The New Print Production Mantra: Unified Offset/Digital Workflow
With digital printing in its various forms having been in the marketplace for more than 15 years, most industry pundits agree it has reached a level of maturity. Buyers of printed product, who once may have had objections to the quality or price of digital printing—or both—now no longer voice those objections for most projects. And as they have come to understand the advantages of digital printing— the ability to economically produce high quality short runs of full color materials on demand and its unique capability to deliver one-to-one communications—the face of printing has changed forever. No one is suggesting that offset printing is going away; far from it.
But there is no question that as buyers have become more educated about their options, and enamored with their ability to produce shorter runs of more targeted materials, even offset run lengths and turnaround time expectations have taken a sharp downward turn. Some 80 percent of all print runs today are in quantities of less than 5,000. And the luxury of quoting weeks to produce a printed project has long gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, manufacturers of offset presses have not stood still. Today’s presses are more efficient than ever before, with significant automation built in that drives makeready times and waste down. And direct imaging (DI) offset presses, where plates are imaged on the press rather than in a separate platemaking process, are gaining popularity as well because of the accelerated production times and reduced makeready they enable.
To meet this range of customer demands, many printers have both offset and digital production operations. Until fairly recently, these operations were considered as separate businesses, often even located in different buildings with different business names. Jobs were prepared either for offset or digital based on conditions at the time the job was received or scheduled, and if for some reason, a job needed to be moved from digital to offset or vice versa, it often had to be prepared all over again, to meet a different set of equipment specifications and requirements. While buyers were enjoying the benefits of a blended offset/digital setting, printers were facing ever increasing challenges presented by the confluence of shorter runs, faster turn times, and disparate, parallel workflows, making it difficult to gain optimum benefit from their offset and digital investments.