Study: Majority of Print Providers Offer Digital Printing

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Digital printing has become the first choice, and in some cases the only choice, for a growing number of professional uses, according to two recent reports on digital printing from TrendWatch Graphic Arts.

Customers have been the driving force behind digital printing's shifting role from being a second choice when offset isn't available. Clients are changing the way they think about and purchase print, according to "Digital Printing 2006: Creatives" and "Digital Printing 2006: Printers." TrendWatch,, New York, is a Reed Business Information unit.

The reports surveyed upper management in the creative and printing markets about their use and attitudes toward digital printing.

For example, between 2000 and 2004, the proportion of graphic arts firms that saw "profitably handling shorter print runs" as a business challenge doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent. But in the most recent survey, the figure dropped to 8 percent, suggesting that the widespread investment in digital presses is finally paying off.

In addition, 30 percent of graphic arts firms see broadening their digital printing services as a top sales opportunity. The smallest shops, with one to nine employees, answered similarly, with 28 percent saying that they see the same opportunity in digital printing.

Since short print runs became a commodity some time ago, it is with broader applications of the technology, such as on-demand fulfillment, Web-to-print and variable data printing, that the small shops have a chance to gain a competitive edge and make a profit, the report said.

Overall, 41 percent of printer respondents said that they offer digital printing in-house, while another 23 percent outsource it. Digital printing volume is growing for 17 percent of respondents.

As for variable data printing, a leading driver of digital printing, 37 percent of graphic arts firms offer the service in-house. For digital printers, the figure climbs to 50 percent. Overall, 15 percent of respondents outsource their VDP services.

In terms of the complexity of the VDP jobs, 41 percent of digital printers have produced full-color jobs with one to 12 fields and 29 percent have produced black-and-white jobs with one to 12 fields. Only 2 percent produce full-color VDP jobs with 13-plus fields and 15 percent produce black-and-white jobs with 13-plus fields.

Web-to-print, another driver of digital print services, is offered by 9 percent of respondents on static printing jobs. On highly customizable print jobs, the figure rises to 15 percent.

On the creative side, 27 percent of creatives have worked on a personalized, customized, variable data or other targeted print job in the past 12 months. However, only 8 percent of creatives currently offer customized Web sites for on-demand printing.

Nine percent of publishers and 12 percent of catalogers see VDP as a top sales opportunity for their businesses. Many already have worked with the technology, with 18 percent of publishers and 25 percent of catalogers reporting that they have implemented a personalized, customized, variable data or other targeted printing job.

However, most of it is being done for promotional purposes and not magazine, book or catalog covers or interiors.

Half of those who have implemented a targeted printing job said the work comprised simple addressing/mail-merge jobs, while 32 percent said their VDP work consisted of full-color, variable image, variable-text jobs.

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