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Commentary & Analysis

Free Special: Graph Expo, One Week Later: What, So What, and Why

Overheard from fellow journalists in the press room at McCormick Place toward the close of Graph Expo on Oct.

By Patrick Henry
Published: October 15, 2002

Overheard from fellow journalists in the press room at McCormick Place toward the close of Graph Expo on Oct. 9:

"Opening day was bigger than the opening day of Print ’01."

"This is the way Seybold used to be."

"The demise of the printing industry has been postponed."

"The digital transformation of print technology is all over the place at this show. You can sense it in every aisle."

The members of the graphic arts trade press are, for the most part, a knowing and therefore somewhat skeptical lot who don’t dispense their enthusiasm lightly. To hear them sounding upbeat (with exceptions, of course) about the progress of the show was to realize that Graph Expo had met or exceeded expectations—no small victory for the Graphic Arts Show Company at a time of diminished outlooks for many in the industry.

Time, not editorial writers, will tell whether Graph Expo 2002 marked a turning point to a new destination or just another milepost on the long road back to status quo ante. This reporter’s notebook records that Graph Expo was a stimulating event and a necessary place to be regardless of one’s personal take on the industry’s future direction. Some not altogether random observations about the show and its significance follow.


Show sales, once all of the figures are in, probably will be gratifying. Throughout the show, vendor after vendor praised the "quality" of the attendance—the ability and the willingness of the visitors to make equipment-purchasing decisions. Sometimes talk of visitor quality is just a way of masking disappointment over measly quantity, but not at Graph Expo ’02: as far as the exhibitors were concerned, the attendees’ determination to buy seemed to be every bit as strong as their numbers.

At the booth of a prepress systems vendor, for example, we learned that a printer had strolled in, announced that he had $1 million to invest in CTP, and asked the delighted vendor to help him spend it. A little later, another printer dropped by the same booth to say that with a new six-color, half-size web in his pressroom, it was time to upgrade not only his platemaking equipment but his prepress workflow in general. This led to the sale of a platesetter driven by a RIP that can also hand off digitized ink-key settings to the press in compliance with CIP4 data standards (about which more below).

The second printer wasn’t a big player, just a 10-employee, $500,000 per year operation with a plan to hit $2.5 million in annual volume over the next couple of years. But, as CTP vendors and plate suppliers will readily attest, it is from just such small shops that they expect the bulk of their sales growth in equipment and consumables to come. "A lot of these small business owners can be more forward-thinking than the big guys," commented the sales rep in the latter deal. "That’s why they have higher profit margins."


Do you know what CIP4 stands for? Can you define JDF? CIM—does your printing company do it? When somebody says that it’s all about XML, do you speak the language?

CIP4 was the undercurrent of much of what was new at Graph Expo. It is short—very short—for the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press, and Postpress. The CIP4 "Job Definition Format," or JDF, is the structure within which the integration takes place. Printing in accordance with CIP4 and JDF is an example of computer integrated manufacturing (CIM). To make printing machines communicate with each other in a CIP4-compliant workflow, it’s necessary to use Extensible Markup Language (XML), a computer dialect that emphasizes the structure rather than the format of digital information.

In a word, yikes! But CIP4 is a genuine and a serious initiative that has been anointed by nearly all of the leading suppliers of graphic communications technology. Its goal is to lead printing along the final steps of the path toward computer-controlled automation. The CIP4 consortium says that JDF, the key to the undertaking, "has the ability to unify the prepress, press, and postpress aspects of any printing job. It also provides the means to bridge the communication gap between production services and management information systems (MIS). JDF is also able to carry out both of these functions no matter what system architecture is already in place, and no matter what tools are being used to complete the job."

Clearly, CIP4 and JDF are tracing the arc of a technology curve that it will be unwise for printers to fall behind. At Graph Expo, the "big three" press manufacturers, Heidelberg, MAN Roland, and Komori, announced plans either to implement CIP4-based solutions or to promote the CIM concept to printers in "road-show" presentations. A tour of the "Graph Expo News" portion of this Web site presents many other announcements of developments in which CIP4 and JDF are key ingredients.

