Small-Format Digital Color Sees Large Advances

Small-format digital color is exerting a large impact on the livelihoods of print service providers who embrace the technology. Users of equipment like the Konica C8000 and Xerox 800 are finding they have the ability to provide higher quality work with very rapid turnarounds, and at surprisingly affordable costs.

Here’s a look at two print service providers and how they’ve parlayed their capabilities in small-format digital color into higher margins and profits.


Doggone Amazing Growth

Digital Dog Direct is a 31-year-old Ewing, NJ, company that in the last half decade has transitioned to a digital shop handling small- to mid-volume digital laser print and mail. The company produces a high volume of self-mailers on 100-pound to 120-pound stock that are variable on both sides.

“On one side will be the name and address and offer, and the other has the variability subtly imbedded,” says company president Ken Maisel. “Digital direct mail is really about keeping in touch with customers in a personal, personalized, and very customized way.”

Whenever handed a project, the staff invariably asks whether offset or digital should be employed. The answer is partly based on the variability the piece requires. The variable aspect could be the address on the mailing or some part of the offer, such as the interest rate or percentage of discount.

Typical might be a mailing sent to a donor from his or her alma mater or by a non-profit organization. If the donor has contributed $500 in the past, it would make no sense to start his or her donation options at $25 or $50. In such a case, there is no reason to go with anything but digital, Maisel says.

The question of offset or digital also rests on economics. At some point, economics mandate offset. “There’s a threshold where you can get better pricing if you can give up the variability with offset,” Maisel says.

Digital Dog Direct has four Konica bizhub C8000 color digital press printers and five high-speed black-and-white printers, all capable of variable printing. “We have the capability of UV coating,” Maisel says. “That creates a very, very shiny, gloss-like finish. It not only protects the piece when it is running through high-speed postal equipment, preventing that scuffed-up look, but also gives it an upscale and unique appearance.”

As well, Digital Dog Direct has Konica Minolta-supplied Duplo 5000 booklet makers, allowing the shop to print 30- to 40-page booklets in which each page can be variably printed. “For instance, you see insurance questionnaires that are personalized throughout to specific recipients,” Maisel says. “Or it might be in an insurance policy featuring provisions unique to that policyholder.”

Maisel says his company remains nimble and flexible in a very challenging marketplace. “But it’s a good place to be, because very high-volume static pieces don’t provide the economics they once did,” he says.

“It’s a rapidly changing world. It’s rewarding, exciting, and there’s a lot to learn for someone like me who came from the high-volume world. We’ve grown 300 percent in the last six years. We didn‘t have quite as much a learning curve as someone getting into it from a static world. We had a lot of variable software and mailing software that allowed us to get into it fairly quickly.”

His advice to newcomers? “Be prudent about what software offerings are really going to speak to your needs, in both the long and short runs,” he urges.


Speed, Quality & Economy

Another shop that is heavily into small-format digital color is Sir Speedy Printing and Marketing Services in Tampa, FL, where Steve and Emily Albritton are respectively vice president of sales and marketing and director of operations.

The shop pursues business clients needing services in marketing and signage. Among such clients are apartment communities, for which the shop turns out brochures, business cards, outdoor and indoor signage, and collateral. Other industries served include insurance and healthcare.

“We have a Xerox 800 with the clear color option,” Emily says. “That allows us to do a lot of materials we wouldn’t be able to do, or at least not as cost effectively, without it. We can do short runs that look like they feature spot UV, but they were just run on a color printer. We helped a financial services client re-brand using the clear coat. It looks like their logo is hologrammed in the background of their brochures, business cards, and financial report covers.”

Among the challenges of selling the clear coat is the difficulty of photographing it, Steve says. Adds Emily: “We take some of the materials we already do for clients, such as brochures and flyers, and add the clear coat to show them how much more impressive it is with the clear. We tell them, ‘Another option we have is just pennies more per piece to you, but makes a world of difference in how your pieces are perceived.’”

Many clients seek heavier business cards, and the Xerox 800 enables running heavy stocks like 130-pound cover or 16-point cover in one pass. No longer must Sir Speedy sub out that business, cutting its own margins. “Since we got the Xerox 800, we’ve done it ourselves,” Emily says.

Both agree on the key benefits their machine generates. One is high quality, with Steve asserting, “I’d rate this and the Indigo Press as the top two in imaging.”

Other benefits are fast turnaround and low cost. “We see great growth opportunity in the digital market, and we’re going to pursue it,” Steve says.

Sir Speedy Printing and Marketing Serivces of Tampa, FL, provided the print samples that appear in this article.