by George J. Whalen February 9, 2004 -- Last week we talked about how some of the differences between Direct Imaging and digital printing are reshaping the print industry. Each is a completely viable technology but to get the most out of either, print providers much understand the relative strengths and weaknesses. Let's take a look at how some printers have successfully applied these technologies. Online Commercial Printer PsPrint: Short-Run Digital Color Printing Delivers Fast Growth PsPrint, of Oakland, CA began structuring itself as a web-based direct imaging (DI), short-run color digital printer in 1998, without ever passing though a “conventional offset printer phase.” This enabled the company to create itself along digital lines from the very outset. PsPrint's self-designed website automates the entire process of quoting and ordering print jobs, submitting files, pre-flighting, prepress, imposition, shop floor automation, order tracking, and client communication. This reduces costs, eliminates human error, and dramatically increases productivity, making PsPrint uniquely able to offer great quality at low prices, with fast turnaround. Jobs typically ship within three days. CEO and founder Drew Herzoff has been in digital color prepress and printing for 12 years, starting a trade shop right after graduating from college. He was early to see the market trend to short-run color and, with his Macintosh computer background, digital output was the clear choice for printing and DI was the technology of choice. “Short-run digital color is a challenging business to get started in,' says Herzoff. “The high level of information technology and sophisticated online automation required can be a barrier. However, gaining these is the key to being able to operate at low cost, from taking the order to fulfillment of the job. Because of our streamlined process, we're very competitive in our prices, yet we operate with a 25% margin. What's more, better than 80% of our customers order repeatedly from us, so we have been growing steadily.” PsPrint's volume consists of short runs of 1,000 pieces or less. All work is four-color process. PsPrint runs 24 hours ‘round the clock, 7 days a week. Equipment comprises a Ryobi DI press and a fleet of Heidelberg QuickMaster DI presses. “Our Ryobi and Heidelberg QM-DI presses offer the right combination of output, reliability and affordability necessary to meet our customer's short-run color demands," says Herzoff. "Our Ryobi is capable of a 1% dot, yielding very high reproduction quality.” PsPrint also offers digital color printing with Xerox DocuColor 6060 and 2045 printers. These support affordable short-run color products -- as low as one piece -- of short-run posters, tickets, short-run digital business cards and short-run color documents. The company also offers a full-service bindery for books, brochures and other marketing collateral, including die-cutting, scoring, perforation and foil stamping. The company's web site is at www.psprint.com. Book Industry Expanding Use Of Short-Run Digital Printing According to industry consultant CAP Ventures (CAPV), book manufacturing is a growing opportunity for digital printers and a significant number of publishers have started opting for digital printing not only for initial print runs, but for follow-on runs, as well. This reduces cash investment and inventory risks associated with new titles, conserving working capital. CAPV says digital printing of books is in an uptrend, which will grow further as more publishers become aware of its economic benefits. Book Printers Lead In Digital Printing Capital Investment Plans If “size” of a book printing business is any measure of a technology's acceptance, then short-run digital printing has certainly come into its own in a big way, based on recent short-run installations at both R.R. Donnelley & Sons and Quebecor World, two of the largest printers in North America. For added corroboration of the trend to using digital printing in the book market, one need only casually drop the words "short-run book digital printing" into any good search engine on the worldwide web. You will be inundated by a flood of digital color book printers of every size, who have found that digital short-run book manufacturing is a very good service to offer. Clearly, everyone wants to bet on a winner. This appears evident among printers who say they plan to invest in digital printing technology. The following chart presents the results of a survey appearing within the earlier-referenced study, “Digital Color: Ready for Primetime,” * published by TrendWatch Graphic Arts. The chart shows the digital printing capital investment plans of prepress providers and four different kinds of printers. Book printers are the leading category of investors. Digital Printing Capital Investment Plans of Different Business Types Considering that this data was gathered in Spring 2003, while the US economy was still thawing from the deep-freeze of recession, the numbers for each group seem very optimistic and impressive. However, looking at the high figure shown for the book printer group, it clearly points toward digital printing becoming a large factor in future book production. Meanwhile, for those who believe in playing “follow-the-leader,” it will be instructive to look at latest moves in short-run digital book production by two of the largest book printers in the world: RR Donnelley and Quebecor World. RR Donnelley Offers Customers Short-Run Book Publishing Striking a balance between book supply and reader demand is vital to preserving profitability. Overly large book inventories result from producing books by conventional offset, because