New Technology Is Like Printing Money


A digital solution is transforming the printing business. In the past year, traditional film-based proofing systems became obsolete with the arrival of high-end inkjet printers controlled by a new generation of color-management software. VARs working that vertical market can offer clients an inexpensive solution that is a quantum leap over old methods.

Inkjet proofing defines the term "killer app." The new technology is faster, better and cheaper than previous methods. The technology is used at Newsday, a Pulitzer-prize-winning newspaper based in Melville, N.Y.

"We used to wait 24 hours for a proof," says James Kolber, Newsday's imaging manager. "Now we get it in 10 minutes, and the color is more accurate."

The technology uses Windows-based software that profiles the specific characteristics of individual printing presses and the media used in them. The data detailing those idiosyncrasies feeds high-end inkjet printers to make proofs that match the actual output. Cost savings are equally amazing.

"The solution price drops tenfold, and you're saving on material costs and labor, too," Kolber says.

Since installing a $25,000 system in February, Kolber estimates savings of $125,000 on materials alone. The icing on the cake was winning a Best Practices Award from the Newspaper Association of America for the improvement in color quality.

Dennis Hays, president of PrintNation, a division of Pitman, a Totowa, N.J.-based print-supply and imaging technology firm, had more than 75 inkjet proofing installations in 2001. The trick, according to Hays, is teaching clients the essentials of color management through the software. Typically, an installation requires several days' training to set the press profiles and show how to keep them properly calibrated. From there, client service can be accomplished via the telephone.

Hays brings a long history of experience to his work. His division was originally a VAR he founded in the mid-'80s and sold to Pitman in April. One of his key strategies is providing extensive telephone technical support.

"We've always asked our customers to call us with problems," Hays says. "[We told them 'Don't call Quark, don't call Apple, don't call IBM,call us. If we can't fix the problem, we'll call the manufacturer or the software publisher. We'll call you back and get you going.' That's what we did to get established in the '80's and what we still do today."

Hays' responsibilities include incorporating another Pitman acquisition, PrintNation.com, into the mix. This B2B e-commerce Web site aims at servicing a high volume of smaller clients than is practical with Pitman's traditional reps.

Becoming part of the parent company's overall strategy changes the dynamics of Hays' bottom line. "We differ from a traditional VAR in that we don't have to charge as much up front for consulting services. We can build it into the deal over time, because we hope to get all the consumable sales

on the back end," Hays says.

Still, service remains king.

"I was just talking to a prospective customer who bought from another vendor and can't get his profiles set properly," Hays says. "He was asking around for help and spoke to one of our customers who's up and running. After our conversation, he's ready to return all his stuff and buy from us. Because of our quality of service, we can get the sale and have a shot at getting the consumable business."

Getting clients started with an initial inkjet proofing install often leads to additional work. PrintNation client Rick Malone, director of Technology at Tatham and Associates, a Smyrna Ga.-based newspaper insert printer, worried about selling his customers on the change.

"We thought we were going to have a challenge converting our customers away from the old glossy proofs to the new inkjets," Malone says. "So we did a side-by-side [comparison of the different costs. They save 66 percent and can't tell the difference in the proofs. No one passed. For us, the dollars are smaller, but we've tripled our margins." Malone estimates savings of some $9,000 a month,an incredible return on the $25,000 investment. Such success means more business for PrintNation.

"We are going to be installing additional units at all our plants so we can do remote proofs," Malone says. "Now, we make prints here and send to our other plants by FedEx."

Despite the advantages, others in the industry don't see adopting this as a boon as much as a matter of survival. That includes Ed Perkins, president of Cameragraphics, a prepress shop based outside of Kansas City, Mo.

"We're not a printer. We're a film house," he says. "This technology could bypass us completely." While the benefits to clients are unmistakable, the in-house appeal is a mixed bag.

"You've got a savings of money and time for the customer. For us, it's more a case of spending money to make less money. With a film proof, we'd have a $1,500 sale. Now, we'll probably get $200 for the digital proof."

As an early adopter, Kolber's installation at Newsday is something of a special case. Kolber had been following the evolution of color-management technology for several years before Pitman provided direction to the breakthrough solution. But implementation has primarily been through working directly with the color-management software developer, Best Software USA. What does Kolber suggest to those potential customers wanting to get on top of this revolution?

"Don't even think to do it yourself," he says. "Color management is the farthest thing you can imagine from being turnkey. Without a VAR to provide the expertise in the setup, you will not get the results you want. If you don't get the right integrator, you're doomed."