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Short Story

Nov 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Founded in 1893, Edwards Brothers Printing (Ann Arbor, MI) is an $80 million printer that specializes in short- to medium-run books and journals printed in one and two colors. The multiplant operation’s pressroom equipment spans the gamut from massive Timsons book presses for its highest volumes to sheetfed offset presses for midrange work, and a fleet of Xerox Docutechs and IBM web-fed digital presses for short-run digital work.

“We’ve always been a short-run player,” says John Edwards, CEO. “We recognized, having seen our customers’ inventory order pattern, a real need for short runs that we couldn’t do on our offset equipment. We looked at it as incremental opportunity, which also would help publishers print less more often. Instead of printing a run of 500 copies that would last two years, you could print 100 every six months.”

Asked how digital print has changed over the past few years, Edwards cites the improved quality of covers, text and halftones. He adds that while soft-cover digital binding is now virtually indistinguishable from its offset counterparts, hardcover remains a bit more complex. For this feature, we asked some leading digital press and related vendors for an update on digital book production trends. Here’s what they had to say.

4 key areas
Chris Reid, global solutions manager, commercial print, IBM Printing Systems Div. (Boulder, CO), cites four areas where book printers are using digital printing technology:

  • Low quantity orders | Book printers who are printing a single copy of a book typically reprint an out-of-stock book based on a customer request. These firms are printing thousands of different titles every day.
  • Test prints | A publisher often will print a small number of books for market testing or review purposes.
  • Digital/offset mix | Digital printing is used for short runs to complement web offset and cut-sheet presses. “Printers can offer a mix of run lengths and variable unit costs to meet customers’ requirements and minimize costs,” says Reid. “By adding digital printing, publishers can reduce their supply chain costs and printers can provide value-add services by partnering with publishers and advising them on the correct mix of digital and traditional print.”
  • Variable | High volume publishers use digital printers to print variable data on each completed book or in a set of books.
At Graph Expo, IBM demonstrated Infoprint Image Enhancement Technology for the Infoprint 4100 HD 3/4 production monochrome printer. It delivers enhanced images with smoother halftones and sharper contrast at up to 230 fpm (1002 impressions per minute) using enhanced 600 dpi technology with 256 levels of grayscale. IBM printed an RFID education book on the Infoprint 4100 with photographs and illustrations along with transaction and book applications with high quality photographs to demonstrate the improved print quality and halftone capabilities of the HD 3/4.


‘X’ marks the spot
In the 1990s, the early days of Xerox’s Docutech, most users focused on printing documents. “Unlike offset, where people such as Timsons and Hantscho built presses specifically designed for books, no one [initially] designed a digital book press,” says John Conley, Xerox (Rochester, NY) vice president of publishing segment marketing. “It was driven by market needs.”

In the nascent days of digital printing, recalls Conley, producing software-related documents was a hot market. But electronic alternatives eventually overtook the printed variety. “We went from ‘doc in the box,’ to document on disks to no document at all,” says Conley. “Most Docutech users had to find new products , [such as] training and industrial manuals. Companies like Midland Press (Davenport, IA) found there’s a lot of value in documentation. Midland created a solution with Docutechs and other equipment for managing John Deere’s product manuals. Others did [similar projects, gaining experience] with books and new applications.” University presses, as well business and professional publishers, long have had low quantity requirements, but earlier generations of digital print equipment couldn’t deliver sufficiently high quality. In recent years, notes Conley, print technology, speed and quality has improved dramatically and on-demand equipment has become more economical.

“Now the quality of Nuvera [Xerox’s newest black-and-white device] is growing the [short-run book] market substantially. If you look at Integrated Book Technologies’ (IBT) (Troy, NY) Web site, you’ll see a Nuvera is helping drive IBT’s growth with university press books.”

Digital book printing often is a domestic plank in a global platform. “You might do the first printing in North America, reprints in China and end-of-life copies digitally,” says Conley. “[That wasn’t] a digital product four years ago, but productivity, cost and quality have brought more product into the manufacturing platform.”

Go to the head of the class
A retrofit kit has been developed to modify the Xerox iGen3 press to run the lighter-weight coated paper required for “Teacher’s Edition” books.

The DocuSheeter iG roll-feeder from Lasermax Roll Systems provides the ability to continuously feed rolls of this lightweight paper into the iGen3. The Xerox FreeFlow DocuSP controller, coupled with the Xerox FreeFlow Application Series software streamlines the process of integrating individual, customized pages into a book. Xerox Teacher’s Edition software automatically pulls the correct pages from the repository into a single file and prints them in the correct page order.

