Sept. 21 2018 05:25 AM

This originally appeared in the September/October, 2018 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

The printing technology portion of the mailing process has seen revolutions over the last few decades. Pre-printed forms overprinted with impact printers grew into pre-printed forms overprinted with a monochrome laser printer. As printing devices became faster and added color, white paper factories became the norm, starting with blank sheets to produce completed print in a single pass, thereby reducing the time from the release of the data to mail insertion. And then came inkjet — a mature technology applied to the business of printing. For more than a decade, inkjet has been a serious consideration for any printer looking at upgrades to the print shop, whether the print shop is inside an enterprise or in a commercial operation.

The Inkjet Talk Track

  • Print faster, opening capacity and securing Service Level Agreements (SLA)
  • Lower cost using dye-based inks, and even pigment and hybrid inks
  • Promise of “cheap color”
  • Promise of lower paper costs
  • Promise of lower Total Cost of Operation and Total Cost of Print
  • Promise of ease-of-use

The production inkjet talk track began by focusing on the ability to achieve color at a viable cost for enterprise printers and print providers who serve the enterprise print market. The talk track continued to develop as new types of paper came to market to support the needs of print and mail organizations. Speeds increased, leading to opportunities to consolidate machines and handle ever tightening SLAs. Early adopters embraced the technology and jumped on board. Over time, more printers made investments in inkjet, and today, we can legitimately say that inkjet is the most common print technology in this market. However, inkjet is a technology on the move. There are many components of an inkjet ecosystem that need ongoing attention. Here are some key points to consider whether you have inkjet equipment installed today or you are considering adding inkjet equipment to support your business in the future.

Understand What Makes Inkjet Different

When the first full-color inkjet presses came to market, there were significant constraints. Colors were a bit dull compared to electrophotographic print. Paper options were limited. Print speed was good, but options for inline finishing were fairly restricted. However, those first presses opened the door for mailers to create faster white paper workflows, offering full-color bills and statements without offset preprints. For all regulated communication and some direct marketing, inkjet provided throughput and cost solutions.

Fast forward to today, and inkjet is mature. Color is vibrant. Paper options are expansive. And, finishing options now keep up with most of the solutions in the market. But inkjet is still different from electrophotographic (toner) printing. Understanding what makes it different can lead you to better quality inkjet print that delights customers and consumers, while meeting business requirements.

Start with the basics. Many clients will not care what technology is used to print their content, any more than they care what brand of inserter or camera system you use. What they do care about is getting their work produced to an SLA at a quality acceptable to their team and their customers. Some companies never tell their clients when they are changing technologies, but consider it something to celebrate. While your customers may not care, there absolutely is value in letting them know that you are (or will be) an inkjet shop. Consider having an open house so that clients see the power of today’s inkjet, potentially making them an advocate for this technology and your operation.

Remember that inkjet solutions mean that ink and paper work together. There are tips and techniques to designing for inkjet that vendors can share. Each manufacturer has slightly different technology, so it is worth asking them for information on how to manage color and ink profiles to produce the crispest and most vibrant print.

Build an Inkjet Ecosystem

Adopting inkjet is more than installing a new machine. Whether you are migrating to inkjet from pre-print plus toner strategy or a white paper factory using electrophotographic devices, you should be assessing your production ecosystem and making a few adjustments. The four areas that often produce the fastest results are paper, file preparation, color management, and finishing.

Paper: Paper is the most important facet of successful inkjet strategies. There is a tendency to want to print on the cheapest, lightest paper possible to keep costs of production and mailing weights down — but take a few moments to reconsider. Talk to your paper vendors to get their recommendations based on your volumes and the type of print work you do. They may recommend a strategy to offer a choice between a house paper and one or two premium papers. If that is your path you select, build pricing strategies and print sample kits for each type of paper. You may be surprised at how often the premium papers win!

File Preparation: In regulated mail and direct mail, it is common to see files generated by production systems that include graphic assets that might not have been developed for the target print environment. Assets with low resolution or overly high resolution pose challenges and may include ink limits and other attributes that conflict with the best practices of the inkjet digital front end. Do some research with the hardware vendors to see what their best practice recommendations are for the type of work that you do.

Color Management and Profiling: Many devices include onboard color calibration tools that provide consistency during a print job. Even with these tools, however, you will want to be aware of the sensitivity of your customers’ logo colors and the image assets that are included in their files. It is always a good idea to ask for a target print for any image asset so that file preparation teams can ensure that what prints is what will be acceptable to the client. And don’t forget to talk to the vendor’s installation team for recommendations on the best profiles to use for different types of work. You might find that dialing down the ink levels gives you crisper text and reduces costs.

Finishing: Adding inkjet devices should kick off a review of existing finishing options to ensure that older hardware can keep up with today’s inkjet press speeds. It is also a good time to look at features and functions, like horizontal and vertical perfing or specialized folding options.

Create New Products

Adding high-speed inkjet devices often means that there is more capacity, which opens the options to add new products to the print portfolio. It might mean looking toward new industry verticals to expand reach, or it might mean adding new types of supporting marketing products, both mailed and non-mailed. Use the inkjet opportunity to be creative. Talk to customers about their needs and wants. Have sales team members brainstorm to identify products they could sell. Think about enterprise buyers in terms of supporting products for their regulated communication. Print is everywhere, and the speed and price point of inkjet printing can unlock many new revenue streams.

Pat McGrew is Senior Director, Production Services, Keypoint Intelligence. If you have stories to share, reach out to her! @PatMcGrew on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or are the best ways to reach her.