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The Digital Press Equation

(March 2008) posted on Thu Mar 06, 2008

How seven companies have successfully integrated digital presses.

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By Jake Widman

Tim Fialko, Alliance’s vice president of operations, is particularly pleased with the Dotrix’s speed. It’s web fed, so the paper just comes off a 25-inch-wide roll at one end of the machine, and "at 80 feet a minute," says Fialko, "it’s the fastest single-pass digital printer on the market. The inkjet heads are fixed, while on other machines, the substrate is fixed and the ink heads pass over it.

"It can run roll-to-roll," Fialko continues, "or we can use the sheeter option that’s built on to the machine to cut sheets 10 to 80 inches long." Alliance primarily runs roll-to-sheet, because their main product is merchandising displays, for which they litho-laminate the cut sheets to corrugated stock.

In addition, "we can run short-run folding cartons," Fialko says. "We also use it for dress-up kits-paperboard add-ons to embellish a larger display, like corner pieces on a pallet."

He also appreciates the flexibility digital printing gives them. "If we’re printing 500 displays for Wal-Mart citing one price, we have the ability to print the same graphic for Target but with a different price. You can change the content very easily."

Understanding the pricing model

Minneapolis’ Bureau of Engraving ( has been in operation as a commercial printer since 1898 and currently specializes in point-of-purchase displays. In 1914, it launched Art Instruction Schools (the one you know from the "Draw Me" ads) to train illustrators for the printing industry. It was to meet the needs of the art school that the Bureau acquired its first digital printers, according to technology marketing director Patrick Stuart.

"Our sister company needed to print textbooks-we print about 10,000 to 12,000 textbooks a month-and we had to find a solution that would allow us to proof on demand," recounts Stuart. "Once we had a digital press, we also found a healthy market for outside-sold digital printing."

So in 2003, the Bureau acquired its first digital press. But it found that the system had serious issues with quality and, even worse, uptime. "It was a struggle to keep it running," Stuart recalls. "When we were selling 24-hour turnaround times, we couldn’t afford to have the machine down for a week!"