Ed #11 Print It

Pressing Decisions

Sheetfed, web and digital presses have different advantages, drawbacks and economics.

Sheetfed presses have long set the standard for quality. They can accommodate heavier paper stocks and a wider range of textures and finishes than web presses and can handle finer screens as well. With as many as 12 colors available and the ability to run sheets through the press twice, it’s possible, budget permitting, to print virtually any combination of colors, varnishes and coatings.

With their high capacities and speeds of up to 100,000 impressions per hour, web presses are almost always the best choice for printing large quantities—around 50,000 and up—of catalogs, annual reports and other publications. Additionally, web presses almost always perfect—printing both sides of the sheet in a single pass—so it doubles efficiencies. Web presses usually come equipped with six to eight units per side, or 12 to 16 ink stations total. Typically then, each side has fewer colors than most sheetfed presses offer, but enough for most web projects.

Digital presses have advantages all their own. Printing directly from a digital file rather than plates permits faster turnarounds and lower quantity print runs. Books and brochures can be printed on-demand as they are ordered, eliminating the need to hold large quantities in inventory. Many digital presses offer variable data printing, or VDP, capabilities that allow for the creation of personalized communications with different messages, images or addresses for each recipient.

At first, the acceptance of digital printing was slow due to problems with the technology and the absence of high quality coated digital printing paper. Today, however, these problems have largely been solved. Improved technologies deliver better resolution and color, and some systems can print thousands of pages per hour, making them suitable for larger projects. Yet even now, only a few systems allow for the use of spot colors or textured papers, and variations in the electrostatic charge used to attract the toner can make it difficult to control gradations across the sheet.

Along with different technologies, digital and conventional offset printing also have different economics. Because they require the production of plates, traditional offset presses have high initial costs but relatively low unit prices—once the job begins to run the price per piece drops quickly.

With plateless digital printing, there are no make-ready costs, but the unit price remains essentially the same throughout the run, and production times could take longer, because digital presses usually run slower than conventional offset presses. To determine which method will be most economical, you need to consider the type of job you’re working on, the size of the run, the schedule, the need for customized information and the costs of the appropriate paper. And, of course, you should also talk to your printer.

Find the Perfect Paper

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