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Q&A: Bringing Digital In-House

It's time to make the switch: What knowledge and materials do you need to get started?

Digital printing and industry experts tackle your top questions, challenges, concerns, and frustrations as 2015 comes to a close.

Q: We’re commercial printers (postcards, business cards, newsletters, brochures, etc.) by trade. We currently outsource all of our large-format printing to an outside firm. They’re very good, but we’re missing out on the same-day requests. Last year, we spent $25,000 with them. At what point should I bring the work in-house? We’re great with files. We’re knowledgeable enough to talk about substrates and uses. What’s the learning curve for doing it ourselves? What’s the first machine you would buy? How many substrates would I need to stock?

– Patrick Ryan, president, Modern Press, Albany, New York

A: Subbing $25,000 worth of work per year seems to clearly justify bringing the work in-house. Because you’re primarily creating paper-based images used in indoor environments, you should opt for an aqueous inkjet. If the work were for extended-life (more than one year) outdoor work, then you would need to get an eco-solvent or latex printer. An aqueous inkjet will go for $6000 to $9000 depending upon the width of print. A 42-inch printer is probably a good choice. An eco-solvent printer suitable for production work will run around $20,000 to $25,000.

For an initial media stock, analyze the work you are outsourcing now. Typically, you will need glossy and matte papers. Specialties such as backlit films and canvas are expensive and may not be needed for an initial inventory.

Color management is usually the most difficult aspect for a new digital print shop to master, but you probably have this expertise already. You may opt for a standalone RIP and there will be a learning curve to fully implement it in the production workflow.

Chris Morrison, print industry consultant

[Questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity. Views shared represent those of independent experts and readers.]

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