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Harnessing the Power of Electronic media for the Print media




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              Recently concluded DRUPA 2000 appears to have given message that the ‘Digital Printing’ is in for the majority of printed products and the days of the other printing processes are numbered. At least, this is what one gathers while talking to the people who attended DRUPA from India. The impression is even further confirmed, especially from the vendors of such equipments. 

Therefore, one needs to look at the whole scenario objectively from a distance rather than getting emotionally involved with this new technology. Since anything that is printed straight from the computer signal, i. e. without using the films and the plates is called ‘Digital Printing’ and can be grouped into the following segments:   

     A.    Desk– top office printers
     B.    Graphic arts quality ‘contract proof’ printers
     C.    Indoor display and exhibition printers
     D.    Signage and outdoor display printers
     E.    High speed production printers 

     A.        Desk – top office printers    
Right from the dot matrix to ink-jet printers fall in this category. As the usage of computers is becoming more and more widespread the requirements of this kind of printers is growing at a phenomenal rate. These printers are now even more affordable to anyone who can buy a computer. In the printing industry the use is made in practically every department, including the initial concept and colour guide proofing. As the desk-top publishing and designing on the computers is on the rise, these printers are the right choice for these applications. The normal output size is A4, i. e. 210 mm X 297 mm (8.27” X 11.69”). There is no competition to this kind of digital printing from any of the old analogue methods. 
     B.            Graphic arts quality ‘contract proof’ printers

Graphic arts ‘contract proofs’ means a proof is taken as a proof and not a mere ‘guide’ as opposed to ‘concept’ or a ‘guide’ proof. The tone and colour matching is expected to be very close to the final printing and serves as proof for the customer OK, printing department guide, etc. These printers are driven by the special external RIPs that can be programmed for tone, colours, etc. by the user according to the final printing conditions. The success of these printers depend on how good one can programme these RIPs. Many of such printers are provided with the ‘colour management’ profiles, however the ready supplied profiles do not satisfy the good quality customers and the printers. These printers are normally in the range of A4 – A3  sizes, i. e. 210 mm X 297 mm – 297 mm X 420 mm (8.27” X 11.69” – 11.69” X 16.54”).  

With the digital pre-press on the rise installing such printers make life easy, provided one has the expertise to prepare own profiles or with the help of a ‘colour consultant’ then it provides the right answer. However, still there is some competition, though on the decline, to this kind of proofing by the ‘analogue’ film proofing systems or flat-bed ink-on-paper proofs. The high quality and closeness of the press print is still the best by these methods.     


       C.        Indoor display and exhibition printers 

These kind of printers are 36” to 60” in width with practically no limitations on its length. Since the purpose is for display only the colours need not match to printed products as long they look attractive and skin and product colours match the real world. There is now a tendency to use such printers for the ‘graphic arts’ proofing or ‘signature’ proofing, i. e. fully imposed forme proof or the newspaper page proof. The colour match, in this case, to the final print is essential. The ‘colour calibration’ as outlined in B above also applies here. 

With the growth of industry and commercialization the industry needs to advertise more and more to make sure its products and services get noticed. Various kinds of exhibitions are now held in the big cities where big displays are made to attract the visitors. The same trend is also seen at the airports, shop signs, etc. 

At present, the practical value and commercial returns are limited to the metropolitan and other developed cities, however there is always a danger of overcapacity and a price war in any place. The competition is against the litho-offset and screen printing processes and must be weighed with prices against the quantity.   


       D.            Signage and outdoor display printers 

Any printers over the width of 60” come under this category and can go upto 22 feet and over with no limitations on the length of the print. The technology involved is more complex with single side or both sides printing with the same image. This gives the flexibility of using the same prints for a day viewing or night viewing. The ‘colour calibration’ and consistency of the prints is a prime factor to make sure the entire print looks as ‘one’. Good expertise is required to make sure the print looks right. This includes tone, colour, lighting, as well as framing and mounting. 

These kind of systems are practical only in the metropolitan cities. Local municipality or the state government rules must be watched carefully, as in some cities these are now banned because the city skylines are changed or covered with such huge displays. Here again the competition is against the litho-offset and screen printing processes and must be weighed with prices against the quantity.   


        E.         High speed production printers 

These are the printers that can print at a high speed (as compared to the four above) and produce quick print, print on demand, limited editions, or personalized print orders. 

Basically, there are two classes in these printers. ‘Process colours’ and ‘Single colour black & white’.   


       1.         Single colour black & white 

Again there are two types  :  a) very high speed high cost, and high speed low to medium cost. 

Very high speed high cost  :  These are the printers that can be used to print the high volume personalized distribution such as electricity and telephone bills addressed to individual consumer. These will have market only in certain application and geographical areas and a very few takers. 

High speed low to medium cost  :  These printers will find a big market in India in the long run as it enables the small to medium printers to adopt digital technology that is affordable and will give return on investment.   


        2.            Process colours

These printers are the top end of the market with very high investment. The advantage or returns are when a customer is next door who expects a quick delivery of printed products. If the geographical locations are far away then this advantage is lost. 

The products printed on such printers have a very special market that must be developed, specially to fill the capacity. The concept of producing ‘one copy’ of average print size is not attractive enough at such a high cost. The limited edition print again has to be weighed against the latest developments in familiar litho-offset technology like CIP3 concept.   

Conventional printing with application of electronics and computers

One must not overlook the advances taking place in the conventional litho-offset process with computerisation. 

The most notable among this is ‘CIP3’ concept. CIP3 is ‘consortium of pre-press, press, and post-press’.  With this concept all these three areas of operations are linked in a network and the job data is transferred which sets the equipment to fulfill the given task thereby cutting down the make-ready and downtime avoiding the material wastage. 

I have seen a job done this way on the litho-offset printing machine producing only 100 copies with a special 5th colour and a much higher quality level compared to digital printing. The printing machine make-ready was 8-10 minutes. The other advantage is the operators are still working with the familiar technology using the same plates, inks, etc. 

Though, the digital printing has now shown the capability of printing the packaging jobs, it is unlikely that the existing printing methods will be changed for such huge quantities of jobs for process as well as special colours.   

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