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Business Guidance for the Digital Printer

Distribution and Workflow

By Steve Aranoff and Robert FitzPatrick

Determining what is best for business growth directly relates to knowledge about the appropriate technology necessary to enhance business. But, it also relates to the specific implementation and integration needs of new technology within an existing or planned workflow. How can you achieve success with print-related opportunities? If you don’t know how to evaluate your situation, your odds of being misled by an outside party or yourself are much higher. How should you look at your obstacles and evaluate the roles of the vendors knocking on your door?

Questions arise such as, can you do it alone? If the answer is no, how much help do you need? More importantly, should it come from a dealer, integrator, or a manufacturer? Do you understand the new technology and how it fits into your company’s already established workflow?

Although we’ve written about business strategy concerns and such issues before, it is worth a revisit because the printing industry is changing rapidly and today’s changes were a generation in coming. For many of us, these changes are a continuation of the natural progression that will always occur. First, manufacturers enter the market with new equipment the prior generation didn’t supply. Once success is proven and technical barriers removed, mass utilization begins. Consolidation of manufacturers and widespread selling through distribution follow this. Distribution becomes the mainstay of the larger manufacturers left in the marketplace.

More customers are efficiently reached and buying from trusted distributors reduces basic risk. However beneficial this seems to be there are still significant pitfalls to be wary of when purchasing new equipment-based solutions.

Back to the Future
The scenario reminds us of a situation that occurred roughly 15 to 20 years ago. At that time the prepress equipment, specifically CtP, and the available four-color presses were so good that a print service provider (PSP) was more likely to cause a significant problem by installing the wrong networking solution in-plant. Part of the challenge was the newness of networking solutions and the heavy bandwidth requirements caused by large color page files. Unless the system integrator truly understood data needs for color printing, the installed network was likely to be useless in practice.

At the same time, in the early to mid-’90s, virtually every—over 90 percent—CtP system or prepress system was sold as part of a consumable bundle by the graphic arts dealer supply community. The PSP was presented with a complicated situation. Many bundles offered by distributors and manufacturers required the PSP to stay completely within a single company’s workflow. These workflows were proprietary, leaving PSPs little room to integrate with other suppliers’ solutions.

Present Day
Today, in 2008, we’ve come full circle. This time, the speed requirements and implementation of the network are well understood, but most of the new digital printing solutions—initially provided through new wide format printer companies’ direct sales forces—are now being sold by dealers and/or manufacturers who offer bundled solutions. Rather than just selling you consumables with a printer, the distribution organization is now bundling printers, RIPs, workflow, and inline or near-line finishing into a single comprehensive bundle. This overall solution is supposed to make things easier to accomplish whatever goals the PSP has set for his or her self.

Yet, active PSPs in digital printing, who really understand workflow, came to a different conclusion.

Many are ready and willing to change suppliers to get the best possible equipment for their plant. Likewise they are prepared to teach employees how to efficiently use that new equipment. But, many learned that it is not economically sound to own a new printer if it cannot work within the same color calibration capabilities that a staff is proficient in. Additionally, it makes little sense to change overall workflow to accommodate a new printer or finishing system. PSPs want better efficiency from a currently in-place, coordinated workflow that may not be a bundled solution.

The ability to continue to work with equipment you and your staff are familiar with may well make the difference between who is profitable and who is not. A hard learned recommendation to new digital printers is to beware of dealers who claim to know in advance what is needed, rather than evaluating the options openly with you.

Trust Issues
Beginning in the mid ’90s, the industry relied on a group of strong VARs and/or distribution companies that provided such integration strengths. Today, we find that RIP vendors, especially those that oversee their own plant-wide installation and training, do the same for their customers.

Independent training companies do the same for the RIPs that are sold primarily by dealers, but the full plant integration is still left mostly up to the printing company to handle on its own. Some dealers are also skilled at recommending and implementing solid integration and workflow products, and do offer alternative solutions based upon the customer’s needs.

Workflow needs are well supported by many dealers. However, not all dealers are as competent as others in representing and implementing these same capabilities. Some dealers may know your needs well, but rely upon their manufacturers for installation and training. If you are lucky, a dealer and its suppliers will work together to achieve a successful system integration.

For example, does your dealer have a well-outfitted demo room where he can show you how all the recommended equipment fits together into a simple process? If he does, perhaps it is okay to allow the individual manufacturer to handle just their part of the installation as the dealer helps you with the best possible integration. Or, if you already have a successful workflow solution, you may be able to just let the dealer help integrate your new purchase into the existing solution during the installation and training process.

But, what if you are purchasing your first piece of digital printing equipment? You must be confident that the dealer you choose will set you up to be profitable. Also, you must feel confident about the hardware supplier’s motivations. Both parties must represent your interests.

Questions you should consider prior to finding a dealer and supplier you are comfortable with include whether printer companies should specify a RIP for you, or allow you to choose the RIP. Should the prepress workflow come bundled with the printer, or should you have a choice? Should the finishing equipment manufacturer choose the camera for the vision system, or should the company responsible for making the finishing solution choose? Who should be responsible in achieving the best possible efficiency at the best price?

It’s Your Call
In reality, no one else should make these important decisions. Choosing the right solution for your plant cannot be given to someone who does not live in a digital print shop 365 days a year. Just as choosing a consultant for any project requires that you understand and articulate exactly what you want to accomplish, your profitability as a digital printer today requires the same knowledge of needs and goals. Whomever you choose for guidance is a decision you must make. With proper guidance the final solution will be a good one for your plant.

Sep2008, Digital Output

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