The Monochrome Monologues

We set out to ask industry representatives six questions about digital monochrome output devices. The answers we got back were so broad ranging and insightful that we felt you deserved a chance to read them in their entirety (with very minor editing for clarity and to remove the occasional sales pitch). So sit back and reap the benefits from the advice and observations of the industry insiders.

Xerox Corp.
Derrick Doi, Vice President, Worldwide Quick and Franchise Print Global Business Group
Q: There is a lot of confusing terminology describing digital monochrome output devices in the current marketplace. How do you differentiate between a printer or copier/printer and a digital press? (For example, is the determining factor the duty cycle, speed, resolution, service reliability, or something else entirely?) Or is it all just marketing semantics? 

A: Unfortunately, the terminology can be confusing as it is not always consistently applied. The term “digital press” is usually associated with higher end, more robust engines. Certainly duty cycle and average monthly print volume are part of the definition as well as the robustness of the overall solution. Speed can be misleading as there are many “faster” offerings that may not hold up over time in especially high volume locations.

Q: Most quick and small commercial printers are running hybrid digital/offset workflows. What criteria should they consider when deciding whether a monochrome job should be sent to a press or a digital output device?

A: The primary criteria for differentiating whether to run a job on an offset press or digital device is run length, turnaround time, and the inclusion of variable data on the page. Short-run jobs with quick turnarounds lend themselves to digital devices as do jobs that have variable data on each page.

Cost is always a consideration, but the need for quick turnaround and variable data on each page would make those jobs very difficult to do on an offset press. Another differentiator of a digital device is the ability to offer in-line finishing, from simple stapling to complex booklet making with face trim and fold capabilities.

Q: Are your customers seeing growth in the demand for digital monochrome jobs or are they doing different kinds of jobs than they’ve done in the past?

A: 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 to an almost exclusively color application. Finally the improved print quality of both cut-sheet and continuous feed printing systems is opening up more book printing opportunities that many publishers are finding attractive for shorter run lengths or audience-of-one titles.

Q: With so many MFPs and digital devices placed in offices, how can print service providers differentiate their services to continue receiving monochrome jobs?

A: Print providers can differentiate themselves by the sophisticated finishing options they offer such as a GBC binder, coil bind, or SquareFold booklet maker. Print providers also offer the ability to handle variable data jobs that require complex merging of data and documents, which could be beyond the capabilities of the average office worker. The overall cost to do the job (printing, finishing, and worker productivity) should be taken into account when determining where and how a job is being printed.

Q: Do you see any of your customers running monochrome jobs on color machines? If so, what are the economies of scale involved in this practice?

A: Customers will always push their equipment to its maximum capability including printing monochrome on a color device. Typically, this carries a higher cost per page than a monochrome-only printer and may affect how a printer charges for that work or how much profit they may lose with that type of work. With the understanding that not all customers can afford to have multiple engines—due to economics, space, people to run them, etc.—they should focus on selling/producing print jobs best suited for the solution they have invested in.

Q: What should printers know about the new generation of monochrome digital devices that they may not be aware of?

A: 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 supports a more robust and versatile range of substrates. Heavier weight and coated stocks can be run through these newer monochrome devices, which was 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.

Konica Minolta Business Solutions
Kevin Kern, Senior Vice President, Marketing
Q: There is a lot of confusing terminology describing digital monochrome output devices in the current marketplace. How do you differentiate between a printer or copier/printer and a digital press? (For example, is the determining factor the duty cycle, speed, resolution, service reliability, or something else entirely?) Or is it all just marketing semantics?

A: Part of it is that “press” is the new thing that everyone likes to say. It’s because of building hybrid workflows with offset. But it’s a reality of the new world that there are jobs moving off of offset onto digital. It’s still going to take a long time to change that completely, so “press” is something that people are more comfortable with.

In our view, it differentiates what is sort of a high speed product that is not specifically designed to be in a production environment. I think in the past seven years, you’ve seen a lot of products come out that say, “Hey, we’re 105, 110, 120 ppm.” But really, it’s sort of the fast plastic speeded up—it’s just high speed stuff. Then you’ve got things that have the metal, have the heavier construction, designed to do the longer run lengths, etc. I think that’s really what part of it is.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with fast machines, but they need to be able to do true production level work—a sheet size being a little over straight 11x17", maybe allowing a little larger sheet size, broader range in paper stocks, efficiently running at speed—things like that. That’s our rough definition, but there might be some marketing-ese in that as well. Everybody’s always looking for the new thing.