“Being able to process all of the pages from one file has taken us from an average of 30 hours of prep time to approximately 30 minutes,” says Christian Schamberger, director of operations, Mercury Print Book Division (Rochester, NY).


One workflow does it all
“The educational market is very hot,” says Kathleen Cervi, product manager, Kodak Graphic Communications Group (GCG) (Rochester, NY). “This is not only black book blocks with color covers—we also have a number of customers that are doing everything in color, such as for early stage review copies.” Black-and-white supplemental products such as workbooks and teacher’s manuals also are thriving, says Cervi.

A few years ago, it was easy to distinguish digital from offset, but that’s no longer the case. “Five years ago, the toner might be raised a bit or look richer than traditional output,” says Cervi. “Now you don’t see that that difference so much in the black-and-white world.” Digital color also has improved. “At Graph Expo, we showed a NexPress test pattern printed with the NexPress on one side and offset on the other. You couldn’t tell the difference without a loupe.”

Unified workflow is another priority. “We are striving to make the workflow press-agnostic,” says Cervi. “It doesn’t matter whether you are [printing digital or offset], you don’t have to start over [if switching from one process to the other]. The life of a book can be accommodated with one workflow: digital for review copies, offset if a longer run warrants it, and then digital again toward the tail end of the cycle.”

The Internet continues to significantly change book production. “Under the classic model, you produced books for future demand,” says Cervi. “Now you’re producing books for existing demand, and that makes a major economic difference.”

Monochrome volume
Nipson America (Elk Grove Village, IL) specializes in high-speed black-and-white equipment. While its presses are widely used for direct mail and tag and label applications, Robert Stabler, president, reports a healthy book market.

Nipson’s strength is in numbers. “The model for us is people with volume,” explains Stabler.

“A typical [customer] might have a number of web [offset] presses. Rather than running those presses for run lengths under 1,000, they will run a Nipson, typically with an inline binder, such as Muller Martini’s SigmaBinder.”

This past May, working with Nipson, RR Donnelley (Harrisonburg, VA) upgraded the vendor’s digital book production line installed in 2003. RR Donnelley also has invested in a second line, Muller Martini’s modular SigmaLine, which uses Nipson as its core digital printing technology.

Nipson customers, according to Stabler, have the advantage of a high-speed digital device that doesn’t skimp on quality. “Customers can print any title Nipson or offset,” he says. “A digital press must be able to print on any substrate [being used for offset], produce books that lie flat as if they came off an offset press and [offer] visually similar halftones.”

At Graph Expo, Nipson’s 600-dpi VaryPress 400 was shown running at 415 fpm, producing a mix of technical manuals, direct mail, print on demand, transactional and specialty applications. The system was shown with integrated finishing equipment from EMT Intl.

Nipson’s technology incorporates magnetography and non-heat flash fusion, factors which Stabler says results in speedier equipment that is suitable for use with inline binding and inserting equipment. In 2007, Nipson expects to achieve 500 fpm on the VaryPress 400.


Liquid inks
“There’s a huge focus on reducing costs,” says Mike Mello, HP (Boise, ID) product manager. “Nobody is producing overs—digital book production is the ideal solution.”

Front-end automation that supports fast turnaround is another key theme. “We’re focusing on automating all the front end processes involved in acquiring files, to the point where it can be done by the requestor rather than the printer or publisher,” Mello says. “And the final frontier is JDF on the back end.”

HP has found that education is among the strongest vertical markets for digital book production. “Every state and district has specific [publishing] requirements, such a lead-in page listing the board of education, and No Child Left Behind legislation [may require] bilingual and other versions. Digital is perfect for this.”

Mello says HP’s presses, which use liquid ink vs. some electrophotographic machines’ dry toners, have an edge when it comes to mimicking offset. “Ours is truly an offset process. The w3250’s inline priming capabilities enable it to run commodity offset papers.” These paper and ink features have enabled HP to enter an unusual market segment: repurposed books. These books are remanufactured with new covers, chapters or different sections. “It’s a perfect fit,” says Mello. “You can’t tell where the digital book block switches with the traditional one.”

He adds that manuals and catalogs’ light paper requirements are a good fit for HP’s presses. “We can run 27-lb. bible paper, which is [unusual] for a digital press.”

