What’s a Digital Press?

Jim Hamilton
Jan 5, 2010

One of the more remarkable on-line discussions I have seen in recent memory is revolving around a very basic question on LinkedIn posed by Rick Ciordia, a Regional Sales Manager at MGI USA. Rick asks “What is the difference between a ‘digital press’ and a ‘copier’?” As of early Tuesday evening January 5th Rick’s question had prompted 68 comments. See for yourself. Most of it is on topic, but it ranges from discussions of duty cycle to reliability to liquid versus dry toner. I’m pleased that the topic generates so much interest.

It reminded me of what I wrote after Graph Expo 2006: 

“What’s a Digital Press? Visitors to the show floor may have noticed that everyone from the big players all the way down to Xitron with its new Prism called their digital color print offerings “presses.” These devices are all printers by any logical definition, but vendors like them to sound big, heavy, and productive, so they call them presses, even though traditional printing presses are handicapped by the inability to do anything other than printing the same image over and over again. Calling a production color printer a “press” ignores the inherent advantages of digital print–electronic collation, cost-effective runs of one, and variable data. When vendors call these devices “presses,” InfoTrends does what we do with any term whose intent is marketing rather than truth-telling: we call it by an accurate name, which in this case is production color digital printer.”

Occasionally the word “digital press” slips into an InfoTrends analysis. It’s hard to fight against the marketing muscle of the system vendors (large and small) who all love the term. The problem is they’re missing the point! The reason that high volume printing processes (like offset) are declining so rapidly is that though they may be great at cheaply manufacturing the same printed piece over and over again, they aren’t very good at short runs or on-demand ordering or personalization. One of the exciting prospects for 2010 is the increased use of hybrid processes that use high-speed and high resolution inkjet heads mounted on web offset presses to combine the best of both worlds. Now that’s something I’d gladly call a “digital press”!

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