• Publishing & printing

Ed #16 Digital Possibilities

Ed™ knows digital print’s next level. Digital printing has grown up. No longer an awkward little brother to offset printing, digital printing is now a confident young adult in its own right, getting better every day, with nothing but bright potential ahead. Yes, digital printing has caught up to your creativity. Ed’s back to make sure you’re caught up with digital printing’s capabilities.

Remember Ed #8? Digital Variables? Published a short six years ago, it was a primer on the exciting potential of digital printing. It was still an emerging technology then, and Ed showed you the state of the art at the time—decent quality, the ability to personalize to your audience, a technology with real possibilities.

And it was positively primitive compared to what’s being produced in digital printing today.

To put it simply, digital printing has caught up to your creativity and quality expectations. And like so many technologies today, its capabilities are advancing in shorter and shorter cycles every day.

The best digital print quality is now virtually indistinguishable from high-end offset. Equipment productivity and speed continues to improve overall economics. With new print techniques like metallic inks, varnishes, embossed-like dimensionality, ultraviolet ink (look at Ed #16 cover under a UV light to see his tattoo) and more, digital printing is winning over even the biggest skeptics. And with the convergence of data, GPS and other technologies, the realm of possibility has exploded for targeted, highly personalized print strategies.

OEMs like HP, Kodak, Xerox, Konica Minolta and a host of others are investing aggressively to offer the next big thing in toner-based and inkjet technologies. Why? Because they know what Ed knows—when it comes to reaching and motivating an audience, print works. And when smart technologies meet smart marketers and designers, print works even better than ever. Read on.

Digital printing grows up. In just a few short years, digital printing has gone from an emerging to established technology. With offset-level quality and almost limitless ability to personalize to your target, the realm of possibility has exploded.

Quality and personalization. Sweet.

Digital printing has now reached quality levels comparable to four-color offset. Add personalization capabilities, and you can cut the digital donut just about any way you want.


When is digital printing right for you?

With dramatically better quality, improved economics and the ability to run larger sheet sizes, digital printing is an option for more projects than in the past. Be sure to consult your printer, but if your answer is “yes” on some of these questions, digital printing may be right for you.


This isn’t the first time Ed has focused on digital printing. In Ed #8, he provided you with an in-depth briefing on what it is, how it works and what it can do. What it can do has changed and improved dramatically, but the basics haven’t changed. Here’s a quick refresher.

Unlike offset printing, there is no film, no color proofing, no stripping or plate making in digital printing. There’s no make-ready, no getting ink to desirable levels by running waste sheets through the press and no time-consuming changeovers. This is why color digital printing is much faster and has traditionally been more cost effective than offset in smaller runs.

Among many types of digital print technologies, two have made great inroads: toner based and inkjet. Toner-based digital print technology is called electrophotography, also referred to as xerography or laser. Color electrophotography toner is made of electrically charged plastic particles, in cyan, magenta, yellow and black, that are transferred from drums to the paper and fused with heat to fix the image.

Inkjet presses print the image by propelling ultrafine droplets on the paper or other substrate at a very high rate. Continuous inkjet printers use electrical charges to guide placement of the droplets on the substrate; drop-on-demand inkjet technologies apply the droplets in response to a signal.

Electrophotographic is the process used in high-end applications—brochures, catalogs, package labels, posters and others. Inkjet historically has been used mostly for high-speed, high-volume transaction-oriented applications such as billing statements, although this is changing with rapidly improving reproduction quality.

A decade ago when you talked about printing, more times than not it was offset printing. Four-color printing was (and still can be) cost prohibitive in smaller quantities. When the budget was limited, you thought about fewer colors. Digital printing was strictly for short-run, full-color reproduction, and a drop-off in quality was a given. Personalization? What’s that?

That was then. This is now. Quality is no longer an issue. In fact many—including highly discerning designers—would be hard pressed to tell the difference between offset and today’s top commercial digital presses. The equipment has become faster and more reliable, which in turn has brought costs down. Higher quality, quicker turnaround and lower cost open the door for digital printing in a much wider variety of situations and applications.