Photobooks are a burgeoning market, but Mello cautions that demand can be highly seasonal. At Graph Expo, HP showcased light cyan and magenta inks for the HP 5000 that are capable of creating photorealistic highlights and shadows.


Runs of one
Muller Martini’s SigmaLine is a modular system for producing books on demand. Users can opt for a complete line (an entirely inline system that prints, folds, stitches, trims, collates and binds) or partial configurations that may include a high-speed, roll-fed printer with a perfect binder, cooling tower and trimmer. (See “Real books, real fast,” May 2005.)

“We’re bringing high-end commercial quality finishing to the digital market,” says Andy Fetherman, manager of Muller Martini’s OnDemand Solutions Division (Hauppauge, NY). “We’re targeting those who need a higher production system to supplement their offset book production as well as digital manufacturers who want top quality for competing in the offset world.”

Fetherman says digital print’s growth is accelerating. “In the last six months, interest that had been tepid is [more urgent]. It’s needing to do something rather than wanting to, whether it’s the large Quebecors and Donnelleys or midrange CCIs.”

SigmaBinder’s measuring station enables its automatic makeready. To set the binder for a particular job in a near-line configuration, the operator places the book block face down in the measuring station, triggering a sensor. “The measuring station takes in the book block, compresses it and, using lasers, measures the compressed thickness as well as length and width,” explains Fetherman. “These three dimensions are then used to set all of the length, width and thickness variables throughout the SigmaBinder. You can seamlessly go from one book to the next regardless of size.”

The binder’s current sweet spot is runs of one to several thousand depending on page counts and other variables, but Muller Martini is working on enhancements to better facilitate one-off jobs. “Our mantra for 2007 is ‘Bringing one-off commercial quality finishing to the digital market,’” says Fetherman.

Stay tuned
RR Donnelley & Sons Co. (Chicago) and Banta Corp. (Menasha, WI) are among the largest book producers in the United States. As we go to press, the companies have announced RR Donnelley will acquire Banta in an all-cash deal is valued at approximately $1.3 billion, which is expected to close in Q1 2007.

Printing a fine-arts book on a digital press
“The American Image: U.S. Posters from the 19th to 21st Century” is the companion book to a recent exhibit presented by RIT’s School of Design. Selected from the collection of Mark and Maura Resnick, the exhibit’s 78 posters chronicle more than 100 years of art commerce and popular culture.

Five hundred copies of the book were produced to showcase digital print’s short-run potential. According to Nitin Sampat’s production notes, “One of the principal aims was to investigate the feasibility of using a state-of-the-art digital press and an appropriate paper to produce a high-quality, short-run color publication that would meet the exacting aesthetic and color reproduction standards of museums, libraries and collectors.”

The press was HP’s Indigo 5000 and the paper was Mohawk’s Superfine i-Tone, a premium archival uncoated stock. With technical and materials support from HP and Mohawk, faculty and students from RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, personnel from the Cary Graphic Arts Press and the print reproduction staff of RIT’s Printing Applications Lab designed a digital workflow.

The book’s preface, written by collector and film industry executive Mark Resnick, features a 1931 poster promoting the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. The cover was produced conventionally on a Heidelberg 74 SM. See

Go west
Short Run Solutions’ (SRS) (Lugano, Switzerland) first ShortRunBIND binder/trimmer connected to a complete SRS hardcover binding line in North America is at Thomson West (Eagan MN), a law book printing and binding facility. The line handles the output from 14 Océ print engines (seven lines). See “A knack for stacks,” April 2006 or

What’s next?
An Interquest (Charlottesville, VA) report, “The Digital Book & Manual Printing Opportunity: Market Analysis & Forecast,” examines market and technology trends, challenges, and the future for digital book and manual printing.

Gilles Biscos, president of Interquest, analyzes trends in adult and juvenile trade, religious books, elementary and high school publications, as well as mass market, university press and professional books. The current state of manual printing also is examined.

Key growth opportunities for manual printing lie in the use of color, versioning and personalization.


Interquest forecasts that the on-demand book printing market in North America will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26 percent per year from 2004 to 2009. Digital book production will grow faster than the on-demand production of manuals, which face increasingly stiff competition from alternative media.

Just books for 110 years
This past July, Timsons (Schaumburg, IL) cele-brated its 110th birthday. Founded in Kettering, England, by Arthur Richardson Timson, the privately-held company has presses installed at leading book printers around the world.

