Wednesday, 14 October, 2009

Is digital printing really ready to take on offset in India?

Digital printing is generally promoted as a solution for variable printing or short run printing. At least among the vendors, there is a strong belief that –“Smaller quantities are best printed on a digital press.” We did one of our quick studies on this issue by comparing the viability of printing short run books in runs from 50 to 500 using either conventional offset and new digital production processes.

Our book specifications were: 200 pages; 100 gsm art paper; size – A4 (210 x 297 mm); and, quantities of 50, 100, and 500 copies. We got quotations for two type of books with the specifications remaining the same – a full monochrome book with cover printed in 4-colour process on both sides; and secondly, a full 4-colour process book with the cover also printed in colour printed on both sides.

To understand the pricing in the printing industry better we found out that digital printer apart from their capital costs, paper and overheads also pays the press manufacturer a click charge that includes the cost of ink and toner. The click charge in India is generally anywhere from Rs. 4 to 8 for an A3 sheet for all four colours and it represents the basic annuity business model of the manufacturers. Thus the per copy cost for one sheet or a thousand sheet remains the same although large volume users naturally enjoy increased discounts.

In case of an offset printing, apart from the capital cost and the overheads, the variable costs come from the prepress work including platemaking and the cost of consumables including paper, ink and chemicals. Thus once the press is made ready for a particular job, the actual printing is completed quickly and unlike digital printing the price reduces as the quantity increases.

We received quotations from several offset and digital printers in the Delhi NCR region for both colour and monochrome printing on the basis of our above mentioned specifications. These quotations were then averaged and analyzed.

The results of our micro study reveal that printing full colour books of 75 copies or less is more economical using digital presses than going the conventional offset route. However, in the case of monochrome book printing, offset printing is more economical for any quantity from 50 books up till 500 books. Of course this would hold true for higher quantities as well. The basic point seems to be that offset printers in India are extremely competitive and willing to print much shorter runs than in other markets.

The issues of quality and turnaround time are of course not dealt with in this analysis. However it is clear that digital printing once you are able to provide a print-ready PDF would be much faster as long as the digital print service provider also has the same postpress and binding ability as an offset book printer. As far as quality, recent surveys show that digital quality is increasing as acceptable if not better than offset.

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