In an industry fixated on short-run color, digital monochrome production printing seldom sees the spotlight. That's a shame because it's a major profit center for many quick and small commercial printers. In QP's Annual Franchise Review, the results of which appear in this issue, digital monochrome output accounted for 13.2% of total sales or $265.1 million.
According to Larry Hunt's annual surveys of this segment, the major players in the quick and small commercial arena are Canon, Xerox, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, and Océ. We contacted each company for their read on the status of digital monochrome production printing.
All five agreed that digital monochrome now accounts for a great deal of the work that used to be printed single-color offset. However, that does not necessarily mean that it has replaced offset completely. "Although it is true that offset work continues to transition to digital," says Canon's Forrest Leighton, "We believe that there still is a large need for offset and for many, digital serves as a nice complement for specific types of work."
That said, there are some distinct advantages that digital monochrome has over offset.
Konica Minolta's Mike Fego points out that one of these advantages is simpler job setup using digital files. That "enables true on-demand printing with fast turnaround times and the ability to do shorter runs profitably."
Digital monochrome also tops offset in the area of variable data printing. "Digital monochrome can easily manage VDP applications, whereas offset is best suited for static print," says Ricoh's Kurt Konow.
"Only digital printing can support dynamic page printing," agrees Océ's Eric De Goeijen. "For many users, especially in book printing, it is the ability to print on demand or just as many copies as are needed at an affordable price."
So, digital monochrome has some advantages over offset, but what about the quality question, which early on dogged digital printing. "The quality of monochrome digital presses has reached a point where most print shops are evaluating it as a viable option for their operation," says Xerox's John Santoli, who also points out such advantages as in-line finishing.
"With advances in imaging technologies, improved toner quality, as well as new developing units, the quality of digital monochrome is almost indistinguishable in appearance when compared to offset," adds Leighton.
Konow goes even further. "Some would argue that digital may be better than offset with 1200x1200 output. Others would argue and say it is very close."
Digital monochrome printing lends itself to a wide variety of applications, such as on-demand books, manuals, newsletters, personalized marketing materials, etc. "Some good applications for monochrome printing for quick and small commercial printers are variable input mail pieces," says Fego.
Konow agrees. "Any VDP applications are perfect for digital, such as direct mail, personalized postcards, rebate checks, transpromotional, booklets, manuals."
What about color? Essentially there are two ways to approach adding color to monochrome digital printing—insert digitally printed color pages or print monochrome on pre-printed offset shells. "The combination of offset shells and monochrome digital print compliment each other well," says Santoli.
While there are an increasing number of all-digital operations, most seem to be a combination of offset and digital. "Depending on the volumes, a shop may still have enough work for their large offset jobs, or they may eventually want to transition to digital completely," says De Goeijen.
"Digital monochrome and offset are often found side by side," says Konica's Fego. "Long run, static work is well suited to offset, whereas shorter runs and variable input applications are better suited to digital."