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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: Heidelberg’s “Game-Changer” Press

The introduction of the new Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor is really quite exciting. In an age of digital custom printing, Heidelberg has made dramatic strides in–of all things–sheetfed offset lithography.

A friend and associate brought this development to my attention, so I did some research into Heidelberg’s new press, and I already see some game-changing implications.

Digital printing has improved significantly over the last two decades, and it has recently come amazingly close to offset quality. But that’s just it. It comes amazingly close. Once in a while, you need the quality, speed, and efficiency of ink on paper.

Heidelberg’s Claims (and Their Implications)

According to an ad by Heidelberg, the XL 75 Anicolor provides “the perfect formula”:

  1. “300 sheets to break even vs. digital”
  2. “1000+ Pantone colors”
  3. “40% lower cost per job”
  4. “45% higher production capacity”
  5. “0 click charges”

Here’s an explanation of these claims, made “in comparison of 29 [inch] digital vs. 29 [inch] Anicolor with average run length of 545 sheets” as well as some thoughts on their ramifications:

1. Due to the time and materials required for make-ready, it has (as a rule) taken a mid-sized press run to make a job competitive on an offset press. Until the advent of this new technology, you might have printed 5,000 copies of a brochure on an offset press or 500 copies of the same brochure on a digital press. Your unit cost for the digital print product would be higher, but your overall cost would be lower than that of the offset run. In contrast, if you were to print 500 copies of the brochure on an offset press, you’d pay almost as much as you would for 1,000 copies. All of your money would be going into preparing the press and getting the color right. So Heidelberg’s claim that the XL 75 Anicolor will print “300 sheets to break even vs. digital” is provocative.

2. Most digital presses only print process colors. Some add a few spot colors. In most cases, the digital presses must simulate Pantone colors using process inks (CMYK) along with an extended color set (maybe green and orange; or light magenta and light cyan; or a red, green, and blue). The accuracy of matching PMS colors has improved over the years, but for a printed logo or corporate color scheme, sometimes you just need Pantone colors. And an offset press will print Pantone colors, so Heidelberg’s selling proposition, “1000+ Pantone colors,” is most compelling.

3. The two following claims, “40% lower cost per job” and “45% higher production capacity” imply the following. With shortened make-readies and reduced waste, as well as repeatability, ease of use, and speed, it is now possible to drive down the cost of producing a print job on the Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor. In addition, the higher production capacity is due to the overall speed of an offset press. I just did some research online and found one source that says an HP Indigo will print just under 5,000 sheets per hour. According to Heidelberg’s promotional literature, the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor can print up to 15,000 sheets per hour. The speed of the press means greater throughput and hence lower costs (i.e., more billable work done in less time).

4. If you’re a commercial printing supplier, you usually lease digital equipment. Or you own an offset press. To allow for wear and tear on a digital press, a printer usually has to pay a surcharge “per click,” or per imaged page. This offsets the maintenance costs associated with replacing worn out components of the digital press. So Heidelberg’s claim of “0 click charges” means a print provider can reap higher profit margins on his work.

But There Are Even More Benefits

If you read further in the ad, Heidelberg briefly mentions two other benefits: “new, larger format” and “consistently high print quality.”

To address the first item, the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor has a 19.69” x 27.56” format. Most digital presses have a 13” x 19” format. (Granted there are some new digital presses like the Indigo 10000 that accept a 29.5” x 20.9” sheet, but these machines are not yet common. What this means is that you can print oversized items like customized pocket folders on the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor. Such a product (a flat sheet prior to conversion into a folded and glued pocket folder) would not fit on the 13” x 19” digital press sheet size.

Regarding the second claim, according to Heidelberg promotional literature, the Anicolor “zoneless short inking unit,” “inking unit temperature control,” “optimized washup programs,” and “automatic ink feed from cartridges” make offset custom printing not only faster and easier but also more repeatable. So the process is more stable and is ideal for standardized jobs in which consistency is of paramount importance.

Environmental Benefits of the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor

Finally, the whole process is easier on the environment. Heidelberg notes that the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor cuts paper waste by 90 percent. This is truly good news.

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