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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Basics of "Industrial Color Management"

High speed inkjet printing is a game changer in many ways:

- Speed, say 1,000 feet per minute with at least a 20 inch width - so maybe 50,000 full color duplex documents per hour or 400K pages per shift.

- Function and operation derived from the manufacturing line aspect of things (from the Xerox 9700 and IBM 3800's of the 1970's), i.e., its heritage is a high speed B/W printer more than a printing press.

- Cheaper than toner by a lot.

- Doesn't need VDP software because of big, wide, fast RIPs.

This sort of thing is what you might see on your vendors latest high speed inkjet brochure. While on a factual basis this is all true the devil, as they say, is in details. So what are these details (at least from our perspective here)?

- Ink coverage - to make money you have to use as little ink as possible to get the expected result.

- Color - its not like a printing press or toner machine.

- Its a "machine" and not a "digital press" which means that you run it with inexpensive people or you'll lose money.

- It likes high page count files.

- It's fast - which means you have to find 400K pages per shift of work.

So if you're going to invest $2 - $3 million dollars US into something like this you have to be on top of your game and get all of this right or you're not going to make money. So let's follow the "logic trail" on this:

- So you're probably not even looking at a machine like this unless you already are printing a lot of output.

- If you're already printing a lot of output you are more than likely doing it in B/W today because that's the only type of machine that can do it.

- High-speed B/W today does have color - that color is coming from pre-printed shells with black over print - so you probably have a color department that handles the pre-print issue.

- You want color because you can make more money. You make money by offering value to your customer in terms of more impact per piece, etc. (all the usual reasons).

When "everybody does this" what happens to the market?

- More and more companies buy these machines because suddenly no one want's to be able to "just print B/W".

- Ink and printers get cheaper because more people buy them.

- The owners look for ways to "save money" and "get work" by lowering costs to stay ahead of the competition.

- "Lowering costs" forces expensive people and time wasting out of the equation and replaces them with A) 24x7 "lights out" automation and B) the lowering of actual print quality in real terms while keeping "perceived" print quality as high as possible with respect to the customer's expectations.

Bottom line - It's a race to the bottom in terms of cost per piece - at least for many who aren't at the top of their game.

So who win's in a "race to the bottom" like this?

Those that make enough margin so they can focus far enough ahead to jump out of the race when the time is right (just like B/W printers who "get" color now are exiting the race to the B/W bottom.) Inkjet's are new (something like 300 or so installed world wide) so there's time for this race to run and money to be made.

(I don't mean all this in a negative way - just a factual market evolution way. The more clearly you see the true picture the better off you will be.)

So Lexigraph's focus with its new color management system is simple: "Helping you to get the most color you can for the least possible cost over all." All so you can win the race.

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