Some of it has to do with inline finishing, too. Can you get really high-end inline finishing? That’s sort of a differentiator as well.

Q: Most quick and small commercial printers are running hybrid digital/offset workflows. What criteria should they consider when deciding whether a monochrome job should be sent to a press or a digital output device?

A: That’s a wide ranging question. First of all is customer expectation. Second is media. Third would be run length. And the fourth would be if it is an appropriate job for inline finishing. Because if you look at inline finishing and you look at how work flows in the shop, inline finishing is where you get a lot of labor costs taken out. So if you can saddle stitch it or even perfect bind it, or if it leads to the GBC punching, you eliminate that manual step. So, it’s a combination and I think there’s no universal answer for printers because I think a lot of it depends on what they’ve got for bindery, and what their local burden of labor rates are in terms of how you cost a job. I think those are all the things that they get.

Generally speaking, if you’re dealing with 100 pages of a handout for somebody for $20, you’re probably not going to go on press. So there’s some run length consideration. But is the application going to be used for part of a commercial direct mail piece? Is it a heavy halftone? The newer stuff can do pretty nice halftone work on a reasonably broad range of media. So you’ve really got to look at the productivity, the labor costs, and the intended target audience that the customer is buying it for. In my view, there’s no “Everything over 500 goes on press. Everything under 500 doesn’t.”

[In considering media] maybe you want to do 16-point chrome coat or 14-point chrome coat, maybe the digital doesn’t do that as well. In our case, up to 12- or maybe 14-point, it’ll do fine. But I think you have to look at what sort of substrate the customer is looking for and, obviously, some things are a little better suited to offset than digital anyway. The real thing is you have to know your labor costs. You have to know what is going to be pleasing to the customer. And from there, you have to make the decision.

Q: Are your customers seeing growth in the demand for digital monochrome jobs or are they doing different kinds of jobs than they’ve done in the past?

A: Digital monochrome has been around for quite a while. Going all the way back to the DocuTechs, there was always a pretty good alternative to offset monochrome. So I think there’s probably not a lot of new stuff in that. However, I think that what is happening is some of the volume shifting that’s going on. Monochrome pages overall in production are set to decline—not heavily—but a slow decline over the next few years. And you’re seeing movement. Where you used to have the really high-end product that could do five or eight million impressions per month you now see products that can do about three million impressions per month.

Also, the cost equation of monochrome is changing a bit, and that can broaden the types of things you want to do. But I see monochrome also as being a component if you’re doing kitting work that type of thing. You may have color work and monochrome work going into one job. You do see some of that where printers are offering more marketing services and they want to offer value add around that. Then you might see different types of monochrome pieces interspersed with the color work they do for it. But I don’t see any dramatic change in how monochrome is used.

Q: With so many MFPs and digital devices placed in offices, how can print service providers differentiate their services to continue receiving monochrome jobs?

A: Successful printers are reaching out beyond print just being printing. They may be doing fulfillment. They may be doing inventory management. They may be adding marketing services to it as well. It’s one way of moving up the value chain, and then the volume comes along behind it. That seems to be a trend in the upper end of what we traditionally call the small printer, but even commercial printers are starting to do more of what I call completion and fulfillment type of work. So they are going to capture more total page volume.

The other thing is that you really have to pitch your services in terms of productivity. It’s great that the customer has products that can do all these things, but do they want their employees doing it? Do they want their high value people standing in front of a device? I think the real thing is to pitch the longer run lengths. It’s really better to outsource those because of your people time. They should consult the experts, working through procurement and with whoever they work with on the customer’s side to make them realize that there’s a lot of value to outsourcing some of that stuff, especially if they don’t have an in-plant. It doesn’t make sense for employees to be sitting there by the machines all day.

And the other thing, as far as the printer is concerned, is the printer has to be selling. A lot of owners I talk to may have a guy who sells, but they’re not really selling. They’re selling like they’ve always done. They’re not selling the value equation that they have to offer. If I see one thing across all levels of the print industry, it is the level of salesmanship and sales capabilities out there are not consistently high. You really have to know how to sell the value of your offering and become more of a value added sales proposal to the customer than, “Hey, we can produce these at this price.”

