Real World Print

Searching for Profits?  The Answer is in Black and White

By Tom Wetjen

June 7, 2007 -- When looking at today’s digital printing landscape, many vendors, print providers and industry experts focus on color. And with good reason. It’s the fastest-growing segment and offers print providers many new opportunities to grow their business and give clients even more options for revenue-generating applications.

However, printers should not overlook the value of black-and-white printing. This business is not going away. As a matter of fact, there are applications helping make specific areas of the black-and-white market thrive.

There are still major growth opportunities available for printers that can efficiently produce high-volume black-and-white jobs.

Our research shows that approximately 50 percent of all pages are printed in black only. So not only is there demand for monochrome applications, there are still major growth opportunities available for printers that can efficiently produce high-volume black-and-white jobs.

As print providers expand in digital color they should continue to maintain an aggressive black-and-white print operation for many reasons. If you look at the printing market as three intersecting circles, it is not necessarily a direct progression of monochrome to full color. The application and the price-value relationship to the customer should determine where color makes a difference and dictate its use. Those high-quantity black-and-white jobs that don’t necessarily require color can serve as a great revenue source for print providers. They’re the reliable “cash cow" jobs that build customer loyalty and bring clients back for more work.

When speaking with our customers, they mention short-run books, print-on-demand training manuals, user guides, warranty forms and scientific/technical documents as the jobs most predominantly printed in black and white. 

Of course, the materials above are not the only print jobs that can be produced using black-and white equipment. Faster print speeds and image enhancements offer a broader spectrum of creative applications, print quality that is comparable to offset and the ability to print on a wider array of substrates. 

The hardware improvements have led to the development of a new ‘hybrid’ concept. Most print shops now operate -- or at least have access to through partnerships -- both monochrome and color digital presses. In the hybrid model, the bulk of the job is printed black-only, and is then combined with covers and/or inserts printed using full color, or in some cases, spot color to help emphasize information. This concept is ideal for producing brochures, booklets and manuals. These are the next generation of the print-on-demand applications that are being produced on monochrome equipment.

High-quantity black-and-white jobs that don’t require color can be the reliable “cash cow" that builds customer loyalty and bring clients back for more work.

One print provider that has taken full advantage of the black-and-white printing market is The Document Centre of Carol Stream, Ill. The $8 million company employs 20 people and offers both monochrome, 4-color and VDP digital printing to clients in the manufacturing, financial services and healthcare industries.

Company founder and president David Rohe created The Document Centre nearly 30 years ago as a typesetting company. The firm's strong prepress expertise allowed it to move into black-and-white digital printing and specialize in VDP applications for their corporate accounts. The success then led the company to purchase two additional monochrome machines and this year it was one of the first commercial printers to install two of the new Xerox Nuvera 288 Digital Perfecting Systems.

According to Rohe, black-and-white user manuals and product spec sheets make up around 30 percent of The Document Centre’s total print volume. He refers to these jobs as the “bread and butter" applications that will always be needed as long as consumers need manuals to go with the products they buy. Other applications include saddle-stitched 8.5 x11-inch booklets and 200-plus page catalogs with color covers and tabs inserted as the black-and-white pages are printed. 

Everything is about productivity

 “As a business owner, everything is about productivity," says Rohe. “Black-and-white digital print jobs like manuals and brochures make up a major part of our overall print output and with help of innovative duplex printing technology, we are in a lucrative position to increase our efficiency even more, turning around jobs more quickly for clients and freeing up both staff and equipment to take on additional work."

Steve Zenger, president and CEO, of the Zenger Group Printing Services Network, located in Buffalo, New York sees the power of digital color printing in many commercial print applications, but says that ultimately it comes down ROI for the client.  His company is a full-service commercial printing and direct-mail organization that offers digital black-and-white and color printing, along with traditional high-volume offset capabilities and creative services.

“The bottom line is that you have to meet the strategic needs of your customer at a strategic price -- the technology is simply a tool we use to get there," note Zenger. "You don’t use color for the sake of using color -- it’s not for every job. On some jobs you simply won’t extract the value. Black-and-white printing is still crucial for us and for our clients."

"You don’t use color for the sake of using color -- it’s not for every job. Black-and-white printing is still crucial for us and for our clients."

For example, the Zenger Group does a lot of work for financial services clients that are required by law to send out general correspondence documents -- such as operational communications -- that aren’t critical to a customer’s understanding of their account and don’t incorporate marketing messages, so therefore they don’t need to be printed in color. From a cost perspective it simply makes more sense to produce these documents in black and white.

“We’re constantly educating our customers about their applications and whether or not they should be implementing color or black-and-white. And what it comes down to is that you don’t sell someone a product that won’t deliver the results they’re looking for. That’s why it’s so important for us to have a diverse product portfolio -- we can adapt to any client need -- short-run or high-volume, color or black and white."

According to Zenger, his company has a much stronger demand for digital black-and-white printing than color jobs. In terms of print volume, The Zenger Group produces between two and three million black-and-white pages each month, about five times more black-and-white pages than full-color. To keep up with the demand for personalized letters and postcards, booklets and flyers, the company operates seven black-and-white digital systems and is testing a new system that provides a true offset look and feel.

What does the future hold for the monochrome industry? Digital printing technology will surely continue to evolve, allowing print providers to keep producing innovative jobs such as direct-mail campaigns, textbooks and training manuals. It’s now up to the print provider to take advantage of this profitable market and put in place a print infrastructure that turns black and white into green.


Please offer your feedback to Tom. He can be reached at [email protected].