The number of webinars being produced in this industry is astounding, and the information gathered can be a rich business asset. Some webinars, however, are just a cut above when it comes to the depth and detail they provide. A recent webinar from NAPCO/Screen Americas titled “Assessing Continuous-Feed (CF) Inkjet” is one of them.

In this webinar, Aron Allenson, product manager for Screen’s Truepress Jet 520 Series and customer success manager for strategic accounts, shared real-world insights into the value of CF inkjet. Regardless of the vendors you might be considering for your own inkjet investment, the information is highly relevant. Allenson provides the information freely, without making this a commercial for his devices.

In this post, I want to share nine nuggets that really stood out to me.  

1. Show—not tell—about today’s inkjet quality.

When I talk to inkjet vendors, I always ask about the number one misimpression printers have about inkjet. They always give the same answer—many printers don’t fully understand how good the quality is. They still think it’s letter-mail quality from several years ago.

What I thought was interesting from Allenson’s presentation is that, instead of just telling the audience this isn’t true, he offered to show them. He printed high-quality images on one-half of a web on a Screen CF inkjet press, rewound the roll, then sent it to an offset printer to print the same images on the other half of the web. Then he offered to send samples to webinar attendees so they could compare the images for themselves.

Whether you attended the webinar or not, you have to admire the boldness of this invitation. You don’t make an offer like that unless you are absolutely confident that the inkjet image will hold up.

2. Paper’s role in creating cost-efficiencies.

While we tend to focus on inkjet’s running speeds and productivity, Allenson also talked about the role of paper in creating cost efficiencies in CF production. Once again, instead of just telling the audience, Allenson showed them—this time, with numbers.

First, he noted that the same paper can easily cost 10%–20% less on a roll than the same paper in sheets. This can make or break profitability on a job and the ability to win certain bids. As he noted, “Paper represents 40–60% of the cost of the job, so if a CF inkjet printer is running paper for 10%–20% less, it’s very difficult for a sheetfed operation to compete with that.”

Allenson also points to the costs saved with the variable cut-off of these presses. He recalls a shop with a B2-size toner system running a particular job—6 x 25½-inch trifold—three-up that generated 16% paper waste. On its new CF press, however, this job could be run on a 19-inch roll with 25¾-inch cut-off, resulting in 3% paper waste.

3. Bring in outsourced work.

Are you outsourcing certain ad hoc jobs because producing them in-house would disrupt your workflow too much? Allenson asked, what would be the value of being able to bring those jobs in-house?

Allenson tells the story of working at a commercial print shop that had an annual book job that threw everything into chaos. The book was 450 pages, but the run was only 500 copies. “We had two [toner] presses. It took us a good bit of the month to get the job done, and it was at the expense of other jobs,” he recalls. “We ended up pushing them off. Moving them around. Trying to get more time on deadlines. CF inkjet would have torn through that job in a couple of days, if that.”

4. What speeds really look like.

Paper efficiencies or not, printers buy inkjet for the speed. But running speeds are just numbers unless you put them into context, so I appreciated that Allenson did just that. “If you are printing 50,000 postcards, 6 x 9 inches, for example, this will take you less than an hour on press,” he said. “If you have 300,000 letters, those can be printed in less than a full shift.”

5. Role of color/ink management.

As Allenson describes, zero ink means zero quality... because you have no image. As you add ink, quality improves, but at a certain point, quality flatlines with added ink, then actually starts to deteriorate because the image gets muddy. Because you pay for actual ink used (rather than paying by the click with toner), the goal is to find the optimal amount of ink to put down on a given paper (and it’s different for each paper) to create the widest color gamut and best quality output. Why pay for ink that won’t give you better quality? You shouldn’t, and that’s what color/ink management does.

Ink/color management also helps you be more profitable on some jobs because not every customer needs the highest level of quality. For those customers, you can use ink/color management to determine the minimum amount of ink you can use to create an acceptable level of quality for that client, reducing your ink costs and increasing your margin on the job.

In the Q&A, Allenson was asked how ink/color managed pricing compares to paying by the click. Because click charges are designed to be profitable for the vendor, Allenson said, ink/color managed jobs are going to cost less per image nearly every time. “If you use color management, you can beat the click maybe 10 out of 10 times. Certainly, nine out of 10 times,” he says.

6. Why inkjet is so consistent.

Inkjet is billed for its extreme consistency. Run a job one month, then run it three months later and it looks identical. But why? It’s because, paper aside, there is only one consumable. As Allenson explains, inkjet presses are basically giant computers, so they don’t have the variables that other processes do. “You aren’t chasing ink and water balance on an offset press. You aren’t chasing corona wires or pips or fuser oil or any of the other 30 other parts that go into the various toner systems that are wearing out at different rates,” he explains. “It’s just ink. That makes it extremely consistent. This also means there is very little unplanned downtime.”

7. Compete with the big guys.

Just as the Internet has equalized small and large businesses in terms of image, CF presses equalize the playing field in the print world.

“With a CF press, small or midsized companies can compete with some of the biggest printers in the country,” says Allenson. “The big guys don’t have equipment that goes faster than yours does. The big jobs they are getting—the contract jobs, the month-in and month-out jobs—you are as capable of going after those as they are. We’ve seen print shops that were relatively small who bought CF inkjet and grew its business three to four times in size because they were able to start winning that contract work.”

He also noted that, by winning contract work, those smaller companies were able to do better business planning because they could now count on consistent, recurring revenues.

8. Reduce headcount.

Because CF printers are basically computers, once the job is set up and running (especially if you are running roll-to-roll), it only takes a single operator to output jobs. As a result, once the job is up and running, the operator can go work on something else. “The printer basically runs itself,” says Allenson. “That helps with head count and being able to produce jobs for less.

9. Attract salespeople—and the new business that comes with them.

Allenson rounded out his presentation with one rarely discussed benefit of CF inkjet—the ability to attract salespeople and the book of business that comes with them. “With CF inkjet, now you have something few other printers have,” he concluded. “A way to attract salespeople from competitive printers. When you do that, you are not only bringing in new work for the high-speed inkjet press, but for your other equipment as well. It’s a very big arrow in your quiver.”

Hats off to Aron Allenson for a terrific presentation. But then, I’ve always been a sucker for numbers.