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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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: Museum Quality Required

I recently read an article in Graphic Repro On-line (4/17/13) that acknowledges just how far digital printing has come. “HP Indigo 10000 Prints for the National Gallery” strikes me close to home. I live a short drive from the National Gallery, and I recently attended the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit. I looked through the art books in the gallery shop afterwards and was reminded of just how high the standards are for print books sold in this art museum.

National Gallery artwork has been reproduced in a minimum of the four process colors in these commemorative print books. In many cases, touch plates have been added to expand the color range. Books have been Smyth sewn in most cases—even the paper-bound books. In perusing the books I got a real sense of quality, of an attempt by the National Gallery to include only those print books that reflect the work of the various artists in their best light.

Back to the Graphic Repro On-line Article

The Graphic Repro On-line article references the work of Pureprint Group, Ltd., of Uckfield, East Sussex, which produced “a commemorative fine art and poetry book” for the National Gallery Company on its HP Indigo 10000.

What makes this noteworthy is that only recently most books of this sort would have been printed via offset lithography with additional color plates in order to maintain the highest standard of quality.

In this case, 2,400 copies of Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian (a 56-page, 5.82”x 8.26” format, perfect-bound book) were produced conventionally, since the publisher was unsure of demand. When the National Gallery’s book quickly sold out, Jane Hyne (production manager, National Gallery Company) had a choice: take the six weeks needed to produce new copies conventionally (and risk losing customers) or produce the print book digitally.

The Pureprint Group produced a second run of the book (1,250 copies) within two weeks. They used an HP Indigo 7500 for the 4-color text of the book and printed the covers via offset lithography. Pureprint chose this route because the covers included French flaps and were therefore too large for the HP Indigo 7500 maximum digital sheet size.

Nothing Less Than Stellar Quality

This whole process speaks to one main ingredient: quality. There was no way the National Gallery would risk compromising the quality of its product or its reputation. According to Hyne, “The print quality more than matched the original litho run.” “Nobody noticed the difference.”

A Third Printing of Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian

Between the second and third printing, Pureprint Group acquired an HP Indigo 10000. This allowed production of the text in 16-page signatures since the B2 format of the press accommodates a 20.9” x 29.5” maximum sheet size. Pureprint could then produce the text more economically and quickly, and the larger sheet size accommodated the cover along with the French flaps. And due to the wide range of papers the HP Indigo can use, it was possible to run the same Hello matte sheet used for the conventional first custom printing in both the second and third digital press runs.

Why This Is Relevant to the Current State of Commercial Printing

I think this is noteworthy for several reasons:

  1. The quality of the seven-color HP Indigo 10000 allows companies to match the volume they produce to the expected demand, even for a short run. Print books need not be warehoused (or can be warehoused in limited quantities). Conversely, being out-of-print when demand picks up need not result in lost sales. Jobs can be printed quickly, as needed.
  2. The HP Indigo 10000 produces the highest quality product. If a major metropolitan museum is satisfied, that’s definitive proof.
  3. The B2 format of the digital press allows custom printing full 16-page press forms rather than just 4-page signatures, increasing efficiency and lowering cost.
  4. Book printers can now use the same press sheet for both conventional and digital products. This means both versions of a book will match. Moreover, if a printer wants to produce the covers of a book via offset lithography and the text via digital custom printing, the cover and text will match (as long as both are 4CP process work).

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