Web, sheet-fed or digital? What drives the decision now

Web, sheet-fed or digital?

Clients often come to American Litho for advice on the best way to design and produce a given print project. How exactly do we figure that out?

Whether we’re talking about a direct response campaign, a major sales promotion launch or the package for your new consumer product, determining the right press environment is often the first step.

I’ve always felt that selecting the right press for the job is a lot like choosing a new car.

Looking for style and luxury? New choices are rolling off the floor every day. Need speed, efficiency, agile handling? U.S. automakers can deliver that, too.

It all depends on your specific requirements, and at ALitho, we follow a consultative process to help you choose exactly the right vehicle for each project.

The crossover concept

Automakers came up with the “crossover” category when they designed vehicles that blended the toughness of an SUV with the styling of a sedan.

Interestingly enough, printers use that term too. In our world, it means the point at which it makes sense to switch from one printing environment to another for sake of speed, cost, quality or any combination of the three.

Determining the crossover point for a given job was fairly simple in the past. It looked something like this:

  • Generally, large jobs with complex features and fast turnaround times went on web offset presses, where in-line production methods and superior press speed saved both time and money.
  • If a job was smaller and involved fewer steps, it was probably more cost-effective to run on a sheet-fed offset press. Any finishing steps were handled in a separate bindery area.
  • Projects that called for supreme color control, special stocks or unusual sizes often went to the more flexible sheet-fed environment.
  • Digital printing offered the fastest output but, until recently, couldn’t compete with the quality of offset printing, so it was reserved for time-sensitive jobs with modest specs.

The game has changed

Recent advances in print technology have all but erased the old crossover calculations. In fact, many experts say all 3 press environments can compete with one another in delivering fast, high-quality output. Consider:

  • Digital presses now deliver amazing quality that often rivals offset printing.
  • Both digital and sheet-fed environments have benefited from new equipment that can be configured to fit the demands of a job, making them nearly as flexible as our in-line web press processes.
  • Newer sheet-fed presses feature simpler make-ready processes and faster speeds, meaning they can now compete with the bigger web presses for medium-to-large jobs.
  • In much the same way, state-of-the-art web presses with new color controls, automatic plate changers and other enhancements can handle jobs once reserved for sheet-fed production, delivering fast, agile results for jobs as small as 5,000 to 10,000 pieces.

Which road to take?

Just like choosing your new wheels, the fundamentals still apply. Turnaround time, budget and quality remain paramount. ALitho’s goal is to give you the widest possible range of options, and to that end, we’re always updating our capabilities.

We recently added a state-of-the-art sheeter to our sheet-fed operations in Carol Stream, Illinois. Now, high-quality paper that we purchase in rolls – once appropriate only for web presses – can be cut to run on our sheet-fed presses. Many clients have benefited from the flexibility and cost savings of this approach.

We’ve also enhanced our short-run digital presses to move our output closer and to offset quality. So, for example, when you’re exploring a new marketing concept and you want rapid production of test materials, digital is now an excellent choice.

We will soon have double-web capabilities, giving us the horsepower to run complex jobs such as direct response campaigns with unprecedented quality, speed and flexibility.

Our new Kodak S20 600 DPI imaging heads give you the freedom to bring unique offers to each customer with dazzling, 4-color quality.

Customizing your ride

When you bring a new project to ALitho, we listen carefully to the full story before we begin to discuss solutions with you.

What are your brand-building objectives? What’s the right combination of speed, cost and style for this particular challenge? Are you open to new formats that might reduce run times or decrease printing or postal costs?

Only when we understand your goals can we determine the right vehicle for you. But one thing is certain: we want to be your best choice every time.

For a thoughtful analysis of your next job, get in touch and let’s talk!

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