The Deregulation Of the Digital Press
The flood gates are open—digital presses for commercial printers are no longer one size fits all. There are enough devices to tempt the commercial printing community. From the zealous prepress provider to the comprehensive of one-stop printing operations: Specialization is the new mandate for the digital press in on-demand printing, variable or not.
BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO
Quick. What is a prime directive of the best of the best commercial printers when it comes to exploring new digital technologies for print?
- Be receptive to embrace emerging digital printing technologies?
- Be proactive with contemporary and unique marketing initiatives to promote new digital printing investments?
- Deliver the highest quality printing services possible—plus offer a specialized on-demand printing service?
- What about the customer? What about staying one step ahead of the customer by positioning to be a true one-stop printing resource for both long- and short-run applications?
What about being a technologically savvy commercial printer, intent on gaining new business by proactively marketing newly implemented digital printing services? How about that for a mandate.
With several years now well under their collective 'belts,' digital printing equipment manufacturers from Agfa to Indigo, Xeikon to Xerox, Scitex to Screen and, of course, Heidelberg, are changing—finally—the way even the more conservative commercial printers view the evolving digital printing business.
Exactly how is the digital press market redefining the goals and marketing plans of even the most traditional commercial printers? There is a new word in town when it comes to discussions of this nature—discussions of the potential of digital printing under the roof of the all-American printer.
Think deregulation. No longer is one specific type of digital press necessarily a right or wrong fit for any particular commercial printing environment looking to grow in areas of direct imaging.
Specialization of digital printing services is the mandate progressive commercial printers are now following as they consider the logic, given the corporate agenda for each particular printing operation, of evolving into areas of on-demand, short-run digital printing. Today, digital presses come in enough flavors for all commercial printers to step back, evaluate the short-run potential of their operation and say: "Is it time? Am I ready to be a digital print provider?" More and more, the answer is: "Yes."
"The power of digital also means the power of specialization—there is no longer a feeling of 'one size fits all' when it comes to on-demand digital printing," reports Doug Clott, North American sales and marketing director for Karat Digital Press, a joint venture.
"Now, people are buying large-format ink-jet printers for their posters and advanced color copiers and electrostatic digital printing presses for short, and even longer, runs. People are buying direct imaging offset presses for a variety of automated functionality and longer run performance," he says. "The flood gates are open; digital printing has hit."
Certainly, Karat has made some recent gains. Karat Digital Press installed its first press in the United States recently at EMR Systems Communication, a high-end digital prepress shop and general commercial printer in New York. The 74 Karat digitally integrated offset press was delivered to EMR in November. EMR intends to use the 74 Karat to run more short- and medium-run work per shift than its current, conventional offset press—with considerably less operator effort. The 74 Karat press employs waterless printing to eliminate the complicated ink-water balance of traditional offset printing.
The 74 Karat press produces jobs with a maximum format of four full-bleed pages at up to 10,000 sph, handling a full range of paper qualities and weights. The more "traditional" Karat offset digital press, Clott says, offers an alternative to the field of electrostatic digital printing devices (Chromapress, Indigo, Xeikon, as examples) that push value-added printing, such as variable data, to the digital printing community.
Another such alternative, naturally, can be found from the father of the Quickmaster DI, Heidelberg—who else—in the form of its Speedmaster 74 DI. The SM 74 DI, which is expected to receive great attention at DRUPA 2000 this May, employs Creo's squareSPOT thermal imaging technology to simultaneously image plates in up to six printing units, at resolutions as high as 2,400 dpi. Heidelberg's SM 74 DI can use thermal plates manufactured by a variety of plate providers.
As a direct imaging system solution, the SM 74 DI offers tailored hardware and software for the Delta DI RIP, which works according to the ROOM principle, allowing users to prepare various output versions without multiple RIPs.
Each printing unit of the SM 74 DI is equipped with an imaging unit holding a 40-watt laser, which takes three minutes and 30 seconds to completely image the entire page format at a resolution of 2,400 dpi, simultaneously, in perfect register.
And then there is Screen's foray into digital, offset printing. The TruePress 544, an offset digital printing system that, after receiving output data from Screen's TaigaSPACE workflow or another workflow, employs conventional CMYK process inks and spot colors to stock papers of any thickness from 0.3mm to 0.06mm. TruePress supports a printing area of 19.3x14.3˝, enabling full A3 printing with space for register marks.
After plates are automatically imaged, printing proceeds on TruePress at a maximum rate of 4,000 iph for four-color work or 8,000 iph for two-color work. TruePress carries out the entire imaging process automatically, including plate loading and unloading, imaging, developing, fixing, printing and blanket cleaning.
But there's still much more to the story when it comes to color digital presses. Outside the more conventional offset digital realm of the 74 Karat and the Heidelberg SM 74 DI—stepping into the market of the electrostatic, short-run, variable-data-generating digital presses—the following activities are under way in the continually deregulating world of on-demand printing.
The Agfa Chromapress is sporting a new i-RIP, a $30,000 Adobe PostScript RIP that Agfa is offering as a free upgrade for Chromapress 50I RIP owners.
On the variable data printing front, Agfa's Personalizer-X 2.1 and IntelliCache products are the new talk. Personalizer-X 2.1 is a new release of the Personalizer-X Quark XTension that allows the design and creation of personalized documents. The new release sports several powerful features including a new tool that allows conditional statements to be applied to the database from within QuarkXPress, on-line charting capabilities to allow data to be charted on-the-fly and scripting capabilities to enable database selection and exporting functions.
