Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Customization to the Masses: Digital Web Printing

When you think of digital printing, typically what comes to mind is low quantity, customizable, short turn around and on demand printing. With fixed material and digital per click rates, that idea is that if you want to print highly variable and versioned pieces then you better keep the quantity small or resort to printing offset and creating the variable message through a lasering or inkjet process. If you are making 100-200 variable catalogs or brochures this is perfect, but if you want to produce 100,000-200,000 variable pieces, then this just isn't economical. In high quantity variable scenarios, you print a full color shell or template on a traditional offset web press and take those forms to a high speed laser or inkjet unit to overprint all variable data. You might even create a few different color versions to target varying demographics but you must limit your versioning due to the high make ready and plate change costs associated with offset printing.

Web printing has gone on about its business just like this for years, pumping out high quantity, static materials and digital printing has continued to play the role of the quick turn, low quantity job. Recently though a new technology has surfaced, digital web printing and it literally will forever change how we perceive the role of digital printing.

Marketers recognize the need to create highly customizable marketing materials but the challenge has always been keeping the costs down. With a digital web press, a marketer is easily and affordably able to achieve the goal of printing materials for a large audience and at the same time, making each one of those print pieces completely unique to the end user. It is revolutionary technology that will only grow as people seek out more ways to connect with their target audience in a world that is swarming with advertisements.

Does this suggest the death of commercial offset web printing? Not yet, as there is still a place for the mass production of print where each piece is identical (product catalog, books, coupons, etc.). However, offset web printing has seen a decline in volume over the past few years due to the internet and other electronic and more affordable forms of advertising. If printing is to compete and win against new media, it has to create a unique to user experience and digital web printing is one step in the right direction to print's sustainability.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Master Sommeliers of Printing

A sommelier is a trained expert on everything to do with wine. They are extremely knowledgeable individuals that understand all aspects of taste and how these tastes will pair with an entire menu of food. Among other things, a sommelier might build a wine list for a restaurant, create suggestions for wines that complement particular foods and assign wine ratings.

Any person who has a great deal of expertise on wine can become a certified sommelier but only a small number of individuals can claim the title of Master Sommelier. Master Sommeliers have gone through years of rigorous training and these individuals can claim the right as masters of their trade.

Just as the case with a sommelier, any person with a great deal of expertise in printing can become a certified commercial printer however only a small number of printers can claim the title of master. Master certification in the printing industry is conducted by IDEAlliance and G7 Master & Expert certifications are given to those small few who can prove they are masters of the print trade.

G7 Master Printers are able to ensure the highest level of color match consistency from proofing to printing. This standard means the company uses the most modern technology and techniques as it applies to proofing, printing and color calibration controls. G7 Experts are individuals that are deemed as master specialists in color management, proofing, plate making and printing of all varieties. To put it simply, a G7 certificate deems you an expert on all things color as it relates to printing.

Does this mean that non-G7 printers aren't good at color management? Absolutely not as many printers have a number of practices and procedures in place to ensure their proofs match what prints and that color remains consistent from press to press. You can still rely on the expertise of a non-G7 certified printer as after all, this is what they do for a living! In addition, there are numerous other certifications available that prove a printer has high-quality control standards.

I am still of the belief that the most successful printers will always be the ones that place the client first, care and are passionate about the work they do (master certified or not). It's just like walking into an established wine store and seeking out the expertise of the owner. It's highly unlikely they are a Master Sommelier but these people have the knowledge and resources to guide you into a purchase you'll be happy with to ensure you return in the future. However, there is something to be said for the printer that takes the time to go through the certification process to prove they are masters of their trade.

Related Links and References:
Guild of Sommeliers
International Sommelier Guild
Court of Master Sommeliers
Sommelier Facts on Wikipedia
G7:  What is it - and Why Should Print Customers Care?

Friday, September 3, 2010

No Press Checks: Printer's Alley

Entrance to Printer's Alley
On the popular Travel Channel show No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain explores the globe in seek of food that defines the culinary habits and culture of people living in foreign countries throughout the world. As a viewer, this show offers a fresh look at the real way that others eat and live their lives.

Within the spirit of No Reservations and in the mind of a Printchef, I want to take you on a journey that explores the remarkable way that printing has put a unique stamp on cities and countries throughout the world. When you see a post appropriately titled No Press Checks, be prepared to be dipped into the printing culture of unfamiliar territories.

All trips start from home, so my first No Press Checks occurs right here in Nashville, TN in the famous Printer's Alley. Printer's Alley, located between Third and Fourth Avenues just off Church Street in downtown Nashville, was founded in the 1800's as a mecca for the printing and publishing industry. If not for country music, many might have considered Nashville the Printing Capital of the World (History of Printer's Alley). Around the turn of the 20th century, Printer's Alley was home to two large newspapers, ten print shops and thirteen publishers (Wikipedia).

So what exactly happened to Nashville's home of printing and publishing? Well it turns out all those printers had a dark side too as saloons, gambling halls and speakeasies sprouted up all over the district.  Judges, lawyers and politicians joined the crowd also and quickly the area became the center of the city's nightlife. I can only imagine what a press check might have looked like in 1910. It gives new meaning to Mad Men's Don Draper when he conveniently tells his secretary he's "at the printer" when he needs a cover to get away for dirty deeds.

Printer's Alley of today
Today, the only traces left of printing in the alley would be the glow of neon signs inviting you into the various bars, karaoke saloons and adult entertainment clubs. While Nashville is still one of the major U.S. market's for printing and publishing, you won't be headed to a press check anytime soon in Printer's Alley as the area is no bigger than some of the large web-presses that you'll find in modern printing. However, with the rise of digital printing, a glimmer of hope still resides that this once again could become Nashville's home of printing.