Q: Do you see any of your customers running monochrome jobs on color machines? If so, what are the economies of scale involved in this practice?

A: There’s nothing good about that. Monochrome is going to cost more on a color device, no doubt. If you have any substantial volume and you look at the cost of leasing monochrome devices, it’s probably not worth it.

Color machines have no limitations on percentage of monochrome versus color. But you’re also using a more expensive maintenance contract, a more expensive cost per page for monochrome, and generally speaking, a slower device. You’re outputting on a 50, 55, or 60 page a minute device when you can get a 95 or a 105 for a fairly reasonable price. And it will probably be much more productive over time because you’re tying up your high value color output for producing monochrome pages.

I could understand if you’re a very small printer with very low volume—all one device. But the threshold of when it makes sense to go to separate monochrome and color is probably pretty low in terms of page volume.

Q: What should printers know about the new generation of monochrome digital devices that they may not be aware of?

A: I think the big thing is to really get to 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 and, in our case, add up to six different color inserts, where you’re integrating tabs and everything else 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, 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.

Number two, 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, and regular finishing. They have very sophisticated front ends that allow really good job management and usually pretty good integration upstream to workflow.

And VDP is a big thing. Entry level VDP is what letter shops do—or did—which is, “We’re going to put an address and an individual name on this letter for a million different customers.” If you’re really doing variable data or going beyond variable data, you really have to become an IT person. All the manufacturers say, “We can do VDP.” Sure, we can do it, but to be successful, you’ve got to put some pretty good IT skills on the front end, or at least a reasonable understanding of IT skills. You’re taking somebody else’s data and doing something with it. So it’s beyond a letter shop thing. Transpromo, or whatever you want to call it, is a completely different deal than letter shop work. It’s incumbent on the printer to understand what their capabilities are or what they need to add to the equation. That’s really the key thing.

Hey, I’m a manufacturer and we know all about that stuff. We do all these great things, but whose going to handle the data? And in this environment today, you have to be seriously concerned about the security of the data as well. You see more of these data breeches going on. That chain of ownership and security is very critical, and understanding the IT side is very critical. But I think the smart printers who are looking down the line will be looking to ask, “How can we add some of those capabilities?” Or find a service provider who can provide that capability and then just provide the output. But that’s one of those services you really want to be able to offer over time. You just need to understand what you’re getting into.

Canon U.S.A.
Forrest Leighton, Director of Product Marketing, Production Systems Division
Q: There is a lot of confusing terminology describing digital monochrome output devices in the current marketplace. How do you differentiate between a printer or copier/printer and a digital press? (For example, is the determining factor the duty cycle, speed, resolution, service reliability, or something else entirely?) Or is it all just marketing semantics?

A: Significant differences can be found between a traditional office copier and a digital press with respect to workflow integration, quality, and durability as well as the customer environment where each product will be deployed. In general, a company that is best served by an office copier has different needs and scale requirements than a business requiring a digital press.

Q: Most quick and small commercial printers are running hybrid digital/offset workflows. What criteria should they consider when deciding whether a monochrome job should be sent to a press or a digital output device?

A: The key factors in determining whether to send a print job to a press or digital output device are: quantity, turnaround time, and personalization. If a job requires a large quantity with significant economies of scale—typically in the 2,000-5,000 impression range—it will be more cost efficient to run the job offset. If turnaround time is the greatest factor (and it is a manageable amount), digital output may be more suitable. It may be possible for the higher digital costs for a longer run to be offset by charging a premium for a short turnaround time. Finally, when personalization is the factor, this heavily favors digital due to its ability to utilize variable data cost effectively.

Q: Are your customers seeing growth in the demand for digital monochrome jobs, or are they doing different kinds of jobs than they’ve done in the past?

A: 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.

Q: With so many MFPs and digital devices placed in offices, how can print service providers differentiate their services to continue receiving monochrome jobs?

A: 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.

Q: Do you see any of your customers running monochrome jobs on color machines? If so, what are the economies of scale involved in this practice?

