Offset’s Place in a Digital World

Earlier this year, Japs Olson Company added its third Goss Automatic Transfer web press, as it looks to enhance the value and impact of direct mail for its clients.

The new press, like Sunday 2000 press systems installed in 2007 and 2011, feature eight printing units and a 57-inch web width. Goss Autoplate and Automatic Transfer technologies for on-the-fly job changes without stopping for makereadies.

New Orleans full service printer MPress recently installed a 29-inch six-color Komori Lithrone SX29 (LSX629, the largest half-size press Komori offers.

Meanwhile, KBA North America several printing press sales in the Midwest among some of the best-known titans of the commercial, trade, and packaging industry, including The Garvey Group, Imagine! Print Solutions, Tempt In-Store Productions (a Quad/Graphics company), CPI Card Group, BOPI (Bloomington Offset Process Inc.), Phillips Litho, Printco, and Multi-Packaging Solutions.

It’s no secret that digital printing’s impact on traditional offset print markets has been deep and expansive. Aside from the obvious issue of displacement, mobile devices and Internet based-media in general have changed the communications habits and the expectations of consumers, notes Graham Trevett, Goss VP of Sales. “As a result, marketers and publishers are using print differently, shifting to shorter runs and more targeted and immediate content, and—at the same time--trying to reduce costs to keep print competitive. However, most continue to see print as a valuable medium that allows them to ‘push’ content to consumers vs. relying on consumers to seek out the marketing content via electronic communication.”

For perspective, according to the latest PIRA study (“Future of Global Printing to 2018”), digital technologies produce about 15 percent of current commercial printing. PIRA projects that figure could approach 20 percent in the next five years. “These figures confirm that offset is and will remain the dominant process,” says Trevett.

While digital print technologies have made great strides in the last five years to improve quality and output while reducing costs, moving into a corresponding expansion of applications, offset continues to offer a very competitive combination of print quality, output, and and cost effectiveness across a wider range of applications, contend press manufacturers.

Commercial printing’s role is to compliment digital technologies, adds Eric Frank, KBA Vice President of Marketing and Product Management. “There is still a need for companies to differentiate themselves via printed material that provides greater attraction to the purchaser.”

What does print provide that digital does not? “Print is portable under all conditions, offers greater authority, carries more weight, and has staying power,” adds Frank. “To prove that point, university researchers in New Zealand published a recent study that found a human’s concentration, comprehension, absorption, and retention were all much lower when engaging with online material. Research has also found that offset delivers high-quality results along with the ability to display an array of substrates, which makes it stand out and yield greater results than a mobile device.”

Conventional and digital printing are co-existing, often inside the same facility. Japs-Olsen, for example, has offset, digital, and hybrid press capabilities. Today’s commercial printers are integrating new QR codes, augmented reality, as well as specialty coatings and metallic to offer integrated solutions.

One-to-one variable data marketing or micro-runs with 100-percent digital printing can be powerful tools in certain applications. However, short-run offset printing gives marketers and publishers a nice way to achieve economy, impact, and a reasonable level of targeting or segmentation for many applications, says Trevett. This is especially true when the offset product is supplemented with inkjet personalization, as is increasingly common.

In the United States, Goss has several customers running its Goss Sunday web presses with in-line ink jet printing capability. The rationale is to combine advantageous speed, print quality, and economy of web offset with content personalization, These presses are primarily being used for direct mail advertising.

Another common use has been to personalize the statements (not billing statements) that consumers receive for rewards programs, such from hotels or airlines. Most of the ink jetting has been single color, although some customers have and use four-color capability. Ink jet heads are located after the heatset dryer on the web press and before the in-line finishing equipment. Ink jetting is also done before any coating such as silicon or UV is applied.

Press manufacturers note that it’s important to acknowledge that offset—and especially web offset—has made considerable advances to stay competitive as the demand for shorter, more targeted print runs has increased in the catalog, publication, direct mail and general commercial sectors. These advances are primarily in the areas of automation and waste reduction. Routinely now, web printers with modern platforms are competitive in these sectors down to run lengths well below 5,000 copies.

“We believe offset will remain the predominant process for commercial and newspaper applications well into the future, for the reasons mentioned above—highly competitive combination of impact (print quality), output, and economy, driven by technology that continues to make offset cost effective at increasingly shorter run lengths,” concludes Trevett.

The integration of in-line inkjet capabilities within web offset press lines are destined to increase, with marketers making full use of the hybrid scenario to benefit from the powerful combination of economy and product personalization.  Printers such as Japs-Olson are incorporating ink jet heads within web offset systems for product personalization.

“We expect the use of web offset to increase in the packaging sector,” adds Trevett. “The advantages of web offset—particularly over gravure and flexo printing—are in line with the demands in folding carton, flexible packaging and label applications for higher print quality and shorter runs/more SKUs. As in commercial printing, we also expect an expansion of hybrid offset and digital platforms for packaging.”

The print market has stabilized due to consolidation and reduction of many companies. The majority of remaining shops, particularly those that are enjoying success, are taking advantage of the latest offset equipment, optimized with advanced technologies, automated systems, and color control measurement tools that enable them to be much more efficient and competent to produce high-quality, short-run work.