According Steve Kukla, sales manager for Timsons, the company has several of its zero makeready (ZMR) book presses installed in North America. Twin over-and-under, vertical-web printing units enable the short-run, web offset book press to change forms on single-color work without stopping.

Kukla says while some Timsons’ customers are adding digital presses for runs of about 500 copies, the company’s traditional high-volume market remains strong. “We’re busy,” he says. “Printers are still purchasing our presses.”


Just-in-time finishing
MBO America’s (Westampton, NJ) Graph Expo highlights included its DIGI-Finisher, an MBO folder with the Hohner HSB-7000 stitcher. Options include barcode reading, accumulating and wire stitching. It has a three-side trimmer with automatic thickness adjustment (5?16 inch max.).


New PUR option
Quality perfect binding options for short-run digital books continue to evolve. To understand the challenge, consider the processes involved. “There’s a series of operations,” says Mark Hunt, director of marketing, Standard Finishing (Andover, MA). “First, the book block is clamped firmly; next the spine is milled to prepare the surface before side and spine adhesive are applied. Finally , the cover is fed, held in position and the nipping jaws come up and in to form the cover around the book spine. If any of these substations are even slightly out of tolerance, you get less than optimal binding quality.”

According to Hunt, the goal is to eliminate as much labor as possible from the setup without compromising the end product’s quality.

Standard Horizon’s new BQ-470 perfect binder offers end-to-end automation, color touchscreen control and interchangeable glue tanks. The 10-inch LCD touchscreen is used to provide stepper motor-controlled automation. The BQ-470 can cycle at up to 1,350 books per hour, bind books up to 2.5 inches thick, and meet varying customer requirements with optional interchangeable glue tanks for both hot-melt EVA and PUR adhesives.

Making cases on demand
On Demand Machinery (ODM) (Elizabeth, NJ) has a complete line of casemaking machines for on-demand bookbinding. Users can produce single hardcover books or large quantities (up to 1,000 books per hour) with virtually no makeready.

Equipment includes the Casemaking System, Sticker (casing-in), Smasher (building-in), Casemaking Built for Two, Super Smasher (building-in large volume), Straightener (cover dewarping), Stenciler (pattern gluing), Squasher (air press) and Super Sewer with Back Tack Technology (book sewing). See

The power of one
Launched in 1997 as a subsidiary of Ingram, Lightning Source (LaVergne, TN) is known as a one-off book production pioneer. With production facilities in the United States and the United Kingdom, Lightning Source report-edly prints more than one million books every month with an average print run of 1.8 copies. The company claims a customer base of 4,300 publishers.

In the company’s formative years, author services companies, also called vanity publishers, were leading customers. “But in the last few years, traditional trade publishers have come on very strongly, as have religious and university [segments],” says J. Kirby Best, president and CEO. “We’re also leaping into the photobook segment.”

An order for 15 VarioStreams
Lightning Source uses a mix of digital presses from HP, IBM, Océ and Xerox.

Last month, the company announced it has ordered 15 Océ (Boca Raton, FL) Vario-Stream 9210 monochrome and color-capable digital printers, along with Océ’s PRISMA production software.

“We bought those presses for the uptick in halftone quality, to take advantage of the roughly 30 percent of books that have halftones,” says Best, adding that the equip-ment fits well with Lightning Source’s key market segments.

The company currently is working with a sister company, Ingram Digital Ventures, to create true custom textbooks. Some day, according to Best, a college professor may be able to combine chapters or even paragraphs from different books. “It’s not a technical issue; we can do this,” says Best. “The hurdle is for the publishers to determine [what level of customization they want].”

The short-run long-tail company
Best likes to refer to Lightning Source as a “Long Tail” company for book publishers. The phrase refers to writer Chris Anderson’s Wired article and subsequent book. According to a entry: “Anderson argued products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough.” is cited as a prime example. Anderson quotes an Amazon employee describing the “Long Tail” phenomenon: “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than...books that did sell yesterday.”

From thick to thin in seconds
Spiel Associates (Long Island City, NY) offers the Sterling Digibinder, a one-touch perfect binder for on-demand applications. The Digibinder can produce 360 books per hour up to 1 1/2 inches thick. The book size is entered on the keypad and the pneumatic clamp adjusts for book thickness automatically. Rather than notching, a roughing blade roughs the entire backbone of the book. Twin glue rollers ensure even glue application. A compressor is supplied. See

Katherine O'Brien is editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at