A: The decision to run monochrome on a color machine varies by the product and pricing structures, and some customers can cost effectively run monochrome jobs on color machines. We see this most frequently when the volumes of black-and-white work are not there to justify purchasing a separate machine. Toner-based devices typically offer a lower click rate for black-and-white work and different products have different optimum color to black-and-white copy ratios.

Typically, some users prefer separating the work to the most appropriate device by automating this process. A seamless workflow that can intelligently route work to the appropriate device based on content is key to this automation.

Ricoh Americas Corporation
Kurt Konow, Data Center Segment Marketing Manager, Production Printing Business Group

Q: There is a lot of confusing terminology describing digital monochrome output devices in the current marketplace. How do you differentiate between a printer or copier/printer and a digital press? (For example, is the determining factor the duty cycle, speed, resolution, service reliability, or something else entirely?) Or is it all just marketing semantics?

A: A quick check of the Internet finds the definition of “digital press” generally refers to a workflow process (i.e.: printing from a digital file). Therefore, it might be more about semantics, considering how most of the copiers, printers, MFPs, digital press, etc., can produce output from digital files. However, there are those companies promoting digital presses that would like the customers/prospects to perceive a heavier duty cycle, more robust construction, beefier machine when they hear “digital press.”

In reality, printers and copiers may, in fact, be built just as well as a digital press. A quick look into the rated duty cycles of the various digital presses would show a wide range. And what about the continuous feed devices? They are much more press like, yet few, if any, are referred to as digital presses.

Q: Most quick and small commercial printers are running hybrid digital/offset workflows. What criteria should they consider when deciding whether a monochrome job should be sent to a press or a digital output device?

A: 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, 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.

Q: Are your customers seeing growth in the demand for digital monochrome jobs or are they doing different kinds of jobs than they’ve done in the past?

A: It is still anticipated that the growth will continue in color and monochrome will basically be flat. However, 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.

Q: With so many MFPs and digital devices placed in offices, how can print service providers differentiate their services to continue receiving monochrome jobs?

A: It could be level of service, personal service, cost, flexibility, hours of operation, ease of use. The list goes on forever. If you don’t differentiate yourself, you get lumped into the generic vendor pool, where price is king.

My advice would be to gather the entire company together and ask the question: What makes us special? Why would someone want to purchase from me, versus the other guy? It needs to be an honest, non-subjective dialogue. The answers to those questions provide the foundation for crafting your value proposition.

Q: Do you see any of your customers running monochrome jobs on color machines? If so, what are the economies of scale involved in this practice?

A: Generally, it’s been the cost of the toner that’s been the determining factor. In the past, the monochrome devices could offer toner at significantly less cost than black on color devices. That trend is starting to change. Some of the new color pricing models have narrowed the difference. However, you also have to look at the duty cycle, speed, etc., of the color equipment. Sometimes it’ll be less expensive to purchase and use a monochrome device in addition to your color device, than purchasing a large color device. For me, I still tend to like having both a monochrome and a color device. It provides me more flexibility to meet the needs of the next customer that walks through the door.

Q: What should printers know about the new generation of monochrome digital devices that they may not be aware of?

A: Monochrome devices will continue to increase speeds and duty cycles. Offerings of inline finishing will continue to increase as they provide better economies on a personnel basis (i.e.: more production from an individual). Traditional offline binding (e.g.: perfect binding) has now been brought inline, and is offered at very attractive prices in comparison to their predecessors. Handling a wider range of substrates will also increase.

Océ North America
Eric De Goeijen, Production Printing Systems Division, Vice President of Marketing

Q: There is a lot of confusing terminology describing digital monochrome output devices in the current marketplace. How do you differentiate between a printer or copier/printer and a digital press? (For example, is the determining factor the duty cycle, speed, resolution, service reliability, or something else entirely?) Or is it all just marketing semantics?

A: Digital production devices are designed for production environments and dedicated professional operators. A printer/copier is designed for multiple users in typically an office environment. Production devices are designed for higher duty cycles, a broader range of applications and typically have better reliability. Production devices may have less functionality than multifunction devices, but the implemented functionality consistently has heavy duty capabilities. Production devices and the workflow software driving them are designed and optimized to mass produce complex applications in an efficient manner. To maximize utilization, these are designed to enable key operator maintenance and round the clock service support.

