By Lisa Guerriero
Many print shops find that adding digital printing expands services and grows business. For some offset printers, embracing digital does even more—it’s the difference between a struggling business and a thriving one.
Brandywine Printing, based in GA, was a successful offset print shop for decades. The company faced tough decisions during the economic downturn a few years ago. While the recession forced other local print shops to close, the family-owned company looked for better ways to do business. Adopting digital technology provided new opportunities for efficiency and growth.
Derek Brooks, GM, Brandywine Printing, believes embracing digital printing allowed his company to survive the lean times. “If we had hung onto the offset side of things, we’d have run the company into the ground,” he asserts.
The Power of Digital
Brandywine Printing, located in a 7,200-square-foot building approximately 30 miles North of Atlanta, offers a variety of print services. It has several printers, including a Canon imagePRESS C7000VP, which recently replaced the company’s imagePRESS C6000. It also has a Mcor Iris, a paper-based 3D printer.
Founder Derrell Brooks holds a background as a service technician for offset printers, and established Brandywine Printing in 1982 as a hobby business. In 1986 the company incorporated and began operating as a full-fledged offset printer.
Initially, the shop served local business’ day-to-day needs, including business cards and stationary. Then, it printed only in B&W, focusing on what Derek Brooks calls efficiency printing. The approach was “down and dirty, who cares what it looks like—just get it done,” explains Brooks, son of the company’s founder.
Its mission evolved over the years as the business grew, and in 2001 it moved to four-color offset printing. The shop began focusing more on quality than speed, which proved to be a profitable business model.
Despite the family’s willingness to adapt, digital printing was never on the table. Derek Brooks says they were convinced digital couldn’t compete with the quality of their 14×20-inch offset press, and they outsourced digital jobs when needed. As recently as five years ago, he vowed that Brandywine Printing “would never be a digital shop.”
When the U.S. economy took a major hit in 2008, so did many print shops in the area. Brooks describes it as an overnight change. He watched longtime businesses close, laid off workers at his own company, and outsourced some of his jobs to a digital trade printer. “We had to make quick decisions fast in order to stay alive. It was survival,” he recalls.
Scrutinizing the business for ways to save money, Brooks couldn’t ignore the fact that it was outsourcing more than $50,000 worth of digital printing every year to a local shop. That realization opened the door to the possibility of incorporating digital technology.
Brandywine Printing researched digital printers by trial and error. It gave vendors a file to print and then compared the output with results from its own offset press. Brooks says while some of the output came close to offset, others were radically different.
The shop decided on a Canon press because during testing, its print was indistinguishable from the offset sample. Brandywine Printing’s own operator couldn’t tell the difference from the offset version he’d printed himself.
In March 2010, the shop installed its first digital printer, the Canon imagePRESS C6000. It came with an EFI Fiery server. Brooks says they were lucky Fiery was part of the package because, not knowing much about digital technology, they had no idea how valuable it would prove to be.
EFI Fiery Impose helped the shop transition away from offset, providing a visual that Brooks says is crucial.
As Brooks and his staff adjusted to the new technology, he noticed other benefits from EFI Fiery, including color consistency. Brooks says as a “CMYK guy,” he was used to adding or taking away a little to get the color right. With EFI Fiery, he’s able to achieve the same end digitally.
Brandywine Printing found the Canon imagePRESS C6000 easy to operate and it quickly allowed the company to reduce operating expenses. They started transitioning customers from offset to digital. To do this, the efficiency of the device enabled them to charge less for jobs as an incentive for customers to accept digital, but still bring in revenue.
Brooks had another way to help customers adjust to the new printing methods, he provided a digital proof and let them see the quality for themselves.
Improving with Digital
Brandywine Printing not only endured the recession, but expanded. The move to digital allowed it to take on new jobs, including marketing collateral and point of purchase (POP). With a full-time staff of six, it has clients around the U.S., and strives to dominate its surrounding region.
“When we were all offset, our tagline was, ‘We put ink on paper,’ says Brooks. “Our tagline now is ‘We put ink on anything that will hold still long enough.’”
In March 2011, a year after installing the Canon imagePRESS C6000, the shop absorbed a local competitor. With it, Brandywine Printing acquired a Xerox 700 Digital Color Press and a Xerox 4110 monochrome printer. The 4110 included an EFI Fiery digital front end, but the 700’s front end came from a different vendor.
Working with a different front-end system gave Brooks greater appreciation for the EFI solution. For example, Fiery offers a calibration process that allows it to establish a benchmark. Every morning the shop prints a sample, then scans it with a spectrophotometer. The software corrects the settings to get to the base point, adjusting for factors like humidity and temperature.
Brooks says it’s an essential daily procedure. “Otherwise we’re printing a moving target,” he explains. He was never able to replicate the calibration process with the other vendor’s front-end system, and soon replaced it with Fiery.
After realizing the power of digital printing, it didn’t take long to determine digital was key to the shop’s future. With the quality of digital printing and the increase in short-run jobs, it was the best way forward. The shop sold all its offset equipment in 2012 and became a completely digital shop.
Consistency and Control
North Point Ministries is one of Brandywine Printing’s biggest clients. A GA-based organization, North Point Ministries works to foster a network of Christian churches and promote church attendance.
The client routinely releases DVDs of its pastors’ sermons, and the shop prints the DVD case inserts. The runs are typically a maximum of 1,000. With the Canon imagePRESS C6000 and the EFI Fiery front end, Brandywine finds production to be quick and cost effective.
The ministry’s branding is important, and every run of DVD cases must be identical. If the inventory is sitting on a shelf at a Christian bookstore, Brooks explains, a shopper shouldn’t notice discrepancies from one DVD release to the next.
This is where Fiery’s color control and calibration is key. It ensures consistency “month to month, run to run, file to file, the whole shooting match,” he notes.
North Point’s DVD releases aren’t on an exact schedule, and digital printing allows the shop to fulfill jobs on demand. To help it promptly respond to orders, it developed a system with the church group and showed the ministry how to preflight its own files. Now, North Point sends a print-ready PDF by email and the print shop is able to impose and print immediately.
Using its digital press and front end system, the output always matches the file they sent, there’s no surprise when the customer sees the output.
Brandywine Printing demonstrates the benefits of accepting change. When it was still an offset shop, adopting four-color printing allowed it to shift to a more profitable business model.
In the face of financial challenges, it invested in digital equipment to revive the shop. Within just a few years, the shop bought out a competitor and converted to an all-digital print business. By embracing new technology, it expanded services and found new ways to be profitable in a challenging economy. dps