Agfa's IntelliCache, designed to streamline variable printing workflows that involve repetitive use of text blocks, images or other page elements, allows RIPed elements to be reused within the personalized print application, storing the data on the Chromapress RIP and merging the information on-the-fly. This significantly reduces the RIPing time required for print applications that vary image content at different degrees and frequencies.
Indigo is placing emphasis on its $149,000 Indigo e-Print Pro+, the company's lowest-cost digital color press designed for short-run applications such as brochures, flyers and advertising. Likewise, the Indigo UltraStream, a high-volume digital offset press capable of 8,000 iph, and the Indigo TurboStream, a six-color digital press for mid- to high- volume color print jobs, provide an avenue for printers to enter new areas of variable data printing.
Indigo reports that, throughout 2000 and beyond, personalized printing with Indigo digital presses will explode to unprecedented production volumes. The increase will be driven by the introduction of two variable information processing technologies that represent a quantum leap in releasing the power of personalized printing by making it easier, more flexible and cost-effective.
Case in point: SNAP (Swift Native Accelerated Personalization). SNAP provides variable information processing power for dramatically increased productivity, especially for large and complex personalized jobs. Available on all Indigo TurboStream presses, the technology enables most personalization jobs to be processed in real-time at full print speed—processing text and picture data on-the-fly.
Also, Pageflex Mpower, an integrated suite of software applications from the Pageflex division of Bitstream, gives digital printing providers the ability to design and produce customized databases or Internet-driven marketing communications on-demand.
Pageflex Mpower operates as a front end to Indigo's TurboStream and UltraStream presses. It offers a very high level of functionality for heavy-duty personalization applications, such as those involving complex designs or personalization formulas, large databases and multiple clients.
New in the Xeikon product portfolio is the DCP/50-SP digital press for folding cartons and other paperboard packaging. With an obvious focus on package printing, the new Xeikon comes with a web-feeding system capable of handling up to 18-pt. paperboard, producing 630 full-color sheets per hour. The unit is ideally suited for smaller folding cartons, such as cosmetics, specialty foods, video sleeves and presentation folders.
On the variable front, Xeikon's DCP/50D and DCP/32D digital color presses support the VariScript operating system for production color variable data printing. VariScript is capable of producing 100 percent variable data at full press speeds.
The much-publicized DRUPA 2000 exhibition this May in Dusseldorf, Germany, will provide a world stage for digital printing press vendors. All current technology providers, and perhaps some new ones, will be there to show their newest offerings. DRUPA 2000 will present the shape of digital printing to come. Prepare for more deregulation, as the digital press refines.
Direct Imaging Offset Analysis:
Offset Presses That Image Plates On-board
Offer Printers Significant Advantages
By Doug Clott, North American sales and marketing director for Karat Press
For years, the conventional offset press was the only game in town. Then in 1993, the pendulum swung and the electrostatic "digital press" burst onto the scene. Since then, digital presses have carved a niche in the ultra-short-run and variable data markets with the focus on cost per page. But they don't always serve the commercial printers whose customers want offset quality and lower costs for medium run-length jobs.
Unlike toner-based, variable data presses such as those made by Indigo and Xeikon that have a fixed cost per sheet or conventional offset presses that require plates to be imaged through a labor-intensive external process, direct imaging offset presses produce plates for medium-length runs directly on-press from digital job files.
Direct imaging offset presses offer the same benefits as conventional offset presses. This includes high- speed printing at up to 10,000 to 15,000 sph, lower incremental costs to print additional sheets, larger format sizes and offset color printing quality. But by imaging plates on-press, even the most basic direct imaging offset presses allow faster makeready for color and registration, resulting in reduced operating costs on short- to medium run-length jobs.
Direct imaging offset presses actually fall into two groups. The first group is made up of conventional offset presses retrofitted with a digital imaging system. These "hybrid" direct imaging systems include Heidelberg's GTO-DI and Speedmaster DI products, the Adast DI and Akiyama's J Print.
In the second group are the new-generation direct imaging offset presses, which have been redesigned with operations that are largely controlled through digital technology. These digitally integrated offset presses—represented by the 74 Karat press from Karat Digital Press and Heidelberg's Quickmaster DI—maintain the high quality of offset while providing the benefits of increased automation by integrating with an all-digital prepress workflow.
The new-generation, digitally integrated offset presses make the most of all-digital workflows to control the operation of the press and provide even greater benefits. Using a computer front-end to drive the press makes it possible to direct a range of functions under program control, such as automatically adjusting for paper thickness, paper type and ink sets. Despite their differences, both types of direct imaging offset presses bypass the extra steps of film-based platemaking, reduce capital equipment requirements for imagesetters, analog-based proofing and external platesetting units, and eliminate the process of hanging and registering plates on-press.
With faster makeready and high speed printing, direct imaging offset presses routinely can be used for 1,000 to 10,000 impressions, enabling commercial printers to produce substantially more jobs per shift without increasing overhead costs. Direct imaging offset presses present a viable alternative to longer run, labor-intensive conventional presses on one side and ultra-short-run or variable data digital presses on the other—allowing printers to meet increasing print demands.