Vince Cook thinks the world of UV printing. In hard-copy graphic communications, he told a recent conference of printers who specialize in it, “it’s the most leading thing that we have.”

Cook, vice president and creative director at the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago, believes that UV can “raise the ante” for print in the high-stakes game of visual communications as it’s played by top-tier media-buying organizations like his. What he doesn’t understand is why printers haven’t been telling him the good news themselves.

There was no little irony in the spectacle of a customer notifying printers that in UV, they have a potentially “mind-blowing way to print” on their hands. But In 20 years, said Cook, “zero, not anybody” from the printing community has tried to convince him why UV printing deserves to be in the arsenal of what he called “today’s new assault weapons for creative advertising.”

If his venue, the PrintUV 2009 conference in Las Vegas, had an underlying theme, it was that the time has come to stop hiding UV’s magical light under the bushel of diffidence noted by Cook. The peer-oriented event, which drew about 150 printers and vendor personnel to Las Vegas from March 8-10, was an earnest attempt to rescue the process from the kinds of misunderstandings that other printing methods put behind them long ago.

“Poor job, at best”

Hans Ulland, a co-owner of UV technology supplier Air Motion Systems (AMS), put it bluntly. The industry, he said, has done “a poor job, at best” of telling the world that printing with UV-curable inks and coatings takes offset lithography to a new level of visual appeal, production efficiency, and environmental friendliness. Ulland and Steve Metcalfe, president of AMS, took it upon themselves to recapture the message by organizing and hosting the first PrintUV conference last year.

Focusing on inline and offline UV for sheetfed offset lithography, the agenda at this year’s edition tried to strike a balance between basic information for printers new to the process and more technical content for veterans. But, the understanding was that everyone has something to learn about printing successfully with UV, just as everyone has a role to play in promoting it.

No one in the industry champions printing with more full-throated zeal than the conference’s keynote speaker, Warren Werbitt. Werbitt, who founded Pazzazz Printing in Montreal, Quebec in 1992, won viral marketing fame last year by producing “Printing’s Alive,” a YouTube video in which he flaunts his laugh-getting fanaticism for the business he’s in. His heavily bleeped jeremiad, which he replayed for the attendees as a warm-up, has attracted nearly 175,000 views.

In his keynote, Werbitt hadn’t much to say about the UV process itself or its applications. But he was entirely in synch with the meeting’s general intent when he declared that “we as an industry screwed ourselves” by permitting printing services of all kinds to become devalued.

Stop being “old, sticky, and gross”

Werbitt said that he’d like to organize “a one day, worldwide printing strike” to show those who take it for granted what life without print would be like. But he also chastised the industry for being “old, sticky, and gross” in its resistance to new ideas. That obstinacy, he insisted, is what caused the marketplace to lose respect for printing in the first place.

“Blame your competitors. Blame yourselves. We have commoditized printing,” Werbitt said. “We’ve got to take the commodity out of printing. We need to bring service back into printing.”

“Don’t take work for no money,” he told the audience, urging them to jettison the “bottom 20%” of the customer base that typically generates the bulk of the low-margin work. At the very least, don’t be guilty of low-balling more than once: “Why would you repeat a job five times when you lost money on it the first time?”

Werbitt told stories of “firing” one of his own customers and of uncovering the less-than-inspirational behavior of some of his competitors in the Montreal area. He said that what he found—printers bad-mouthing other printers and failing to follow up requests for quotes from customers—highlights the kind of damage that the industry must stop inflicting upon itself.

“We have only ourselves to blame for our own position,” he said. “We need to eliminate the negative in our industry.”

Not in my lobby

In Werbitt’s opinion, that will include getting a better portrayal in the graphic arts trade press. “I will not put trade magazines in my lobby—it makes printing look cheap,” he said, calling for more covers that incorporate special effects and more editorial about how these value-adding techniques can be used.

In today’s recessionary climate, Werbitt reminded the group, “there are no more blue-chip clients.” That means verifying the solvency of every customer and assuring that a profit can be made on every job. It also means refusing to tolerate profit-draining internal situations in which “estimators are making mistakes, and nobody is checking before the quotes go out.”

“Profit drives expansion,” Werbitt said. “Low margins drive nothing.”

