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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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Commercial Printing: The Direction of Digital Printing Is Up, Up, Up

I read an interesting article today about the future of digital custom printing. It seems to be very, very bright. The article on, entitled “drupa 2012, the Inkjet drupa…Again? The New Face of Print” notes that “…there were 46.1 billion color digital pages printed in 2010, and that number will jump to nearly 130 billion by 2015.”

In an time when the media tout the death of print, digital custom printing is expanding prodigiously due to the improved speed, reduced cost, and improved quality of the technology.

“In 2009, EP [electrophotography] accounted for about 9% of the total global print market; it is estimated that it will account for about 13% by 2014,” according to David Zwang’s article. These numbers are impressive, given the bad press about printing. It seems that as a culture we still want an ever increasing amount of printed paper products.

Furthermore, “drupa 2012, the Inkjet drupa…Again? The New Face of Print” notes that “Indigo customer global page volume will reach approximately 100 billion pages by 2016.”

What This Means

What this really means is that the image quality of digital custom printing has improved exponentially, along with its speed and reduced cost, such that digital printing now can compete directly with offset printing. The introduction of digital presses that accept larger sheet sizes (as reflected in product offerings at the recent drupa) gives digital printing an even stronger footing.

Zwang’s article notes the migration of jobs from offset, gravure, and flexography to digital custom printing as the various digital technologies improve. However, print jobs shift not only from the traditional analog technologies to the digital technologies but also from digital process to digital process based on speed and cost. Of these, the article distinguishes the following digital options:

  1. Electrophotography (i.e., xerography), which entered its heyday in 1990 with the DocuTech
  2. ElectroInk, which is the technology used in the HP Indigo
  3. Inkjet, which has been expanding with the introduction of continuous feed inkjet, an ideal technology for transpromo work (transaction and promotion materials such as bills that include marketing elements) and digital book printing
  4. Liquid toner, which is offered in Océ and Xeikon products (based on mineral oil vehicles that are more environmentally friendly than oils with a high VOC content)
  5. Offset inkjet, which includes the new Landa Nanographic technology (which sprays water-based ink onto a blanket, heats the blanket to evaporate the water, and then offsets the image onto the substrate)

Competition Among Digital Custom Printing Technologies

Cost, quality, and productivity are the variables that determine which digital printing technology will be most appropriate for a particular job.

  1. For instance, the liquid toner printers produced by Océ and Xeikon are ideally suited to labeling, direct mail, and packaging work due to their ability to print high-quality, heavy coverage images.
  2. Landa Nanographic technology is fast (11,000 or 12,000 sheets per hour on 20-inch and 29-inch press sheets). This exceptional speed combined with the offset (rather than direct printing) nature of the process allows print shops to use a wider than usual selection of commercial printing substrates. And the process of flash drying the water-based inks on the press blankets affords greater ink density, more saturated color, and less dot gain. All of these qualities put this particular offset inkjet technology in a competitive position relative to traditional offset printing.

Why You Should Care

  1. If you are a graphic designer, the growth of digital commercial printing and the jockeying of the various digital technologies for prominence bode well for your future print production work. These venues are expanding, not contracting, and this reflects increased consumer demand for digitally printed products.
  2. If you are a commercial printing supplier, it may be time for you to consider bringing digital technology into your printing plant alongside more traditional equipment. For long runs, offset will still be appropriate, but according to “drupa 2012, the Inkjet drupa…Again? The New Face of Print,” digital horizons are expanding rapidly, and there are opportunities to pursue.

6 Responses to “Commercial Printing: The Direction of Digital Printing Is Up, Up, Up”

  1. Daz says:

    I read with interest. Being new to the print industry (4 weeks old), I would be interested in anyone’s comments as to what the future holds for “forme-setters” or “forme-setting.” Does the “forme-setting” industry need to be re-invented, or will there always be a need for a good forme-setter? I look forward to and welcome any opinions.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. Let’s see what readers have to say about this branch of carton print production.

  2. Now people look more at the clarity, whether it is print media or electronic media, and digital printing technology has developed enough to provide more and more clear images.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I agree completely. I remember digital printing in the early 90s. There was no comparison to offset printing. Now, particularly on such digital presses as the HP Indigo, offset- and digitally-printed products are almost indistinguishable from one another.

  3. Digital printing has brought about a great revolution. Now most of the people rely on digital printing, don’t they?

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment.

      They do. Because the quality of digital printing has improved over the years, it can now compete head to head with offset printing in many cases.

      In addition, the effectiveness of variable data printing in marketing campaigns has made digital printing an increasingly attractive alternative to offset printing.


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