Digital printing is growing at a rate of 25% annually and will overtake traditional offset printing within 40 years, a top official in the Indian Printing Packing and Allied Machinery Manufacturers Association told the Economic Times Dec. 15.
Estimates differ on exactly how soon digital methods will make up the bulk of the printing market, but experts seem to agree that digital techniques will continue to grow, changing multiple print industries along with them. An estimate released by Smithers PIRA on Nov. 26 projects that digital printing will grow by 250% by 2024.
So what, exactly, does digital printing entail?
Digital printing refers to the fact that projects are printed directly from digital files, rather than being transferred onto a medium via custom plates and rubber blankets, as in offset printing.
But as Gretchen A. Peck explained in a Dec. 8 article for Editor and Publisher, digital printing has come a long way from its inception, when commercial digital printers were little more than oversized office printers. “Today, digital printing technologies are diverse — from toner-based systems to the newest classes of large-format equipment and high-speed inkjet Web presses,” she writes. “The resolutions have been upped, the images sharpened. Digital print systems are quick now and can be paired with in-line or near-line finishing technologies for folding, cutting, stacking and sorting. They’re highly efficient.”
The capabilities of digital printing, as alluded to by Peck, depend heavily on the type of machine being used. In general, however, digital printing allows for quick turnaround times and affordable printing at low minimum runs (a boon for small businesses). This is because the process doesn’t require the same amount of setup as an offset printing run.
Digital printing also allows for customized applications such as specialized finishes on unusual papers or other printing surfaces.
It used to be that image and color quality were generally lower on digitally printed projects, but advanced digital presses have caught up to their offset counterparts in most respects, experts say.
Perhaps the most intriguing possibility opened up by digital printing — and the one that has excited marketers ever since digital printing first arrived on the scene — is that individual copies of a mass project can be customized for the intended reader.
“Variable-data messages,” as Peck calls them, could allow for a magazine to be printed with completely personalized ads, for example. She adds the caveat, however, that the publishing industry has wisely refrained from pressing this concept too far: “There’s a fine line between what is personalized and what is creepy,” she notes.
But publishing media across the board are taking note of digitally printed possibilities and slowly expanding.
Print newspapers, often thought to be a dying sector, might see a future in digital techniques. “Though it’s unlikely that offset fades into oblivion anytime soon, digital print is offering a newspaper-production alternative for short-run publications,” Peck writes.
Digital printing could even make it affordable for people to get their hometown newspapers anywhere in the world — without the expense of flying copies in, which used to be the only option. “With its short-run and ultra-short-run sweet spot, digital printing is perfectly positioned to print these types of publications,” Peck predicts.