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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: New Photo Book Printing Equipment

I wrote a blog posting recently about advances in photo book production that allow for lay-flat binding of books up to 18” x 18” in format. This essentially means that you can produce photo books with every page spread a full-bleed 18” x 36” double-page image and with no image area lost into the gutter on any page spread.

This reflects the powerful emotional attachment of individuals (and hence corporations and advertisers) to physically printed photos. In the era of the Internet and smartphones that give almost everyone on the planet a camera to carry wherever they go, we have an overabundance of images. However, people still want to physically print the few images they love.

My friend and colleague who sent me the information on this particular binding equipment (the fastBook Professional by Imaging Solutions AG) just sent me another article. This one references a deal between HP, the maker of the HP Indigo digital press, and Shutterfly, a major photo publishing service.

HP and Shutterfly

Before we get into the press release, here’s some background on HP and Shutterfly.

To the best of my experience, nothing beats the color fidelity, color gamut, or overall quality of the HP Indigo, a digital electrophotographic (i.e., laser) printer that uses liquid toner. In my print buying work, I always look for commercial printing establishments with this equipment because I know that if my client’s job does not fit the press run length of an offset print job, she or he will still get offset quality custom printing from an HP Indigo. (That said, I’m sure there are other digital presses of stellar quality out there now.)

Now, for Shutterfly. Wikipedia says the following about this company:

“Shutterfly is an American Internet-based image publishing service based in Redwood City, California. Shutterfly’s flagship product is its photo book line.

“Shutterfly’s revenue derives from ‘turning digital snapshots into tangible things.’

“Shutterfly enables users to create personalized photo gifts (including photos and text) such as Samsung Galaxy and iPhone cases, photo books, wall art, and home décor.”

The Deal Between HP and Shutterfly

“HP Wins Five-Year Shutterfly Deal—Accelerates Digital Print Momentum” (published on 08/17/17 as a press release by HP and Shutterfly) references the second phase of Shutterfly’s adding HP Indigo 12000 digital printers to its equipment for the photo products it produces and sells. The article notes that HP is the preferred provider for this multi-phase rollout of digital custom printing equipment and that this initiative retires the digital presses that Shutterfly had been using for their photo books.

From a product-oriented perspective, the press release notes that Shutterfly will use the equipment to “produce a range of high-quality, personalized products and gifts including photo books, calendars, custom stationery, cards, and keepsakes.”

The article then shifts to the output quality and flexibility of the equipment, saying, “The 29-inch format HP Indigo 12000 Digital Press enables production of these products through offset matching digital color with true photo quality, high productivity, and wide versatility on an unmatched range of media including synthetic, metalized, and canvas applications.”

What’s the Emotional Hook Behind the Products and Quality?

Enrique Lores, President, Imaging & Printing Business, HP Inc, notes that “People click on what they like, but print what they love.”

The press release encourages companies to use the technology to engage with their customers and to help people explore their creativity, connect with other people, personalize their photo products, and “share life’s joy” (Dwayne Black, Senior Vice President, Chief Operations Officer, Shutterfly, Inc.).

At the same time, there’s a good business case for this partnership, since Shutterfly and HP have between them a huge base of image production knowledge, digital printing acumen, and awareness of customer photo imaging needs. Moreover, the HP Indigo equipment lends itself to printing substrate flexibility, personalization, quick job turn-around, and cost cutting. (This is in addition to superior image quality, reflected in HP Indigo’s work with such discriminating global corporations as Coca-Cola and Mondelez International/Oreo.)

Finally, the HP Indigo 12000s are B2 machines, which means that their maximum press sheet size rivals that of many offset commercial printing presses: (19.7” x 27.8”), allowing for larger press signatures and/or larger overall job trim sizes.

How Can This Benefit You?

In concert with the earlier PIE Blog post about ISAG’s fastBook Professional, this joint HP and Shutterfly article makes it clear that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers see increasing customer interest in printed photo products, whether photo books, calendars, cards, or other mementos. The manufacturers have made the commitment because the customers have shown sustained interest.

Therefore, it behooves you to understand the technology involved (digital electrophotography, also known as xerography or laser printing) as well as the differences between a desktop laser printer and a liquid-ink HP Indigo or similar high-end digital press. Get printed samples. Find vendors with this equipment, and decide which kinds of digital equipment you prefer. Closely check the color gamut, the resolution, and the color fidelity. Select your preferred vendors, if you are a graphic designer or a print buyer.

Also, learn how to design for digital commercial printing. Ask your print provider about any limits his digital equipment has, in terms of color builds, treatment of photos, and evenness of large ink solids.

If you’re a printer or a print sales rep, explore whether your client base has an interest in photo products. The article I described relates to flat prints on calendars or photo books produced via liquid-toner laser printing. But images can also be printed via inkjet technology (or even die sublimation technology), and you don’t have to limit yourself to print books.

You can print your photos on practically anything, including wood (think about the flatbed inkjet presses that accept thick, rigid substrates); fabric for drapes, wall coverings, bed sheets, and covers (think about die-sublimation printing on fabric); or even vinyl appliques that can be heat transferred from a paper sheet to a t-shirt. For that matter, while you’re researching fabric printing and garment printing, stop by an oceanside clothing store, and you’ll see any number of bathing suits and other sunwear printed with inkjet or dye-sublimation technology.

The “take-away” is that people want to print their photos. Not all of them. Just the ones they love. And there is no shortage of technologies (printing equipment and ink formulations) and substrates (everything from a book to a pen to a mug to a t-shirt). If you’re a commercial printing professional, this can be a stellar opportunity for you.

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