Digital Monochrome: Keep Your Business In The Black

Digital monochrome devices have been the workhorses of the quick and small commercial printing segment for many years. These copier decendents have been the catalyst for shifting most monochrome work from the offset press to toner-based output equipment. As this freed the presses to take on higher quality work, in many ways one could say that digital monochrome was a significant component of the color revolution that began in earnest during the mid-1990s.

Today’s digital monochrome equipment bears little resemblance to the humble machines that initially shouldered their way into the print shop’s bread-and-butter work. They are as sophisticated and complex as any other tool in the printer’s arsenal. We could talk about dpi, duty cycles, and output speeds, but there are more important issues at hand. For those who really want maximum efficiency from this type of equipment, it helps to see the bigger picture.

To that end, I asked representatives of the major equipment manufacturers just what capabilities are available and what printers need to know about the latest generation of these machines. Here are some of their observations and advice. However, if you'd like to read all of the interviews in their entirety-and they are well worth the read-go to and read our Web Exclusive called “The Monochrome Monologues.”

Timely Advice
Kevin Kern, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Senior Vice President, Marketing
I think the big thing is to really understand the types of inline finishing that can happen. The days of tape binding or stapling being the only major inline finishing are long gone. You have some pretty sophisticated abilities to bind books. For perfect binding, you can build your covers on your color device, add inserts, and integrate tabs in a perfect bound or a saddle stitched product. You are providing a much higher value output in the pages, but with no additional labor costs. Set up is very small compared to doing it off line or not offering the service at all. So they really offer the capability to give a much broader range of product offerings to your customer set.

Also, the image quality and volume handling capabilities are as good as ever at a price point that is far better than it was 10 years ago. The range of media you can print on is much wider. You have a lot of sophisticated capabilities. You can do GBC punching, inline perfect binding, inline saddle stitching. They have very sophisticated front ends that allow really good job management and usually pretty good integration upstream to workflow.

Successful printers are reaching out beyond print just being printing. They may be doing fulfillment, inventory management, or adding marketing services. It’s one way of moving up the value chain, and then the volume comes along behind it. You really have to pitch your services in terms of productivity.

And the other thing is the printer has to be selling. A lot of owners I talk to are selling like they’ve always done. They’re not selling the value equation that they have to offer. You really have to know how to sell the value of your offering and give more of a value added sales proposal to the customer than, “Hey, we can produce these at this price.”

Derrick Doi, Xerox Corp., Vice President, Worldwide Quick and Franchise Print Global Business Group
The image quality for the new generation of monochrome digital devices is outstanding. And vendors are offering more advanced in-line finishing options that give customers more application flexibility and productivity.

The new generation of monochrome devices support a more robust and versatile range of substrates. Heavier weight and coated stocks can be run through these newer monochrome devices previously only possible on offset presses. Applications can now be transitioned to digital and run in a print-on-demand system versus a print and warehouse system. Many systems also enable hybrid—color and monochrome—document creation with sheet and or cover insertion modules.

The economic conditions in 2009 and into 2010 may have helped the number of monochrome printing jobs. For instance, customers might have evaluated whether to do a print run or not and considered printing in monochrome as opposed to color versus not printing at all. The increased adoption of electronic bill presentment will also affect the total volume of mono print as will the move to transpromo almost exclusively to a color application.

Finally, the improved print quality of both cut-sheet and continuous feed printing systems are opening up more book printing opportunities that many publishers are finding attractive for shorter run lengths or audience-of-one titles.

Forrest Leighton, Canon U.S.A., Director of Product Marketing, Production Systems Division
The industry as a whole is currently witnessing a decline in demand for strictly monochrome digital work. This decline is primarily seen in static work, such as forms or other commodity products. One key to growth in monochrome is embracing variable technology for personalization and then leveraging available technology to productively do more complicated jobs, such as those jobs that require multiple color inserts, tabs, or finishing.

Print service providers (PSP) can easily differentiate themselves by leveraging the technology and services they can offer a customer. In-office copiers have specific applications that they are most suitable for, but when it comes to higher run, higher quality production of complex documents, including finishing, a PSP can generally produce this type of work more cost effectively than a typical office copier.

PSPs should also focus on more than just marketing their monochrome business, especially if they can leverage color technology and other services.

Kurt Konow, Ricoh Americas Corporation, Data Center Segment Marketing Manager, Production Printing Business Group
Due to the tough economic times, there appears to be a shift away from color to the use of monochrome, especially for non-critical documents. Customer centric documents continue to be done in color. One area of growth is personalization jobs—jobs that relate to the recipient on a personal basis.

[As for whether a job should be produced digitally or offset,] basically, you should process the job based upon the particular variables at play. Most printers know their costs. If they don’t, they should start there. Then you start factoring in the other variables: time to produce, type of substrate, quality, type of piece, finishing requirements, customer preference, other jobs in the queue, when is it due, how is the copy delivered, etc.

In general, processing of digital files is less labor intensive than offset, as well as the production of the sheet. If offset workflows were the most cost effective method, we wouldn’t see nearly as much migration to digital as is currently being experienced by the industry. The fact that we are seeing the shift of work from offset to digital supports the conclusion that digital is more profitable.

Eric De Goeijen, Océ North America, Production Printing Systems Division, Vice President of Marketing
Newly introduced technology innovations have pushed digital monochrome production into new standards. We see new speed benchmarks and duty cycles up to 10 million prints per month. True digital perfecting technology has improved registration to match that of offset and enables applications that weren’t possible before. Print quality and workflow flexibility, have also opened doors to new ways of working, as well as integration with color workflows for job splitting and combining.

Across the board, we see the typical monochrome digital applications decline, but many customers are successfully growing their monochrome jobs by looking at migrating offset applications to digital and so enabling new print-on-demand or book-of-one business models. Other typical monochrome applications like statement printing get a new boost if the content is enhanced with advertising.

Eric Staples, InfoPrint Solutions, Product Manager, Light Production Cutsheet Solutions
I think the most important thing the Quick Printing audience should know is how to [differentiate their services]. They can’t do that with an offset device. They can probably do it with any digital device as long as they buy one of the latest. But if they want to simply get a digital device to handle requests that they can’t do on traditional offset, then they’re really waiting for a commodity type customer to come in and say, “I need to get this digital job run. Can you help me?” And that customer may be price shopping between different quick printers. But if they can start to learn the techniques and use the tools to help manage the customer’s job and leverage the customer’s content in different ways, whether it’s what’s printed or what’s tracked after it’s printed—measuring results of campaigns, tracking the responses, and mining data—that’s where the digital device can become a real tool.

Bob Schalberg, Kodak, Director Current Product Marketing B&W
There are opportunities in the marketplace today to do things differently, to do things more effectively, to look at consolidation of floor space, and to truly look at the total cost of ownership of digital devices. Weigh in the skill set necessary to run the equipment, the amount of floor space these take up, the variability of output that you can achieve through a high speed digital monochrome press. Those are the types of things that, as a business person looks to make a capital acquisition, they need to consider.

Also, look at the support from the manufacturer because that is an integral part of the solution set that’s offered. And that support is not defined only as “screwdriver time.” That support is described as prepress, working with the printer to understand that they have the appropriate workflow, and to accommodate existing workflows in a printing environment, as well as to make sure that the equipment is maintained and runs as reliably as it is capable of running. So there’s a great deal of importance in the vendor that you pick and it’s very important to look at their pre-, current, and post sale support collectively.

To read the complete interviews with all of the industry representatives, please visit and read our Web Exclusive “The Monochrome Monologues.”