06 September 2019 Digital Printing Technologies

The eternal conundrum of adding value to print

It can be a chicken and egg problem: few customers demand value added finishes so fewer printers offer these. There’s no demand, they say.

Once upon a time, a customer might call a printer asking for a price on a job. The estimator would dutifully take down details of the job, how many pages, what type of paper, what sort of finish and delivery date and invoice address.

Two days later the invoice with the details filled in would be returned along with a price. There might be a discussion about price and a suggestion about using an alternative paper “that is just as good and nobody will know the difference” may be made.

Unfortunately, once upon a time might have been the day before yesterday. Apart from the limited number of printers working with online portals, this methodology that positions the printer as a semi-passive order taker remains the standard way of working across the commercial print industry.

The phone call may have been replaced by an email that as a result may have been sent to six printers, not three, and the expectation of receiving a price slashed from 48 hours to 48 minutes.

“This is the trouble with a production led business. And most printers are production led businesses,” says Marian Stefani, CEO of the IPIA. “What customers want is a better share of the knowledge. Designers and creatives are not interested in how something is produced. What they want to know is what they can do to improve the impact of their campaign. To have a different conversation is a big ask.”

The accepted framework allows designers to think digital with print almost as an after thought rather than as the most effective and valuable, ‘always on’ channel. “It means that print gets pushed to the back of the queue when print should be at the heart and centre of every campaign,” she says.

The Everything is Possible in Communications conference early this summer attracted almost 300 attendees from design, brands and marketing departments. This provided the foundation evidence that print can be as effective as a digital only campaign and that a campaign should include elements of print as well as elements of digital.

“We know of brands that have changed their marketing because of what they learned at the conference,” Stefani says. “They want to know what is possible in print; they want to know about tools like Iridesse, not simply what their printer wants to sell them.”

The corollary, of course, is that unless customers ask for additional techniques, printers will rarely volunteer to offer them. When the BPIF conducts its Print Outlook survey, nobody complains that customers are asking for services and techniques that they are unable to deliver. It is all about the price of paper and others cutting prices to unsustainable levels.

This is the Catch 22 of print. Nobody is specifying enhancements beyond CMYK print because designers do not know what is possible and because designers are not asking for neons, whites, spot varnish and tactile finishes, printers are not investigating what is possible.

There is a lack of confidence among printers in case it seems that customers ask for something that cannot be delivered. The ‘cost first, cost last, cost is everything’ approach to winning jobs means that few print sales people even broach the subject of what is possible. But when printers do, there is a ready audience among designers and creatives who want to provide their customers with something new.

There is every incentive for both sides to do something. According to an Infotrends report, the value of print enhanced with additional or special colours and effects is markedly above a standard piece of A4 and for the marketers, print like this can achieve the standout that standard CMYK rarely can. There is huge interest in offering more and logically the opportunity is gaping.

And it is lucrative. The Infotrends study quizzed 100 print customers who indicated that they were prepared to pay a premium for these extra effects, ranging from 24% to 89% higher than a four-colour-only page. Nor does it only apply to a limited number of jobs. These customers reckon that they would use special colours and varnish effects for a large proportion of their work. “We see a strong opportunity for print service providers,” Infotrends concludes.

There is also evidence that being able to offer the additional embellishment effects attracts greater volumes of standard work or new customers. Epic Print attracted a new car customer after installing a Scodix in 2014. It has since delivered 200 jobs for that customer with only half a dozen requiring Scodix effects.

Solopress has become the first in the UK with an MGI JetVarnish able to offer a similar range of tactile effects with foils and varnishes on a trade print basis and to online and offline customers. It joins rival online printer Route1 which has offered Scodix embellishment for business cards and Where The Trade Buys which now has two Scodix machines.

There is also a growing population of digital presses that include a fifth colour which can be a neon, metallic, white or clear. And the ability to offer digital foiling on top of a laminate film is now both understood and widely used.

Xerox has attracted huge attention around its Iridesse technology, offering two additional colours beyond the four standard colours; Kodak before it has offered more with the Nexpress and HP Indigo users can print raised effects and up to seven colours on suitably equipped machines. But more pages are printed with three colours in EPM mode than in five, six or seven.

Ricoh is trying to break this logjam. Its Pro C7200 can come with five toner stations with neon colours, white and clear toner able to fill the fifth unit.

Buyers are interested and most in commercial print will opt for the fifth colour. But it remains sadly under utilised. Printers it seems do not understand how to sell the capability. “Printers are frequently too busy to create their own sales material,” Andy Campbell, head of Ricoh's Customer Experience Centre in Telford, says.

Last year he created a limited edition calendar working with papers from Favini to show off what is possible. This year that has evolved into Digital Works, four books showing what is possible with white, neon colours, clear toner and with foil. A How To guide completes the set.

“The real purpose is about creating a sales tool for our customers to show their customers,” he says. “Most designers and brands are not fully aware of what is achievable with digital print. Demand has not grown as fast as we would have liked.”

This has not only afflicted Ricoh. Duplo has not yet achieved the breakthrough that it had hoped with the DuSense digital enhancement press in this country. Elsewhere in Europe, take up has been strong, even exceeding expectations in Italy for example.

For Campbell this points to a need for a back selling effort, something that has helped HP Indigo create demand for digitally printed labels.

This is also new territory for many printers that have their roots in litho printing, where four colour plus a coating more to allow the sheet to be handled quickly than for adding value to the printed sheet. “A lot of commercial printers will not touch white,” he continues. “They turn these jobs away because it is impossible to print on a standard offset press and not many have the UV dryers that are needed.

“It means that printers do not have the experience of working with these effects and their customers are not asking for it. Printers are not confident about these conversations.”