Following Werbitt to the lectern, Cook informed printers that the advertising market is “exploding with ridiculous creativity” and that as a result, advertisements in every medium are expected to look “awesome.”

What does UV printing have to do with the trend? “Everything,” said Cook. “How you look is everything. Visual technology makes all the difference in the world.”

As one of these technologies, UV offset can deliver the visual stimulation that the market demands. Printers, said Cook, must be ready to use techniques like UV to impress a new, digitally nurtured generation of creatives who don’t impress easily.

“Give me wow!”

“Clients say, ‘Give me wow!’” he told the conference. “There always has to be a little, ‘Holy cow! How’d they do that?’” According to Cook, UV printers can elicit the holy-cow response by producing pieces that appear to show “trillions and trillions” of colors and textures on a wide range of substrates.

“My, how printing has changed,” he said.

Kurt Kroening, a UV print consultant, agreed with Cook that in UV offset, the industry has a creative solution that’s too potent to underplay.

UV is “print taken to the next level,” said Kroening, citing the high-impact effect that UV inks and coatings impart to packaging, point-of-purchase materials, and many other products. “People buy because of that.”

“Get it to the agencies. Stand on the corner and shout it out,” he said, urging UV printers to promote their capability with open houses, direct mail, press releases, e-newsletters, and, for “tell and show” opportunities, “a knockout, killer promotional UV print package.”

Kroening, an expert in printing on plastic, recommended using “plastic, plastic, and more plastic” to show off UV printing techniques to their best advantage. The process also adds a new dimension to jobs on uncoated paper and is ideal for special textural effects. “Just slather it on and let it reticulate,” he said.

Put UV in your DNA

Printing companies that want to succeed with UV must make a “cultural commitment” to it, according to Kroening. When that happens, he said, “your UV

specialists can create a new benchmark for excellence for your entire operation.”

At the same time, UV printers must remain on guard against baseless myths that continue to surround the process. “There are lies being told out there,” Kroening said, urging friends of UV to “bust up the misconceptions and misinformation with facts.”

Several printers did precisely that in presentations on the successful implementation of UV in their plants.

Steve Trevino (Versatile Card Technologies) said that all aspects of UV production have improved and predicted that “the future of this industry is going to be completely UV.” Its chief drawing-card, he explained, is the fact that its instant curing permits immediate handoff of jobs to postpress—there’s no waiting for the ink to dry, since conventional drying by oxidation never takes place.

Mike Winteringham (Metropolitan Fine Printers) similarly said that UV’s ability to cut delivery times was the biggest single factor in his company’s decision to adopt the process. The throughput is so efficient that in some cases, jobs OK’d by the client in the morning can be fully printed and on their way to the bindery in the afternoon. Winteringham also noted that with UV inks and coatings, it’s possible to get great-looking prints from lower-grade stocks.

Ken Kozol (Irwin Hodson Press) reported that although his company’s new UV press had been running for only about 10 weeks, the plant already was seeing a 30% gain in its post-processing rate. “We’re only getting started,” he said.

“Scared” no longer

Doug Mohagan (Carlson Print Group) also said he was a relative newcomer to UV, having known little about it before attending the first PrintUV conference last year. He even admitted to being somewhat “scared” of printing in this way. But he said that since he has had the opportunity to run and cure jobs on his company’s 40", UV-equipped six-color press, he now finds UV to be "the coolest process."

Others described it as the greenest. Proponents claim that UV is superior in sustainability because it produces little or no VOC emission, requires no heat for drying, and encourages the use of recycled papers. At the conference, a number of presentations mentioned the role that UV can play in efforts to go green.

Don Droppo Jr. (Curtis Packaging) said that UV was an enabler of his company’s quest to become the first 100%-carbon neutral printing and packaging facility in North America. One implementation is CurtCOAT, a proprietary product that uses a high-gloss UV coating as an alternative to offline film lamination. Droppo also said that gains in job throughput made possible by UV contributed to a general reduction of energy usage in the plant.

But Kozol, whose company uses specially developed soy-based, UV-curable coatings, advised UV printers not to take a holier-than-thou stance against conventional offset when talking about sustainability with their customers.

“We’re all doing the best we can with what we have,” he said.

Another edition of PrintUV is being planned for next year. Information will be posted at the conference’s web site.