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Archive for December, 2013

Large Format Printing: Focus on Digital Printing Trends

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

I just found three articles on current trends in digital printing that I’d like to share with you. The news is most heartening.

Article #1: “Newsweek Print Edition Is Returning”

The first article is from The Huffington Post (12/04/13, by Joanna Zelman) and is called “Newsweek Print Edition Is Returning.” While one article on one news entity does not confirm a trend, I think in this case the information in startling, provocative, and reflective of the still surviving love of ink on paper.

To quote the Huffington Post article, “Newsweek is bringing its print edition back from the grave.”

The news magazine had been printing since 1933 and had stopped the presses at the end of 2012. It’s new owners, the International Business Times, did not specify in the article why they made the decision to resume printing on a limited basis in January or February of 2014. Huffington Post quoted Newsweek’s editor in chief, Jim Impoco, as saying this would be “a more subscription-based model…a premium product, a boutique product.”

My reading of “Newsweek Print Edition Is Returning” suggests that the new owners believe there will be a market for at least a modest return to the print edition. To me this means that at least some subscribers are not happy with the digital-only format. I think this is great news for commercial printing, and I think it is the beginning of a trend.

Article #2: “Latest Trends in Digital Printing”

The second article is called “Latest Trends in Digital Printing.” I found it on the website (12/04/13, by Eddie Tabrizian).

  1. This article lists many of the trends I have written about in prior blog articles, such as digital printing using large cut sheets (i.e., substrates much larger than prior digital presses had accepted). For instance, new sheetfed digital equipment will accept a B2 sheet (27.8” x 19.7”). This allows digital sheetfed printers to compete head to head with offset printers producing direct mail, collateral, and books.
  2. Another trend the article addresses is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, in which metal particles or liquid plastic can be “jetted” through multiple passes from a printer driven by digital information, in order to produce three-dimensional objects.
  3. The article then goes on to discuss inkjetting onto substrates other than paper. These include foils, textiles, wood, metal, and glass. The ability to print not only on flexible materials that come in rolls but also on rigid materials placed on a flat bed in the inkjet printer have opened up a plethora of possibilities for folding carton, packaging, ceramic, and label printing.
  4. Next, “Latest Trends in Digital Printing” expands its view to embrace inkjet printing in general, noting that inkjet “has taken over label and color document printing and wide format graphics” and is expected to “push into the territories of publications such as newspapers and catalogs as well as commercial printing in general.”
  5. Finally, the article notes that mass production is being replaced by mass customization within the arena of digital custom printing. Each item can be different (unlike offset printed products), and because of the nature of the technology, this can actually be cost-effective. In addition, the article notes that personalization makes printed marketing products infinitely more useful as sales tools than generalized, static printing of the same products.

Based on all of my reading over the last few years, I agree with everything Eddie Tabrizian has said in the article. I think these are exciting times for digital custom printing, and I am seeing increasing enthusiasm, increasing innovation in digital printing, and more and more vendors buying digital printing equipment for their pressrooms.

Article #3: “Digital to Drive Future Graphics Revenue Suggests FESPA Community Survey”

This was the third article I read, “Digital to Drive Future Graphics Revenue Suggests FESPA Community Survey,” on (12/05/13, a press release describing a survey from FESPA, the Federation of European Screen Printers Associations).

The survey reflected views of more than 250 printers in 53 countries. Here are some quotes from the article:

“Over half of the 250 printers surveyed by Infotrends on behalf of FESPA in Summer 2013 reported that wide format digital now represents more than a third of their revenue.”

“Buying intentions are stronger than at any time since 2007, with 51% of respondents planning to purchase a new digital wide format printer in the next year, up from 37% in 2010.”

Commercial printing suppliers are jumping on the bandwagon, according to the article, because of the increased speed and quality of the digital equipment. Clients are demanding not only speed but delivery to the point of use, and this also bodes well for printers to add signage installation to their offerings, not only producing the large format graphics but hanging them as well.

