By Olivia Cahoon
Direct Imaging (DI) presses provide a combination of digital and traditional offset printing technologies. This hybrid approach offers high image quality and reduced makereadies for static runs, typically targeting volumes between 500 and 20,000.
In plants and commercial printers with both digital and offset and capabilities turn to DI to tackle jobs and volumes well suited to the technology. Here, we provide an example of a print provider that invested in DI technology for its higher quantity projects.
Founded in 2002, Prima is a print and design shop headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Its mission is to offer the same level of print and paper capabilities as “big city” printers with the turnaround capabilities of a local business.
Prima started with two people in a 220-square foot workspace. It originally offered composite cards for agencies, models, and photographers. Today, the shop offers headshots, composite cards, specialty finishing, and wide format printing. It now operates from a 14,000-square foot facility and serves clients nationwide.
Jonathan Johnson, COO, Prima, says the shop’s long-term goals are to continue offering an array of products with turnaround driving the shop’s processes. “We offer our products in the quickest amount of time with the high-quality standards our customers have always expected and received,” he says.
Balancing Offset and Digital
The company started with the purchase of a small copier in 2002. Its primary goal was to provide quality color and speedy turnarounds. After operating the business with a copier, Prima discovered the HP Indigo presses.
“Looking for a way to pay for that compared to a small copier was not an easy task, but our customers made it easy for us because they had begun ordering quick turnaround printed products with low quantities compared to those of a traditional offset press,” says Johnson.
The shop’s investment in HP Indigo technology helped keep customers satisfied. Prima currently runs two Indigo 7600 presses. The device handles a maximum of 13×19 inches at 160 color pages per minute.
Johnson says the shop paid for the Indigo presses by offering short-run printing to give its talent customers the quality of a larger press. “When you are doing work for models and photographers, they expect graphics to pop and they expect quality. It’s their own way of showing themselves to potential agencies or clients,” he explains.
Eventually, the same customers began asking for larger runs. “While we had always said everything we do will be fast, going offset would not be able to offer that,” explains Johnson.
In 2007, Prima purchased its first Presstek 34DI digital offset printing press. Because the shop was accustomed to the HP Indigo press 12×18-inch sheet size, it selected the 34DI, which handles sheet sizes of up to 13.39×18.11 inches.
The 34DI offers 300 line-screen imaging done on press, waterless inks for fast drying time, ten minutes and ten sheets of makeready, and offset ink quality on paper. The company eventually evolved to the Presstek 52DI model.
Today, Prima runs its two HP Indigo presses alongside two Presstek 52DI automated printing systems. The 52DI four-color digital offset press prints a maximum of 10,000 sheets per hour with a maximum sheet size of 20.47×14.76 inches. It uses Presstek’s patented thermal laser imaging technology to avoid costly click charges or plate processing chemistry.
Prima’s DI presses run over 60,000 sheets of promotional materials per day. The shop’s primary customers seek large quantities which, according to Johnson, aren’t efficient on a digital press because of high click costs and press time. “The DI was a no-brainer to use because it fit our brand and our vision,” he adds.
With DI, Prima offers a range of products including business cards, event tickets, flyers, postcards, posters, and promotional music CD inserts.
At its peak performance, Prima’s DI presses accounted for 70 percent of its business. As the company expanded and added new products, Johnson estimates it now makes up roughly 60 percent.
Johnson considers its DI presses to be the shop’s workhorses. Prima usually completes short-run, same day printing on its HP Indigo presses while the DI presses run delivered overnight files over 1,000 copies. “With every product or job, we always know that if its more than 500 sheets, we will use the DI to get that offset quality,” he explains.
Prima offers digital finishing with creasers, die cutters, guillotine cutters, slitters, and UV coaters. Johnson says the DI offset workflow goes straight to finishing with little to no drying time needed. “Sheet-to-sheet and front-to-back registration is a huge issue with a lot of digital print devices, but with the DI press we enjoy not worrying about any of that,” he adds.
Repeat customer, Bitsy’s Brainfood, recently approached Prima for sample packaging of its snack line. The customer’s mission is to make food that starts with a simple belief—healthy bodies and healthy minds are connected and learning to eat smart should be fun.
The samples needed to be full-size replications of the actual packages to be mass produced. Bitsy’s Brainfood intended to use the samples at trade shows where the company would pitch the product to large corporations like Whole Foods.
Johnson says it was important to the client for the product to be as high-quality as possible.
Prima chose the DI press for the project because the cereal box material was thick and too large for the Indigo. The customer also wanted ten samples for each of the four flavors. “This posed a problem for offset as the makeready and time spent was very costly for 40 cereal boxes,” says Johnson.
The DI press allowed Prima to offer high-quality colors without plating costs or offset setup. Johnson says the Presstek 54DI press printed the cereal boxes easily with its 20-point thickness capability. The shop used a flatbed cutter and cut and score materials for finishing.
“The cost of getting the customer the exact quality and quantity they wanted was five percent of the cost from offset vendors that could still not give the vibrancy of color,” says Johnson. The printing time for all four versions of the cereal boxes was one hour and a total of 75 sheets. Johnson says offset technology would have needed 500 sheets, two hours of imaging, and two hours of makeready.
Bitsy’s Brainfood was pleased with the outcome of the samples. “The customer continually uses Prima for the samples to bring to trade shows when they pitch new flavors and introduce lines,” says Johnson.
DI provides many benefits to Prima. “Having a print-ready sheet within ten minutes of hitting print from the computer is by far one of the coolest things to show customers,” he says.
With this technology complementing its digital equipment lineup, it is able to offer customization, ultra-short runs, and longer runs with less makeready compared with traditional printing processes.
Sep2017, DPS Magazine