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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: The Right Tools for the Task at Hand

I had two thoughts about printing that I wanted to share. They appear unrelated, yet they both address the appropriateness of custom printing vs. digital communication. And they both, perhaps, are good starting points for future articles.

Printing Can Stay Relevant by Cutting Costs and Increasing Quality and Speed

I’ve been reading a lot lately about new digital inkjet printing equipment development, and new equipment purchases by printing firms. Both areas are actually growing in spite of the rumored death of print.

The manufacturing and purchasing activity includes both grand-format (poster digital printing) inkjet equipment and super-fast web inkjet equipment. More and more wide-format digital printing is showing up on buses and the sides of buildings, while roll-fed digital inkjet presses are being positioned as a boon for transpromotional custom printing work. “Transpromo” is personalized invoice and statement material paired with advertising or promotional copy, which is targeted to the recipient based on demographic and psychographic information. Roll-fed inkjet manufacturers are also actually targeting some inkjet textbook custom printing as well.

The attraction of this new digital printing equipment hinges on its ability to change the content of every printed page while producing high-quality output faster than its offset predecessors.

In order to stay relevant, I think that commercial printing suppliers will need to do things more cheaply. Print will have to cost less. And I think this is happening. The newer digital presses, particularly the roll-fed inkjet presses, can print both sides of a sheet at once (i.e., they can print faster, which translates into cheaper). And each generation of equipment prints more quickly than the last and with higher resolution (i.e., higher quality).

In addition, presses already have closed-loop color correction (electric eye hardware and software that analyze the color on a press sheet and feed that information back into the computer to automatically adjust the color keys and bring any variance in ink flow back to optimal levels). This information can even be saved and “replayed” for subsequent press runs. Standardizing the color information across all aspects of print production (and coordinating the pre-press color data with the on-press color information) reduces makeready times, reduces makeready paper waste, and ostensibly reduces the number of people needed to run the equipment.

All of this translates into lower costs. And since electronic distribution of books, magazines, and newspapers costs very little (no materials costs or shipping costs for paper, no custom printing cost, and no delivery or mailing cost to distribute the material), anything that lowers the overall cost of putting ink on paper will make custom printing a more attractive alternative.

People still want printed materials. I don’t think that will cease. Think back to the advent of the desktop computer and the promise of the “paperless office.” If anything, we have more paper now than before. But cheaper, faster, and higher quality are all goals that are being achieved in digital printing and, I think, these will ensure a place for ink-on-paper.

Printing or Digital: The Environmental Imperative

I’ve also read a lot recently about the environmental issues regarding ink-on-paper vs. e-readers, tablets, and other virtual reading devices.

Clearly protecting the environment is laudable. However, I think the issues are more complex than they seem. Some pro-digital people say that reading print books kills trees, while tablets are the environmentally conscious choice. Perhaps, but manufacturing a digital device leaves a carbon footprint, as does operating it. And discarding a used digital device leaves waste that will certainly outlive the user, while a print book, magazine, or newspaper will quickly decompose in a landfill.

Trees may be cut down to provide paper for print books and magazines, but paper companies go to great lengths to replenish the supply, planting far more trees than they harvest. One could argue that trees forested in this environmentally conscious way are like a crop—like corn—grown, harvested, and grown again. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, and many other similar initiatives work to ensure responsible management of forests used for paper production (not only in the printing field but also in other fields that consume large amounts of paper products).

In contrast, consider the server farms needed for digital readers (or any computers) to operate. Vast amounts of energy must be generated to run this huge network of computers and storage devices. And even more energy must be expended to cool all the electronic equipment so it does not overheat and fail. All of this creates a carbon footprint as well.

All human activities have consequences, some positive, some negative. And things are seldom as simple as they seem. My personal view, as I read more and more about digital vs. print, is that a more relevant approach would be to determine the most appropriate technology for the specific task at hand.

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