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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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Digital Custom Printing: Indigo B2 Format Opens Doors

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, the number “42” is presented as “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.”

I would adjust this slightly to make it pertinent to the realm of custom printing. I believe that “B2” digital commercial printing will become a significant answer to the ultimate question of how to keep print relevant.

HP Indigo 10000 and Above (the 20000 and 30000 Digital Presses)

I think the HP Indigo digital press has become state of the art for digital custom printing. I realize there are other capable presses (including the Xeikon digital line and some web-fed inkjet equipment). However, I believe the HP Indigo’s color fidelity puts it in direct competition with the quality of offset lithography.

Until now, though, the HP Indigo platform has tended toward a small press format (accepting a maximum 13” x 19” sheet for most configurations). This is great for small jobs such as brochures, but for larger jobs such as custom pocket folders and print posters, the press sheet size has been a liability.

Enter the B2 press sheet for the HP Indigo. The Indigo 10000, 20000, and 30000 will accept a 29.5” x 20.9” press sheet (a B2 sheet). They will also accept a pallet feeder supporting a 33.4” paper pile. These specifications lift the Indigo from a small, high quality press into the league of sheetfed offset custom printing.

Here’s Why: Technically Speaking

Think about an unfolded custom pocket folder. A 9” x 12” folder with 4” flaps laid flat on a press sheet prior to assembly will take up a space 18” wide (plus room for bleeds and printer’s color bars) and (more than) 16” tall (12” panels plus the 4” pocket, plus glue tabs to assemble the pocket folder, plus bleeds). This does not even count the gripper margin. If you do the math, you’ll see that a custom pocket folder cannot be laid out to print on the 13” x 19” press sheet that earlier versions of the HP Indigo accepted.

These new, larger-format digital presses will also be great for posters and multi-fold brochures that would otherwise extend beyond a 13” x 19” press sheet.

In the realm of publications and other multiple press-signature work, a B2 press sheet will accommodate an eight-page signature (of 8.5” x 11” pages), which can then be folded down and trimmed in the finishing department.

So even without factoring in the unique qualities that set digital custom printing apart from offset lithography (such as the ability to produce ultra-short press runs and variable imaging), we’re still in the realm of traditional offset printing in terms of format and press operation. This is particularly true when you consider the pallet loading capabilities. (Prior to this, adding paper to an Indigo was more like replenishing a laser printer.)

Automation and Quality Control Equal Speed (which Reduces Cost)

The HP Indigo 10000 includes an embedded spectrophotometer, registration cameras, and automated print defect detection. In-line or off-line coating and trimming capabilities can also be added. Along with the color fidelity afforded by the seven color inkset, all of this means the HP Indigo can produce stellar quality quickly and consistently, and this translates into lower costs and higher margins.

Thicker Stocks (More Printing Applications)

Complementary presses within this Indigo line—the 20000 and 30000–accept printing stocks up to 24 points in thickness. What this means is that flexible packaging and folding cartons can now be produced with the same quality and variable data as print collateral and publications work.

What Will These Digital Printers Produce?

As newspapers, books, and magazines shift (in some cases) to a digital first–or exclusively digital–existence, some printed products will continue to prosper. Studies show that packaging and label printing are thriving, and a significant amount of publication and direct mail signature work, pocket folders, and multi-fold brochures will also benefit from B2-format digital presses.

Short run book work (300 copies of a textbook, for instance) can also be efficiently produced, as can shorter runs of variable data printing.

People still need printed paper products. As long as this continues, B2 digital commercial printing will thrive and grow. You can bet on it.

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