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How To Keep Commercial Printers Running At Peak Efficiency

2010-09-30

Commercial printers vary in their makeup, capacity and speed, and lately have even included some digital technology. "Offset" printing is the standard, so-called because the printing process requires the printer inks to be spread from a drum to a rubber sheet which then deposits the ink on the paper to form the print or the image. They come in two main classes: sheet-fed (where individual sheets of paper are used and are fed sequentially into the printer) and web printers (which use continuous rolls of paper). Sheet fed printers are much slower than web printers, but web printers are expensive to buy and to operate, so are used primarily only for runs of 50,000 copies or more.

Offset is the highest quality large-run printing method and is the standard against which smaller digital printers are judged. Generally, digital printers will advertise claiming to be as good. The operation of offset printers is very complicated, so much research and development is being done to bring digital printing up to that standard. Web type commercial printers require enormous amounts of pre-run setup, and altering a document means a prohibitively expensive loss of time and materials. Digital printers, while they are more flexible as far as pre-production time goes, require their own very fussy attention to operational detail, as the inks they use necessitate adjustments to materials, voltages, mechanical operation and temperatures. Yet they still have a significant advantage over offset in that they can use software to integrally streamline the process. Software can also provide the means for before-run proofing that can minimize wasted ink, maximize the efficiency of the printer inks' yield, and bypass the need for multiple setups.

This use of software as efficiency maximizer is becoming more important as Web-based commerce increases. For an offset printer, it's necessary for the piece to be printed to be brought physically to the printing facility, where proof after proof would be run until the output matched the original. For jobs commissioned over the Internet or for short run jobs, it's too expensive to use that kind of trial-and-error mode of operation. Still, with digital printing, the variations in color output often seen in computer printouts from machine to machine would be unacceptable for commercial printers, as the client would reject any copy that didn't match the original. Software solutions aim for a cross-platform method of proofing and color control to allow the image on the computer to match the proof from the office printer, and also match the output from the commercial printers. That would be efficiency beyond what is available anywhere right now.

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