This is what Ricoh hopes to address with the guides. They will be available through any of the Ricoh operating companies across Europe and to purchasers of the Pro C7200. Ricoh sales teams will use them to entice customers in the first instance.

The How To guide will be invaluable. It shows the sequence of colours for each job, the importance of choking back a little on the white to avoid a noticeable fringe, how to handle separations and so on. It will enable customers to create their own versions of the guide for their client base. The idea was germinating at Ricoh before the announcement of the Infotrends study. That covered tactile finishes and metallics as value add options that are not covered in the current Ricoh set. “We are working with Duplo to address the tactile option,” he adds.

It collaborated with a design agency that understands graphic design and that could understand the visual and value add impact of using the effects in what can be a subtle as well as a blatant way which a technology led approach might have favoured.

In this way the ideas presented will strike a chord with designers. Some designs call for multiple passes through the press, to lay down neon yellow on neon pick for example; to print white and then four colours and clear toner over a foil, white and neon colours on coloured papers.

It would have been easy, Campbell says, to throw money at this and produce the material regardless of cost and time. This has happened previously, he admits, but the focus for this project was very much on producing something that is realistic for customers, keeping waste to acceptable levels (many of the papers used are expensive) while pushing the boundaries.

“We learned that lesson a couple of years back,” he explains. “Before we started the team was briefed that what we wanted to achieve needed to be done in a way that was possible for customers with as little waste as we could get away with. We have to pay for what we do in the factory, so could not get away with high levels of waste.”

The results are testament to the technology, not only the effects of neons, whites and toners on photographic, geometric graphic led designs, but also the repeatable register as sheets had to pass through the press multiple times and retain precise register.

While the result will be admired, the issue is whether it will spur greater volumes of toner sales – the measure that will show that printers and designers are getting the message that tactile is what gives print its extra dimension. The first batch of 500 has gone to the Ricoh operating companies/ sales subsidiaries and the feedback is coming in. Campbell has also had to scramble to hang on to his copy.

“We went to a prospect who is a packaging printer last week and showed him the tool. He was amazed by it and wanted it because he had a meeting with a client later that day and wanted to show him what could be done. That printer was quick to see the value in it.”

He also wanted to produce a lay flat product which introduced a further challenge. The choice of papers meant that a standard lay flat approach was not possible.

“The way we ended up binding took us two or three months to develop. Each section was creased at a different point to allow for the thickness of the paper on other sections before side selling and adding the glued cover,” he says.

Like Ricoh, printers should expect some degree of experimentation in order to perfect the technology and to understand the papers and type of imagery which combine to best effect. This can result in a similar guide for customers that can advise and show designers both what is possible and how to achieve the effects.

Because Campbell was testing the papers, the press and the binding, meant that it was quite slow to produce the first batch of 500 sets. The subsequent set has been produced much more quickly. It was always essential he says that the Customer Experience Centre worked as closely to a commercial basis as possible, keeping waste levels low and adopting normal production disciplines.

The sample set has now been distributed and is being sent out with new press installations. The company has not necessarily followed up on this, but some among its distributors have.

Smart Print, which handles Xerox as well as Ricoh, has this year joined a couple of other industry suppliers to support open house events put on by its customers. Customers and prospects were invited to see what can be achieved through print, perhaps enhanced with foil, spot varnish or neon colours. “I have lost count of the number of times a designer told me ‘I didn’t know you could do that’,” says head of sales Paul Stead.

This is the reaction that Scodix or MGI JetVarnish engenders. Customers can scarcely stop stroking over the raised effects or being impressed by the foiling that is possible. It is the impact that Duplo hopes that its DuSense will achieve. The smaller format device has come out after the first swathe of users for digital embellishment have had the chance to be disillusioned that grateful designers failed to rush to their businesses.

Paragon Print, however, has the DuSense and Alan Rigglesford is working with Duplo to stoke interest. He has managed to win a six-figure contract for point of sale work purely because of the capabilities of the DuSense. “We give our sales people a sample pack with all the samples of different effects and different substrates. We reckon that one in ten will come back to us and that inquiry will lead to a first job for them.

“Volumes are growing organically for us, albeit it has been a slow build, but that is comfortable enough for me in production.”

The investment in the Duplo is significantly less than a Scodix or MGI, though production is more limited. It suits clear varnish, but not so much the raised white foil effects. For Paragon the smaller footprint of DuSense made sense in an expensive central London location. Paragon will make the enhancements available through the Service Graphics outlets. “Generally I’m very happy with the added value that it allows us to support ourselves and others that want to test the impact before committing to an investment.”

Hobs Reprographics generated a similar reaction with the launch of its Spellbound book designed to show off the creative possibilities of the Xerox Iridesse the company has installed. Expecting a handful of people milling around a spartan buffet, Xerox marketing manager Kevin O’Donnell was surprised to have to fight his way into the launch at ad agency Aegis and more surprised to see 120 or so designers queuing to pay £50 for a copy of the book. Agencies are prepared to pay for the sort of inspiration that clearly money can buy.

In Cornwall, St Austell Printing Company has this year installed a Sakurai line to offer inline spot and high build varnishes and to prepare the way for digital foiling. In Sussex Pureprint has acquired the assets and staff of failed trade finisher to offer specialist embellishment services in-house. This is a business that has an established demand for foiling and die stamping among a knowledgeable customer base. It is the non knowledgeable customer that needs to be shown what print can deliver in terms of lifting it beyond the flat page.

The interest is there, young designers are however emerging from college knowing how to design for screen communication, with little knowledge of print. Printers need to change that.

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Ricoh with white

Ricoh with white

The Ricoh Pro C7200 offers a white toner that can be used to great effect in producing striking print products, one of the samples from Ricoh's new Think Digital how to publication and collection samples of what can be done with neon, white, clear and other effects.

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