Quality of Digital

By | October 17, 2008

Early digital presses suffered from low print quality output and many were not engineered for high volume output. One of the biggest marketing hurdles for digital printing has been image quality and getting over the perceived myths that still exist from the early days.

In the last week there have been a few articles that provide some insight into quality issues with digital print.

A recent article by Pete Basiliere at OutputLinks examines the build quality of a digital press:

There on the wall was a poster from GRAPH EXPO 1988 with a close-up view of a Miehle-Roland 36 oil bath gear train, with the heavy oil dripping through the gears and over their sides. The message is obvious: high quality offset printing at high speeds requires a rugged and robust design. Twenty years later Miehle-Roland is gone and the last thing you will find in a digital press is an oil bath gear train.

Yet from a capital investment perspective, the design and construction of a digital press is arguably more important in the long run than print quality. As a buyer, you will select the device that provides the level of quality you and your clients demand. You will also reasonably expect that the quality in the near term will be consistent with the press manufacturer’s claims. But for the long term a well-built digital press is required to provide consistent print quality throughout its life.

The last two articles in the Printing Industry Center at RIT Article Series at WhatTheyThink.com look at image quality issues. Last weeks Permanence of Toner on Paper looks at permanence issues, quality, and archivability of digitally printed material. This weeks article Digital and Offset Print Quality Issues.

As we get close to Graph Expo. What quality issues will you be asking the vendors?

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3 thoughts on “Quality of Digital

  1. George Alexander

    It seems as if the arguments about the image quality of digital printing vs. offset printing have been endless, and not much has come out of them so far. Of the few efforts at impartial comparison that have been made, most have been based on visual comparison (asking print buyers, “which of these print samples do you like better?”). The results have not been very conclusive.
    An alternative approach to the problem, and one that I personally find interesting, is what the Swiss company System Brunner has been doing. They have a software package, Proof Check, that was originally designed to see how well a digital proof matches offset standards (and, therefore, how easy it will be to match on an offset press). But the same software can be used to see how well a digital press matches offset standards.
    The approach is based on printing a small test target alongside a live job. The print quality is measured based on a variety of parameters calculated from scanning the target with a spectrophotometer. The biggest weight is given to the amount of deviation from neutral gray in different parts of the tonal range.
    The other thing—perhaps even more helpful—that System Brunner has done is to specify five categories of printing quality, ranging from “Minimal” (1 star) which includes desktop publishing where no proof or approval is involved, up to “Top” (5 stars) which includes absolute color matching between proof and print-run for high-quality studio shots used in cosmetics ads, for example. The intermediate categories are called “Periodical” (2 stars), “Commercial” (3 stars), and “Luxury” (4 stars). I find these categories helpful in thinking about the quality and color-matching requirements in different markets. Instead of asking, “Is offset better than digital in general?” you can ask, “Is digital just as good as offset for this market segment?”
    System Brunner actually calculates one of these “star” values for a given print run, based on data from the scanned targets. The approach is certainly not perfect, but I’m not aware of anything else that is as helpful in addressing the “digital vs. offset” debate. (In fact, I’d be very interested in hearing about different ways of attacking this question.)
    You can get more at the System Brunner site (www.systembrunner.com). I have also written about the approach at beyond-print.net (http://www.beyond-print.de/site/content/en/channel_news/news_0416.html)

  2. John Scott Thorburn

    I wish to personally thank George Alexander for sharing his thoughts and insights with us in such clear prose. It is a delight to read something so worth reading on a subject so poorly handled by most reviewers. Thank you.

  3. Skip Henk

    The question has sustained itself for almost 30 years when the Xerox 9700, IBM3800 and Honeywell PPS systems all vied for the title of “best print quality”.

    Does someone looking at their bill not pay it because the color is not “vibrant”? Looking at a statement, is the information not absorbed because it is only 300 dpi? On the other end of the spectrum, does someone decide to buy a $50k car because of the brochure?

    Digitial print quality somedays seems to be a competition with the vendors community. As a former vendor, was in many cases what I lead with because my competitors did. I think the days of acceptable print quality is here for MOST applications with focus on content, design, composition and relevance, particularly in the transactional space.

    Some applications are still extremely quality sensitive … but it is all in the eyes of the beholder. If a text book is 40% less, with lower quality will people choose the lower price. In most cases yes. As a father putting someone through college .. absolutely yes.

    I see fewer loops at tradeshows …. are we closing in on the “ultimate quality”. Don’t know about you, but I have enjoyed the 30 year journey.

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