American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Choosing the best press

Jun 1, 2005 12:00 AM

         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines


As Bob Rosen, president of R.H. Rosen Associates (Pittstown, NJ), likes to say, "God must truly love printers. Why else would He have made so many of them?"

But overcapacity is no joke—as one printer put it, "We have too many guys pricing their work just to stay in business, not to make profit."

For this article, we spoke to some leading printers, several of whom participated in a "Press Crossover" panel at the recent VUE/Point conference. We asked them what was in their pressroom and why. Most said their decisions were driven by the desire to solve their customers’ problems. All had interesting insights to share.

‘We have to be in the service business’
Founded in 1876, Finlay (Bloomfield, CT) is a $24-million, 90-employee company. Finlay’s pressroom includes three MAN Roland 700s (six-, seven- and 10-color) and two MAN Roland 600s (a four-color with convertible perfector and a six-color). Earlier this year, the company also added a Hewlett-Packard 3050 digital press and EFI’s Hagen management information system.

But despite all this iron, Kevin Kalagher, Finlay’s CEO, is quick to point out the company isn’t a printer. "We’re a high-end, full service marketing solutions provider," he says. "We do everything from digital asset management to sales force automation to digital and offset printing to fulfillment services." According to Kalagher, Finlay, which has dropped "Printing" from its name, embarked on this transition five years ago. "It allows us to sell more into our existing client base rather than to have to add customers continually. I always say we’re not a printer, because if we’re in the printing business we’re out of business."

Kalagher says the company’s strategy was shaped by its customers. "We listened to our customers. They were looking for ways to streamline their business and marketing opportunities, and that drew us into digital asset management. Once we were there, our customers’ salesforces needed access to images as well as print on demand, so we got into salesforce automation systems to help them custom imprint pieces."

Finlay sent work out to fulfillment companies in the past but now offers these services itself. "Our customers had to have dual or multiple supplier relationships," recalls Kalagher. "We asked them, ‘If we could do the back end, would that be of interest to you?’ Everyone said, ‘Yes.’"

Five years ago, Finlay’s presses were all MAN Roland 600s. Automation, particularly as it related to customer benefits, prompted the decision to step up to the 700s. "We have to lower our customers’ costs," declares Kalagher. "In doing long-term annuity accounts, press speeds made us competitive and increasingly put us into the game with more clients."

The new HP will be used to provide short-run personalized marketing pieces as well as presentations and materials for sales meetings. "Again, clients have pushed us toward offering [digital printing]," notes Kalagher. "The fact that we can take a piece for a college or corporation and merge their database into it is really starting to become a viable profit center for us. I’m amazed at how fast that business has taken off."

Rather than discussing cost per thousand, Finlay’s salespeople typically help customers lower costs, speed time to market or solve brand identity issues. One customer, a sporting goods manufacturer, wasn’t looking for print. "They wanted a company that could bring their branded images from a Web-based, secure location," explains Kalagher, "because they do marketing on levels ranging from local papers to national media outlets, including television." Finlay does that and much more, including print fulfillment, supporting salespeople with local ads created online by the rep using images from the client’s database, and print-on-demand pieces to promote special events. "They want a complete package, where they’re coming to one provider," says Kalagher.

As a solutions provider, Finlay spends less time speaking to procurement personnel. Instead, its sales and IT people are spending more time meeting with vice presidents of marketing and sales, and, in some cases, chief financial officers.

Kalagher says CIM is the future of the printing business. "For sales per employee to go up meaningfully, you have to automate," he explains. "And to automate, you have to have a common langauge." Kalagher says the company is committed to increasing JDF/information-based automation to continue to drive costs down and streamline workflows for the benefit of its customers. Finlay currently is evaluating rules-based automation workflows.

Not another 40-inch press
Blanks Printing & Imaging (Dallas) didn’t want another 40-inch press. The $20 million printer already had two full-size Heidelberg presses at its 90,000-sq.-ft. facility. Blanks, a former prepress house, became an offset printer in the mid-1990s with a six-color CD press followed by an eight-color perfector in 2000. In 2004, the company needed a press that would add sufficient capacity but bring something different to a market already crowded with 40-inch presses.

Founded in 1941, Blanks’ nationwide customers include large retailers with typical applications such as signage, posters, point-of-purchase materials, catalogs, brochures and annual reports.

Kevin Schrader, Blanks’ vice president of operations, notes that in addition to print, the company offers digital photography and fulfillment services. "We’re a full-service company," he says. "We’re very good at designing processes to meet customers’ expectations. We provide a rare level of comfort."

After months of evaluating its press options, Blanks’ management chose a KBA 74 Karat digital offset press. Schrader says the 29-inch Karat’s ability to print on plastic substrates, coupled with its quick makeready, made it an attractive addition. "It lets us serve a different market niche for our current customer base," he explains. "We can do plastics, static clings and that kind of thing."

Blanks, which has an onsite digital photography studio, also uses the Karat for lenticular work, something that was impractical with its conventional presses. "The Karat makes it a whole lot easier to do lenticular, being waterless and designed for shorter runs," says Schrader.

