In black and white

Like analogue television, AM radio and gramophone records, black-and-white printing is no longer in its heyday. But, as Peter Kohn discovered, it has its market segments and is far from obsolete.
In an industry that's increasingly geared to enhancement of the printed document, a key ingredient seems to be colour. But how much printing is still done in black-and-white? Does mono imaging have a role to play? Talking to printers from various sectors - books, in-plant, small commercial and transactional - the consensus appears to be that there is a core space for black-and-white.

The challenge is determining just what that is for black-and-white in terms of capital outlay on equipment, which is at the high volume end of digital printing. Mono print can be a bonanza, but it is also potentially a sitting duck for internet alternatives, where customers can achieve volume without the associated costs.

The black and white on books
Book printing, with its preponderance of text, is perhaps the last remaining stronghold of black on white print, says American industry analyst Frank Romano.

Locally, premium book printer BPA Digital in Melbourne, a division of BPA Printing (formerly Brown Prior Andersen), which was formed after BPA's acquisition of Jenkin Buxton in 2001, has seen a dramatic upswing in digital mono printing in recent years.

BPA Digital managing director Brett Turnley estimates that around 35 per cent of BPA's book printing is now mono, but that the digital component of that has risen to around 40 per cent, compared to offset printing.

Colour printing is limited mainly to enhancement, with colour covers and colour sections, mainly printed offset, for digitally printed black and white books and for high-end work such as coffee-table books.

"We introduced digital to complement our offset because we wanted to replicate binding styles, which is one of the primary reasons we chose a web press (the Oce Variostream 7550 mono machine). We wanted a folded section to come off the machine, we wanted section sewing and the option of choosing binding styles, such as burst binding."

BPA Digital also has an Oce 2110 cutsheet mono press and an Oce CS520 colour press with Hunkeler finishing equipment, but Turnley says colour work - books, but also publications, guides, directories and corporate printing - is still far more likely to be printed offset in anything but the shortest runs. "When you get into slightly longer runs in colour, that's still an awful lot of clicks, considering the costs of digital colour."

On campus
David Harrison heads print, bookshop and commercial services at Murdoch University in Perth. He manages the printing of resources for a campus population of 15,000, which makes the 30-year-old university - one of the last to be established - relatively small.

The university's black-and-white output is around 22 million impressions a year, as well as around five million impressions from library fleets on the campus. By contrast, internally produced colour is about 500,000 but rising very quickly. Outsourced work (overwhelmingly colour, including handbooks and marketing collateral) is about $1 million a year, he estimates.

Providing an on-demand printing service with a 24-hour turnaround lends itself particularly to the "low-frills" workflow of black-and-white printing. "Students need their materials and you have to be geared up to do that."

But at the same time, appearance and presentation of materials is given high priority at Murdoch. "We're fairly fastidious about presentation, so all the material sold through the university bookshop has colour covers, and a lot of institutions don't do that. Most of the covers we do are perfect bound. There's a huge demand here for the enhancement of documents in any way possible - that includes editing and design, but certainly colour plays a big part."

Enhancement of black-and-white content with partial colour content and colour covers has risen dramatically at Murdoch, from 200,000 at the start of 2006 to 500,000 at present, with a projection to 800,000 in 12 months' time.

"There's more value to the document, even if it is more expensive, but that's coming down. You can now get a click rate of around 8c, which is still a lot dearer than 0.7 or 0.8c for black-and-white. But people like their documents enhanced, and we've found they will pay for quality."

Murdoch's copy centre uses Oce for all its black-and-white high-volume printing and Fuji Xerox and Konica Minolta for colour, and the library fleet (convenience copies) is supplied by Ricoh, all of it driven by an Oce DocWorks front-end, which scans, edits, enhances, makes ready and sends files to the selected output device.

John Cason, manager of Macquarie Lighthouse Press, the in-plant facility of Macquarie University in Sydney, says colour at present makes up just a tiny component (under two per cent) of the print centre's annual output, although the target for 2008 is to double that.

The overwhelming ratio of student resources and administrative forms printing is done black-and-white on a Konica Minolta bizhub 1050 production-level machine.

