Digital Offset Printing Where Are We Now?
If you run a lot of 500- to 10,000-page four-color jobs with tight turnaround times and have the right computer skills, digital offset printing may be just what you need.
By Bob Atkinson
In-plants face increasing demands for short-run, fast-turnaround jobs, including full-color work. The problem? The traditional film/plate/ press route is poorly suited for these types of jobs.
New technology has offered some help with this problem, first in the form of computer-to-plate (CTP) systems that eliminate the time and costs associated with film. Then, starting about a decade ago, an even more powerful technology arrived: digital printing, where a RIP computer connects directly to the final output device, eliminating all offline work associated with film or plates.
Two variants to this technology appeared about the same time. High-speed electrostatic copiers or duplicators using solid toner (e.g. Xerox DocuColor) or liquid "electroink" toner (e.g. HP Indigo) are aimed at very-short-run work—500 copies or less in most cases. These devices have done well in the industry, with more than 13,000 installed worldwide today. The quality they can achieve now is certainly impressive, and the range of stocks they handle improves each year. If you're printing just a few hundred (or fewer) copies of a piece, or any job with variable data (where each copy has customized text or graphic elements) then these devices are the best way to go.
The Other Kind of Digital Printing
This article, however, is about the other type of digital printing: digital offset printing (DOP), which uses more-or-less conventional presses, inks and paper stocks. While not as well known as digital copiers and duplicators, these digital presses have quietly gotten better, faster and more dependable each year. They are most cost-efficient on jobs from 500 to 10,000 copies. Above 10,000-sheet runs, conventional presses combined with a platesetter make more sense on a cost-per-copy and total-ownership-cost basis.