16 Tips for Digital-Printing Success
11. Find the proper balance between digital and offset.
Our goal is to cut out 5 million offset books and replace them—that is, fill the offset shortfall—with up to 1.5 million via digital. We also produce another half-a-million books representing titles that never go to offset. [These titles] that have a loyal, but small, customer base and require a print run below 3,000, which is about our break-even point, are printed 100-percent digitally. Our average digital print run is 1,000; we have had production as low as 50, but we [never] do one or two books at a time.
12. Create synergy between the workflow and printing processes.
We wanted our digitally produced books to mimic the product that came off offset, and we wanted customers to be unaware whether a product had been produced offset or digitally. Our short-run system uses exactly the same cover and text paper used in the offset workflow. Also, we changed our prepress slightly so that our files are identical for both environments.
13. Use your internal talent and external partnerships.
My background was in printing, so I was able to help make this a viable process for us. And, although we had little printing experience otherwise in our distribution center, we were able to staff 100 percent from within. We identified operators who were interested in change and who had reasonable skills on machining and technology. We also identified a supervisor who had a do-not-quit, show-no-mercy attitude. On the mechanical side, we did send out for some training, particularly for binding and cutting. We have had great relationships with our equipment vendors, such as Océ, Lasermax, MBO and Muller Martini.
14. Expect a long learning curve for short-run success.
From a technical standpoint, we don’t want to say that [in-house digital printing] is a minefield, but it is full of potential pitfalls. You must spend a lot of time thinking through the process and how you’re going to use the books you produce. We researched the technology for about a year and a half before we made our purchasing decisions. And our learning curve was not short: It was six to eight months before we had a sense that short-run would be available on a daily basis. But once we got past that point, the system has functioned extremely well.