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Unique Printers: traditional + digital

Jun 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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Unique Printers and Lithographers (Cicero, IL) offers traditional commercial sheetfed printing, via a six-color Heidelberg sheetfed press, a six-color Komori Lithrone (each press has a seventh unit for aqueous coating), and smaller one- and two-color presses.

But the firm bucks tradition by also offering digital printing, in the form of a sheetfed Indigo digital offset color press. Its first Indigo was installed in 1995; it now operates an Indigo Ultrastream 2000 (sold as the HP Indigo Press 3000).

“We wanted to offer shorter-run work,” says Kathy Deets, vice president, business development. “We also liked that the digital press could create personalized documents.”

The ability to do personalization came in handy this past year when paper vendor Unisource (Addison, IL) tapped Unique Printers to print the invitations to its Annual Report Show & Paper Fair. The event highlights a hot topic each year, and the focus in 2001 was digital printing. Unique worked with Hennessy Design Group (Chicago), educating the firm on digital-print possibilities. “While the team was brainstorming the concept for the invite, I shared some information on personalization. This early discussion helped effectively integrate personalization into the project,” says Deets.

The results were a series of brightly colored, personalized direct-mail letters with sample annual reports, a six-card “party pack” invitation with bellyband and custom envelope, four posters, a mailing label and table cards. Designers were also invited to select a poster — personalized with their own message — which they could receive after the show.

Have you encountered any digital-print misconceptions?

Many companies are familiar with digital printing just as Hennessy was, but yes, there are misconceptions out there. Digital printing has gone through many improvements in the past five years. There used to be some quality issues with banding and streaking — that is 95 percent resolved today. There are also many misconceptions on what is short run — on the Indigo press, one to 1,500 12 × 18-inch sheets is considered an effective run length.

Are you doing much variable work on the digital press?

We do a lot vs. most other shops, but we still don't do as much as was predicted to happen in the marketplace.

Have you hired separate digital salespeople to sell your digital-printing capabilities?

Digital printing is just another solution for any sheetfed project. We have tried dedicated digital reps but found they also sell our conventional sheetfed. So we have elected not to create any separation.

What advice do you have for traditional printers thinking of adding a digital press?

Customer service and speed are important services from any printing company, but even more so with digital printing. We built a separate job-ticket system and workflow to optimize service and speed.

What service would you most like to add?

We have added fulfillment solutions in the past year. This has meant adding warehouse space, inventory systems, and building our own Internet order and distribution system, Online Printstore (visit for more information). We plan to add more to these capabilities.

How is your company coping with a slowing economy?

We have had to cut expenses, hold off on equipment purchases and incur some layoffs. We have also focused on our sales force, helping them remain motivated and aggressively going after as much new business as possible.

What are your growth projections for 2002 and beyond?

We are aiming at 20 percent growth for 2002, and 10 percent to 15 percent each year from 2003 to 2005.

Which printer do you most admire and why?

What I personally admire most is art-like printing in a smaller, personal environment. Unfortunately, a few of the best Chicago printers have gone under in the past five years, such as Rohner Printing. Since then, quality has been easier to achieve with capital investment, so more printers are producing good work. Printing is becoming more of a business than an art.