Digital days at the graphic arts summit

It seems like everyone (including me) has digital on their tongues lately. Whether it’s a small shop looking at their first digital press, or a larger company wanting to upgrade to the latest and greatest, digital print is an area of ever–expanding possibility.

Last month I took my digital inspiration from Fujifilm/Dimatix, and this month I’ll be looking at HP’s graphic arts offerings. Both companies—as well as Xerox, Canon, Epson, Kodak, and others—make unique contributions to the digital marketplace, and the competitive interplay between them makes for a near–constant stream of new products which could just find their perfect niche in your shop.
HP’s recent aquisitions of Indigo and Scitex have the company well–positioned at the forefront of the digital print marketplace, as was exemplified by their new and exisiting offerings on display at their recent Graphic Arts Summit in Rome.

The HP Indigo 5500 press premiered in Rome, and one of the highlights of its presentation was a study by SpencerLab Digital Color Laboratory (an independent consultant out of New York state) of the Indigo’s photo–printing capabilities as compared to two other digital presses and to conventional silver halide photofinishing.

In all but one of the measured categories (richness, sharpness, smoothness, and realism), the quality of the Indigo–printed photographs equalled or exceeded the quality of the conventionally–finished photos. Many of the summit attendees, when the pictures were passed around, could not even tell the difference between the digitally printed and conventionally developed photos! HP also introduced light cyan and light magenta inks which can combine with conventional CMYK into a CMYKcm six–colour system for improved photo printing.

Digital photo printing has certainly come a long way since its inception, and the photo–realistic quality of the Indigo opens up a lot of possible revenue streams to a shop looking to diversify its offerings. To find out more about Indigo specifications, including its inline UV coater, check out www.hp.com. The site has facts on both the 5500 and the 3500—an “entry–level” digital press targeted at smaller shops on their first foray into digital offset.

HP is synonymous for many people with inkjet offerings, particularly home and office products. While home and office inkjetting is certainly still a major part of HP’s corporate presence, they are increasingly focusing on wide–format inkjet products. Both their wide– and smaller–format offerings use thermal inkjetting technology. Thermal cannot accommodate as wide a variety of inks as piezo can, but it does have a slight edge over piezo in resolution.

The HP Designjet Z6100, which also premiered in Rome, is their flagship wide–format inkjet offering, and also offers many possibilities to companies who choose to invest in it for their shop. One area where the Designjet excels is in fine art reproduction (see photo). It has a wide variety of supported substrates—both those manufactured by HP and by other companies—as well as a quick 3– to 6–month ROI, according to members of the customer roundtable who spoke at the summit.

The Designjet Z6100 also makes use of Vivera pigment inks and DreamColor technology, the latter developed in conjunction with Dreamworks, makers of Shrek and other feature films. Without getting into too much technical detail, HP’s mandate with DreamColor is to provide for accurate colour matching across printers or presses and across a wide variety of media. The ability to accurately colour–match is a huge boon, particularly for shops with clients who request a variety of products (brochures, business cards, mailers, etc.) across a variety of media.

While new products are interesting, it’s the uses to which those products are put that really translate into increased profits and value–add for your shop. HP’s Brian Cruz of the specialty printing division spoke about variable data imprinting (as distinct from variable data printing), which is a great way to add value and ease into digital integration.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, variable data imprinting is just adding a variable (digital) component onto the end of your offset line, so that you can input a variable data component onto an already offset–printed piece. Great for direct mailers where most of the information is the same, variable data imprinting combines the ease and proven quality of offset with the variable possibilities of digital.

Cruz’s presentation highlighted the complementary—rather than competitive—facets of digital and offset printing, which is an important fact to remember in this time where it seems digital and offset are too–often at each other’s throats.

And as much as digital is on everyone’s tongues, just blindly following the trends is never a recipe for wise business management. Take some time to evaluate what your shop does well and what you wish your shop did better, and plan your press acquisitions accordingly—whether offset or digital. Also, be sure to check out our feature article next month, which will highlight a wide variety of digital printing and finishing options.
   
Catherine M.A. Wiebe
catherine@graphicartsmag.com

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