short offset runs are uneconomical. RR Donnelley's new short-run digital book production brings greater flexibility and better inventory management options to publishers and distributors. It is especially useful for producing books for niche audiences that have matured and are selling at a consistent level (about 2000 copies annually), year after year. Books that are so relatively slow moving yet, consistently selling at that rate are "cash cows" for the book industry. However, production costs, replenishment scheduling and book inventories must be effectively managed. That's where RR Donnelley's short-run digital printing solution is dramatically cutting its customers' book inventories by an estimated 50%. This not only reduces booksellers' need for costly warehousing space, it also improves cashflow by keeping book inventory always matched to the level of demand, through short and frequent print runs. A marketing advantage of adding digital short-run book printing as a service is that it allows for cost-effective production of advance copies for "testing" of new titles not yet being mass-produced. Publishers can thus try out the market's acceptance with the advance copies -- and when a book's sales take off, RR Donnelley can easily move the hit titles to offset platforms and produce higher-volume runs. This new flexibility allows publishers to always match the number of books "supplied" to the number "demanded," free of the financial risk that once made book publishing such an expensive gamble. By adding short-run digital book printing to its menu, RR Donnelley has found the way to keep book inventory levels right for every title - and may very well eliminate the need for "remainder tables" in bookshops. RR Donnelley's solution capitalizes on a process developed in partnership with Nipson, Hunkeler, and Muller Martini that fields an integrated equipment line to create a complete book, one at a time. The process uses a Nipson VaryPress digital monochrome press along with pre- and post-processing components from Hunkeler and Muller Martini. An HP Indigo Ultrastream 3000 digital press prints color covers. The Nipson press (able to print 1600 pages per minute) is said to be one of the fastest in terms of overall throughput, and the Indigo is said to print color covers of high quality. RR Donnelley, Mueller Martini, Hunkeler, and Nipson worked closely together to assemble and integrate the technology and equipment needed to achieve maximum manufacturing efficiency. Quebecor World Offers Just-In-Time, End-To-End, Short-Run Digital Book Manufacturing Quebecor World was among the first to understand the need for short-run digital book production as a management tool. Publishing giants among its customers were seeking better ways to control bookseller costs and replenishment scheduling through lean inventory methods and just-in-time book production. Other customers had different kinds of "books," in search of lower-cost production and inventory management. These included operating and service manuals, directories, brokerage prospectuses, along with other kinds of multi-page documents that have traditionally been printed in runs of 5,000 or more on conventional offset presses and warehoused. Most of the stock on-hand would become "obsolete on the shelf" due to changes, and would have to be discarded as waste and replaced with updated copies. Now, most such books are being printed by Quebecor World on two Océ digital presses, in short runs (less than 500 at a time). That run-length matches the level of demand, yet permits regular updates within the reprint cycle. The cost-savings make short-run digital boot printing a highly attractive alternative. These presses run Océ PRISMA software on the front-end, as well as both on-line and off-line post-processing. Roll-in and offline perfect binding and a three-knife trimmer from Standard Horizon provide high manufacturing efficiency in the company's short-run book bindery. In Conclusion Short-run digital color printing, a hard-to-find trend just two years ago, now has established footholds both in commercial printing and in publishing. The macro reasons behind its acceptance are economics, inventory management and scheduling flexibility. The landscape of print has also changed. No longer society's dominant means of communication, figuratively speaking print has shrunk from a "world" to a "continent." Though it remains formidable, print must now share the mission of communication with other, newer media. Short-run digital color printing is a technology innovation offering better economic choices to those who demand print, as well as to those who supply print. A wise printing firm owner once defined bad economics as "paper standing still" in his business. Wherever he went in his plant and found paper lying in piles -- waiting -- he knew that his company's money was being wasted or its opportunities were being lost. Only when paper was in motion, passing through presses, the bindery, or in a truck (as finished goods), enroute to a customer, would he believe that his business was making money. That very same lesson about "paper standing still" has been learned well by a new generation of print buyers, who flatly refuse to buy even one more printed piece than they absolutely need. These buyers know that "paper standing still" on shelves, in warehouses, or anywhere, is money being wasted -- or that will be lost -- as the printed material they buy becomes obsolete or aged to uselessness by the quiet (but corrosive) passage of time. Do not forget that those buyers set the agendas of printers -- and for many -- short-run digital color printing has become their new management tool of choice.