Offset and Digital Side-By-Side

Experts predict that offset and digital will continue to co-exist for the foreseeable future, the very topic of Frank Kanonik’s seminar, “High-performance Hybrid Printing: Integrating Offset & Digital,” which will be held Monday at 8:30 a.m. in Room S404bc. Kanonik, owner of DigitalPrintInfo, LLC, is a long time printing industry veteran who has served as GATF Associate Director of Training and more recently was a program director at Xerox. Below are some of the issues covered in Kanonik’s seminar.

Offset’s strengths

Many of offset’s strengths have been known for years, such as projects that are longer run or that require extreme high quality. Offset’s biggest strength for printers is that they are familiar with the characteristics of the preparation and the final output. They feel comfortable in the fact that offset has performed well over the years and that their customers know what to expect. Seldom do you hear “that’s not what I was expecting” when producing a project with the offset process.

Salespeople also feel comfortable when proposing an offset produced project. They want the project to flow smoothly and have a happy customer. And this is not to say that a digital project has more troubles than an offset project, it’s just that offset production is a very well-known process and many salespeople do not want to risk any departure from their comfort area.


…And digital?

Digital has an incredibly short makeready, which makes digital production fantastic for short run projects. The economic breakeven point of transferring work has been analyzed many times and the numbers continue to edge to digital. With additional in-line finishing capabilities available on digital presses, the crossover number will skew even more towards digital production.

Digital’s other major strength is that the press doesn’t care what it prints…every page or parts of it can be different. This is perhaps the defining difference between offset and digital technologies. The option of having a new page produced every time the cylinder turns allows the digital press to print a book sequentially that is ready for finishing without further assembly.

Variable-data printing is a logical answer to the need for more customized communications. There have been many success stories about the benefits of variable data but there is still an underlying suspicion by customers that it is too complex to generate a successful project. Coupled with this is the salesperson’s resistance to undertake a longer sales cycle and promote variable data print. Companies embracing variable data printing have enjoyed much success.


Hybrid projects

There are several types of projects that use a hybrid approach. A digital press can be used as “bookends” to the offset run to produce early copies and proofs before the large offset run and the digital process is again used after the offset copies are consumed. This type of scenario can be used for projects ranging from books to packaging applications.

Another example is to combine offset produced static interiors with a digitally produced cover that contains variable data and mailing information. This combination is used for catalog types of applications and takes advantage of the economies of producing a large static run on the offset press and the benefits of producing variable data covers that contain customized information about the recipient.


Job preparation

It depends on how much automation they have in their workflow system and what is done by the prepress technician. When using both technologies to produce a project, the main consideration is color fidelity and meeting customer expectations of acquiring a “match”. One of the biggest complaints heard is that the color on an offset and digital press doesn’t match. The digital process has a much wider color gamut than traditional offset and can produce a stunning array of colors. If the project will only be produced on the digital press, this is fine and the customer will probably be ecstatic with the results.

However, when the project will be produced using both technologies, this must be known early in the prepress stages. To achieve a reasonable color match, the digital press’s color capability must be “dumbed down” to match the smaller gamut of the offset press. This is the basis of color management but unfortunately is usually done by trial and error, unless the company has implemented a full color management process into their workflow.


Digital vs. offset

During this difficult economic time, some printing went away. Customers minimized the amount of printing they were doing and some applications were replaced by electronic distribution such as emails. And as the North American manufacturing base continues to shrink, the printing that went along with the products also moved offshore. Customers are now looking for shorter run, customized printing that can be delivered quickly. The days of long run static printing are over for many projects.

Digital will continue to erode the base of offset printing to a point that if the predictions are correct, there will be more pages produced via digital than offset within a decade. It is evolutionary and natural that if one technology can produce and manufacture a product better, faster and cheaper than its predecessor, it will “win”.


…In conclusion

Many printing companies resisted the introduction of digital printing. They felt the quality of digital was not high enough, or that they didn’t have the right type of applications or customers to warrant adding digital capabilities. There has been a tremendous change in the digital printing industry the past three or four years with the refinement of digital presses that produce very high quality, and this is finally catching the eye of the owners.

The difficult economic environment has accelerated the desire for customers to print less and look at alternative mediums. With the addition of digital print capabilities and its accompanying services such as variable data and personalized landing pages, today’s printer is in a great position to offer their customers not only traditional offset print, but also satisfy their needs for other services.