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.