During the show, Niels M. Winther, president of Heidelberg USA, was clear about the intentions of the world’s largest print equipment maker with respect to leading the CIM parade. Announcing JDF-compliant additions to Prinect, Heidelberg’s integrated manufacturing system, he said that over the next 12 to 18 months, Heidelberg would tie together all of its workflows under the rubric of JDF. "We are very close to the goal," he declared. "By drupa 2004, everything we do will be in a JDF format."

Two excellent places to begin researching what Heidelberg and the other vendors are so vigorously pursuing are the CIP4 consortium home page (http://www.cip4.org); and "Cover Pages" (http://xml.coverpages.org), a site dedicated to news about open standards for e-business (keyword search: JDF).


From Printing Technology, Fifth Edition by J. Michael Adams and Penny Ann Dolin:

"Gutenberg’s most notable work, a 42-line-a-page Bible, was begun in 1452 and completed in 1455. Each page contained around 2,800 characters. Two pages were printed at the same time, so 5,600 pieces of type were needed to make each two-page printing...Working a normal workday (12 hours), it took two craftsmen more than 37 workdays just to prepare the initial type. At this rate, more than three years were needed to complete just 200 copies of Gutenberg’s Bible."

The spirit of Gutenberg’s 15-century workshop embraced 21st-century technology at booth 2855, where Delphax Technologies Inc. imprinted Bibles at a rate of one 1,050-page book block every 26 seconds on its CR1300 continuous-feed digital printing system. Running at 300 feet per minute, the 600 dpi device streamed the printed web to a Stralfors inline slitter/stacker at a pace of production that would have caused the Father of Printing to cross himself in astonishment: 2.3 books per minute, or 137 books per hour, nearly 4,000 times as fast as the Mainz craftsmen at their best on an annualized basis.

Delphax representatives put the unit cost of the Bibles printed on the CR1300 at roughly $1.025 per book block, not counting cover binding. This too was cause for wonderment, but with the scales reversed. The most recent (1987) sale of one of 48 known surviving Gutenberg Bibles saw $4.9 million change hands. In 1995, a single original leaf containing the Ten Commandments (Exodus, 20:1-17) went to a private party for $75,000. (Source: http://www.clausenbooks.com/bible.htm; follow the link to the Gutenberg Bible "census.")

The books that Gutenberg and his partners printed on demand fetched prices that were princely then and fabulous now. Books manufactured on equipment from digital technology providers like Delphax continue to satisfy the reading public’s limitless appetite for printed matter, but within a cost structure that will sustain the demand by keeping it affordable. Thus did Graph Expo demonstrate how the invention that defined the second millennium carries on shaping and influencing the third.


Speaking of books, demand, and affordability, we were struck by the apparent contradiction of price and purpose in the Graph Expo release of Designing4Digital, described by Printing Industries of America’s Digital Printing Council as a "multimedia outreach toolkit" for teaching designers the fundamentals of digital printing. Sponsored by four heavyweights in the field—Heidelberg, Electronics for Imaging, Hewlett-Packard Indigo, and Xerox—D4D consists of a 104-page workbook and two CD-ROMs containing 200 minutes of instruction on digital print processes, 1:1 direct marketing from databases, variable-data workflows, and many other topics that graphic designers must master in order to take full advantage of the power of digital print.

So far, so good. The Digital Printing Council acknowledges that designers’ lack of familiarity with variable-data printing techniques is one reason why business in this potentially lucrative niche has been slow to develop, and D4D seems just the answer for shedding light where it clearly is needed. The problem, in our opinion, is that D4D’s cost will put it beyond the reach of many who need it most.

