Heidelberg has set a target for other suppliers with this new Speedmaster 52, but I have to wonder if this is the correct strategy for the short-run printing market. There are many other significant innovations in this market that make me wonder if an eight-unit press is the best option. This is an area where DI printing has a real impact because of its ease of use and fast make-ready from digital data is significant. With updated systems coming at drupa from Ryobi/Presstek (KBA and KPG), for higher-speeds and higher quality, and also a brand new Truepress 344 from Dainippon Screen, the two-page format DI market is likely to be an area of great interest. KBA is also showing its innovative Genius 52 press. This press with its very small footprint is like DI presses, a waterless press. It also has significant automation in plate handling, plus keyless inking, and the ability to have five printing units to allow for printing a spot colour or a varnish. Waterless printing appears to be a very viable approach for short run working where the absence of water allows for more flexibility and options in four-colour printing.
This two-page market for colour printing is also seen as the area of growth for small printers moving into colour printing. This is seen by such companies as a profitable growth area, and is also seen by DI suppliers as one of their most promising markets. Moving to DI printing is seen as an easy transition for small printers moving into colour printing, as the process is easy and automatic. This will increase the competitiveness of the short run four-colour offset market.
The key factor in making a success with short run printing is the timescale in which a job can be put on the press and printed, is very short. The benefits of using a large format press really don’t apply. Small presses, which are naturally substantially lower in cost, appear to be the key in this area. With rapid ink drying, as is the case with waterless printing, it is probably almost as quick to put a job twice through a four unit or DI press, as through a far more expensive eight-unit long perfector. This is not to say that there is no market for such a long perfector, but its market is probably not in short run printing.
Digital printing is certainly an option for some areas of short run printing. The length of run where such a process is cost effective is difficult to define. I have recently been speaking to printers that use both digital and DI printing in the same operation. In their situations they consider the crossover point as somewhere between 500 and 1000 copies, depending upon the requirements of the job. In some cases where automatic finishing functions of a digital press can be utilised, and a very rapid turnaround is required, then the digital press is competitive well above 1000 copies. Where offset is seen as the best process the key factors are how quickly can the job be on and off the press, including the time taken to print both sides of the sheet. In this it appears that waterless printing with CTP generated plates, or DI working with an automated and cost effective press, may have the edge over conventional offset and a long perfector approach. Whichever process one takes however, it appears that the increasing demand for shorter run working will be a major growth opportunity for two-page format presses. This should definitely be one of the hot areas at drupa.