Soar Printing takes a buck each way on digital

Traditional printing mounts a fightback against digital

Auckland-based commercial printer Soar Printing has just taken delivery of a brand new Heidelberg offset printer, to sit alongside two others on the ground floor of its Eden Terrace premises.

Upstairs sit two Hewlett-Packard Indigo presses that use ink on paper technology to deliver consistent, high-quality digital printing.

The mix of digital and offset printing has boosted Soar’s business and delivered what Soar’s marketing manager, Craig Brown, describes as “brand consistency” for customers.

Soar, which as a business dates back to 1920, realised five years ago that it needed to diversify into digital printing from the company’s traditional base. Digital was the growth area, as print runs became smaller and customers were looking for a one-stop solution.

Brown says at the time digital printing was growing at a rate of 38% a year, while commercial printing was growing at only the same rate as GDP (1% to 3% per annum). The move to digital opened market opportunities in direct marketing and one-to-one marketing, he says.

Conventional wisdom has it that offset quality is demonstrably better than digital, but Brown says digital has become so good it is nearly impossible to tell the difference. But offset printing has progressed as well, through the use of new computer controlled inking systems. The new Heidelberg Anicolor A3 offset press is, Brown says, a “radical technology”, allowing print runs as low as 250 to be produced on an offset printer with minimal “make-ready” waste (around 10 to 20 sheets as opposed to 400).

That allows the press to compete with the digital technology at Soar on a number of fronts.

Three years ago Soar bought a Heidelberg XL-105 oversize A1 press, a $5 million investment that similarly reduced make-ready waste on large print runs from 400 sheets to 150. Energy consumption by the new machines is also coming down steadily, he says.

Soar has secured a number of environmental accreditations, including Enviromark Diamond PEFC and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), while investments in new technology allow it to continually reduce the company’s carbon footprint and provide a better delivery service to customers, Brown says. He says such schemes are strict and companies signed up can’t get away with just talk – they have to do the walk as well.

Brown says if he was HP, he’d be seriously concerned about developments such as the Heidelberg Anicolor technology, despite the press’s inability to manage variable data for personalisation.

Soar bought its first Indigo presses 10 years ago. It currently has a HP Indigo 5000 and a 5500. These are solidly-built machines, he says, claiming they offer longer life than others in the market.

They are also efficient, especially for short runs and the liquid-ink printing technology allows accurate colour matching.

Ink is sprayed onto a photoelectric plate and only what’s applied to the job is used.

“The quality is very good,” he says. “It’s come a long way.”

The digital run can be finished in any way a conventional print job can, he adds. Digital also opens new business opportunities, such as printmyalbum.co.nz. Using this service, customers can order albums, calendars and photobooks, sent directly to Soar’s digital Indigo printers. Billing is also completed online.

The downside is the digital runs are slower and require more maintenance, Brown says.

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