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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

Stuart advises anyone considering a digital press to research it thoroughly and get a firm grasp of the cost model. "Every time I see someone getting into digital printing, they end up selling at a price below their cost. They don’t understand the pricing."

Steered by clients’ needs

Henry Tews Sr. founded West Chicago, Illinois-based Graphix Products ( in 1971 with his wife Diane. Speaking for himself and his siblings, vice president Jason Tews recalls, "We grew up in the business." Today, Tews and two of his brothers continue to run the company, which has now grown into a $12 million, 80-employee operation.

"We encompass everything for marketing communication," Tews says, listing its DVD and CD duplication, assembly, mailing, and fulfillment services along with full-color printing for everything from brochures to catalogs to business cards. Clients include major corporations such as Motorola, Allstate Insurance, and Kraft Foods.

Until this decade, the company was a traditional offset shop. Its first foray into digital came with the purchase of color laser copiers: "We began running Canon CLCs probably four to five years ago," recalls Tews. The motivating factor at the time was digital’s variable-data capabilities and customer demand for some "really small-run" (less than 250 copies) jobs. But the firm quickly found other uses for the copiers: "Once we had the tech, our clients’ needs dictated other uses for the equipment," says Tews. They found a market for partial runs of brochures and other collateral pieces-if a client had a 10,000-piece order for brochures but needed 250 of them right away for an upcoming trade show, the CLCs enabled Graphix to meet that demand.

Considered a production tool, however, the CLCs had issues with consistency and speed, so the company decided to graduate to a true digital press. They started out leaning toward one of Canon’s competitors, but in testing they found the Canon suited their needs better. "We put both machines though the wringer," Tews recounts. "We fed them the same files and the same paper, compared the sheets, and found that they were extremely similar in terms of quality. The fact that we were already a Canon shop definitely helped us choose the Canon."

The ImagePress C7000VP they installed last summer prints letter-size sheets at 70 ppm, with a maximum sheet size of 13 x 19.2 inches. And, Tews emphasizes, "We can now consider the new digital press as a press-it’s lost the copier connotation." He cites Canon’s Gloss Optimization technology, which manipulates the amount of time the toner is exposed to the fuser to make the glossiness of the imaged area match that of the substrate. "With the CLCs, you can tell it’s digital-the image has a waxy appearance to it. With Gloss Optimization, it makes the toner look like a printed sheet." As a promotion for their new capabilities, Tews says, Graphix printed an invitation with the same image printed twice side by side, once on their offset press and once on the ImagePress. "People couldn’t tell which was which," he says.

Tews’s advice for prospective digital-press purchasers: "Definitely do your homework. Take the most troublesome job you’ve had in the last six months and run it on the machines. Then take it back a week later and run it again. Is the color the same? "Also, find out how the machine will be serviced-by the distributor or by the operator? says Tews. If it’s the latter, talk to other operators, because that’s where your money might disappear really quickly."

Jake Widman is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.