Surprise! Toner Print Bests Offset in Mailing Study

By | January 12, 2009

For years, conventional wisdom has been that toner-based digital print does not fare as well in the postal stream as offset print. To be equivalent, it must be coated, adding to the complexity and cost. But is this really true?

This month, I released a major update to my training and marketing tool “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” and in it is a huge surprise.  According to a recent PIA/GATF Digital Printing Council study, toner-based print fared better in the mailing stream than offset printing. Not only this, but mailers produced on machines that come out of the office environment fare even better.

According to the study:

  • The percentage of tears was roughly equivalent between digital and offset produced mailers;
  • The percentage of digital mailers with the lowest level of damage was nearly four times higher for digital than for offset —11.3% for digital compared to 3.8% for offset;
  • The percentage of digital mailers with the highest level of damage was more than three times lower for digital —7.2% compared to 25.3% for offset.

Take that to your skeptical marketing customers!

“Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models” includes several other major updates, including an entire section on how digital printing “greens” print marketing, updated charts and graphics, and the new section on the DPC study, “Digital Printing and Survivability in the U. S. Postal Stream.”

Updates will be provided to Digital Printing Reports customers at no charge with proof of purchase of the report from Digital Printing Reports, What They Think Store, or any authorized reseller in the past 30 days Previous customers beyond the 30 days can receive the report at 50% discount with proof of purchase.

For more information and a complete list of updates, visit Digital Printing Reports.

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19 thoughts on “Surprise! Toner Print Bests Offset in Mailing Study

  1. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    Not that I could tell. When I get the time, I’m going to contact the manufacturers involved in the study to get their opinions. Now THAT ought to be interesting. (If any of the manufacturers in the study are reading this post, please feel free to pre-empt me and contact me first! 🙂 )

  2. Mike

    I always take what is published in a report that is sponsored by any industry vendor with some wariness. Particulary when that leads to a conclusion that their product can fix any and all print problems upto and including male pattern baldness.

    In my experience, traditional offset still better supports direct mail, not only for quality, quantity and cost compared to toner. If a “damage factor” is a consideration then it maybe very well an attempt to reach for any percieved advantage versus cost.

  3. Ulises Grajales

    Which digital media was used in this study? What is the size of the mailer?What digital equipment ran the stock?

  4. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    Mike — as reported, this was a Digital Printing Council study, not a vendor study. The methodology was quite rigorous. All digital press vendors printed identical pieces, heavy coverage, no coating, and mailed them from four different locations.


    The DPC was not able to get consensus from the press manufacturers on a stock, so each press vendor was allowed to choose its own stock. Details of the stocks used can be found in the study itself.

    Mailers were 6×9″.

    Vendor participants were Canon, Oce, Xerox, HP, and Nexpress. The offset comparison was run on a Komori.

  5. Christian

    Intersting study, i wish it went into a bit more detail. HP was included so liquid ink was also weighed? How did that compare with the toner? In researching digital presses each manufacturer had different resistance on paper, even comparing toner to toner.

  6. Mike

    Heidi – Thanks for the clarification. Then perhaps a question more technical in nature.

    How can a toner produced mailing product increase the tensile strength of paper to reduce tearing or damage during the mailing process?

    You had mentioned Komori was the offset comparision. Were there any digital presses included in the study that use offset inks such as the Presstek DI?

  7. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    Hi, Mike.

    Vendor participants were Canon, Oce, Xerox, HP, and Nexpress—no other manufacturers. Others were contacted, but only these agreed to participate.

    How can a toner-produced mailer increase the tensile strength of the paper to reduce tearing? I wouldn’t think it would. Unless—and this is entirely speculation—it has something to do with the lower fusing temperature. Both Canon and Oce presses use polymerized toner, which fuses at a lower temperature.

    As for more technical answers, I’m still waiting. I talked to one of the participants in the study this afternoon and the results were a surprise to them, too. The answers to these questions are apparently not obvious.

  8. mike barisonek

    Was the inline coating system on the offset press turned off for the test?

    This seems to be an obvious question, however, most multi color offset presses are equipped with inline aqueous coating capability that contributes very,very, little to the per sheet cost.

    This is one of the reasons that toner based digital output should be coated in order to be placed on a level playing field with offset.

    The fact is that in today’s market, you would almost have to request that an offset printed piece not be coated, because the equipment is in place, the cost is negligible, and don’t forget that aqueous coating helps the offset printer get the work out of the shop faster!

  9. Vscagnetti

    Sounds like another dubious self-promoting study. Just the fact that they could choose their own paper is ridiculous.

  10. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    As I’ve stated, coating was not applied to the sheets. The idea was to test the durability of the toner itself — without coating.

    It’s interesting that you say that “toner-based digital output should be coated in order to be placed on a level playing field with offset.” The point of the study is that, at least in this test, this is not true.

    Just to throw another wrench in the works. I was talking to one of the participants in the study and he pointed out that in a SUTHERLAND RUB TEST, both the Canon and Oce machines outperformed offset. Those results were at the end of the study, but I missed it until yesterday.

