida Press location, as well as fulfillment at NOVA Marketing Services in St. Louis, with Packaging Graphics (in Pawtucket) producing paperboard packaging for consumer products.
Roughly two years ago, MATLET invested in the Series 4 HPs, picking up a pair of HP Indigo 10000s. The first was installed at Central Florida Press. One year ago, MATLET expanded into Mexico—a space it shares with a strategic alliance printer—where it produces large-format products. The second HP 10000 was installed there.
Talent Pool Deepens
Gary Stiffler, the CEO of MATLET, set out to hire the right people. He brought on Ed Wiegand, who sits on HP’s advisory council, to help the company forge its digital strategy. That, coupled with the foray into large-format sheetfed printing, represented bold steps for the organization, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary under the MATLET umbrella.
Using the 30˝ format, Stiffler finds the digital/sheetfed tipping point to be somewhere north of 3,000 sheets. “We’re pushing our clients heavily into the innovation/customization side,” he says. “Therefore, that is what’s pushing work into digital—more so than the crossover run size. We’re trying to get people away from thinking, ‘short runs should go digital.’ We’re trying to educate them on what today’s technology can do for them.”
In offering clients a hybrid solution, Stiffler says MATLET can help clients attain zero inventory by producing their longer runs on traditional offset and shorter runs/reruns on the Indigo 10000. Here, too, the company finds its sheetfed and digital devices to be interchangeable from a quality and color management standpoint. That digital rates a passing grade is no small feat, given that packaging jobs go through a longer, more vigorous validation process.
Aside from time to market, one of the other bigger considerations hinges on whether customers take advantage of MATLET’s total supply chain solution and gain cost savings on the front end. Coupled with the elimination of inventory and the speed to market on the back end, the crossover counts become less of a factor, Stiffler notes.
From the “results may vary” department is Walker360, a full-service advertising, marketing communications and printing firm based in Montgomery, AL. The organization also boasts an advertising agency and, in addition to printed media, Walker360 does TV commercials, radio spots, outdoor advertising, campaigns and logos.
Walker360’s printing component includes Heidelberg XL 105, a Speedmaster 52 Anicolor and a Speedmaster SM 52 sheetfed offset press. The digital content is provided courtesy of two Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS C6000s, but the recent acquisition of a digital printing company will see the arsenal switch to a Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS C7000, along with a bizhub PRESS 1250 monochrome printer. Taylor Blackwell, president and owner, notes the company is “dabbling” in wide-format digital printing and a flatbed printer is on his wish list.
Blackwell has a number of different metrics he uses for determining crossover points. With plates for the Anicolor costing under $10 a set, that makes the tipping point somewhere around 500 to 600 clicks on the Konica Minolta devices. By the same token, if Blackwell has to produce a short run of 50 books that have 100 pages each, it’s easier to run the job digitally based on the finishing considerations.
“If you print them on an offset press, you have to fold, collate and trim them. Or you can just run cut sizes on the digital press and it comes out as a book block, which is much easier,” Blackwell says. “For us, if that quantity gets to be 500+ books, then it’s less expensive to run them on the offset press. It’s really page dependent.”
Blackwell sees the quality aspect as being close across the board, but oftentimes certain factors, including colors and heavy ink coverages (especially with solids), can push a job to the offset press. Substrate thickness can also land a job into the sheetfed offset job queue.
Full Menu of Print Capabilities
Minneapolis-based The John Roberts Co. offers customers a wide array of printing services, including half- and full-web offset presses with six-color perfecting capabilities; five sheetfed offset machines, three of which are six-color and another offering 10-color perfecting; plus four digital presses offering up to seven colors plus coatings. The firm relies on Heidelberg for its conventional and UV sheetfed offset printing, augmented with a Kodak NexPress and an HP Indigo 10000 on the digital cut-sheet printing side.
The John Roberts Co. bills itself as an integrated direct marketing services company that offers data-driven strategies, tracking and analytics. Ann Marie Keene, marketing director, notes that 3,000 sheets is the typical tipping point for digital to sheetfed, and 15,000 copies is the breaking point from sheetfed to web offset. Highly variable products get run digital, of course, with the need for UV pushing jobs onto sheetfed presses.
Digital printing quality isn’t an issue for The John Roberts Co., according to Keene. Only the need for embellishments such as UV will push a job off of the digital devices.
“With digital, sheetfed and web offset capabilities, we are well equipped to produce a number of products dependent on customer needs and turnaround requirements,” Keene points out. PI