Changing market demand is driving adaptation at commercial printing companies, as diminishing run lengths lead to increased use of short-run digital presses. These devices may not provide the same 24/7 performance of modern lithographic equipment, but their reduced availability is more than offset by substantially lower price points. Lower capital investment costs mollify the impact of unused press capacity, enabling users to scale for increased demand through the acquisition of multiple printers.
Bruce Albrecht, owner of A&B Print and Mail, Harleysville, PA, uses a fleet of short-run output devices to create sophisticated, variable-data print (VDP) campaigns for an underserved market: small businesses. Albrecht said he especially enjoys the wide range of media compatibility provided by his Xanté Ilumina digital press (pictured directly above), through which he images everything from envelopes to heavy card stock.
“I’ve been able to sell the variable-data functionality of this machine, to personalize odd-sized postcards, direct mail campaigns, a whole range of products,” noted Albrecht. “Our typical run length on the Ilumina is about 5,000, but we recently produced a 25,000-piece order that included a large, saturated animal image,” he explained. “That job had previously been run elsewhere on a litho press, but the buyer was disappointed with the results. After showing a sample of the Ilumina’s capabilities, we were able to win the bid strictly on the Ilumina’s excellent color gamut and image clarity.”
There is a great deal of activity in the mid-range production segment, where devices priced at $100,000 and up do battle against small-format litho presses. Xerox is the old hand in this arena, having launched the first successful “digital press” more than two decades ago with its DocuTech series. Today, the DocuColor 7002 (at left) provides excellent image quality at 70 pages per minute (increasing to 80 ppm for its higher-speed sibling, the 8002) and is compatible with a variety of inline finishing equipment including saddlestitch booklet-making, perfect binding, and tape-bound books. As with Xerox’s flagship iGen digital press, the DocuColor 7002/8002 includes an internal spectrophotometer that assures color consistency and aids in spot color matching—all at about one-third the iGen 4’s cost.
The 2010 merger of Océ and Canon has resulted in some possible duplication within their line-up; the Océ CS665 Pro is a 65-ppm, cut-sheet, full-color digital press that would appear to compete directly against Canon’s highly regarded imagePRESS C6010VP. Standing apart from these light production machines, the more robust imagePRESS C7010VP offers a 25 percent increase in throughput as well as litho-like print quality, thanks to Canon’s oil-free V-toner. The C7010VP is capable of 1200x1200 dpi output, producing 33 ppm when running its maximum sheet size of 13 by 19.2 inches.
Heidelberg’s QuickMaster Direct Imaging (QMDI) press platform was once touted as a perfect solution for mid-range production volumes, but was discontinued in 2006. To fill that gap, the German pressroom legend announced in February of this year that it is partnering with Ricoh to offer the Pro C901 Graphics Art Edition digital press (shown on our front cover). Producing 90 ppm at 1200 dpi, the Pro C901 also allows users to change toner bottles while the press is running. Rodney Strasser, who bears the title “digital business driver” among his many roles at Heidelberg USA, offered his insight into the selection of this particular device.
“We liked the quality, the speed, and the price point of the machine as it fits into our current portfolio of equipment,” said Strasser. “We looked at several manufacturers, and our team came to the conclusion that the C901 was the digital press we would like to represent.” With a monthly capability of up to 350,000 impressions on a maximum sheet size of 13 by 19.2 inches, the Ricoh C901 fits ideally into the mid-range production category without challenging the raison d’etre of Heidelberg’s Speedmaster litho presses.