PIA’s hope is that printers will distribute bulk-purchased copies of D4D at low or no cost to designers and other customers who influence print-buying decisions. The best price break, $350 for a "class pack" of 10 copies, is available to PIA members who are also members of DPC. These insiders can purchase individual copies for $49, but $49 is as good as it gets. PIA members who don’t belong to DPC pay twice as much for single copies and 70 percent more for the "class pack" (the price includes membership in DPC). For firms that don’t pledge allegiance to PIA the single-copy price zooms to $149, and the class pack is a setback of $1,000.

Are these prices realistic? Time and again this year, we’ve heard of cash-strapped printers canceling memberships in regional trade groups because they could no longer justify paying dues amounting, in many cases, to less than $350. We’ve seen them pull classified ads from local industry journals to save sums even more modest than $49. As for anyone’s being willing to pay the non-member, single-copy price for D4D, we’re thinking of what a self-employed graphic designer of our acquaintance would do with $149 if it suddenly became hers to spend. We’re pretty sure that with software upgrades to install, new fonts to unlock, toner cartridges to replace, and other ordinary business expenses to cover, she’d call $149 for a how-to book an extravagance.

Not all printers and designers are feeling the same pinch, and we hope that many will be able to reap the advantages that an investment in D4D undoubtedly will bring. But we’re still troubled by the prohibitive pricing of so much of what is offered for sale to printers by associations and commercial publishers.

We think, for example, that the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation has erred as regrettably as PIA in slapping D4D-like pricing on PrintScape, a well-done workbook/CD-ROM "crash course" in print technology for new employees. From mainstream publishers, the deals are no better. Gritting our teeth, we recently forked over $80 to Delmar (via Amazon.com) for a copy of Printing Technology, the admirable textbook cited above. We’d like to have assigned Printing Technology as the required reading for an undergraduate course in graphic communications that we’re currently teaching at New York City College of Technology. But conscience wouldn’t permit requiring students to spend $80 for one book, and so the class is making do with a less comprehensive but more affordable alternative.

During Graph Expo, however, we did find evidence that books written for the pressman’s workbench or the artist’s drawing table don’t always have to carry the price tags of books made to repose on coffee tables. At booth 848 we picked up a copy of Designer’s Prepress Companion, a new handbook on conventional and digital print basics from the National Association for Printing Leadership. The Companion has no CD-ROMs, but it offers an excellent designer’s-eye overview of print production for the tolerable price of $29.95 ($24.95 for members of NAPL).

Call it an impossible dream, but we’d like to see all instructional materials for printers and students of printing marketed as sensibly. What’s the point of publishing anything about printing that people who want to learn about printing can’t afford to own and study? (Note: the author of this article is an editorial consultant to the NAPL publishing program. The author had no connection either with the writing or the publication of Designer’s Prepress Companion.)


We’ll close with a final comment on the subject of publications for printers. Every print trade show yields a crop of excellent reference materials in the form of books, white papers, brochures, booklets, CD-ROMs, and videos on many aspects of graphic communications technology. Outstanding examples from several years ago included Agfa’s "Digital Roadmaps" and "Digital Color Prepress" series; and Heidelberg’s first-rate kit of pamphlets and CD-ROMs on color management. At Graph Expo ’02 we were happy to get our hands on a copy of "The Direct Route," a guide to direct-imaging presses written by George J. Whelan for Pira, an international graphic arts consultancy.

Much of this valuable material is aimed at customers; some of it is prepared for the trade media; little of it, unfortunately, finds its way into classrooms and libraries. We’d like to propose that from now on, the Graphic Arts Show Company and other host groups ask their exhibitors for samples of all educational matter to be distributed at Graph Expo, Print, and the regional shows. The materials should be compiled in an online catalog with a subject index and ordering information so that teachers and trainers can obtain the items (ideally, at no cost) directly from their sources.

The logical choice to administer this overdue project is the Graphic Communications Council (http://www.npes.org/edcouncil), a coalition of about 100 associations, corporations, and educational institutions promoting career development within the industry. We hope that our suggestion reaches and finds favor with the Council, which is represented at many of the trade shows where gems of information can be gathered.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.



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