'Hybrid' Printing Plants Are Here to Stay

Some are die-hard offset press aficionados. Others are convinced that digital printing is the only way to go. But a growing number of commercial printers are seeing the advantage of having both systems in place. Known as hybrid printers, these shops use each type of technology to provide the best results for their customers and allow them the flexibility and cost efficiency to grow their bottom line.

“I don’t believe that you have to choose digital over offset,” stated Imaging Zone president Mounir Murad, who operates a full-service print firm in Washington, D.C. “One process doesn’t have to take away from the other. Instead, choose a hybrid method where you have both processes. They compliment each other.”

That’s the tact being taken by Hatteras, a Tinton Falls, NJ printer. At its newly expanded 170,000-square-foot facility, its offset press line up includes two 40-inch Heidelberg Speedmaster XL105 six-color plus coating units installed in 2011 and 2007; a 40-inch Speedmaster six-color perfector; a 40-inch Speedmaster two-color perfector; a 20-inch Speedmaster five-color plus coating unit; a Heidelberg two-color Printmaster; and a Ryobi 13 ¼ x17 ½ two-color press.

On the digital side, Hatteras fields two Kodak NexPress 2500+ four-color plus dimensional coating unit machines, installed in 2010 and 2006; two Kodak Digimaster E15 imaging systems; a new 2011 78-inch Agfa :Anapurna M2050 UV inkjet wide-format printer; two 60-inch HP wide-format inkjets; a Konica Minolta Bizhub Pro 1050; and three Buskro Aurora UV inkjet imaging systems with duplexing capabilities.

Keys to Growth

“We feel that having both digital and offset capabilities are key to our growth,” noted Bill Duerr, president of Hatteras. “We are finding more and more clients utilizing both our offset and digital capabilities, and often using both digital and offset on the same job. But we know that as time goes on, the industry will move more and more toward digital as customers are relying more on data-driven communication. It is doubtful that offset print will ever go away, but more likely that digital and offset will merge to form a hybrid press that combines both technologies, which we already are experiencing.”

Two years ago as it added more services, Hatteras rebranded itself and moved from being strictly a printer to offering the ability to conceive, execute, and deploy multi-channel marketing campaigns, allowing its customers to reach consumers through print, direct mail, pURLS, email, and SMS text messaging.

“We utilize all of these capabilities because our customer doesn’t want to deal with five different vendors,” explained Duerr. “But you can’t just have offset. Turnaround times are much faster, there’s more personalization, and we need to help our customers differentiate themselves. We use the digital presses for variable data, personalization, targeted to consumers for short runs. Our newest Agfa :Anapurna allows us to print signage, banners, wall and floor graphics. We’re being smart about the work we pursue.”

Pazazz, a leading offset, digital, label, and large-format printing firm located in Montreal, operates both offset and digital. Its two offset presses -- a three-year-old KBA Rapida 142 56-inch six-color UV press and an older, 11-year-old Mitsubushi 40-inch six-color with aqueous coater -- are housed with a two-year-old Xerox iGen4 digital press and Xerox 5000 Nuvera as well as a four-year-old HP WS4500.

The KBA offset press is used to print on paper, board, foil, plastic, flute, vinyl, and styrene (60 lbs. to 48 pt.) with UV and other special effects. The digital presses are used for variable work, such as Quick Response (QR) codes, and pURL mailings, as well as marketing materials and guides and short-run work.

“In the past year, our offset work has increased as we use our Rapida for printing on multiple substrates and having the unique ability to print a 56-inch size with UV that no one else in our region can offer,” said Warren Werbitt, founder and CEO of Pazazz. “Plus, we’re using the Rapida to print on more plastic, board, and flute.”

Pazazz began producing work digitally in 2006 as a service to its clients. As the demand became stronger and variable printing became more important, its digital service grew. As a true hybrid printer, Pazazz determines the most efficient way to quote a job to give its customers the cost benefit. Werbitt believes that both offset and digital offer their pluses and minuses. The more options we offer, he added, the better it is for clients.

While its KBA offset press continues to play a dominant role in the company, Pazazz’s investment in digital has made a positive effect on its bottom line. “The digital presses have offered our clients more options as well as opened up new potential work for us,” said Werbitt. “However, we believe that having both offset and digital provides a better service to our customers. We are truly a one-stop shop.”

Digital Mix Is Now Commonplace

Imaging Zone, the D.C. printer, has been offering offset printing since 1996 and digital printing since 1991. “I think a printer is doomed if they don’t offer digital printing,” Murad said. “I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have digital.”