It’s different now. The ability to execute short-run, quick-turn printed communication has new appeal, for a number of reasons. While there are still many situations where the per-unit economics of a 20,000 quantity make sense, more and more are seeing reduced storage requirements and ability to update on shorter cycles as a strong case for digital printing.

Personalization has come a long way as well. The increased sophistication of data mining in this era of social media has greatly enhanced marketers’ ability to target potential customers based on demographic and other criteria. Much more complex personalization is now possible. Where the extent of customization used to be “Hey Bob!” at the beginning of the copy, marketers in industries such as automotive are utilizing 30–50 ports of variable data personalization in one brochure or direct mail piece.

With rapidly advancing technologies andm capabilities, personalization is able to make a greater impact than ever on the effectiveness of print at reaching highly targeted audiences. And more and more companies are using it in highly creative ways.

Take one of the world’s best-known soft drink brands for instance. Thanks to the latest technology advancements, the ability to perfectly and consistently match the brand’s icon red made digital printing and mass customization possible for labels on bottles. And so, a brilliant idea was born.

That idea: to put a person’s name in place of the brand name on the bottle packaging, in the brand typestyle. Simple, powerful, unique. In 20-plus countries, lists of the 150 most popular first names were developed, and through variable-input printing those names were randomized and printed, a different name on each bottle. A case of 24 might have 24 different names. More than one billion labels, 3,000-plus names, all customized.

Consumers literally drank it up. There were stories of supermarkets having a person walk in and buy an entire shelf of cases in search of his or her name. Discussions on return on investment were easy and filled with smiles due to sales uplifts in each market where the campaign ran. Sales increases not driven by price promotions, mind you. These were sales at full price to people who gladly paid it.

Without a doubt, the pace of technology advancement is continuing. Digital printing is going to continue to get better and faster, with more capabilities. But the powerful potential of digital printing will not be realized because of incredible new, whiz-bang technologies. No. It will be driven by the increased awareness of the medium and its acceptance as a conduit for highly creative, effective strategies to get the word out and connect with potential buyers.

There is still a significant knowledge gap among creatives and marketers, but it’s steadily shrinking. Fewer and fewer are seeing digital printing as a compromise that could damage brand equity. More and more are seeing it as the huge opportunity it is.

With continuously advancing digital print technologies, print is far from dead. Increasingly, what’s going the way of the dinosaur is poorly conceived and designed print. Print produced with little consideration for whom it’s targeting and consequently offers little relevance to the person who receives it.

Print continues to change and evolve in a digital, multimedia world. And as print has developed the ability to connect to online media, it has never lost its ability to connect with people. As Ed #15 points out, print is the original interactive medium.

For the average person, every day is an onslaught of marketing messages. It’s constant noise, and anything that penetrates that noise has value. In a world now dominated by screens, print means persistence. It’s the reason marketing collateral and direct mail have not disappeared as so many have predicted—as people get bombarded more and more by electronic communication, print begins to stand out again.

Which is why it’s more about impact and quality than ever. Bad printing on low-quality paper gets recycled without reading. Ugly look and feel? Forget it. Poorly written, cliché-ridden, copy dense? Not reading it. I’m too busy.

Things that have visual power, things that strike an emotional chord, things that speak to the individual, that know something important about the individual besides his or her first name—these are what cut through the clutter. These get read, and kept, and acted upon.

Ed #14 told you, and it’s just as true today, that print’s ability to bridge the gap between media makes it a valuable part of the mix. Study after study have shown that direct mail is more effective than email at reaching consumers. Studies also provide a wealth of data indicating that print materials can drive increased online traffic and higher per-transaction spending (again, see Ed #14).

It’s more clear than ever that print can drive potential buyers to the virtual world; in the virtual world, your expressed interests and other information can drive highly personalized print that brings effective communication back to the physical world. It’s no longer two distinct worlds. They’re integrated in multiple ways, flowing naturally from one to the other and back.

