February 2009
It’s not your father’s industry
What’s considered real printing today? The answer includes more than simply offset
Print World trade show last November was a successful event. Almost all the major players in the industry were there, from the offset press manufacturers to digital equipment makers, paper companies and trade houses. There were plenty of things to see and something of value for almost everyone, and attendance ranged from owners of small print shops to representatives from large multi-location enterprises. In all, this was a show that fairly well represented the suppliers and printers of the industry.

In January I got a bit of a surprise from an attendee who vehemently complained that Print World wasn’t a real printer’s show. To him, only shows with plenty of offset presses could be considered real trade shows. He felt that digital equipment, namely Xerox, Canon and Hewlett-Packard, really belonged in a copier show not a print show.

Now, anyone in this industry who suggests that offset is dying is out to lunch. On the other hand, the idea that the industry still consists only of offset equipment is also way off the mark. To think that a Xerox iGen4, an HP Indigo, a Canon Imagerunner, or a Xeikon press are just copiers is to miss what’s been going on in the printing industry for the last 15 to 20 years. The price tags on these machines makes the average office copier price look like pocket change.

Digital presses are now mainstream technology in our industry. It used to be that quick-printers and in-plant shops were the main users of copiers. But for quite a while now, almost all the big guys have been into digital printing in some form or another. PLM, before it sold to Transcon­tinental, did more than $100 million a year in sales, with $35 million in digital printing. Moore (RR Donnelley), Yorkville (Trans­­con­tinental), NEBS, Webcom, Friesens, C.J. Graphics, R.P. Graphics, The Printing House, St. Joseph, VistaPrint, Pazzaz, Web Offset, and the list could go on forever, have all brought digital printing into their operation.

It would be easier to put together a list of printers that don’t have digital than those that do. The IPEX 2010 trade show in Birmingham, England, billed as the second-largest printing show in the world, lists Xerox as its largest exhibitor. Drupa last year had huge displays from Xerox, Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Kodak.

The addition of variable printing capabilities to “copiers” has given the printing industry a huge edge over other media. Customization or personalization has been a huge advantage for printing. The integration of offset and digital printing is a trend that has been going on for years. One improves the advantages of the other.

The idea that offset printing is the only real printing is outdated. Using that logic shouldn’t letterpress have held on to its position as the mainstream technology? After all it was the major form of printing for more than 300 years.

I didn’t have the heart to ask this offset true believer what he thought about inkjet printing. That’s just kid’s stuff, no doubt. The printing industry never stays still. It’s not your father’s industry.
Alexander Donald is the publisher of Graphic Monthly Canada.
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