Q: Most quick and small commercial printers are running hybrid digital/offset workflows. What criteria should they consider when deciding whether a monochrome job should be sent to a press or a digital output device?

A: In general, this decision will be driven by the total cost of production and turn around time. Digital devices require less prepress time and cost, and can produce shorter run lengths significantly faster. If jobs require multiple media or mixed color and monochrome, the multiple picking points of a digital device are a huge advantage.

Q: Are your customers seeing growth in the demand for digital monochrome jobs or are they doing different kinds of jobs than they’ve done in the past?

A: 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 (transpromo).

Q: With so many MFPs and digital devices placed in offices, how can print service providers differentiate their services to continue receiving monochrome jobs?

A: Jobs with limited volume and requirements and a short turnaround time should be produced in the office locations. This is what we call convenience printing. Service providers can produce larger quantities against significantly lower price and can produce applications with higher added value in terms of media, sizes, and professional finishing.

To be correct, the time needed from office workers to produce jobs should also be taken into the equation. Service providers can further differentiate by offering additional services like distribution. However, more complex jobs with run lengths, specialized finishing, and use of variable data favor centralized production.

Q: Do you see any of your customers running monochrome jobs on color machines? If so, what are the economies of scale involved in this practice?

A: In most cases, the economies of scale only work in this case if the monochrome volume is very limited. In general, we see that the monochrome volumes are still higher than the color volumes, and the typical monochrome print produced on a color device is still more expensive than on a dedicated monochrome device. The best printing solution will depend on the volumes and the mix of jobs.

Q: What should printers know about the new generation of monochrome digital devices that they may not be aware of?

A: 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.

InfoPrint Solutions
Eric Staples, Product Manager, Light Production Cutsheet Solutions

Q: There is a lot of confusing terminology describing digital monochrome output devices in the current marketplace. How do you differentiate between a printer or copier/printer and a digital press? (For example, is the determining factor the duty cycle, speed, resolution, service reliability, or something else entirely?) Or is it all just marketing semantics?

A: I think that your comment about marketing semantics is right on the money. It’s based, in my opinion, off of where the product is being marketed. So considering the large transition from offset to digital, a lot of marketers are targeting offset press customers who are used to the word “press,” and this is a way to start to bring “digital” into their vernacular.

Another great example is the difference between people using the words cut sheet and sheetfed. I’ve had experience with certain customers that if you use the term “cut sheet” around them, they instantly are turned off because the feel like you don’t know what you are talking about. In their history of running sheetfed presses, they always say “sheetfed.” So it’s a way to talk about things to try to play to the people you’re selling to.

Q: Most quick and small commercial printers are running hybrid digital/offset workflows. What criteria should they consider when deciding whether a monochrome job should be sent to a press or a digital output device?

A: If it’s a variable content job, then the digital printer is really the only way to go. So if every sheet of the output is going to be different, then you need to have a digital device to be able to do that. Once you’ve got that foundation, you still could decide to do a non-variable job or a short-run variable job on either an offset press or a digital device.

It is hard to give exact rules because everyone has their own cost structure, but you have to take into account these types of things. The turnaround time—if you have a customer who comes in and needs something in one hour, you may not have time to do your press setup or your proofing or computer-to-plate. You can send it directly to a digital device and you get it done quickly.

There are associated trade outs when it comes to the length of the run. If you have longer setup time, that becomes less important. Or if you have a very short-run job, then setup on a press becomes more important. So length of run is something that should be factored into the decision about where to send it.

The media that’s going to be used is another one. If it’s a static media for the whole job, it may not matter much either way. You probably even have more flexibility on the press than you do on the digital device. But if you have any change in the media inside the job, you really can only choose the digital device. There’s no easy way to change media in the middle of an offset job.

Next would be post processing. If you’re going to be doing the same type of finishing to all these pieces of output, you may have labor concerns that would impact your cost for that job from either device. If you’re going to simply create some saddle stitched booklets, you might have a digital device with an inline finisher that does that for you—no hands on at all until the finished job is done. Whereas, in an offset environment you probably take that to a near line saddle stitch booklet maker and there’s just more labor involved, which drives up the cost.

