The True Cost of Color

In the business world, the impact of color is proven. From brand identity to printed communications, color helps to generate interest and capture attention. In 2010, a survey of 1,500 consumers by Leflein Associates found that, given a choice of color graphics or black-and-white text, participants were more than twice as likely to open the envelopes with color graphics first. Once the envelope is opened, color plays a key part in ensuring that key messages are noticed, read, and retained.

Of course, the use of color in business communications is by no means a new phenomenon. But how color is used and the level of image quality that can be achieved continues to evolve.

Certainly, when it comes to inkjet printing, old ideas, based on a historical understanding of the technology, are being dynamically challenged. It is therefore essential for those businesses considering an investment into color print to fully understand the capabilities and potential of the latest continuous forms and web production inkjet printing technology in order to maximise investment return.

The Inkjet Evolution

Significant leaps have been made in the development of inkjet color. These technological advances enable users to throw off the shackles of the old school approach to color application and to realise the true value of inkjet color production print. One can point to a broad timeline of inkjet evolution.

Production Inkjet Development Timeline

1995: Benny Landa launched Indigo digital offset color printing.

2000: Traditional product development meant early color devices evolved from copier/laser printer technology. Quality was good enough for basic business document enhancement.

2005: Second generation technology had limited color profiling resolution with quality a long way from offset processes at production speeds/throughput.

2009: Near offset quality finally becomes a reality, but it has taken a radical rethink of the basic technology. The newest generation of print engines are designed from the ground up to function as inkjet web presses for the publishing and graphic markets. The addition of a specialised digital front end, combined with transactional workflow, enables fully variable content with near offset quality for the transactional application market. A production speed lower than comparable alternatives is the only drawback.

2012: High speed and game changing 4-up versions of web presses deliver a true challenge to the productivity and quality of traditional methods.

The very latest inkjet devices deliver improved print heads, faster print controllers, better inks, and faster and more productive print engines. In technical terms, this translates to1200x600 nozzles per inch at 600 feet per minute (up to 4,926 A4 impressions per minute) with full color gamut. And this trend is set to continue, as illustrated earlier this year when HP performed a technology demonstration at drupa with the HP T410 running at 800 fpm.

Nozzle redundancy technology has been developed to minimize print defects and reduce waste. And today’s very high quality print can be achieved on a wide range of substrates, from inkjet-optimised coated papers to more basic offset grade papers, through the use of bonding agent.

Unrealized Potential

However, in many businesses, existing use of color remains inflexible. Generic offset shell stationary is designed to meet corporate marketing requirements and ensure color compliance, but these shells are often time-consuming to design and create, and legacy operational procedures make usage of multiple shell designs costly and slow.

Storage and handling costs against multiple shell designs are significant. And considerable wastage can occur when stock is deemed surplus because of obsolescence or damage. Consider also the loss of production during job changeovers if multiple shells are required for a campaign, and the difficulty in organising production to take full advantage of postal optimization.

More advanced offset shells may include some generic marketing images or text, but the traditional—and still rather commonplace—view of inkjet color is that the technique is fine for transactional highlighting, but inadequate for more demanding marketing-based applications where coated substrates and high ink density have traditionally challenged high speed inkjet. Consequently, personalization is often limited to basic content and text rather than graphics and images.

Staying Ahead

The stark truth is that offset shell usage is anchoring businesses to the past, preventing communications from truly taking off and, ultimately, resulting in wasted spending. Forward-thinking organisations are recognizing that investment in today’s continuous inkjet is not simply a matter of cost-per-print. Rather, the latest technology is driving a completely new approach to communication production, one that frees businesses to better engage customers through personalization and drive business growth.

A simple test of current communication efficiency and effectiveness is to ask some simple questions:

  • As a marketer, can you target small groups or individuals as part of a large campaign?
  • Can you do small test campaigns quickly and at low cost?
  • Can you simultaneously run multiple campaigns across different brands and still obtain full postal discount?
  • Can you create fast response communications when needed?
  • Can you apply your full CRM data profile to individuals or groups?
  • Can you run campaigns in conjunction with your billing/statement runs without laborious IT-based changes?
  • Does your outsourced print service bureau or in-house print facility minimize waste and reduce handling and storage costs?
  • Can you add relevant messaging and personalization to your envelopes to draw the customer inside?
  • Can you ensure lower postage costs by printing your message on transactional document white space rather than adding inserts to your existing envelopes?
  • Do you gain the maximum postal discounts?

If the answer to any of the above is “no” then there is an immediate justification to further explore the potential of inkjet technology. Today’s print engines, finishing technology, and sophisticated workflow software have the flexibility and finesse to truly deliver on the age-old promise of one-to-one, personalized messaging. Communication becomes a multi-channel, two-way process that extends way beyond the initial contact.

It is precisely this sophistication that is driving the white paper factory strategy—the process by which highly targeted business communications are created from plain white paper via a workflow that is automated from end-to-end. The freedom afforded by such a communications set-up is extraordinary, leading to dramatic improvements in terms of quality, control, integrity, and postal optimization.

Take Another Look at Inkjet

The old ideas around inkjet capability are just that—old. Not all inkjets are created the same, but the most advanced technology is now capable of delivering superb, near offset quality print at high-speed, enabling 100 percent variable content, including envelope messaging, within a secure environment.

Undoubtedly, many print and mail buyers are unaware that their current service is failing to deliver an optimized return on investment. It is all too easy to stick with existing technology—perhaps fearing the price of change—but this is false economy.

Potentially, these buyers could switch technologies and immediately pay less for a vastly improved level of service and enhanced flexibility. But short-term cost-savings—although welcome—are only part of the story. The reality is that full color printing is establishing itself as a communication must. Investment into high-end inkjet technology is significant, but it is an investment that delivers a long lasting payback. Measurement is not in money saved through cost per page, but rather in the enduring customer loyalty and business growth generated through more engaging and dynamic communications.

Those businesses not adapting to the increasing demands and expectations of customers for smarter, clearer, more convenient communications will ultimately pay the biggest cost.

“Good enough print quality” today is already behind the curve in terms of what can be achieved and your customers will notice.

David Ireland is director product management, Print Solutions, for Pitney Bowes. Learn more at