The new press handles short-run jobs of 10,000 sheets or less. "Because of how we handle our files and color, we can easily go between the Karat and our conventional offset presses," says Schrader. "We can reduce overtime on the larger presses."

As Blanks’ management anticipated, the Karat also is opening up new opportunities—and not just in short-run digital work. "We’ve actually had quite a few people come in and take a look at [the new press], and all of sudden we’re getting 40-inch work from them as well as the Karat jobs. So it’s actually helped bring more work in for the 40-inch presses."

Bigger can be better
2002 was a pivotal year for Graphic Printing Services (Greensboro, NC) (below). That’s when the $12 million, 70-employee printer stepped up from a half-size to a full-size press. Founded in 1985, Graphic Printing Services specializes in commercial sheetfed as well as flexo and packaging printing. Examples of its commercial work include booklets, brochures, invitations, stationery, catalogs, posters and presentation folders. Three narrow-web Webtron flexo presses produce labels, sock bands, tags, folding cartons, hosiery inserts, envelopes and hangers.

"We’ve always been in the packaging arena," explains Bob LePard, Graphic Printing Services’ vice president of manufacturing. "It was customer-driven. Some customers we were doing offset work for asked if we could get into it. There were two ways to do that: We could put our toe in the water or dive in. We chose to dive in."

The company has a separate commercial sales group and packaging team. According to LePard, service is the key for competing in flexo, commercial printing and packaging markets. "Just about anyone can put ink on paper," he says. "We set ourselves apart with our service. By increasing our own internal efficiencies, we can achieve both the quality and the deadlines our customers want."

Graphic Printing Services built its commercial business with two half-size Shinoharas: a five-color and a two-color perfector. But in 2002, the company realized that to vie for national accounts it needed a 40-inch press. "Amazingly, the work that 40-inch press has been able to consume has really relieved the load on our 28-inch presses," says LePard. "It’s remarkable to us how much more efficent and faster it is. It’s like the old ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ show: better, stronger and faster."

In addition to the press, Graphic Product Services added a Bobst diecutter and folder/gluer, a Polar cutter and an MBO folder.

It’s all Good
Mike Fornadel, sales and marketing director, Good Printers (Bridgewater, VA), has seen many changes in his 18-year tenure with the $10 million company. In 1987, the company’s revenue was a few million dollars. Progressive competitors had 1-800 numbers and fax machines—Good Printers had neither. But the 103-year-old company has changed with the times.

Today it has three 40-inch Heidelberg presses: a two-color, a five-color perfector and a six-color 40-inch CD. Thanks to a strategic partnership with Liberty Press (Harrisonburg, VA), Good Printing also can offer its customers digital printing courtesy of Liberty’s Xerox iGen3. "Liberty bought the iGen3 because they do a lot of variable-data marketing campaigns for Sunrise Assisted Living," explains Fornadel. "We worked with Liberty and thought this would be a great partnership."

Good Printing specializes in brochures, magazines and other work for trade associations. "A lot of times we’ll get a job on Wednesday where a customer will need 10,000 booklets, but they’ll need 50 of those for a conference on Monday. That’s where you go to the digital press."

Liberty, which has a halfsize, two-color Heidelberg as well as some duplicators for producing forms, often sends 40-inch work to Good Printing.

"The bottom line is you have to be a problem solver," says Fornadel. "If you can’t solve your customers’ problems, someone else will. It’s not that difficult—but if we didn’t have this resource, where would we be?"

One to watch
Graphic designers and ad agencies in St. Louis have long known Reprox for its color printing. But according to new owner Steve Stone, the company soon will be equally renowned for its digital workflow. "We want to be totally automated to give our customers the tools to help them run their businesses better."

Stone, formerly an executive vice president with another St. Louis printer, and business partner Page Hereford, a long-time print broker, acquired Reprox this March. In addition to a new name, Reproxdigital, the 24-employee company recently moved to a new 25,000-sq.-ft. facility.

Reproxdigital is keeping a six-color Akiyama Bestech, a Heidelberg GTO, three cutters, a diecutter and a folder. It's adding a Nexus workflow, KPG platesetter, MAN Roland 500, iGen3, MBO folder, Standard Finishing Stitchliner, two Bowe Bell & Howell inserters and a Pace Systems MIS.

"This additional capacity will bring in more work from our current customer base," says Stone. "Also, we’re going to retrench ourselves with agencies in town we’ve worked with in the past."

Reproxdigital has developed software to "allow our graphic design community to sell value-added to their customers," notes Stone. "We have the workflow behind the scenes to run that business for them."

The company will concentrate its digital work on variable data and versioning, not just short runs. Stone, whose previous employer was an early Indigo adopter, has extensive variable-data experience.

Although the new Reprox is only a few months old, Stone says it’s right on target. Stay tuned—we’ll follow up to see how things are going in a few months.

Web offset vs. digital print
By Denise Kapel

The Web Offset Assn.’s (WOA) recent 53rd annual Management and Technical Conference in Grapevine, TX, featured a lively point/counterpoint session between PIA/GATF senior technical consultant Ray Prince and Xerox Corp. vice president of advanced solutions Ron Kendig. Prince and Kendig debated the market for digital print within web offset businesses.