    It is interesting to me how readers are dismissing the results of this study. It was not conducted by the vendors. It was an independent test conducted by PIA/GATF’s Digital Printing Council. I’m not sure why anyone would think that the ability to choose the stock would undermine the results of the study, but feel free to share your rationale.

  11. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    Christian — sorry, I missed your comment.

    All of the results from each manufacturer were provided in the study. I don’t wish to go into them here because I want to keep the focus on toner vs. offset, not get into comparing or contrasting presses. I have a high level of respect for all of these manufacturers and my purpose is not to appear to promote one over the other. I simply find the overall results fascinating, especially the performance of different types of toners.

    But, again, I prefer to focus on the type of toner, not to discuss specifics about individual manufacturer results. For that, readers can go directly to the DPC study. The Sutherland Rub Test results are also included by manufacturer.

  12. Joe Marin


    Hello! Joe Marin here from Printing Industries of America. I authored the research report and also developed the methodology for the study.

    I just wanted to stress that the main focus of the study was survivability of print in the mainstream as a whole, not necessarily digital versus litho (although this was an interesting find and felt it was necessary to include in the report).

    I also wanted to comment on a few of the posts made above:

    -The report was absolutely not sponsored by any vendors/suppliers. It was an independent research study by the Printing Industries of America/Digital Printing Council.

    -The litho produced postcards could have been coated (as our press does have an inline coater), but the baseline for the study was “no coating” on any of the printed material.

    -I could not get the vendor participants to agree on one paper stock, so I allowed them to select the paper they thought would be most appropriate for this study.

    The bigger issue, and main focus, with regards to the study results is how different the postcards faired from each mailing location. A quantity of postcards (1200) were mailed from 4 different cities (LA, Buffalo, Chicago, Miami) to Pittsburgh. What we found was that distance traveled had nothing to do with amount/degree of scuffing, but the originating mailing location did.

    All USPS offices have identical equipment. But, just like anything else, how well (or in some cases, poorly) the equipment is calibrated and maintained has a dramatic impact on printed material sent through the mail.

    Thanks for all the posts and interest in this study!

  13. Skip Henk

    In my days as a vendor, whether it was toner or inkjet, media was a key factor in both quality and image permanency so the vendors not agreeing on a stock is understandable. No one wants to use a stock that does not produce optimum results for their product.

    The variables of base weight and differences in USPO systems are symptomatic of the “real world”.

    What this tells me is toner based systems work. The fact it worked effectively without coating is key from a cost standpoint.

    Many thanks to PIA.

  14. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    Great points, Skip. Since different stocks perform differently on different presses, it’s only fair to the press vendors to allow them to choose their own stocks. This way, each is operating under ideal conditions. The moral of the story is, if printers want to optimize the performance of their output in the mail stream, they need to check with their vendor first, since the “right” paper will vary by press.

  15. John

    I think it also says quite a bit about the expertise of the vendors in the mailing environment. If you look at what they did it appears that only a few vendors understand the mailing process, so they chose a more sturdy paper, other went for a softer more glossy sheet to make the print look better before the mailing, how dumb is that. I think this study also says a lot about the supposed expertise of the vendors.
    One thing that is very clear I that the polymerized toners used by Oce & Canon hold up much better than the polyester toners of Xerox, Nexprss & HP. Don’t forget in that HP if you evaporate the liquid it’s still polyester toner in the bottle.

  16. Matthew Heim

    To comment on a a few of Joe Marin’s points:
    1) The originating post office does seem to be the biggest culprit in damaging mail. In Honolulu, the amount of tearing is comparable with offset and digital (our USPS has difficulty with longer pieces). OTOH, “burning” (read extreme scuffing) is noticeable on both types of printing although much more significant with digital pieces. We’ve had both liquid and dry toner systems over the years with the same results. We’ve gone to coating 95% of all digital mail, with only about 20% of offset being coated. Offset, at least in Honolulu, is definitely more durable on this point.
    2) I chuckled on the comment, “All USPS equipment is identical”. Every USPS location has different equipment based on purchase dates, equipment life cycles and service demands. When we started to coat our digital mail, USPS came back and said it was too slippery for their machines. We showed them a lot of “slippery” direct mail that originated across the country that we received intact without damage and said how can this be? They invited us to bring down some mail and run it through the facility to see if we could come up with a solution. Wow! I never knew that depending on what shift and what ZIP code the mail was going to, the pieces went through a different machine. Each machine was a different age with different mechanics causing burning on the front OR the back OR both AND in different places.** Then if the mail was destined for ZIP codes by let’s say Pearl Harbor, it was shipped via truck to that facility and processed there (with much smaller/older equipment). How do you plan for that??
    ** For those that mail for real estate companies, why is it that the burn/scuff spot is always on the agents head shot? We move that photo all over the dang card to no avail. The machine finds it every time. LOL.

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