As print drives traffic to the virtual world, it becomes easier to track, especially when it’s around personalized experiences. Online activity tied to a print piece offers yet another way to measure return on investment, or ROI, the holy grail of marketing communications. Print, made more effective by better data and personalization, leads to clicks that can lead, in turn, to sales.

Workflow technology is making it easier than ever to create a multimedia strategy. Automation makes Web-to-print efficiencies possible, simplifies versioning, optimizes files for different media and formats, and more, speeding the process while eliminating or greatly reducing human error. A print piece—seen so often as static communications—becomes an interactive pdf, optimized for tablet or smartphone viewing, with video or links to other resources embedded.

Print lives, and digital print is growing. According to Frank Romano, professor emeritus of Rochester Institute of Technology, here are some compound annual growth rates (CAGR), 2009–2014: digitally printed collateral, 14%. Digitally printed books, 22%. Digitally printed magazines and catalogs, 43% and 57%, respectively.

Interesting, right? In packaging, digital print growth is even more robust. Between 2009 and 2014, the CAGR for digital flexible film printing is 41% and in digitally printed package labels it’s 50%. Digitally printed folding cartons, 61%. Pretty big numbers.

Why is digital printing growing so fast in packaging? Supply chain efficiency, plain and simple. Shorter lead time, easier revisions, reduced inventory costs, reduced waste. Companies don’t have to print and warehouse large volumes. They can reduce quantities and order as needed, reducing the time, cost and waste to update ingredient lists, freshen packaging or introduce new flavors or products. Traditional limitations, removed. New horizons, opened.

Talk to anyone in the digital print industry and they’ll tell you the next growth area—and most see explosive growth potential—is production color inkjet. Because it has the potential to bring the advantages of digital print to high-volume applications. They can see a time in the not-too-distant future when digital inkjet will compete with high-volume offset. Currently inkjet can’t match web offset for speed and quality, but printing equipment manufacturers and paper makers are investing aggressively to change that.

As it always has in offset printing, paper makes a big impact on digital print quality. In digital printing, it’s critically important to use the right product with the process and desired impression.

We have been a leader in digital papers since digital printing technology first emerged, with specialized expertise, dedicated production capacity and one of the broadest offering of digital-specific products in the industry.

Our products were designed specifically for digital printing. At the high end, Sterling® Premium Digital™ with 94-bright optics, premium surface quality and budget-friendly pricing.

We offer Productolith Pts. Digital® for heavier-weight packaging and direct mail. Blazer Digital® is the economy digital coated paper of choice. And award-winning TrueJet® is a specialized line of digital coated papers for production inkjet presses that not only optimizes quality but also is designed to deliver significant savings in ink costs. All, from Sterling Premium Digital to TrueJet, with multiple-OEM certified performance.

Paper matters to printers, too. Many seek to improve pricing by using conventional offset stock for digital print projects. It’s a short-sighted strategy. Paper not created specifically for digital presses is harder on the equipment, increasing down time and waste, negatively impacting productivity as well as quality.

The future of digital printing is happening as you read this. Processes, technologies and equipment are improving constantly, with new products launching in ever-shortening cycles, driving increasing speed and quality at lower cost. It will continue to get easier, faster and more economical to realize all the benefits of digital printing.

As the economics for digital printing in larger runs improve, digital printing will begin to take more and more market share from offset printing. And as highly sophisticated data analytics become more a part of the equation, there’s a high likelihood that it will take mass customization beyond the tipping point.

In addition, finishing techniques continue to advance in digital print media. Increasingly, the impact enhancing effects you’re used to seeing in the offset world can be accomplished in digital printing—folds through ink coverage. Embossing. Coatings, and more.

In short, the possibilities are huge. Open your mind. Ask questions. Articulate your objectives. Push for new ideas. Be persistent, and don’t take no for an answer. Challenge your suppliers to apply their expertise to get the results you want.

Today and in the near future, if you dream it, chances are that digital print can do it.