In addition, according to the article, clients are seeking the integration of custom printing with other vehicles for communication such as the Internet.

In the realm of large format printing, clients want banners, posters, and signs (the top requests, according to the article) as well as building wraps, textiles, POP work, and wallpaper.

Finally, the article notes the expansion of large format printing from traditional roll-fed media to rigid media as more interior design work and industrial printing projects are produced on the growing base of flatbed inkjet presses.

Overview of Digital Custom Printing

Digital printing is thriving. Demand is growing, and the equipment manufacturers are providing new technology for an ever widening “virtuous circle” of growth.

Custom Printing: Benefits of Digital On Demand Printing

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

I was reading NewPage’s This Is Ed #8 Digital Variables tonight, and I saw some important distinctions related to digital printing that I wanted to bring to your attention. First of all, as I’ve noted in prior blogs, print books like New Page’s This Is Ed series are free. They not only showcase paper companies’ best design work, but they also provide a wealth of information on various aspects of commercial printing. I encourage you to contact New Page or any other paper company and get on their mailing list for educational publications like this.

What Is 1:1 Marketing?

Also known also as “one-to-one marketing,” this is a promotional approach made possible by the infinite variability of digital custom printing. Because each marketing piece that leaves a digital press can be different, it behooves the direct marketer to first initiate contact with a prospective client. Then he or she can request information that would make it easier to provide whatever information would be the most useful to the client (whether product information, industry white papers, etc.). As the direct marketer gets feedback from the client, he/she can tailor future direct mail contact to the prospect’s stated interests. In short, one-to-one marketing is a two-way dialogue.

Because a digitally printed promotional piece can vary from client to client, 1:1 marketing can be an effective and economical marketing strategy. In contrast, offset custom printing provides multiple copies of the same product (known as “static” printing). Therefore, offset printing does not allow for the personalization of direct mail packages.

What Is Personalization?

Digital printing lets direct marketers vary any or all aspects of a promotional campaign. This can include adding a prospective client’s name or a particular phone number an interested client can call for more information (or even a web landing page). It can include changing any or all photographs and text in the direct mail piece.

For instance, This Is Ed #8 Digital Variables includes an example of the variable data printing (VDP) of two marketing postcards.

One version of the postcard showcases a bright red car. By its side on this page spread is the other postcard, based on the same design, with a different client’s name and a photo of the very same car painted white. (Presumably, the direct marketer doctored the image in Photoshop to test the prospective clients’ response to various automobile colors while keeping all other “creative” variables constant.)

Digital printing (which would include both electrophotography–or laser printing–and inkjet printing) would allow a marketer to do this kind of test and personalize each and every copy of the postcard press run by varying the potential client’s name. Offset printing would not.

In addition, a hybrid technology known as digital offset printing would not offer the option of personalization. This is important to remember. Presses such as the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI are considered to be digital because they image the custom printing plates directly on press (which speeds up press makereadies). However, once the plates have been imaged, the DI presses print the same brochure, poster, or any other job throughout the press run. Their output is still “static” printing.

How Does Versioning Differ From Personalization?

When I think of personalization, I envision a slightly different printed product being sent to each potential client, even if only the client’s name changes.

In contrast, I think of “versioning” as more of an audience “segmenting” procedure. The direct mail marketer changes various elements of the marketing campaign based on demographic or psychographic characteristics gleaned from the various groups, geographical areas, or other segmenting elements used.

For instance, let’s say a group of 5,000 recipients gets one version of a brochure with certain graphics, or a certain product offering, and another group in another state gets a different version. This would be more of an example of “versioning” rather than just “personalization.”

Why It Costs More But Saves You Money

On the page spread in This Is Ed #8 Digital Variables with the postcards of the red and white (otherwise identical) cars, New Page notes that personalization elicits a significantly higher response rate than static printing. Specifically, “Producers find that direct mail campaigns utilizing VDP techniques see up to 15 to 30 times the average response than conventional direct mail campaigns.”

