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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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Printing Services: Can a Digital Press Print Quality Wedding Materials?

A reader recently commented on my blog post about problems with the color register of a client’s wedding materials on an HP Indigo digital press. She made an interesting point. She said she would not have printed a suite of wedding materials (invitation, thank-you notes, RSVP, envelopes, etc., on a digital press).

Is Digital Custom Printing Appropriate for Wedding Materials?

I hadn’t thought about it, because the article was a case study about determining the cause of fuzzy type on a proof. However, I actually do agree with the reader. Although digital printing has come a long way over the years, it is still may not be the best option for an elegant wedding package.

Unfortunately, for my client a press run of 150 copies of five items (three cards and two envelopes) would not have been economical.

  1. One of the two envelopes, an envelope for the thank-you notes, had no printing. It was a blank A2 envelope that cost $25.00 for 150 copies.
  2. The other envelope (an A7) included variable data printing. Each copy had a different address. Therefore, offset printing would not have been an option.
  3. The invitation (a 4/0 digital job) could have been printed on a small duplicator press with two colors, but it still probably would have exceeded the cost of the 4-color digital job.
  4. The thank-you note was 4/0 (and could have been printed 2/0 via offset lithography, again probably for more than the cost of the digital run).
  5. The RSVP card could have been printed via offset lithography, but it was 4/4 (printed both sides). On a small duplicator press it could have run as a 2-color job printed on both sides. Again, it probably would have cost more than a digital custom printing job.

Essentially, for a short-run, five-item wedding materials package including variable data, price trumped quality. My client chose digital printing.

How to Make the Best of Digital Printing

  1. Digital custom printing to all but the most discriminating eye really is quite good. That said, it does vary in quality from digital press to digital press, so I chose the best digital press I know: the HP Indigo. It comes closer to offset commercial printing quality than anything else on the market.
  2. My client chose a brilliant white uncoated sheet for the wedding materials: 100# Mohawk Via Felt Pure White Cover. I have found over the years that the rough surface of an uncoated sheet affords a more forgiving substrate for digital printing than a high-gloss coated paper. And the brightness of the sheet provides good contrast for the liquid Indigo ink (i.e., toner).
  3. With digital printing, it’s important to watch the color register. Use a loupe to check the proof.
  4. Here’s one final note to keep in mind. With electronic media taking precedence over offset and even digital printing in some arenas, there has been a tremendous push to improve both the speed and the quality of digital commercial printing to keep it competitive. Since some items will always need to be printed (such as product packaging and marketing collateral), the reduction in cost, increase in quality, and varaible data capabilities of the newest digital printing equipment bode well for wedding materials produced via digital custom printing over the next few years. Stay abreast of the media, and read any discussions of the newest commercial printing technologies and equipment.

What Are Some Other Options?

There are a lot of reasons to just pay more for wedding materials. After all, this may be the most important day of your life. So here are some options for wedding materials if you don’t want to go the route of digital custom printing:

Offset: As noted before, you will get slightly higher quality with offset printing than with digital printing. If you do choose offset lithography, consider including fine color screens, gradations, intricate line art, dull and gloss varnish treatments played off one another, or other items that might not be as high a quality if printed via digital (due to the lower halftone screen rulings of a digital press). In other words, design your work to benefit from the strengths of offset lithography.

Letterpress: If you choose letterpress, you will see flattened indentations on the paper where the custom printing plate has struck the substrate and deposited ink. This is a very tactile medium compared to the smooth surface of either offset lithography or digital printing. Design to its strengths. Consider using blocks of solid color, or maybe screen back a color by using hatch marks rather than halftone dots.

Engraving: The pressure applied to the etched printing plate causes the moist paper to rise where the ink has been deposited (i.e., the wet paper is pulled into the recessed engraving channels in the printing plate).

Thermography: Thermography mimics engraving, for less money, using powders that are added to the wet offset lithography ink. When heated, the powders bubble up and produce raised type. However, true engraving can’t be matched for elegance. You can feel the difference as you run your fingers over the raised letterforms.

The Cost: What to Expect

Expect to pay significantly more for letterpress or engraving than for offset or digital. In addition, remember that varying the text on the envelopes will not be possible with offset, letterpress, or engraving. As a test, you might want to approach a letterpress shop and an engraver when you design your wedding materials, and request estimates. Compare these to the bids for offset and digital printing. The pricing may fit your budget, so it’s worth a try.

That said, the quality will be superb. You will pay for this, but sometimes it’s worth it.

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