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Does Color Really Make a Difference?

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  • Does Color Really Make a Difference?

    by Noel Ward, Editor@Large

    Henry Ford used to say the Model T came in any color you wanted as long as it was black.

    That was pretty much how purveyors (and buyers) of digital presses and copiers thought until the mid-1990s. Toner was all black all the time. Then, along came a couple of presses that delivered color, but they were less than reliable and the toner from one could sometimes be rubbed off a print with a pencil eraser. Not exactly what customers were looking for.

    But digital color soon rolled out from several vendors all at once, and those of us with trained eyeballs had to recalibrate our notions of what printed color really meant. Discussions of digital color's future have continued for more than two decades. Those still go on, at least among those who contend that offset printing is all anyone should ever want or need, while ignoring the fact that the universe has changed, bringing more capabilities than anyone ever expected from a digital press.

    Color makes a difference.
    Digital color printing has become a capability that end-customers have come to expect from most types of print providers, driving the shift to what has become “acceptable” or “pleasing” color. Some say this lowers the bar. Others claim it’s the reality of a world where “good enough” really is good enough. This mostly means the grass is green, the sky is blue and flesh tones don’t make anyone run screaming from the room. But even though the original goal of digital printers was to somehow match offset, the larger objective has always been more disruptive: to do everything an offset press can do and even a bit more. To this end we’ve seen the advent of digital flood and spot coatings, custom and spot colors, shots of white, and even textures to make digitally printed documents more compelling to recipients, more valuable to end-customers, and worth more at retail. Because nothing makes a print provider smile like improved profitability.

    Ron Gilboa, a group director at Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends, says almost any additional treatment yields value beyond that of a normal CMYK image, and that as digital printers become more valued for their fast turnaround capabilities and their ability to perform multiple functions inline is increasingly important. Overall, according to Gilboa’s colleagues at Keypoint Intelligence, going beyond CMYK can easily boost printers’ profit margins per job more than 50 percent, and in some cases by as much as 84 percent.

    “Spot color, on average, yields on about 24 percent over normal CMYK printing,” explains Gilboa. “White or metallics are becoming increasingly popular and can bring in as much as 50 percent more than CMYK alone. But something really different, like an eye-popping fluorescent yellow, can add 58 percent to a job.” A number like that is enough to get the attention of most print providers.

    Next, being able to do this inline is critical because it means less process steps and time, which quickly translates into greater productivity per shift, per day and per week. This can be a bonus for printers accustomed to “work and turn” processes that demand close attention to registration and getting extra colors to be exactly correct. Moreover, “…the added value of a special color or coating can be further enhanced with the use of variable data printing to add customization or personalization to a document, which adds another uptick in profitability,” notes Gilboa.

    This latter capability is not inconsequential: Millennials, often noted for ignoring printed books, newspapers and even magazines, are attracted by personalized/customized mail with bright colors or other treatments that make a document more compelling. And, as targeting becomes more refined and print runs shorter the convergence of impactful colors and personalized messages become increasingly important.

    Other things matter, too. Like sheet size, especially on cut-sheet devices. On a cut-sheet toner press, printing on a sheet longer than about 24 inches means the imaging drum has to be refreshed with new copy or art even as another part of the same image is being printed. Until recently the RIP and other associated processors were not up to this task. Now they are, rendering machines limited to sheets about two-feet long—all devices that were bright shiny objects just a few years ago—somewhat less compelling.

    The right place at the right time
    Entering this marketplace at a nearly ideal time are the new Xerox iGen 5 Press enhancements that accommodate sheets up to 35 inches in length and use its fifth print station to lay down a retina-searing Fluorescent Yellow Dry Ink. The new XLS (Extra Long Sheet) configuration and Fluorescent Yellow toner target customer needs for handling jobs requiring longer sheets and the need to add an especially vivid color to a variety of applications. Both capabilities are available as options on all new iGen 5 presses and as field upgrades for existing iGen 5 owners.

    So just how vivid is this yellow? Think signage for exit pathways in dimly lit stairwells or the vests runners wear to make themselves more visible to car and truck drivers. Anyone will notice it. Now imagine it on printed page. Are more colors likely to follow? The smart money says yes.

    XLS is another revenue generator, especially when combined with fifth print station color options, enabling even mid-size shops to offer customers more capabilities. Think banners, posters, dust jackets for case bound books, and point of purchase displays, along with 4-panel brochures, panoramic artwork, and more options for multi-up printing. And it can all be done productively with the iGen 5.

    Beyond the press
    Yet any printer will be quick to point out two factors more important than whatever a press brings to the party: workflow and partnering.

    Workflow used to mean physical movement of a job from one part of a print plant to another. Now it means a smooth, even seamless transition from job receipt to prepress to production to delivery. Nowadays, about 95 percent of this is software that links all the disparate parts of a business together. In the case of the Xerox iGen 5 Press the software is Xerox Freeflow Core, which works with industry-standard Adobe PDF files to enable use of the fifth print station for orange, green and blue gamut extension colors and Fluorescent Yellow, white and clear toners, as well as the 35-inch page length. FreeFlow Core automatically determines if an additional fifth color is needed, which color extension works best and the most efficient way to group jobs. The result is a fast, accurate, color-matching machine. Having all this within a single workflow can increase efficiency in any print shop and can simplify the process from document creation through production and delivery.

    Gilboa also emphasizes the importance of partnership. “Small and large printers alike don’t just want a box on the floor. They are trying to sell value and become a trusted advisor to their customers. They expect help from the company that sold them the box.”

    Doing this requires the support of equipment vendors who can help a printer deliver the value a customer seeks. For example, a printer’s customer may want to create a dynamic mailer and point-of-purchase displays for a new product that will be sold in multiple different stores. But the scope of the project may initially seem beyond the reach of the printer the company normally uses. However, if that printer can draw on its relationship with a brand-name company such as Xerox, to help ensure the mailing, printing and distribution of all direct mail and point-of-purchase materials is properly coordinated, the project raises the bar on what the printer can do.

    “The combination of end-to-end workflow as well as a close partnership with suppliers has a greater impact of success of print service beyond just the technology or printing the job,” says Gilboa. “It’s really about helping a customer be more successful in their strategic engagement. This partnership helps print service providers to shift from selling pages and start selling the value those pages offer and how doing that can help them achieve their business objectives.”
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