The art of the possible. If it’s been a while since you’ve considered digital print, you might be surprised at the techniques and special effects now possible. From emboss-like dimensional printing to Pantone® match colors, unusual substrates to larger sheet sizes, digital printing is more versatile than ever.

Economize with style.

HP Indigo Digital Presses offer CMY “enhanced production mode”. CMY printing eliminates black and a pass through the digital press, increasing print speed and saving money with very little impact on print quality.


Digital print gets dimensional.

Multiple passes create a raised print effect, adding a dimensional, tactile quality that you can’t achieve with offset alone. When your audience feels it, they’ll remember it.


White toner on black. Dial it up. Or down.

Working with white toner on a digital press, you can get a progressively stronger white on black or a dark colored stock for the effect you want. (1) shows one pass; (2) shows a second pass; (3) shows a third hit. From soft to snappy!


Four colors on black. Cool.

Put an opaque white down and then you can print four-color imagery on a black or dark colored stock. Chalk up another attention-getting, memory-creating, brand-embedding effect for digital print.


Give creativity a new face.

How about printing digitally on cling vinyl? Kiss-cut for removable stickers that can be applied on windows and other smooth surfaces? Go ahead. Let your brand or message get out there and see the world.


Sheet size that transforms digital print possibilities.

No doubt about it, scale means impact, and more than ever, digital print delivers. For example, this poster showcases the Xerox®iGen® 150 Press, which can print on 14.33”×26” sheets. The color and quality are beautiful.

And don’t forget the other advantage of larger sheet size—it can make larger quantities practical for digital printing. On a 14.33”×26” sheet, you can fit up to three 8.5”×11” pages, ten 5”×7” pages, twenty 3”×5” pages or 42 standard-sized business cards. See how that flies next time you’re considering digital print.


See-through digital printing.

Digital printing also works well on a clear substrate for yet another memorable, high-impact effect. Sa-nazzy!


Hit the spot with a PMS.

Many of the newer digital presses are offering a unit that can run a Pantone® match color for a high-end, saturated look you’ll love.


Go big or pull up anchor and go home.

The HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press, which can print on 20.9”×29.5” sheets, helps you go big with digital print. In addition to across-the-room impact, you can fit two 11”×17” pages, four 8.5”×11” pages, nine 6”×9” pages or 70 standard-sized business cards on one sheet. That can float anyone’s boat.


Metal flake effects in digital print? Now that’s gold.

Like King Midas, the KODAK NEXPRESS SX3900 Digital Production Color Press has the golden touch with the ability to print metallic effects. When you can combine a quality impression with creativity in your communications, shoppers become buyers in greater numbers. Go ahead. Go for the gold.


Luna Kombucha: Big idea, small distribution.

Have you heard of kombucha? It’s a fermented tea. The taste: slightly sweet, with carbonation like champagne. It’s a non-pasteurized beverage with natural probiotic qualities brought about by yeast and cultures used in fermentation. Michael Iannarino discovered kombucha as a benefit to his own health—and it led to him creating Luna Kombucha, his own brand, brewed and distributed locally in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

Luna’s flavors are strikingly unique, with names like Blue-Eyed Lola and Thyone Flaming Mango, and produced in small, 600-bottle batches. A perfect scenario for digital printing.

The designer worked with the printer to develop a label configuration that could accommodate two different package sizes and quickly accept a new design for flavors as they’re developed. “Their suggestions saved significant costs immediately,” says Iannarino. “That enabled us to return to printing on a premium silver paper we had previously moved away from because of the expense.”

“We’re able to turn around a new label very quickly,” says Andrew Boyd of Blue Label Digital Printing. “Much faster than flexographic, which isn’t cost effective here anyway because of the small quantities. And the print quality is excellent. Vivid colors, perfect registration.”


Blurb: Your own book, your way.

As digital printing has entered the mainstream, self publishing has exploded, thanks in part to companies like Blurb, Inc. Since Blurb was founded in 2006, the company has helped over two million authors publish more than eight million “bookstore quality” books. Blurb has changed the question in digital printing and self publishing from “Can I publish my own book?” to “What kind of book do I want to publish?”

