Printing News

How Effective Are Your Digital Press Operators?

By Cary Sherburne on June 25th, 2009

As the new year began amidst tidings of economic doom and gloom, WhatTheyThink argued that firms should use this time to make sure their staff has the best possible training. The digital production floor is one area where training is often less than perfect. I recently spoke with industry expert David Zwang on this topic, one he is very passionate about.

"I am frequently in and out of shops that have digital equipment," Zwang told me. "One of the things I have found in almost every shop I visit is that neither the operators running the equipment nor the plants themselves understand what they have, how to use it, and its limitations. It doesn't matter which brand or model they have, it seems that the training they receive is not adequate to make them truly proficient."

Zwang points out that most vendors provide a few days of on-site training that often leaves the operatorís head spinning. At the same time, owners are anxious to begin producing work from this new investment which can make it difficult for operators to focus on the training that is provided. Rather, they are often bombarded with requests to get urgent jobs out the door. When the trainers leave, operators are often left struggling to remember what they were taught, and that leaves supplemental training in the hands of service technicians or phone support.

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The Soft Option

By Simon Nias on June 19th, 2009

Has soft proofing finally come of age? In the past few months, the technology has rarely left the pre-press news pages. There have been major announcements from printers and publishers alike about their adoption of soft or remote proofing for not just content, but colour. As we all know, colour is key, and if we're talking about content, then soft proofing has been around since the advent of email. "Content proofing is pretty universal now from PDFs whacked all around the place," says Paul Sherfield of The Missing Horse Consultancy. "But viewing them correctly in colour is a whole different ball game."

Therein lies the rub. Soft proofing for colour - in many aspects the holy grail of printing - is a concept that could, and indeed should, revolutionise the industry. And not just for the big publishers, like Bauer Consumer Media and BBC Magazines, or the big magazine printers, such as the UK's Polestar, St Ives and Wyndeham and the US's RR Donnelley and Quebecor World, but for every small and medium-sized printer with the will to implement it.

However, according to Eric Nunn, of Poem Colour Consultancy, the question of whether or not soft proofing has come of age is misleading. "The real answer to that question is that it is colour management that is coming of age," he says. "The issue isn't so much the adoption of soft proofing as the adoption of colour management."

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Offset-saturated regions are opting for inkjet as the digital divide is drawn up

By Andrew Tribute

I am currently reassessing the relationship between digital and litho printing. Two interesting reports, one from Gartner and one from Infotrends, have recently been released on the position of digital printing compared with offset printing.

I also received some interesting data from vice president and general manager of the HP Indigo Press division Alon Bar-Shany that looked at the sales of offset and high-end digital presses. The figures show estimated sales in the different parts of the world for B1-, B2- and B3-format offset presses and for high-end digital presses.

These figures show the major market for offset presses is the rest of the world (ROW) - ie not North America, Europe or the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). It also shows that digital press sales were high in both EMEA and North America, but relatively low in ROW.

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Is digital packing a punch?

By Philip Chadwick

Although digital print is widely accepted in the commercial print market, it's a tougher sell in packaging. With runs generally longer and colour management critical, traditional processes such as flexo, litho and gravure have held up strongly.

However, there are signs that the latest developments in both inkjet and toner-based technology are slowly starting to make in-roads in the packaging sector. In labels, digital is very much an accepted technology, while in the cartons market there are signs that the big names are making concerted efforts to gain a bigger slice of the action. The technology is still at a formative stage, but in years to come, a packaging printer is as likely to have a digital press in its armoury as it is a flexo press.

It is testament to how digital technology has evolved, that it has now become a viable option for packaging firms. In the past the quality and speed of the print wasn't up to the standards of gravure or flexo, while run lengths were also an issue. However, this is changing, with digital presses getting up to speed (although still not quick enough for long-run packaging) and the print quality significantly increasing.

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What to Look For in an Online Printing and Copying Company - And What to Avoid

These days more and more copying and printing companies are going digital, offering their services over the web - sometimes exclusively - to a wider pool of customers than ever before. It should be no surprise then that online companies, like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, are not all the same. Some are digital, some are offset, some are both. Some are great to work with, and some are not.

So what should you be looking for when you're ordering color printing online? What should send up a red flag, and what should you avoid completely?

1. Dedicated Customer Service (Phone Support)

If the company doesn't list a phone number, just walk away. If they do have one, give them a call. Does the person that answers speak English? That shouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker, but if it sounds like the company is routing their phone calls to a call center in Mumbai, that's not a good sign. Make sure you're actually talking to someone at the company, preferably in the same building as the printing house. If the customer service reps don't have a direct line of communication to their production people, you can bet you're going to run into problems somewhere down the line.

2. Automated Quote Generator on the Website

This isn't altogether common, but it certainly should be. A few companies have a price calculator built into their site so when you enter information into the order form, the calculator automatically updates the price of your job. This saves countless hours of phone support. If you have to call or email in to get a quote on a job, that's indicative of a bigger problem. It suggests that customer service reps spend a lot of time running up quotes, which means they give less attention to detail on your job.

3. Green Companies

Take a look on the website and see if they give any information about their efforts to be sustainable. This industry is particularly wasteful, and it's important to keep in mind the things a company could do to reduce their impact on the environment. Do they offer recycled paper? What percentage of it is recycled? Do they recycle their ink/toner bottles? Do they recycle paper waste? If not, find a different company.

4. Digital / Offset / Other

One of the first things you'll want to check on is whether they run digital or offset presses, or a combination of both (or other sorts of traditional presses). Find out also what they'll be using to do your job specifically. If you can, find out what sorts of digital presses they use. Some companies want to keep this a proprietary secret, which is ok if you can get some other assurance that the quality will be crisp and clear.

5. Samples

If the company will not send you samples of past jobs, just walk away. They clearly have something to hide. And when they're not telling you what sort of presses they use, how are you supposed to know what quality you're going to get?

6. Research the Company

Do a Google search and find out more about the company. Read what past customers have said, not just the cherry-picked testimonials on their website. Angie's List is a good place to read consumer reviews. If a bunch of people were not happy with their jobs, chances are you won't be either.

7. Proofs

If it's your first time using a company, you should probably order a proof, especially if you haven't seen samples. Most companies will charge you for a hard proof and then await your approval before running the rest of the job. If you're not happy with the proof they will usually try to fix whatever is wrong with it, and if they cannot, you should not be charged for the job. Though you will probably still be charged for the proof, it's better than having the whole job printed just for it to look bad.

8. Exclusively Online?

This does not necessarily indicate the quality of their work one way or the other. Some companies offer their services exclusively through their website. Eliminating walk-in business can allow them to focus on their specialties and keep the work flow smooth and consistent, which can improve the quality of service substantially. But others who operate exclusively online may be hiding something. It could just be some guy in his garage with a Xerox machine! So take the other suggestions into account before basing your decision solely on this criterion. Order samples or a proof and research them first.

Of course there are other things you need to keep in mind when choosing an online printer to work with, but these eight should be a good primer. Got an experience with an online printer you would like to share with us? Let us know in the comments section!

Roe Pressley is a public relations practitioner for Docucopies, an online color copying and digital printing company. They specialize in discount color copies, booklets, books, postcards, business cards, and other digital printing products. Orders can be priced out on the website and placed any time of day.