It’s hard to ignore the inroads that have been made by digital color presses in the past several years. While there are still printers with exclusively offset operations, the vast majority have some sort of digital output device—whether in an all-digital operation or a hybrid digital/offset operation. In fact, according to NAPL’s Digital Services Study, nearly 95 percent of respondents currently offer or soon plan to offer digital printing, both variable and static. Despite the fact that declining costs for service and supplies are resulting in some monochrome work being run on color digital equipment, the vast majority of output is color.
Digital color presses are well past their infancy and even their adolescence. Their evolution in speed, quality, reliability, features, and duty cycle have been pretty remarkable. While their rapid evolution makes today’s offerings very attractive, it also has significantly shortened their life cycle.
“One change which has affected the printing industry is the need for more frequent upgrades of capital equipment,” says Dirck Holscher, publisher of Larry Hunt’s Color Copy News. “Where a few years ago you could buy a new press and expect it to last for 10 or 15 years, printers are finding that they need to replace their digital printers every four or five years to keep up with changes in technology.
“Most of our readers are
using their third, fourth, or even fifth generation digital press. Companies with 40 or 50 print-per-minute machines are replacing these units with 60 or 70 print-per-minute machines. Printers already using machines in this speed range often step up to a faster machine,” he observes.
Upgrading capabilities is only one factor driving the increasing proliferation of digital color presses. The demand for shorter runs and faster turnaround times is another.
“We are seeing more and more commercial printers looking to expand their services and improve efficiencies,” says Dino Pagliarello, director, Product Marketing, Konica Minolta Business Solutions USA. “They are finding it harder to turn a profit on traditional offset work—especially on short-run jobs. Color digital presses are great for shorter job runs and variable data printing. [With digital] commercial printers can offer their customers high quality, short-run printing with fast turnaround times and do so profitably.”
In addition to augmenting or adding digital color press capabilities, Holscher says, “Many readers are looking at new high-end machines as possible replacements for their current pressroom equipment.”
Artie Moskowitz, the author of “How to Buy Copiers”, points out the major things one should consider when preparing to buy a digital color press—whether to upgrade, replace, or augment existing capabilities. They are: budget, quality needs, average monthly volume, speed, and service and support.
“There are many good presses on the market, but nobody can choose the right one for you without asking the right questions,” he says. “A knowledgeable salesperson who has experience in print-for-pay can help you make a good decision, but each will be biased toward their line.”
Keeping in mind that there are many driving factors behind the decision to purchase a digital color press, we decided to seek out some real world examples.
“We are just replacing our Xerox 700 with a new one which will run alongside our other digital machine and our range of litho presses,” says Graham Pearce of Island Printers in Portsmouth, UK. “Our short-run work is virtually all on the digital machines nowadays, but we have a range of Heidelbergs at our disposal, which come into their own at about 2,500 copies. We have just made a further machine purchase to enable black-and-white work to be more economical by putting it back onto the litho presses.”