Digital Color Presses Continue to Gain Ground

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.”


Making Choices

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.”

“We have two Konica Minolta 6500s with CREOs still in service,” says Scott Cappel of Sorrento Mesa Printing in San Diego. “We just added a Konica Minolta 8000 with CREO to enhance capabilities and increase production capacity. We intend to keep all three running and in service for the foreseeable future. All of our commercial offset capabilities and prepress will remain in service as well.”

Albert Maldonado of Express Printing in Salinas, CA, installed a Konica Minolta 8000 about a year ago. “It has not replaced our offset press, but has taken the smaller print run workload,” he says.

“We recently replaced an iGen3 with Xerox 1000s,” says Hugh Griffin of Markitect in the Los Angeles area. “We are a 56 press operation, but digital represents only seven of these.”

While not a print-for-pay operation, Charles Gerlach’s graphics department at Somerville High School in Boston has an interesting mix of digital and offset. “Our graphics department has a two-color AB Dick 9985 twin-tower offset press, Konica Minolta monochrome digital copiers (bizhub Pro 920 and bizhub Pro 950), and a Canon 500,” he says. “We are going to add a Canon C7000 and a Riso Com Color 7050 for cheaper high-speed inkjet color. The Com Color will allow us to do full-color books with covers for a lot less.”

Dana Wilson of Landmark Impressions in the greater Boston area says his company has replaced a Konica Minolta 6500 with a Canon 7010VP. “We were already doing a significant amount of work on the 6500 and more and more work is moving from the press (DI) to the Canon. We’re not ready to get rid of the DI yet, but getting close.”

“We recently acquired a Konica Minolta bizhub 8000c digital press to add to our digital printing because of the short/quick-run demand we have,” says Giovanni Jaramillo at Marsid-M&M Group in the New York City area. “But at the same time we acquired an original Heidelberg windmill letterpress where we foil-stamp, die-cut, and emboss, augmenting the digital and offset printing we do. Now we are equipped to offer custom die-cut, variable data driven, foil-stamped printed materials at affordable prices.

“Of course, we still run our offset presses for larger runs since digital is still not there click-wise for large runs.”

Ryan Testa, global sales manager at Techkon, a manufacturer of color management equipment, points out, “I’ve found that digital presses help grow offset business. You are able to provide a one-stop shop for your customers. It’s even better if you are a full service marketing provider. Why not offer direct mail off digital and longer run work off a 40-inch press?”


Tomorrow’s Forecast

Obviously, digital color presses have evolved and we can expect more advances from household names such as Xerox, Canon, Ricoh, Konica Minolta, HP Indigo, MGI Meteor, etc. There may even be some new players and improvements in the not so distant future.

“I think that inkjet printers will continue to improve in quality, and become a more competitive technology, compared to the toner based units we are using now,” says Holscher. “Also, there are several new technologies that will probably loom larger over the next few years. One is the nanography process that was introduced by Benny Landa at the drupa show this year. The Memjet process is another technology that is beginning to come to market after a long period of development. There have been some successful Memjet-powered products in the mailing and wide-format areas, and I would predict that others will follow.”

In any case, you can be certain the world of the digital color press will continue to change and evolve.