As traditional print markets erode, commercial printers are seeking new profit centers. Many are embracing color inkjet to supplant the analog printing methods formerly used. Not coincidentally, the use of color inkjet also allows them to meet several other goals, from being more environmentally friendly to generating less waste to speeding turnarounds.
These trends came under the microscope when Weymouth, MA-based InfoTrends released a report called “Inkjet in Commercial Print: A Map for the Coming Decade.” The authors were clear about directions: “Production level color inkjet today is mainly found in forms, books, direct mail, and TransPromo applications, with the most emphasis on variable printing. We believe this will serve as a stepping stone for inkjet to play an even greater role in commercial print, ultimately leading toward offset replacement.”
The conviction that inkjet will grow ever more dominant spurs no discord from LaToya Hodge, Agfa marketing communications manager, North America. Not that many years ago, Hodge said, retailers Sears and J.C. Penney came out with biyearly giant “big book” catalogs jammed with products. But with today’s budgets shrinking and consumers being blasted by choices, marketers must be more strategic in targeting the right messages to the right consumers.
To do that, they need short runs, Hodge says. “Inkjet allows you to do short runs cost effectively. Over the years, the technology has gotten better and better so you’re getting better quality. It’s the reason you’ll see more of it.”
Another issue is that commercial printers recognize they can capture more business from existing customers by expanding their portfolio of services, says EFI’s president Fred Rosenzweig.
Utilizing inkjet technology allows print customers to wait on a job longer, incorporate last minute changes more efficiently, create versions of the campaign and meet increasingly swift turnaround times more expeditiously than they could using offset printing.
He cites a national clothing chain that created 40 to 60-feet wide window banners on cling material that appeared at hundreds of stores. “In the past, they might have used offset equipment, but they wanted to wait on the job as long as possible, and do different versions for varying store regions,” he says.
Another example centers on a sandwich cookie known to anyone who ever craved an after-school snack, Rosenzweig says. Once, that cookie was offered in just one version, but today comes in seven. Thus, shorter press runs for the packaging and labels are needed. Instead of 100,000 of the same package, 15,000 packages of each cookie version are needed. The shorter run is tailor made to color inkjet, he says.
Of the 3 analog forms of printing—offset, flexo, and screen—the last is the one most rapidly being replaced by digital inkjet printing, Rosenzweig says. Within several years, a large portion of what’s traditionally been screen-printed will be digitally printed, he predicts. “In the commercial space, a great portion of the wider-format print output will be captured by digital color inkjet printers,” he says.
But don’t count on offset completely going away, interjects John Kaufman, product marketing manager, Graphic Systems Division, with Fujifilm North America Corporation. “You’ll still see offset for the extremely long runs,” he says. “But there are more jobs going through these print houses. Doing most of them on an offset press is inefficient, based on the time and costs of makereadies—not to mention the environmental aspects.”
Hodge also sees the green movement as spurring the move to inkjet. “What’s happening is we’re having more environmental restrictions, and with UV inkjet you don’t have VOCs,” she notes. “It’s just another reason the growth continues unabated. I think there are still great opportunities in print, but it will be more customized.”