The way ahead for print: Innovation is king in the digital revolution

The death of Print has been greatly exaggerated! Digital technology, with its increased flexibility, slashing of waste, and fast turnround means a new market is there to be won. "Innovation is our core principle,"says one master of the art.

Look. It’s not a new debate, but it is one that is not going away. In the last decade alone, and through the real boom of the internet, the print industry has been hit. Hard. Mergers, investment, take-overs, undercutting, raised service levels, lowered service levels, new technology and new thinking have all been tried or implemented across the industry to stave off the internet’s assault.

But, with all these changes, is the print industry keeping up with the change in demand and the evolution of communication that is now driving the marketing services industry? Is digital print now a preferred option? And, furthermore, can printers harness the powers of the internet for their own good?

Douglas Kynoch of Digital Print Solutions admits that the print industry may be in decline as print runs are reduced, but he does see “the growth of short run, on demand print complementing information placed on the web. We already see publishing companies printing to order online then mailing to our doors within 48 hours,” he says.

While not being so brash as to claim any one printing method as the preferred option for creative/design studios, the quality, cost, range of options and turnaround times for digital has undoubtedly won it many fans in recent years as quality continues to grow.

And while for most designers or clients the actual method of printing is not a main concern, with the finished quality of the piece and the budget instead being what is important, Kynoch points out that clients are increasingly experiencing squeezed budgets, and this is where digital fits in well. Digital printing allows for short runs “where relative information can be updated quickly, printing the minimum quantity required, cutting waste - saving costs”.

With no plates or make-ready time, digital has a very quick turn around time and allows smaller quantities in timescales previously impossible without a paying a fortune.

Adaptability

These benefits of digital are further bolstered by its adaptability and its ever evolving nature. Team Impression’s Simon Bucktrout says that, like all other sectors, print is still changing: “New technologies are making more things possible, like having greater levels of data driven personalisation. Also, advancements in press technology mean that in the near future digital presses will be able to print larger sheet sizes opening up the scope of digital even further.”

Indeed, while the print market might have settled into the new media landscape there still appears to be plenty changes afoot, as David Kinder at Harrogate Print commented: “Printers are having to evolve and offer new and different services which creative agencies need. If as a business you don’t keep evolving you will get left behind pretty quickly!”

But does the recent focus on price come at the expense of innovation or service? Operations director Phil Reynolds, of Cheshire’s Cestrian, says: “innovation is our core principle. We believe a by-product of being innovative is better service levels and improving efficiencies which allows us be competitive and stand out from the crowd.”

The past 12 months has seen Cestrian focus almost entirely on efficiencies, having installed, developed and are now testing a system “which removes a lot of unnecessary time wasting for our customers and our internal processes”.

Print is, inevitably, driven mainly by cost, but the added value of good service certainly strengthens the relationship between client and printer and, as Harrogate Print’s David Kinder points out: “There is no point in placing an order with a printer for a bargain price if they then miss the deadline by a couple of days or the finished job is sub-standard.

“You have to try and find some common ground in the middle with costing and make sure you deliver when it’s wanted with no compromise on quality.”

Technical hitches and snags will always be evident in the digital print industry though with the high volumes printed and speed of turnaround. Douglas Kynoch, for instance, says: “Digital may be a small word but in the world of print it can mean many things from a colour laser writer to a high quality offset digital press. The expertise of the operator is paramount on a digital press in achieving the best results. When producing print in such short timescales, we don’t often see the print files until the required delivery date giving us no margin for error.”

And likewise Cestrian’s Phil Reynolds admits every day can be a problem to resolve: “We can produce approx 90,000sqm per day from our digital print machines, so problems are always cropping up. Being pioneers in digital print technology we’ve learned to minimise these problems and implement a strict continual improvement policy”.

Reynolds is confident that investment in the digital print industry will see it adapt for the future as it keeps up with the changing needs of the traditional print buyers: “For the printer, we think the future lies somewhere in the www, a new generation of people are coming up through the ranks who live and breath web, this generation will include future print buyers, so anyone in print must be set up to accommodate this generation.”

But what do designers think of the current state of the print industry? What do they look for from a printer and are printers evolving to meet their needs?

Richard Irvine, MD at Redpath Design, admits that shorter deadlines, shorter print runs, and less money have required different solutions. He commented: “With less printers around, the ones who offer the suggestions, go the extra bit get the work and are far more likely to be that bit more switched on to customers’ needs.”

Ian Thompson at Thompson Brand Partners meanwhile puts quality at the top of the list: “Print is under real pressure so there are plenty of cheap deals around. More and more clients are using print for those ‘special’ things that digital cannot deliver, so quality is paramount. Service and innovation are both part of the quality offer as far as I’m concerned.”

Green Lobby The regional print industry is finding itself under pressure “from the green lobby, from clients due to reduced costs and timings, from digital media”, confesses Elmwood’s Lee Stobbs. He still acknowledges, however, that he will continue to expect all the things he would of an analogue printer: “speed, value, merchantable quality, service”.

It would seem, however, that the UK print industry is still not viewed by designers to have the same value and quality of overseas printers - perhaps because the industry is not supported at government level as it is in other countries. Alex Atkinson at The Consult, for instance, is of the opinion that while Yorkshire has “some of the best printers in the UK”, for very large runs it makes sense to source print abroad in Italy or Belgium.

“Printers” he says “have been quick to help us find alternatives, suggest options and give us heads up on new techniques that could help us maximise that ever important budget”. Typical issues with poorer quality printers, however, are a “lack of communication, jumping to assumptions and the ultimate sin - late delivery”.

Although printers have an ever growing list of problems to contend with, from clients moving from print to online, to price wars with state subsidised printers in Belgium, ever dwindling budgets and shorter deadlines, it seems that clients and creative companies still insist on print where impact matters.

While this might mean smaller runs, or mixed runs of digital and litho, printers are reassuringly developing and improving their offerings to compete with other markets and technologies.

And while price is always gong to be an issue to be overcome as competition becomes fiercer, the one value that none of out printers can afford to compromise on is quality.

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