Most commercial printers have a hybrid print production using both offset and digital printing in their print manufacturing. What are some factors to consider in having a job print digital or offset? What factors should you consider in purchasing new printing equipment?
- Digital has a clear advantage in producing complex variable-data printing (VDP).
- Trillions of printed pages are reproduced worldwide each year using traditional offset press technology.
- Many “hybrid” print service providers (PSPs), offering full-color digital output, report that 60% to 70% of their revenue dollars come from the offset print side of their businesses.
What is your tipping point?
The term “tipping point” is defined as “a time during a process when an important decision has to be made or when a situation changes completely”. When it comes to print production, print estimators and planners must decide whether a print job will be produced using an offset press or a digital press. The general rule of thumb has been, short run jobs print digital and longer run jobs print offset.
What qualifies as a short or a long print run?
Is the magic number 10,000 sheets or anything over 5,000? Has it come down to 2,000 or even 400 sheets? The answer, of course, depends on so many variables related to workflow, plates and makeready times. Newer offset press technology is more automated than ever. Most ROI calculations made by digital press manufacturers attribute a long makeready time that does not relate to current offset press technology.
- Automatic plate loading, inline color bar cameras, and “smart” job loading allows for 6-minute makereadies and getting to color in less than 100 sheets.
- Commercial printers are seeing cost and production economies in print jobs as short as 400 sheets.
The economics of Offset vs Digital Print
One huge advantage for digital printing is the ability to produce variable-data printing. However, selling variable-data printing (VDP) is not the same as delivering a VDP project. Data dominates the personalized landscape, which makes the success of VDP projects outside the scope of most PSPs because it is such a specialty niche. What often happens is that digital printers revert to selling static print jobs on price.
Print firm owners and managers tend to base purchasing decisions on manufacturing economics, and some PSPs get locked into click-charge cost models on digital presses. Toner or inkjet on paper can be more expensive than offset: about 8 cents per sheet for digital versus 3 cents per sheet for offset.
In addition to click charges, equipment acquisition costs need to be considered along with maintenance plans. Digital printing has much higher downtimes and, if used for high volumes, the machines get beat up. Between purchase/lease pricing, maintenance and click charges, the total cost of ownership can add up to $75,000 to $80,000 monthly.
In the past eight years, RYOBI MHI Graphic Technology Ltd. (RMGT) has installed more than 100 sheetfed-offset presses at North American customer sites. It and other offset press manufacturers continue to invest in research and development to remain competitive:
- Their engineers squeeze precious minutes from make-readies.
- Offset presses offer simultaneous changing of printing plates and wash-up blankets.
- Smart press consoles can “learn.”
- There have been recent major advancements in software and electronic vision enhancements.
RMGT’s 970 series models are eight-up, 25x38-inch format, LED-UV offset presses featuring automated smart assist printing (ASAP) with full camera systems. With the literal touch of a button, ASAP allows a press operator to autonomously manage the entire printing process — from ink and paper presetting, blanket and impression cleaning, and plate changing through verification of test printing, register adjustment, ink-density adjustment and full sheet inspection — without even pulling a sheet.