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How digital printing is not the new Betamax

Roger Aust, managing director, Close Brothers Asset Finance Print division, pens his thoughts on an insurgent print technology.

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A Konica Minolta Bizhub, pictured here after doors closed on The Print Show 2016, is a classic digital print technology success story

I have been involved in the print industry for close to four decades in a number of different guises, from starting, running and selling businesses to advising and helping find suitable finance products for new and existing entrants to our sector. 

During this time I have witnessed the progression from letter press printing to offset lithography (litho) and now to digital. Letter press is, largely, consigned to history, and while litho is still with us and will be for some time, digital increasingly represents the future, despite having been around in various forms for over 25 years. 

Conventional wisdom has dictated that digital printing is more suitable for short-run colour production and litho printing for longer runs, where sheet fed and web production were not economically viable. Until recently, the quality of digital printing was very often inferior, but its flexibility allows you to create bespoke brochures and leaflets on a small scale when previously that was not possible. 

This; however, is changing, and large-format flatbed printing is a good example of progress since it enables and opens up an area of printing that was not previously available because litho printing presses simply could not cope with a large sheet.
The story of digital printing may have its share of ups and downs, but it is very much here to stay and is increasingly the direction we are all moving in

Along with the advances in the technology, print quality is now far greater while the cost per unit is also tumbling. What this means is that printers can now offer a variety of products out of the same shop, very often by mixing conventional printing and digital together. In fact, nearly every print shop now has a digital division within it. 

From a finance perspective, the difficulty has traditionally been that nobody felt able to finance digital, because technology was improving at such a pace that what was put in place today was outdated tomorrow; there was no second hand market that anyone trusted for these digital presses. Without the support of the main dealers providing the ancillaries and services that are required to keep the presses running, an expensive digital press could very easily become obsolete. 

Today, fortunately, the technology is more proven and stable; the quality is in many cases second to none, and the advantages that digital brings when allied to the correct mix of work are considerable. 

There is also an increased appetite for digital printing from some non-traditional sources. Take for example box packaging – with the huge growth in home delivery, there is a real opportunity for companies to pay to advertise on the side of boxes, and digital printing makes this possible.

The story of digital printing may have its share of ups and downs, but it is very much here to stay and is increasingly the direction we are all moving in.

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