Digital printing, on a piece by piece basis, will usually cost more than a comparable offset printing press run (unless you’re comparing a very short digital printing run to a very short offset printing run). Therefore, it is important to check the address lists and make sure you’re sending the direct mail to the current, correct address for the specific prospects you have identified.

In a case like this, you can pay more to produce fewer personalized marketing pieces than you would pay for a comparable offset printed run, but since personalized direct mail has a much higher response rate than offset, the price you will pay per response will be lower.

For example, if you send out 5,000 copies of a static printed offset piece, and you get a 3 percent response rate (or less), your cost per piece will be the total printing cost divided by the entire press run, and you will only have received a 3 percent response rate.

In contrast, let’s say you have researched your prospects very carefully and are targeting only 2,000 individuals. If your response rate is 15 to 30 times higher than that of an offset printed, static marketing piece, your total number of responses will be much higher as well. Therefore, the cost you will pay to generate each response (as defined by the NewPage booklet as “the total cost of the project [divided] by the number of sales, leads or contacts that the campaign generates”) will drop.

In short, your targeted marketing initiative will be much more efficient.

Commercial Printing: Uses for White Ink and Toner

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

I just read an article in about white ink and toner. Although printing extends beyond the IT uses of laser printers, I think it is noteworthy that IT articles are now touting the benefits of white ink.

To borrow a fashion metaphor, “White is the new black.”

The article (“White Printing Is the Next Big Thing,” by Ray Shaw, 11/26/13) focuses on OKI printers’ new ability to laser print and inkjet print white ink or toner as well as clear ink or toner.

The specific equipment the article reviews is the OKI C941, “an A3 digital LED color printer aimed at the graphic arts and commercial printing needs.”

Before I hone in on the implications of white and clear ink printing, I want to highlight the fact that OKI is providing equipment specifically aimed at graphic arts production needs (in addition to their line of office laser printers), and this one in particular uses the newer LED imaging technology (in lieu of the older laser imaging technology). I think both of these developments bode well for graphic arts and custom printing in general.

The five-station OKI C941 printer images an A3 sheet (11.7” x 16.5”), with expanded paper capacity for up to 13” x 52” banners. It will laser print on transparent media, polyester, banners, cover printing stock, and magnets, to name a few substrates.

The Implications of a Fifth Unit on a Laser or Inkjet Printer

First of all, if you run a graphic arts shop, you can use a printer like the OKI C941 to prototype everything from a folding carton for a new line of perfume to a static cling for a window. Specifically, by using the fifth unit for white ink, you can lay down a “ground” on a colored paper stock so the color of the paper will not alter the hues of the inks or toners printed on the darker paper.

In addition, by using the clear ink, you can flood coat a project in house, or you can spot coat only the text, so the words seem to jump off the page.

If you’re printing on clear film without a white background, the colors won’t pop. That is because the light hitting the film will just keep on going through the transparent media. Nothing will reflect the light back to the person viewing the signage. In contrast, by first printing a white background and then imaging the CMYK components of the artwork on top, you give the art far more reflectivity, so the colors appear more vibrant to the viewer. (You give the light hitting the signage a white surface to bounce off, so the light will be redirected back to the viewer.)

With a small printer like the OKI C941, you could put this into practice with bottle labels, for instance. Starting with clear bottle label film, you would first print white, and then follow up with the 4-color label art.

Or you could print white text on a darker colored press sheet, perhaps a gray or black sheet. The text in white toner would stand out in stark contrast to the darker substrate.

Further Implications of White Custom Printing

If you’re producing static clings for windows, a white-printing inkjet printer would be ideal for blocking the images on either side of the cling (i.e., printing a white base between the two images). This way, you could affix a static cling to a window and have one image facing into the interior of the building and another image facing out. Without an opaque white block between the two images, they would conflict with one another whenever light passed through the plastic sheet. In contrast, the light stopping power of the opaque white ink would completely separate one image from the other.

Custom screen printing on dark t-shirts would be another use for white ink (in this case white custom screen printing ink rather than toner or inkjet ink). By first adding a white ground over a black cotton or polyester fabric, you would provide a bright base onto which you would then overlay the additional colors.

