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Tasty digital & offset combinations

May 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Editor's Desk

I am glad to be back from IPEX, which was held in Birmingham, England, this past April. On this visit—in addition to seeing cutting-edge technology—I had ample opportunities to sample the food. Until now, I am ashamed to say I did not realize the vital role mayonnaise plays in the English diet. I ate all varieties of mayonnaise sandwiches, including one with something called “cress.”

There also were many exotic potato chips, including “steak-flavored.” I thought this was a strange combination, but I have learned that things that seemingly wouldn’t go together, often do.

Take Heidelberg and Xerox, for example. I recall in the run-up to Drupa 2000, Xerox issued a press release that essentially declared it would squash Heidelberg in the offset arena. At the time, both companies offered direct-imaging (DI) as well as digital presses. Now, neither offers DI presses and Heidelberg exited the toner-based press business, having sold Nexpress to Kodak in 2004. At IPEX 2006, Xerox and Heidelberg showed workflows that make it easier for digital and offset to work together. Xerox said it has cooperated with Heidelberg to achieve good integration between the companies’ respective FreeFlow and Prinect offerings.

A smoother blend
Other top digital players also stressed their products’ abilities to work in harmony with the offset process. In an IPEX keynote address, Jim Langley, president of Kodak’s Graphic Communications Group and senior vice president, Eastman Kodak Co., said print providers must deal with new modes of communication, a new commercial geography and new business models. Prospering in this environment requires a merging of conventional and digital technologies that Kodak terms a “blended” production approach.

Stephen Nigro, senior vice president and GM of HP’s imaging and printing technology platforms, suggested one practical reason for a unified digital and offset approach: Offset isn’t going away. HP is making it easier for both technologies to co-exist with user-friendly workflows and digital print output it claims can match offset’s look and quality.

Much like PRINT 05, IPEX 2006 was a traditional heavy-iron show that is changing with the times. Offset presses remained very much on the scene, but digital presses were equally evident, as was wide-format inkjet equipment, which seemingly sprouted from all corners of the exhibit halls. Software and workflow solutions also predominated.

Agfa, Artwork Systems, Drent Goebel, Esko, HP, KBA, Kodak, Xeikon and other vendors familiar to commercial printers and packagers alike all had new developments on display. Several commercial printing stalwarts also continued to expand their packaging presence. Heidelberg’s booth, for example, bristled with die cutters and folder/gluers as the company gears up for the 2008 launch of the larger format presses that will join its XL 105. Screen introduced its first flexo platesetter. Flint Ink, once known primarily for its offset inks, launched new flexo inks and plates. Jetrion, founded in 2003 as a Flint subsidiary, highlighted a narrow-web rewinder with an integrated UV inkjet printing system. (Flint Ink and Jetrion are now part of the Flint Group, the entity that resulted from the recent merger of Flint Ink and XSYS Print.) CGS, probably best known for its ORIS inkjet proofing products for commercial printers, debuted proofing and color management tools for flexo and gravure users.

More prawns, please
Is this an indication of a converging printing universe or merely a practical response to ever-shrinking margins in the commercial printing marketplace? We have a lot of time to debate this question—the next IPEX show wil be held in 2010. In the interim, I am keeping an open mind and wondering where I might procure some prawn-flavored potato chips.

As this is our On Demand issue, I want to remind our readers about the annual AMERICAN PRINTER variable-data printing conference held in here in Chicago. VARIABLES 2006 will be held July 24-25 at The Drake Hotel in Chicago. This year, VARIABLES features a preconference workshop on “How to Sell Variable-Data Printing.” Conducted by Kate Dunn of Digital Innovations Group, the workshop includes practical information on how to identify the right markets, the principles of consultative selling, and examples of what works and what doesn’t. Other conference highlights include digital printing pioneer Mike Chiricuzio’s session on pricing, and sessions on partnering with the USPS and building dynamic databases. For more program details and to register, see

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