Digital or Offset: Not a Clear Choice—Mark Michelson
Conventional wisdom would say that short-run, static jobs automatically get routed to digital output devices in a print shop with offset and digital press capacity. But not so fast. Many of today’s modern-era litho press designs incorporate quick-makeready and waste reduction features that make short runs cost-effective. So, then the offset/digital decision likely comes down to the paper specifications and finishing requirements, the customer’s turnaround requirements, as well as design considerations like solid ink coverage and PMS color matches. Also, labor and plate costs for offset vs. click charges for digital output.
But, unlike even a few years ago, customer quality expectations have become less of a sticking point for printers opting to run short-run, static jobs on their digital gear. In fact, many of today’s print buyers don’t even know, or really care, how their work gets produced—just as long as it’s delivered on time, as specified and at the right price.
These are just some of the current trends Senior Editor Erik Cagle found in talking to several commercial printers for a bylined article appearing on page 22 about run length crossover points when choosing digital or offset production. One consistent finding is the inconsistency; each print shop has its own criteria for run length crossover decisions.
Either way, hybrid workflows that incorporate a printer’s existing offset printing and postpress infrastructure, coupled with digital output and on-demand finishing capabilities, can result in production chaos. Then add single jobs that may require both analog and digitally personalized components—along with an incoming stream of Web-to-print jobs—into the mix for good measure. As noted in a related feature on page 26, these evolving market dynamics require the integration of various business and production systems to streamline workflows and to boost productivity—and hence profitability—through automation.
The growth of digital printing has been a boon for many printing establishments in terms of on-demand output with less skilled labor, and personalization capabilities to increase response rates. But some printers still long for the comparative simplicity of large-quantity runs, with generous delivery deadlines, only on offset presses. Those days are forever over, and we all know the production pace will only quicken.