The end is nigh for offset? Not for those who move with the times
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By Laurel Brunner
4 May 2012
BestPrint 99 is one of a slew of new service providers who recognise the value of the internet. Too many offset printers are still struggling with integrated services delivered via the web
Sitting here at yet another drupa press conference we have had yet another question about the stuff that analogue can do that cannot be done with digital machines. The demise of offset printing has been the source of much anxiety and excitement from people disinclined to think through such a premise. Offset's demise is by no means inevitable and predictions for it are largely based on the assumption that everything stays the same. But of course it doesn't.
In the sign and display market the explosion in the use of digital technology has as much to do with the type of work this sector produces as it does about technologies. For instance, unlike offset the sign and display sector does not typically produce runs of millions or even hundreds of thousands of copies. Yet even in the sign business there are plenty of applications where people are producing masses of stuff in a short period of time (think Gardner). The key differentiator between analogue and digital print media production is not the length of the run, but its complexity and the variability of data printed. Only digital technology can vary content page to page and this is what makes it so attractive for print buyers in all sectors.
There is more to this than customised pages, common colour appearance and matching brochures with signage. Digital data makes possible far more complex project management, for instance organising signs that go to multiple destinations. If there is a deadline for when all the work has to be up, production should be organised so that the signs destined for the locations that are furthest away should be printed first. This can be done manually but it makes far more sense to use computers to do the heavy lifting.
It is for this reason that drupa is shifting to be a show about data and system integration as much as about hardware. We are increasingly hearing about new hardware, but the message at drupa is that system efficiency is what increases profitability. For sign and display companies this means that getting the most out of wide-format printing engines depends as much on how you drive and manage data, as it does on the engine. And software as a service delivered via the cloud is reality, so start looking for rainbows.
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