Hardcover with a dust jacket, or a hardcover image wrap, or softcover. A variety of size options. Image or graphic dominated, or text dominated. A beautiful one-off keepsake from a vacation, or a book you publish and sell through blurb.com, or a business book to be shared with customers or clients. You can also produce an ebook, with rich media added for video or audio content. The possibilities are endless.

“Print has become special again. It is becoming a conscious choice to buy a book or magazine in either print or electronic form,” says Brenda VanCamp, chief marketing officer at Blurb. “In fact, some people are starting to buy both—a paper copy of a book or magazine for reading at home—and to keep—and an electronic copy to read on the move.” Which fits perfectly into what Blurb provides.


Clear impact.

On many fronts, digital printing has caught up to high-end offset techniques. Do you like a spot varnish in your offset printing? In digital, Xerox® Color 800/100 Press technology offers what it calls “Clear Dry Ink,” which delivers a similar effect.


SRAM: A powerful story, committed to memory through print.

SRAM designs high-performance bicycle components and systems, but Tom Zurawski, the company’s brand communications manager, sees something more. “We enable stories,” he says. “What we make is just carbon fiber and metal until it goes on a bike and someone rides it. Then it becomes part of the story the rider creates.”

Case in point: “All for One,” a multimedia campaign that promotes SRAM’s highly versatile new X01 drive train through the story of friends discovering a remote area of British Columbia together.

A big part of the storytelling is a beautiful digitally printed book with a cover sleeve that folds out into a 22”×29” offset-printed poster. “We couldn’t have done this book without digital printing’s capabilities,” Tom says. “The quantity was only 300. It’s 60 pages. We hand-folded all the posters. And I like the fact that with digital, you get the color where you want it, and what you see on the proof is what gets produced. No press check.”

Why print? “What you see on a screen often times doesn’t leave a lasting impression,” observes Tom. “Print has permanence. When it’s special, you keep the piece. It becomes part of who you are. Just like a great story.”


MagCloud: A magazine for every dream.

MagCloud is an online service provider created to help businesses and individuals publish and distribute content—catalogs, brochures, newsletters, magazines—in high-quality print format, or digital pdfs, or, through a special MagCloud app—iPads® and other tablets.

Ideal for magazines, MagCloud offers a variety of templates to help self-publishers who are also self-designers. In addition to on-demand printing, the MagCloud website offers free uploading to its online storefront, where publishers can market their magazine and their customers can place orders.

MagCloud takes care of all transactions, including printing, shipping and digital distribution. Self-publishers determine their own pricing, can track sales and online readership on the MagCloud website, and receive earnings at the end of each month.


The University of Chicago Medicine Orthopaedics: Bringing the message close to home.

The Orthopaedics Center at the University of Chicago Medicine wanted to increase visibility and new patient visits for the orthopaedics practice in its Matteson, Illinois, location. The message: You don’t have to drive to Chicago for adult or children’s orthopaedics—world-class care is right here, close by.

UC marketers had purchased a highly targeted list that merged financial, location and active-lifestyle demographics but were open to anything that might increase campaign effectiveness. Printer Rider Dickerson teamed with German personalized map and geodata provider LOCR to offer a solution: a personalized map in each digitally printed mailer showed each recipient exactly where the facility is relative to his or her home with a route line; tailored headline and copy provided the distance in minutes.

The results were gratifying. “We did an initial mailing in October of 2013,” says Crystal Senesec, marketing manager for the University of Chicago Medicine. “During the month of December, we saw a 43% jump in new patient visits compared with December the previous year, which we can attribute to the campaign. The clinic also saw increased web activity and call volume during that period, although that’s more difficult to tie to the orthopaedics mailing. We’re very pleased.”


Nice touch.

A key advantage print offers over electronic media is its tactile quality. Digital offers an increasing array of techniques that add a distinctive feel and texture to enhance reader impact and memory. Like on this page, using Kodak’s “dimensional clear dry ink,” available with its NEXPRESS SX3900 Digital Production Color Press.