I have seen white used in this way, and the colors printed over the base really jump out. You could also use the white as an additional color in a case like this (by itself; not as a ground). The fifth color would be as brilliant as the accompanying cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks on the darker t-shirt fabric.

Catalog Printing: Creative Response to USPS Rate Increase

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Necessity is the mother of invention, and sometimes a challenge breeds creativity.

Tonight on IndependentRetailer.Com I read a 10/30/13 article by Gloria Mellinger about the upcoming proposed postal rate increase and its effect on catalog printing services and direct marketers.

The article quotes Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as saying, “The rate increase poses a direct threat to the 8 million private-sector jobs that are part of the mailing industry as businesses shift from paper-based to electronic communication and mailers are priced out of business.”

The Implications of the Postal Rate Hike

First of all, for Standard Flats (the class used to mail full-sized catalogs), the postage could rise as much as 10 to 12 percent on January 26, 2014. For me, this brings up a number of thoughts:

  1. First of all, almost all of the articles I have read on contemporary marketing suggest that a coordinated effort involving both print and electronic media will draw far more customers than either print or electronic media alone, and these customers will spend more (based on market research).
  2. I have read that print catalogs in particular drive potential customers to a retailer’s website and increase the overall amount spent.
  3. The financial distress of the US Postal Service and the resulting rate increases will drive a lot of retailers away from print media, resulting in the loss of, or at least a reduction in, a lucrative marketing channel. Mailers may either reduce the frequency of print catalog mailings or cut them out altogether.
  4. Not having a printed component of a marketing plan will exclude as potential clients anyone who cannot easily find a company’s website, does not know what the current vendor sales include, has an aggressive spam filter, is not computer savvy, or does not have a computer. Also, a print catalog will arrive in a prospect’s mailbox, encouraging her/him to page through the book, but a prospect must actively go to a website. (This reflects the active vs. passive nature of electronic vs. print marketing. It also shows how powerful the combination of the two can be.)

The Creative Response: The Mini Print Catalog

On a positive note, one interesting development in response to postage rate hikes has been the rise of the mini catalog format. These mail at the cost of a standard automated letter, cut production costs (when compared to a full-size print catalog), and yet allow mailers to keep the same mailing frequency and circulation numbers.

I did some research to determine the specifications of these mini catalogs and came up with the following:

  1. One online printer notes that mini catalogs can be 6, 8, or 10 pages. (The 10-page limit is also borne out by the IndependentRetailer.Com article.) Although this is far less than a full-size catalog, it can keep a company in the awareness of a potential client by showcasing 50 to 70 products (according to B&W Press). In addition, a marketing manager may send a few complete catalogs to prospects or clients each year while also sending a number of mini catalogs to the same people at other times of year. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and a mailer will still save a lot of money, even within a climate of increasing postage costs.
  2. The aforementioned offset printer offers a 10.5” x 5.875” option and a 11.5” x 5.875” option for a mini catalog. (This is a little like the “slim jim” format.)
  3. This printer offers (and the US Postal Service has approved) fugitive glue adhesive to keep the mini catalogs closed during automated mail processing. This is a particular advantage since market research has shown that catalog readers hate wafer seals, which often tear the catalog pages when being removed. The fugitive glue will solve this problem.
  4. Due to its having fewer pages than a full-size catalog, the mini catalog is ideal for driving clients to a retailer’s website for current pricing information, more product information, and/or to buy a product. Due to the lower postage costs, the mini catalog encourages the marriage of print channels (such as postcards) and electronic channels.
  5. MultiChannelMerchant.Com (“Mini Catalogs Catching On As Economy and Culture Change,” 7/24/13, Del Williams) notes that a mailer “can cut mailing and production costs by a third” and “lower cost without lowering response rates.” The same article notes that “while mailing a full-sized catalog can cost 57 cents apiece at a million mailed, mailing these new mini catalogs can cost as little as 28 cents apiece at a similar volume.”
  6. All of this means a direct mail marketer can maintain constant contact with prospects (using larger catalogs, mini catalogs, and electronic media), controlling costs while increasing reach and retention.