The last point that’s important is if you have some intermixed color and monochrome pages, you can do that on a monochrome digital device. You can print a mono-only job and easily insert color pages, especially if they are static pages that could have been done on an offset device. But you have to factor all those things together. A lot of people have calculators that they’ve put together in Excel that sum everything up and say, “If this job is over 2,000 images, I’m going to send it to my offset press. Otherwise, I’m going to go digital.” That number can vary wildly from company to company, depending on what their labor costs are or what kind of equipment they have available.

Q: Are your customers seeing growth in the demand for digital monochrome jobs or are they doing different kinds of jobs than they’ve done in the past?

A: I want to describe this in two different parts. One is what I would call more of a static digital monochrome type of job. The volume of those types of jobs—like 50 copies of a manual, the same manual for every person—those volumes are really flat to declining, in my opinion. The variable content for those kinds of jobs—like a different manual for every person in a class because they are personalized—is growing. This is in sort of a print on demand world. I don’t think these rules apply to a transaction kind of environment like a databank.

From a variable content perspective, I think it is not only more of the same kind of thing that people might have been doing, but new kinds of applications that are being developed or built at the request of someone who has an idea to drive variable content to the end user. So that could be the example I gave about a manual that is sent to every student in a class with their name repeatedly showing up within the document or specific content for that person, based on the knowledge that they already have. Or it could be the type of thing that was traditionally done from a variable content, such as postcards, but they’re just doing more of it.

Q: Do you see any of your customers running monochrome jobs on color machines? If so, what are the economies of scale involved in this practice?

A: Yes, we see customers running monochrome jobs on color machines. And the economies of scale are really the important part. Customers will only do this if it is a cost competitive thing to do. If they have a very long, high volume monochrome job, it’s almost never cost competitive to do that compared to a pure monochrome cut sheet printer.

But there are many reasons why someone would do that on a color machine. One way is they only have the money or the space to get one digital device and they know they want to do some color. They need to make sure they work with their printer provider to be sure they have a different cost per image for monochrome pages and color pages. They don’t want to get sucked into the situation where they only have one cost regardless of whether it’s all black-and-white or if it has color on it. And most people do have different pricing for a monochrome-only page. That can drive the cost of a monochrome-only page way down. They can work with their printer provider to get them a cost that may be attractive for a monochrome-only page, but probably not quite as low as on a pure monochrome-only device.

There are a couple of other things they need to be careful of. One is that, when they are printing what they think should be a monochrome only page, that they really only use pure black toner. Oftentimes, people will have rich black in their offset jobs where they are laying down a little bit of cyan, for example, to really make the black pop. And if you print that rich black type of color on a color device, you will get charged for a color page. So it’s really important that either in the print driver, or in the prepress workflow, or in the printer controller—wherever it is—you have to make sure you specify that you want to use pure black and not rich black. That’s what will help you drive down the cost per page for the pages only have black on them.

Another point on that is that people who run mixed jobs, which I mentioned before as a reason to send it to a digital device. If you can avoid some collation later by putting monochrome and color pages together, the labor of having to do that collation may offset the fact that you’re running your monochrome pages on a color device. So again, it’s sort of the total cost per piece that you’re contemplating there; not just the cost per image.

Q: With so many MFPs and digital devices placed in offices, how can print service providers differentiate their services to continue receiving monochrome jobs?

A: I think there are a couple of different ways to look at this one, too. One is that, depending on what type of distributing printer you have in an office environment, it can be really expensive. So if you have—in an extreme example—inkjets out in the distributing environment, the inkjet printing is often the most expensive printing per page of what’s available. And that’s a terrible way to try to distribute print to try to save money. In that particular case, it may be a pure cost comparison.

If the comparison is being done with a distributed MFP device in an office environment, and it’s a cost competitive device with a good cost per page, then there are other things to consider. That doesn’t have so much to do with the actual print because it looks as good and comes out in either place. It’s more about how you handle the content that’s being printed. If you’re simply sending a static PDF document out to all your office locations and having them print it, it may be a wise thing to do if the cost per page in those locations is acceptable and there’s no confusion about what should be printed where—it’s the same PDF that gets printed in all 50 office locations.

