Sheetfed Offset, Web Offset, Digital : Defining Crossover Points
The New Math
While it's fair to say that conventional offset printing's higher front-end costs make it less suitable for smaller quantities, what is also true is that technological improvements—both groundbreaking and incremental—continue to push offset run lengths down, keeping the competitive pressure on digital printing (in the case of sheetfed offset) and on sheetfed offset itself (in the case of web offset). Needless to say, these improvements are changing the calculus associated with the quantities that can be run profitably on offset equipment.
According to Sandy Alexander's Jack Emery, for example, "Since we installed a new six-color manroland 700 sheetfed press with DirectDrive technology last year, the economics have changed a little bit for us. That press enables us to have incredibly short makereadies, to come into register and up to color quickly, such that we're able to produce a quality product in about 20 minutes. As a result, an appropriately sized job we might have put on our Indigo or iGen 18 months ago because it involved a lot of versions, we might now produce offset by taking advantage of the efficiencies afforded by the new press."
Moreover, because there's so little downtime in the makeready process, "you're looking at relatively few hours of operation. It's not like the old days, where by the time you hung your plates and got the press up to color, you'd already expended an hour of press time. If the job was going to run only a half an hour or so, it didn't make sense to go sheetfed. In this model, it makes more sense."
From a capacity utilization standpoint, and because Sandy Alexander's digital business leans heavily to variable data, "it's been good for us to move some of our static work off digital and onto offset," Emery adds. "There's a lot higher value in variable than in static digital work."