It’s a jungle out there
Kendig offered a metaphor for web offset printers considering digital print: A gazelle wakes up every morning and must run from lions to survive, and a lion wakes up every morning and must run after gazelles to survive. "So no matter what, you’d better be running," he quipped, "but you’d better know where you’re going." Kendig cited the digitization of print and its ability to integrate with other communications media as driving factors in the proliferation of production digital print devices.

In a series of "Get Real, Ron" points, heavy metal advocate Prince emphasized the sophistication of web offset manufacturing—its speed, quality and cost efficiency—as keys to its enduring viability.

Ron & Ray declare a truce
The two agreed on certain applications for digital print within a web offset plant, particularly for short-run jobs such as:

  • When inserts run short in the bindery and a small amount is needed quickly.
  • To resolve gloss problems on certain jobs. (Kendig introduced a sample of a digitally printed sheet with UV coating from the inline coater for the iGen3, which Xerox showcased at OnDemand.)
  • Multiple proofs.
  • Versioning of covers.
  • Unique short-run applications.
For more WOA news, click here.
—Denise Kapel is the managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Direct imaging vs. digital printing
By John Zarwan

The direct-to-press era started in 1995 when Heidelberg launched its Quickmaster DI. The technology has evolved continually—today’s DI presses can produce 300-line-screen printing with support for FM screening technology.

The mid-1990s also marked the start of the digital printing era—the first viable Xeikon and Indigo machines shipped around this time, and with the entry of Xerox and Kodak, the market solidified. Direct imaging and digital printing each have certain advantages. In many cases, one complements the other—it’s not unusual for both to be found in the same shop.

Run length and beyond
Run length is one of the key determinants of press type. DI presses typically have been used for runs between 500 and 15,000, while digital printers often are used for jobs in runs up to 1,000. The economic crossover point between the two is the function of a number of factors—it ranges from as low as 350 to 500 impressions to as high as 2,000 depending on the press, the cost assumptions used and what else is going on in the plant. As the costs of digital printing have come down, the break-even run length has increased and likely will continue to do so.

But run length isn’t the only differentiating factor. Digital presses have the advantage of being able to do variable-data imaging, of course. They also are particularly good for applications where there are multiple forms, especially if the requirements are immediate (timely information, quick-turn, short run). The electronic collation capabilities here often are compelling.

There’s a place for both
DI presses are, however, true offset presses with all the associated advantages: a wider variety of stocks and colors, bindery performance, and the ability to capitalize on the economic benefits of offset printing in short-run color applications. And while the quality of digital color has improved, offset’s image quality and durability can satisfy customer expectations better.

Both technologies have their place. The key determinants are application, cost structure, customer requirements, and business model and strategy.
—John Zarwan is an independent consultant based in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Contact him at

Two key questions
As Bob Rosen notes in "The Graphic Arts CEO," regardless of how fast your press runs, it can’t be profitable without enough work. "Experience shows that it’s virtually impossible for new equipment to be profitable if it’s not running two solid shifts plus routine overtime—and three shifts works much better," asserts Rosen. "It’s not a problem with the equipment, it’s a problem with distributing the equipment’s fixed costs over enough hours to make it profitable."

Before buying new equipment, Rosen suggests asking two questions:

  1. Are you running existing equipment as productively as possible?
  2. Can your salesforce sell enough additional hours on the new equipment to make it pay?

MLP’s MIS mission
At the recent Media Days Print 05 preview, Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses U.S.A. Inc. (Lincolnshire, IL) introduced its theme for the show in Chicago, Sept. 9-15. Mitsubishi will base its exhibit on "Contributions for Your Success," a mission centered on the company’s 40-inch Diamond 3000TP perfector with inline aqueous tower coater. (See "Twice as Nice," February 2005.)

At Print 05, the press will be linked via network to the JDF-enabled DiamondLink III automated controller, a management information system (MIS) and CIP4-compliant prepress equipment. The press will be equipped with a spectrophotometer-based closed-loop color control system, and Mitsubishi’s ColorLink CIP4 server will transmit makeready data from prepress to preset ink keys. Remote workstations in the Mitsubishi booth (No. 4028) will allow visitors to observe the MIS as it captures production data.

One-pass perfecting on carton stock
Mitsubishi will run live jobs during the show to demonstrate the 13,000-sph, 5/5 perfector’s image quality and paper handling performance. It accepts up to 24-pt. stock for commercial printing and up to 32-pt. stock for folding carton applications. Developed to provide an alternative perfecting solution to convertible-type perfecting presses, the Tandem Perfector maintains the same gripper throughout the length of the press (12 or fewer printing units) for better front-to-back register control. The front side of the sheet is printed after the reverse side, without turning the sheet. As a result, the tail of the sheet becomes the "new" gripper. Mitsubishi notes this takes away stress at the print impression point, reducing substrate fan-out from unit to unit.

To date, Mitsubishi has shipped 46 Tandem Perfectors worldwide, and another 17 presses have been ordered.


Katherine O’Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at