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The Big Trend in Offset? Digital

In spite of all the technology changes underfoot, the offset printing process is still used for applications that range from commercial to packaging to direct mail. While each of these markets face their own challenges, there are some similarities, most notably the need to add digital capabilities to stay competitive. The influence of digital technologies is apparent throughout the workflow as a cost and time saving measure, and as a means to insure that a shop can deliver cutting-edge capabilities to its clients.

A recent report from Smithers Pira, “The Future of Offset vs Digital Printing to 2018,” details how the issue of direct competition between digital and offset printing is a daily occurrence for print service suppliers, specifically in determining which process they should use for a particular job.

According to the report, in 2008 the value of all digital printing accounted for less than 18.5 percent of the offset market; by 2018, however, it will be worth almost 50 percent of the offset sector worldwide, and even higher in the more mature print regions. The fact that digital’s share of offset volume is much lower reflects the higher per unit costs being obtained for digital print than for offset. The volume of all offset prints is projected to fall by 10.2 percent worldwide between 2008 and 2018, while digital print volume is forecast to grow by 68.1 percent.

Shrinking run lengths is a concern among all offset printing markets, but in the direct mail market, complex direct mail packages are helping to pump up revenues. “Many winning direct mail packages today require more operations that command a higher cost per package, which helps to compensate for the shorter runs,” says Debora Haskel, VP Marketing IWCO Direct, a leading provider of a full suite of direct marketing solutions. “Some of the price erosion for offset can be mitigated by more complex packages that drive a higher response to meet the ROI demands of our customers.”

Adds Haskell, “The magic of direct mail has always been and continues to be that response can be measured. Customers are employing sophisticated multivariate testing and more complex direct mail packages to drive response. It’s working. Clients are reporting double- and even triple-digit lift in gross response rate based on formats that we are designing for both offset and digital platforms.”

Headquartered in Chanhassen, Minnesota, IWCO Direct is knee-deep in offering paper-based direct mails services, as well as postal optimization strategies and cross-channel marketing.

“One of the largest areas of impact of the digital transformation is on our capital investment process,” notes Haskel.

“When an offset press requires a significant investment for refurbishing or upgrade, we now consider if digital technology will have a more positive impact on meeting customer needs and ultimately, on our bottom line.”

This past July, IWCO Direct expanded its direct mail personalization capabilities with the installation of an Océ ColorStream 3900 digital inkjet printer at its Chanhassen headquarters.

In May 2012, Wilen Direct, Deerfield Beach, FL, another leading direct mail house, announced a different route, installing the Kodak Prosper S10 four-color imprinting system, which uses Kodak Stream inkjet technology and Kodak Versamark CS410 system controller. The hybrid printing solution gives Wilen the ability to provide personalized direct mail at speeds matching those of its web offset presses and finishing lines. Wilen uses the Pitney Bowes Print+ Messenger color inkjet aystem to create individually customized envelopes.

Personalization, however, is just one of the reasons direct mail houses are looking toward digital. The marrying of technologies such as QR codes and augmented realty with paper direct mail campaigns is also making digital more attractive.

DTS Output, El Dorado Hills, CA, part of the Customer Communications Segment of DST Systems, Inc., produces and delivers its trade confirmations and broker-dealer, bank, and tax statements, in addition to offering fulfillment, direct mail, and warehouse distribution services. The scope of what this segment produces is in the numbers: in 2012, it produced more than 3.5 billion transactional communications that were received via postal, e-mail, Web, and mobile applications.

According to Dave Saavedra, Corporate Communications, DST Output, the company began moving its processes to digital 12 years ago from producing forms offset. Forms are now produced 100 percent inkjet. “Selling our our offset business had a very positive impact to our bottom line,” says Saavedra.

While DST Output doesn’t often run shells offset, “when we do, they are very competitively priced—not less than digital forms manufacturing, but getting closer,” says Saavedra.

Inkjet is compelling as customers look to shave costs off their mailings, and for shorter turnaround times. But they are also looking for higher resolutions and larger color gamuts—areas that offset often has inkjet beat. “Customers are looking for additional flexibility in terms of substraights available and different finishing options,” says Saavedra.

For IWCO Direct, the digital transformation is having an impact on workflow and technology, as it considers best practices for all platforms.

“Our platform makes use of both offline inkjet for personalization of offset production and continuous full-variable inkjet,” says Haskel. “We are making significant investments in workflow, digital asset management, and proofing solutions to support both platforms. This also requires an expansion of our content management team and training across our enterprise for our customer-facing team including creative services, client services, and sales. In other words, this is not just a change for operations and production—it impacts everyone.”

Clients, too, are looking for “best practices,” says Haskel, asking to be educated on how to optimize digital and understand how to determine which platform makes the most sense for their programs.

“Our customers want to know how to use the scope and breadth of our platform to their best advantage,” says Haskell.  “They want and need education on how to design for digital and how to understand the best platform for each of their programs. They know that they must design for the digital platform in order to see the lift in response the platform promises, but many clients don’t know where to start. We are focused on providing this education through our Education Centers in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, our blog, and our business review process.”