The Intersection Between Offset and Wide-Format
At first blush, offset and wide-format printing don’t seem to have much overlap. Traditionally they have served very different purposes, with different customer sets, and different job requirements. But as the printing industry continues to converge — driven by customers looking for shops that can meet all their needs under a single roof — that line is starting to blur.
Marketers, brands, and print buyers have always created campaigns with elements all meant to be tied together. But they would have their banners and signage printed in one location, their direct-mail postcards printed in another, and then their vehicle graphics printed in a third place. And the ability to tie décor like wallpaper or flooring into a promotion or event wasn’t even a possibility a few years ago, but as technology has improved, that has become one of the hottest growth segments for those with wide-format devices.
Today’s savvy printer isn’t calling itself a “commercial printer” or a “wide-format printer.” They are using terms like “print service provider” or “marketing communications provider.” They look for ways to weave all the various technologies together to create cohesive, creative wholes that are eye-catching and memorable, no matter which element a consumer encounters first.
One such company is PrintPapa, a company started in 2005 by two brothers as a traditional commercial print shop. The brothers acquired a 28-year old shop and brought their backgrounds with technology and software to the mix. And that was when they began offering short-run offset printing, which is a perfect compliment for the wide-format printing they later added.
Today, notes Paul Nag, president of PrintPapa, while there hasn’t been a huge amount of crossover between the wide-format and offset departments overall, one area where the shop is seeing success blending the two technologies is in packaging.
“We are doing some short-run packaging work, all on the wide-format presses,” Nag says. “We’re trying to grow that part of the business, so we’re starting to do some of the longer runs on the RMGT 940 offset press, because of the 24x36" sheet size. We’re really going to be focusing on growing that side of the business for the next year or so.”
Having the capability to offer packaging produced on the wide-format presses for shorter runs, but then being able to accept jobs that can range up to 100,000 boxes, is a business model that PrintPapa can use to diversify its offerings and continue to expand into new markets that would be hard to target with just one of the technologies. The ability, for example, to create a short run of prototypes on the wide-format presses to test and acquire approvals, then moving it to offset for the final run is an intriguing model that could mean huge success long term.
“In the commercial world, there are a lot of commercial guys dipping their toe in the water of packaging,” says Doug Schardt, national product manager at Komori America, who sees the trends backing up the business model PrintPapa has embraced. “They’re looking to flesh out their offerings, with some more successful than others.”
But Schardt goes a step further, and notes that the lines that define a commercial printer are continuing to blur — which could mean opportunity for wide-format or sign shops. “They don’t see it as a ‘commercial’ market anymore,” he notes. “They see it as opportunities. If it fits on the press and they can process it, they’ll take it.”
Growing Through Partnerships
One thing to keep in mind, Nag notes, is that while it is relatively inexpensive, comparatively, to get into wide-format printing for a traditional commercial printer with offset presses, the same can’t be said for wide-format or sign shops looking to get into offset. Not only is the cost of offset presses still generally going to be higher than a comparable wide-format device, but the skill needed to run it is also going to be higher — and skilled artisans who understand offset presses are becoming more and more scarce every year as older press operators continue to retire without new blood coming in to replace them.
However, that doesn’t mean that a wide-format printer should just accept that a commercial shop is going to come in and steal the proverbial show. In fact, there are far more traditional offset printers who are uninterested in adding wide-format to their mix than there are shops looking to expand into the market. And that means opportunity.
While shops like PrintPapa might offer all the services in-house, for many commercial printers, partnerships with wide-format printers and sign shops can be a mutually beneficial relationship. The commercial printers can gain access to the equipment and expertise to expand their own short-run and wide-format portfolio and grow their share of the business with their current clients.
On the other side, wide-format printers get the same benefits — the ability to offer longer run work, or work produced on a wider range of substrates, for example. The concept of partnerships isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination, but it continues to spell huge opportunity for those willing to go out and cultivate the right relationships.
“You can’t really be a one-trick pony in this business anymore,” Nag says. “If you do one thing well, the customer wants you to do everything.” He goes on to add, “but for [wide-format] printers to transition to offset, there should be a very good business reason, when they could come to someone like us and get all their offset printing needs taken care of.”
The reality is that the print industry is converging from all sides: commercial printers are adding wide-format equipment; sign printers are moving into label printing; and package printers are beginning to offer specialty print products. As the technologies continue to improve across the board, the ability to move jobs between diverse types of technology such as offset and wide-format inkjet as the print runs and turnaround times fluctuate will only continue to put pressure on shops to offer — or have access to — everything.
Opportunity is out there, for the shops willing to think outside of the offset-printed box or the wide-format signage. And if you’re planning to be at PRINTING United in Dallas this year, Oct. 23-25, there will be ample opportunity to see those synergies in action and be inspired for the next phase of where your business might go next.