If you start to bring in variable content, then it’s really important that you have a good process to manage that variable content. And that’s the kind of value that a print service provider or a marketing service provider—people like to use that term now—can bring to a corporation that they couldn’t easily do in a distributed office environment. It has to be more than just the print.

If it’s just print, it’s a commodity thing. It’s based on cost per page and you may or may not be competitive with distributed office MFPs. But if you can start to incorporate some value add for the content that’s being printed—the variable content or maybe a campaign associated with that concept—that’s the way you differentiate yourself from those office devices.

Q: What should printers know about the new generation of monochrome digital devices that they may not be aware of?

A: I started to think about the latest technology enhancement, how many dpi, what sort of inline finishing, or what kind of media can you support. And there have been a lot of announcements from different people from a technology perspective about the hardware. But I don’t think that is the most important thing for the Quick Printing audience to realize about digital monochrome devices. It’s more to do with what they can do with it to drive their revenue up or their costs down. I think the most important thing they should know about 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 from any one of the competitors, including us. But if they want to simply get a digital device to put in their shop to handle requests they might get that they can’t do on a traditional offset, then they’re really waiting for a commodity type customer to come in and say, “Hey I need to get this digital job run. Can you help me?” And that customer may be price shopping between two different quick printers.

But if they can start to learn the techniques and use the tools to help them 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. But it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. I think that’s really the most important thing.

Every time I talk to a customer about what are you really going to be printing on this device, most of the time it appears as though it’s just, “We need to print some commodity print.” They aren’t saying, “We’re going to try to set ourselves up as a differentiator or try to build our relationship more tightly with our customers and make it hard for them to move to someone else.”

Kodak
Bob Schalberg, Director Current Product Marketing B&W

Q: There is a lot of confusing terminology describing digital monochrome output devices in the current marketplace. How do you differentiate between a printer or copier/printer and a digital press? (For example, is the determining factor the duty cycle, speed, resolution, service reliability, or something else entirely?) Or is it all just marketing semantics?

A: I could take you through a brief history of how we got to where we are and it’s probably a summary of how the industry got to where we are as well. Many manufacturers that make high speed, high productive digital printing equipment started out as copier manufacturers. Then they morphed into copier/printer manufacturers. Then our industry went through a transition from an analog based technology to a digital technology, not unlike what has occurred in other industries.

As we achieved this sophistication of moving into the digital age, and we achieved the reliability to support productive, high volume print environments, we pretty much evolved into characterizing our product as a digital press. There are a number of reasons why we would consider it a digital press. When you talk about presses, you think about ink and water, offset type environments which have historically been known as high volume, high production, high quality type devices. As we manufactured these products, we’ve met the productivity requirements of the marketplace, we’ve met the speed requirements of the marketplace, and we’ve also met the image quality demands of the marketplace for the most part.

The industry itself identifies certain categories of equipment and most of those categories are built on speed. InfoTrends characterizes the opportunities for this type of device—high speed, high quality, high volume—in primarily three categories. They use image per minute measurements. The lower category for these devices would be 106-134 images per minute. The next category would be 135-199 images per minute. And the next category would be 200-plus images per minute. We define an image as one side of a sheet of paper, either 8½x11" or A4. We manufacture equipment that fits into all three of those categories.

Our delineation between copier/printers and digital presses follows industry delineation. A lot of it has to do with speed, duty cycle—how many images the unit is capable of producing per month—and those types of descriptors are what categorizes this equipment into that digital press environment.

Q: Most quick and small commercial printers are running hybrid digital/offset workflows. What criteria should they consider when deciding whether a monochrome job should be sent to a press or a digital output device?

A: Historically, digital has been more productive and more cost efficient for those shorter runs. The other criteria would be turnaround time—how fast do they need to satisfy their customers’ requests.

Another criteria, although they’re tending to morph from an offset or traditional commercial print to digital, but the image quality is virtually identical. Certainly, you’d get a number of different opinions on that. Image quality is certainly subjective to anyone who looks at it.

The other thing is some of the variability that is allowed with the digital process. For example, if you are doing some kind of direct mail campaign and you want to do that on the run as opposed to doing the shells on offset and then bringing them over to another device. All of the capabilities to do that type of work for that commercial printer’s customers exist in that digital press.

Q: Are your customers seeing growth in the demand for digital monochrome jobs or are they doing different kinds of jobs than they’ve done in the past?

