This Is Print
Everyone who has worked with color proofs knows that proofing systems are fundamentally flawed. A color proofer represents the output of the offset press.
Logic tells us the ideal proof comes from the same press as the final piece: a 'press proof'. Ideally, it would also be a sample piece—an actual bound book, folded collateral, or multi-piece direct mail vehicle—rather than a color swatch, mock-up, or comp.
The high cost of offset make-ready and short-run printing make on-press proofing virtually impossible on an offset press. But with digital color presses, it's not only possible … it's happening for high-quality applications. One example: the perfect-bound book displaying winning entries in the 2002 John Caples International Awards for direct marketing excellence.
Surprised? Then you probably haven't assessed digital color printing in the last six months. Somewhere Web-accessible digital printing and finishing capabilities exist that can overcome every objection you might have to printing showcase pieces in digital color.
Some say, "The quality isn't good enough." Have you seen the output from a Xerox DocuColor iGen3 Digital Production Press? It compares to offset press output as digital photos compare to those on film. Each technology has distinctive qualities that affect output, but the quality achieves professional standards in nearly every application.
And the iGen3 isn't the only digital output device that delivers. For example, the manager of a 'collaterals-on-demand' system at information storage leader StorageTek says 80% of his users see no difference in the output from his Xerox DocuColor 6060 Digital Color Press and offset printing.
Another objection is, "Our run lengths are too long to be economical on digital presses." Offset might always have a cost advantage on longer runs, but long runs can be produced cost-effectively by breaking them into smaller runs, printing on-demand over the life of the document.
The cost savings on warehouse space, tax on stored inventory, and cost of destruction usually covers the slight premium for digital printing. The files can also be updated as needed, so collaterals never become dated.
"The available papers for digital printing are too limited." Once again, the iGen3's SmartPress paper handling system sets a new standard for printing a wide range of coated and uncoated papers, from very light to very heavy (60 to 300 gsm). Xerox is also developing new papers optimized for digital printing (so-called 'digital papers'), expanding the range of applications.
Here's one of my favorite objections: "We don't have the expertise for variable information printing, which is digital printing's real value." Two counterpoints. One: many successful digital color printing businesses focus on static documents. Two: Variable information (VI) printing, which personalizes pages in a print run, isn't difficult.
New software, such as easy-vi from Xerox, makes VI printing and even on-the-fly versioning easy, even for beginners. In addition, Xerox offers VI services, including database integration, Web site programming, document design, application programming, file testing, and system integration, to close organizational knowledge gaps.
Digital printing technology has three other strengths that will soon make it indispensable.
1. Meeting customer requirements for ever faster turnarounds of high quality printed materials. By 2005, 33% of customers will want turnaround in 24 hours or less, according to a study by the Rochester Institute of Technology. This trend plays to the strengths of digital printing's abbreviated job setup time, and favorable economics for short runs.
2. Streamlining production workflows to provide cost efficiencies, and;
3. Providing new opportunities for growth, profit, and competitiveness.
These capabilities permit creatives and production shops to do things have never thought possible. For example, as a class project, students at the Parsons School of Design in New York created a 52-page magazine in just eight weeks, using a PDF workflow and the DocuColor iGen3.
Proofing on PS Magazine was done with PDF files, and an actual, on-press digital print sample. Traditional workflow processes wouldn't have allowed time to complete the project during the semester, and the cost of printing on offset was prohibitive.
Now PS Magazine is being considered for institutional funding as an ongoing publication.
Bob Wagner is VP of the Creative Services Business Segment of the Worldwide Graphic Arts Industry at Xerox Corp. He can be reached at Robert.G.Wagner@USA.Xerox.com.