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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: With Indigo, Seeing Is Believing

I read a lot about commercial printing. I mean, a lot. But nothing ever helps me understand a new technology quite like seeing it in action.

A while ago I described three new digital acquisitions by a local custom printing firm I’ve been working with for about a year as a broker. I have known the principals of the firm for over a decade, and I have a high level of trust in them. So when they invited me to an event to showcase their new HP Indigo 10000, Horizon Crossfolder AFC, and Horizon Stitchliner-SPF, I signed up immediately. I even talked my fiancee into coming—to meet people, eat good food, and see some terrific technology.

The HP Indigo 10000

I have written about this digital press a number of times in the PIE Blog, but a few things really impressed me when I actually saw the press sheets coming from this new commercial printing equipment:

I could no longer tell whether the output was offset or digital.

In fact, when I pointed this out to the owner of the company, instead of telling me how to distinguish one from the other, he just said, “That’s right. You can’t tell.” Then he explained to me why I was beginning to see the rosette patterns I had heretofore considered the hallmark of offset printing. He had been able to adjust the screening angles to match the “irrational tangent screening” of traditional analog halftones (that is, the angles at which the four plates—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black–are set relative to one another).

The colors were breathtaking.

The printer obviously knew which kinds of photos constituted “critical color.” That is, he had created a 12-page, self-cover showpiece that included images of food, fashion, a black-and-white photo with clearly more depth of tones than you could normally achieve on an offset press, and some landscapes and glamor shots with heightened color. To start with the color, the reds, purples, blues, and model skin tones were almost surreal, they were so intense.

Technically, all of this was due to the extended color set. That is, instead of the press using four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) like most offset presses, the HP Indigo uses an up-to-seven-color inkset that can include green, orange, and violet along with the usual CMYK inks. Technically, what this means is a much wider color gamut than traditional offset printing will provide (unless, of course, you add offset “touch plates” to increase the offset printing color gamut—along with the price). But on a more visceral level, what this means is breathtaking color.

The images looked like they were continuous tone.

Most printing is done with halftone screens (I believe all but inkjet and some dye sublimation). Halftoning allows you to simulate varied color intensity, since the inks themselves cannot be lightened or darkened on a printing press. The size of the halftone dots will make the colors appear lighter or darker. However, on the HP Indigo the halftone line screens for the images I saw were 200 lines per inch (lpi). This is a very fine halftone screen ruling, and what it means is that the halftone dots are smaller than your eye can perceive without a printer’s loupe (i.e., without the dots being enlarged). On the glamor model shots and the images of food, this halftone line screen made the gradations of the skin tones creamy smooth and the food delectable. I had no awareness that these were images printed with halftone patterns.

The size of the press sheets was impressive.

I had grown used to viewing approximately 13” x 19” press sheets from digital presses, but these press sheets were closer to 20” x 29”. What that meant was that I was looking at stacks of large posters on the display tables this printer had set out for this gala event. They were no longer small but beautiful. The posters were so much bigger than I had grown used to, that I was really stunned, even though I was already familiar with the technical specifications of the HP Indigo 10000 digital press.

The Bottom Line

So the bottom line was that this printer’s evening event to showcase his new digital press made a huge impression on me, since I could no longer see a difference between offset and digital commercial printing output.

The Horizon Crossfolder AFC and Horizon Stitchliner-SPF

Recent advances in digital finishing show just how committed the industry is to doing “real” commercial printing work on digital presses. These are no longer glorified photocopiers. They are real presses.

I had read a lot about these two finishing machines before going to the event. But what struck me was twofold. Their “build quality” seemed more like the traditional analog machines I was used to and less like office equipment. And yet both machines had digital consoles that reduced make-ready to almost nothing. They had touch screens for all manner of pre-programmed folds (for the Horizon Crossfolder) and saddle-stitching configurations (for the Horizon Stitchliner).

In addition, I was pleased to see that the Stitchliner could take stacks of untrimmed press sheets, collate them, fold them, run them through a small saddle-stitching unit, and then trim the job to deliver a completely finished 12-page booklet. And all elements of the equipment fit together seamlessly into one small footprint, with all the quality I had come to expect from a handful of much larger analog machines.

I was very impressed—and anxious to see what the future will hold for digital printing and finishing.

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