A: I think what you’re seeing is that where digital devices fit better is when you want to have the job complete all inline. For example, you’ve got a number of different substrates that might go into a job. Many manufacturers, including us, offer multiple paper inputs so you can vary the types of paper that you put into the finished product.

Another is that, with digital devices, there is a way to pre-load preprinted media that could have been produced offline on an offset device, and incorporate that into the finished document, and also apply the variable data digitally to that substrate.

And finally, as you’re assembling, for instance, a booklet and you want to include tabs in that booklet. You have the ability in many devices, including our own, to insert tabs, to print on those tabs, as well as to finish the document, whether you choose to make a booklet, to saddle stitch it, to bind it. A growing application is the short-run book market, where perhaps a company gets a call for 150 paperback text books or something along that line. They take those shorter runs and, with the appropriate finishing equipment, you start on one end with the content and you pull a book out at the other end. It’s all inline.

Q: With so many MFPs and digital devices placed in offices, how can print service providers differentiate their services to continue receiving monochrome jobs?

A: That’s kind of a challenge, whether it’s in-house or it’s outsourced. I think that the commercial printers we speak to on a regular basis want to be known for their ability to satisfy a multitude of applications. They want to add their expertise as commercial printers because they understand the components of commercial printing. And they also want to provide a cost effective alternative to those customers.

It’s really a matter of scale. How much work does that customer have on a regular basis? Do they have enough to support the type of device we’re talking about, which is a capital equipment purchase? Do they want to maintain the employees to run those devices? It’s very similar to any type of a buying decision that any business would face. Do I bring my activities internal or do I go to an external source to have those things done. It’s really kind of a make or buy type of decision, and every environment has their own set of parameters in terms of how they want to achieve that output.

Many suppliers, including us, work hand-in-hand with commercial printers to do business development type activities. We’ll go out and conduct seminars for the commercial printer’s sales organization. We’ll work with the operators in that commercial print environment, relative to application specific needs that they may have. If that commercial printer buys a product, he can also acquire intellectual property and knowledge from the manufacturer to help them build their business and grow their business.

So it’s not just an equipment sale to a commercial printer and then you walk away. The commercial printer will continue to be successful as they continue to work with the manufacturer to express what their needs are, and to actually have a partnership with that manufacturer. That’s not limited to the commercial printer, but we find that there is a need out there to work with the commercial printer to help them realize the potential of the investment that they’ve made into our equipment.

Q: Do you see any of your customers running monochrome jobs on color machines? If so, what are the economies of scale involved in this practice?

A: The economies of scale are somewhat debatable. One of the reasons you would do that is you may have a select amount of monochrome work, but you don’t have enough of that monochrome work to support a single monochrome device. So you end up using your color device to produce monochrome. Historically, it hasn’t been the most cost effective way to do it. I think that decision point is based on volume and the amount of monochrome need you have versus color need.

Many of us produce both color presses and black-and-white presses, and all of our products—ours and our competitors’—can do either color or monochrome. But it’s really a choice around the workflow. What is the work coming in? What is your anticipated need for monochrome? Do you have the volume to support a monochrome device? And conversely, do you have the volume to support a color device? I’ve seen situations where an environment might be heavy on monochrome equipment and they have to go outside to have their color work done. It’s really a matter of the type of work that’s coming into these shops and the volume of that work.

If you have enough monochrome work, then run it on a monochrome device. Why invest in that color device to run monochrome on it, because traditionally, the color device is—at least from a capital acquisition standpoint—usually more expensive than a monochrome device. And traditionally the click charges have been higher as well.

Q: What should printers know about the new generation of monochrome digital devices that they may not be aware of?
Collectively, the industry has made significant inroads in speed, in reliability, as well as image quality. Those are the types of things that many of us, as manufacturers of this type of equipment, taut on our products. They’re reliable, they’re truly workhorses. They’re fast and very productive, and they also have outstanding image quality. They offer very effective cost per image as well.

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. You know, weigh in the factors of the skill set necessary to run the equipment. Weigh in the factor of the amount of floor space these take up. Weigh in the factors of 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, as importantly, they need to look at the support from the manufacturer or the vendor they purchase the product from 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.

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