The firm, which opened in 1987 as a service bureau, offers a Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 29-inch offset press with aqueous coating and a sophisticated mix of digital technology: two Oce CS650 Pro color printers and EFI IC-303 controller, a high-capacity stacker, and booklet-makers. For large-format work, the firm uses an Oce Arizona 250 GT flatbed UV printer. The shop is also equipped with Agfa :Apogee workflow for prepress and direct-to-plate system, EFI Fiery for its Canon 105 black-and-white printers, and a 65-page-per-minute Oce CS650 Pro with Caldera and Onyx for wide-format printing.

“We pioneered short-run, high-quality printing in the Washington, D.C. metro area,” noted Murad. “Today, we cater mostly to designers, advertising agencies, non-profits, government, business organizations, marketing firms, and photographers who need short and medium print runs. Many are under 5,000. Some are as small as 50.”

In the past few years, customers have become more focused on three areas: Cost is the biggest determinant in awarding a job, said Murad; turnaround is the next important criteria, and quality is the third major consideration.

Murad looks at every incoming job to determine if it should be printed offset or digital. A job of 50 booklets or pieces doesn’t make sense to go on an offset press, he said, while a job calling for 1,000 brochures is printed offset. This past summer, “we were awarded a job from the Internal Revenue Service,” related Murad. “It was a four-color PMS job for 205 books with aqueous coating. We put this job on our offset press due to the metallic gold specifications. We just concluded a 1,700 perfect-bound catalog job in two business days that was completed entirely on our offset press.”

Imaging Zone purchased its first Océ CS650 Pro full-color digital printer in October 2007. The company was so pleased that they purchased a second machine a year later. “We purchased the second machine to accommodate anticipated growth based on our projections and to provide redundancy,” the CEO explained.

“We can now match digital to offset more closely and provide a wider selection of paper stocks that we couldn’t offer before. We can produce several good-sized jobs with consistent reliability and quality. Clients can choose from 8.5”x11” to 11”x17” pages as the foundations for their projects,” said Murad.

Murad closed his firm’s annual fiscal report in July. “We are roughly down several hundreds of thousands of dollars in our offset printing work but our revenue increased by $25,000. Why? Digital and large-format printing were big components in that increase.”

(When) Will Digital Sales Surpass Offset?

Founded in 1931, Cohber Inc., a full-service printing and marketing communications company located in Rochester, NY, specializes in direct-to-plate printing to full service marketing solutions. Cohber provides ink on paper and digital asset management to variable document composition, variable email blasts, and personalized URL development (pURL).

The firm has added both new offset and digital presses to its offerings. Cohber is equipped with five Heidelberg Speedmaster offset presses that were installed in the last four to 12 years: one six-color 28-inch; one six-color 40-inch; one eight-color with UV 40-inch; one ten-color perfector 40-inch; and one Printmaster 11 x 15-inch two-color press. These presses are used to print high-end marketing collateral and direct mail.

Cohber’s stable of digital presses includes three Kodak NexPress and two Kodak Digimaster models that were installed over the last 11 years. All of the digital presses have fifth stations in which the company runs 3D touch dimensional and textured printing. Eighty percent of the digital presses are used to print variable data work and 20 percent are used to print short-run static jobs. In 2009, Cohber became the first printer in North America to install the new Kodak NexPress SE3600 digital production color press.

“The amount of work produced on our offset presses has fluctuated up and down over the last 10 years,” says Eric Webber, president and CEO. “We’re producing less high-end collateral work and the run lengths are down. Overall, we’re seeing our customers spend less on offset work year to year. In some cases, the work goes to digital printing and in other cases it might not be printed at all. Fifteen percent of our work is hybrid meaning that a particular job combines both offset and digital.”

Webber said that the investment in digital presses has made a very positive effect on the company’s bottom line. “Margins are much better for digital printing,” he noted. “We can charge more for a customized piece produced on a digital press. Plus, the investment in digital presses has allowed us to break into new accounts.”

Webber specifically chose Kodak’s NexPress because its quality matched offset. “We can run high-end marketing collateral with the same quality as offset and the reliability of the NexPress equals the Speedmaster,” he said. “There is no production downtime and turnaround is fast.”

Cohber added a digital solution back in 1997 to focus on accounts with data-driven communications. “Data, data, data is our focus,” stressed Webber. “We’re not trying to sell ink on paper. The future hedges around the use of data and being able to repurpose that data. Anybody can put ink on paper; anyone can put toner on paper, but it’s really how you build around that data model.”

“Offset printing continues to play a dominant role in our production capability,” he concluded. “Sixty percent of our work is produced on our offset presses. But each year, digital is grabbing approximately five to eight percent. We do foresee that digital printing will become more prevalent than offset and we’re planning on it. But our data-driven work on the digital presses has allowed us to get into new accounts that require offset as well.” PN

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