High-End Digital Print: What Does It Take to Get It?

By | September 16, 2014

What does it take to produce consistently high-quality pieces on a digital press? Not just solid commercial-quality work, but output that consistently meets the most demanding client expectations? Lately, I’ve been doing a series of interviews with high-end digital printers asking this very question. Here is what I’m hearing. Please chime in with your own thoughts.

1. Understand how your clients define quality, then purchase equipment that is capable of meeting those expectations. For example, for one printer, “quality” was evaluated by the ability of the press to print on uncoated and textured sheets. This need, expressed by a high percentage of his unique customer base, was one of the primary drivers in his purchase decision.

2. Hire dedicated press operators that “own” the equipment the way a press operator takes ownership of his press. Hire people who understand the equipment, how it works, the range of adjustments that can be made, and how to work within the available parameters to optimize print quality.

3. To the greatest extent possible, let the press operator do his or her own press maintenance. Give them the tools, the flexibility, and the authority to keep the press in top condition. Let them do maintenance at the moment they realize it needs it.

4.  Set expectations upfront. Work with your clients upfront to show them what output looks like on different equipment, different substrates, and using different techniques. Show samples and even run rough proofs so they understand upfront what the job is going to look like.

5. Get sign-off on hard copy proofs before running the job. Hard copy proofs might seem old-fashioned these days, but every one of the printers I talked to used them routinely. This way, clients know what they’re getting before you run the full production length job — then they sign off on it. No surprises!

What do you think of this list? What would you add to it?

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8 thoughts on “High-End Digital Print: What Does It Take to Get It?

  1. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Many of the people I interviewed also had dedicated operators for their presses. They weren’t trying to cross-train employees and have them multi-task. Many are dedicated digital-press-only operators. I didn’t consistently ask that question, though, so I didn’t include it in the list.

  2. MailGuru

    If you have more than one digital press, make sure the actual job is run on the press that produced the hard-copy sign-off. If, for some resason (printer goes down, production dictates runiing it on a different printer, etc.) you have to run it on a different printer, make sure you re-print a new proof. No need to have it re-signed off by customer, just make sure the second proof looks exactly like the first one.

  3. Henry Freedman

    Excellent question Heidi, we have customers using press grading to do following: (partial list)

    1. Benchmark their press vs. others.
    2. Comparing their press to all processes.
    3. To communicate with the service tech to speed service and show where they
    4. To buy a used press to test if it has IQ that it should,
    5. To buy a new press and create documentation at acceptance testing.
    6. To compare and contrast settings and press operators.
    7. To verify which paper prints best quality.
    8. To show prospective customers they have image quality to do the job.

    Many, many more uses. We write examples of these uses and impacts
    in a technical Library at http://imagetestlabs.com/library.html and
    you can see other examples in testimonials.

    Our fist customers were the press manufacturers themselves who continue to use the grading for emerging press R&D before press comes out to market as well as competitive analysis. Things have been really exciting and press grading gives press owner new valuable information to best manage press and quality. Customers themselves say how they use in testimonials at http://www.imagetestlabs.com/ and we invite ALL Questions. Hope this helps,
    thanks for the question.

  4. Robert Stabler

    You make some excellent points, Heidi – especially #1! At Xerox, we spend a lot of our time trying to “imagine ourselves in the shoes of the customer.” In order to provide the best product for the perfect fit, it’s essential to understand what our customers and their clients need.

    In B2B, it’s sometimes tougher to find ways to make connections that are on point, when the buyers of our technology and services aren’t necessarily the final operators. So, does it make sense to invest in ways to connect to the end users, the knowledge workers themselves?

    The answer is – yes. In order to maintain high-quality digital output, print providers need to focus on their customers’ wants and needs, and in turn, vendors need to deliver innovative products that reflect this insight. – Robert Stabler, Senior Vice President, Graphic Communications Business, Xerox

  5. Mitch Bogart

    Heidi, great question. From my point of view, as a rip designer, I think a major, if not most important factor is the pre-press technology used for the press. It should make use of all the capabilities of the printer, for example multiple gray-levels, dynamic calibrations, registration methods, etc..
    Repeatable highest quality print should be: color accurate, dot gain compensated, in near perfect register, and with no visible artifacts due to screening, lack of needed trapping, or distortions of any sort.

    Mitch, former VP and technical founder of Rampage Sys

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