Custom Printing: New Marabu Inks for Inkjet Printing

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

When you think about it, an inkjet printer is only as good as the inks it prints.

I just read an article in PackagingEurope (11/18/13, at, called “Marabu at Viscom 2013”) describing Marabu’s new ink offerings as presented at Viscom 2013, a noted visual communications trade show held in Dusseldorf, Germany, in early November.

The offerings included UV-LED-curable, solvent-based, and water-based inkjet inks as well as liquid coatings and a solvent-based silver ink.

Here are some of the specifics, including the implications of such new developments for inkjet large format printing.

UV-LED-Curable Inks

As you may know, UV light will cure various inks and coatings. The radiation of the light actually changes the chemical composition of the inks rather than drying them. Inks or coatings (such as flood UV coating used for protection) harden instantly upon exposure to the UV light. UV inks are particularly useful for large format inkjet printing on acrylics, PVC, polycarbonates, and polypropylene, since these substrates are not porous.

That said, UV lights are hot, and the lamps burn out. In contrast, UV-LED-curable inks benefit from much longer-life UV lamps that expose the custom printing substrates to less heat. Marabu’s offerings in this arena include UltraJet DLE ink.

Traditional UV-Curable Inks

The PackagingEurope article also highlighted traditional UV-curable inks (UltraJet DUV) from Marabu that work well on rigid materials (UltraJet DUV-R) such as PVC, polystyrene, polycarbonate, and cardboard, as well as on flexible materials (UltraJet DUV-F) such as self-adhesive film and PVC banner material.

What makes this noteworthy is that flexible substrates printed with this Marabu inkjet ink retain their flexibility (i.e., the substrates are still soft after being printed).

Multi-Use Silver Solvent-Based Ink

At Viscom, Marabu also showcased its MaraJet DI-MS 191 Silver ink. What makes this noteworthy is that in conjunction with other solvent inks, this silver ink can produce “hundreds of different metallic shades.” (“Marabu at Viscom 2013”) This opens up a multitude of design options for large format printing on appropriate papers, uncoated fabrics, and PVC films.

A Coating Alternative to Film Lamination

Marabu displayed both a UV-curable and water based coating technology (Marashield UV and Marashield WA, respectively) that will offer lower application and materials costs than traditional film lamination while maintaining a high gloss surface and consistent surface quality.

In addition, the water-based option (Marashield WA-FXG) can be applied over metallics, improving rub resistance without dulling down the metallic sheen of the inks.

Water-Based and Textile Inks

At Viscom, Marabu also displayed their water-based options (such as MaquaJet DA-E for printing on thin and sensitive materials) and textile sublimation ink such as TexaJet DX-SHE for both direct printing and transfer printing on pretreated polyester materials containing more than 60 percent polyester.

Why You Should Care

A quick perusal of Marabu’s new inkjet inks will yield invaluable information to designers, providing a snapshot of current trends in packaging design, large format printing, and textile custom printing. This is what I gleaned from the article:

  1. Digital custom printing is expanding at a remarkable rate.
  2. Packaging and textile printing are big, as evidenced by Marabu’s newly formulated inks for these printing arenas. While books, newspapers, and magazines may struggle, packaging and textile custom printing are growing.
  3. The shift from traditional UV curing to UV-LED curing of inkjet inks will most certainly reduce energy consumption and lengthen inkjet printing materials’ lifespan going forward, due to the reduced heat given off by the UV-LED lamps. This is technology to watch closely.
  4. The comment in the PackagingEurope article referencing the “flexibility of substrates” printed with Marabu traditional UV-curable inks highlights the fact that inkjet printing does not need to make a soft substrate hard and inflexible. I’m thinking about the future of printed textiles, in which a “soft hand” is desirable (i.e., textile custom printing that doesn’t feel like it has a film of ink on it).

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