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Complementary technologies for print service providers

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Print organisations that want to prosper in today’s competitive environment need to address more than their traditional customers, and do so with more than traditional products, writes Warren Rother, business development manager: Indigo in the IPG division at HP SA.

To become a 21st century print service provider, two key recommendations are suggested.  The first is for providers to recognise that no one printing process can economically produce all applications that customers demand.  The most profitable print service providers (PSPs) place jobs on the most appropriate presses for the job, based on factors such as run length, turnaround times, number of colours and added-value processes like variable data printing (VDP) and finishing.
The second recommendation is to consider other factors such as the provision of end-to-end services including aspects such as digital asset management and fulfillment which drive potential growth for printers.
Once these recommendations have been factored in, new technologies and tools need to be considered that will have the capacity to identify jobs more suited to a digital press, and as they become more profitable, to run on conventional presses. These technologies should also enable the calculation of the production cost for each job and also be able to compare the estimated profit the user will make for each press. By using job-by-job comparisons, PSPs can use the model to build a profile for a typical month’s production and increase profitability on all jobs.
The internet is deemed one of the major contributors that has facilitated digital printing, with web-to-print applications being adopted by organisations wanting to reduce overall process costs. Through digital presses, organisations are able to combine the benefits of print on-demand while maintaining a consistent look and feel of printed products with offset materials.
For example, it would be more cost-effective to print a generic holiday brochure that is distributed to travel agents on traditional offset presses, but this could be complemented with a personalised web-to-print solution.  Visitors to the website are enabled to specify the places that they are interested in visiting and the type of hotels they want to stay in, then order a digitally printed brochure containing the personalised information they require. The brochure, based on a template, can be tailored to contain a number of variations in pictures, text, languages and URLs. Some travel companies will even include pictures from people’s previous holidays.
The key to the complementary nature of digital presses is that they use liquid ink and can print on a wide variety of substrates. This enables the seamless integration of conventionally and digitally printed materials in the same collateral sets. High definition imaging with vibrant colour, sharp text and quality photo emulation, characterise digital printing and results in offset quality print.
There are various technologies that contribute to offset quality including the six-colour Pantone-licensed printing process used in these presses that simulates up to 97% of the Pantone Colours range, enabling printers to match corporate and brand colours, as well as work printed on an offset press.
Digital front-end suppliers and press manufacturers are working towards configuring presses to work with hybrid workflows. These workflows are compatible with both digital presses and analogue processes. They also enable printers to transfer jobs to digital presses with ease and greater data integrity, automating the production process from file submission, plate-making to digital printing and enhance a printer’s production flexibility.
According to Rother, HP has recognised the market need for connectivity to hybrid workflows and are working with leading suppliers to ensure that these markets can integrate in hybrid offset and digital production environments. There is a particular version that provides PSPs with comprehensive features for outstanding hands-on job control and is designed to produce commercial print in hybrid offset and digital environments as well as only digital print.  
Ultimately, PSPs can develop their services and enhance production efficiency made possible by the ability to print, finish and successfully integrate digitally and conventionally printed materials.