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Trade Comment

The Future for Web offset

There is ongoing change in this sector, so Genevieve Lewis asks: “with digital becoming increasingly popular due to improving quality, what does the future hold for web offset?”

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John Ellis, managing director, manroland Goss web systems UK

Quantity and quality

Digital print has indeed improved in quality – many would say that the quality of output from today’s leading digital presses can equal that of litho. However, quality is one thing, quantity is something very different. Digital print still accounts for a very small percentage of overall worldwide print volume. Whilst that might eventually change, currently there is simply no process that can produce the volume of printed pages provided via the web offset process.

As the obvious first example, let’s begin with the volumes of newspapers still produced in UK, even though these numbers are on the decline. Three daily and two Sunday titles are produced with over one million copies printed, with the daily obviously doing that six days per week. In addition to the news pages, don’t forget the supplement sections and television magazines that accompany the main papers. A further eight titles (six daily and two Sunday) have circulations above 300,000, with eleven more (five Sunday) in excess of 100,000 copies. Ignoring pagination, that totals a very rough 35.5 million newspapers every single week, with the majority of those printed in a four-hour window every night, making press reliability a critical factor as well. All of that without even considering local newspaper production. Digital printing has a way to go to compete with that sort of reliability and productivity.

Digital printing has a way to go to compete with that sort of reliability and productivity


A similar story can be told in the UK magazine sector, with four titles breaking the million-copy mark; seven publications exceeding 500,000; and a further 16 with print runs in excess of 300,000. Some are weekly, some monthly, and some occasional, but the total of print with these publications alone is huge, even before considering the raft of “shorter run” magazines. Rest assured, web offset is here for some time to come yet.

Trends are changing

Mark Priest, UK sales manager, Sakurai


I think that like many forms of printing in general, web offset is going through change. Buyer trends, which are driven by the readers, effect the type and volume of printed material that is produced. Web offset is still the cheapest method to produce high run length CMYK printed jobs, especially where the job is folded, like in the case of a magazine section. The problem that web offset printing companies face, is that buyer trends are changing. Magazine and newspaper volumes have been decimated through on-line publication. Even DM campaigns more often tend to be targeted, again reducing run lengths and often changing the method of printing to sheetfed instead of web.

Digital printing, including digital web printing, can produce unique content every copy, although it runs much slower and has smaller web widths. Specifically, digital web can personalise key areas of a print, for example the name and address of a person or the details of a bill.

Web offset is still the cheapest method to produce high run length CMYK printed jobs, especially where the job is folded, like in the case of a magazine section


Jobs which may have been previously printed web offset and then over-printed digitally, can be produced in one pass on a digital web press. I think that digital web has a bright future and potentially gives the reader content that is customised to their preferences. So much data is held on-line about our habits, with the things we do tracked, we could ultimately see content being customised to our likes and social habits.


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