Where it is used, colour is on covers, promotional work and short-run specialty work. The plant is trialling a Konica Minolta bizhub pro C6500 colour machine, but Cason sees an upskilling factor that's necessary before digital colour becomes mainstream. "The suppliers promote colour to us strongly but it really requires the Adobe skillset," he reflects.

Commercial view
Alan Thomas is the managing director of commercial printing business Print City, located on Flinders Lane in the heart of Melbourne's CBD. The company handles a lot of corporate printing, calendars, stationery, brochures, much of it on a rapid turnaround for which its city address is optimal.

He sees a definite decline in black-and-white printing. Print City has two Xerox DC1100 110ppm machines and a 405 used for self-serve copying. In February last year, the average of clicks on these black-and-white devices was 12,000 per day. By November, this had reduced to 11,000, and is 7,000-8,000 per day at present.

Thomas sees a very specific role for black-and-white - jobs that require an extremely quick turnaround and where visuals are not a priority. As an example, he cites a monthly job: printing the forward notes for a financial company. The file comes in with the pages already numbered, around 700 pages per copy, eight copies to be printed double-sided and two-hole punched. "We usually have three hours tops to turn that around."

In the past 24 months, there have only been six months in which Print City generated more than 100,000 black-and-white impressions per machine. "Our DocuColor 8000 generates more impressions than any of our black-and-whites," he says (Print City also runs a DocuColor 2060).

Occasionally, a black-and-white project will require a high degree of finishing. "A major client we had, in dollar terms but not in click terms, was a company that organises conferences and exhibitions, and every time they had one coming up, every potential exhibitor got a document well over half an inch thick. It was printed on various colours of stock, with tabs. All of these had to be printed separately, then hand-collated. You might have had 30 different piles that needed collating. It was not a great deal of revenue as far as printing was concerned, but it was in terms of the collating and binding.

"However, that customer decided recently to give up printing and use the internet. Online (with self-printing) is a challenge to commercial printers wanting to hang on to black-and-white work."

(Incidentally, Murdoch University's David Harrison also sees document printing being particularly prone to encroachment by electronic alternatives, although he believes the initial rush to the internet has subsided and hardcopy course materials have made a comeback.)

Print City also runs a two-colour Heidelberg, with an occasional black-and-white job, usually stationery or other higher-volume orders, but these are now few and far between, says Thomas.

Mailhouse perspective
Eddy Abboud, group general manager of iGroup Australia, which was formed last year from the merger of Mailroom Express in New South Wales, Data Print & Mail in Victoria and SmartComm in Queensland, sees mono printing as a mainstay of direct mail (DM) and essential mail for some time to come. Around 95 per cent of Australian mailhouse material is still in black-and-white.

"The feedback from our customers is they want a high-speed solution at volume and for a relatively low cost. Gen X and Gen Y demographics have proven more receptive of colour, so perhaps ten years from now, that pattern will have changed."

But for the moment, he sees little movement into colour, finds it a hard sell to agencies and identifies a lack of expertise among print salespeople to upsell DM customers into cleansheet colour from black-and-white overprints. Future consolidation of print and mail operations, with print shops driving mailhouse technologies more than they are at present, might also encourage a move to colour, he says.

At Salmat, Pat O'Sullivan, general manager, marketing, says around 80 per cent of its output is black on preprinted base stock, but the figure is steadily declining.

What's on offer
Equipment vendors have devoted quite a bit of R&D budget to black-and-white document printing, with the focus on speed and inline finishing.

Oce covers black-and-white with its Gemini range - the Oce Varioprint 6250, which can print 132ppm in A3 format and 250ppm in A4, and the 6200 and 6160 (designed for customers with production volumes of between 750,000 and 8 million prints per month) and its Varioprint 2100 range.

Herbert Kieleithner, Oce Australia's marketing manager for production print, says the development of the VarioPrint 6250 follows market studies showing that more than 80 per cent of output on high-volume cutsheet systems is in double-sided prints.

In the VarioPrint range, the Oce VarioPrint 2100/2110 Titanium is designed to run continuously to provide maximum productivity, with the 2110 capable of 105ppm at A4. Complex documents requiring tabs, mixed stock, colour inserts and variable data printing can be handled efficiently within one workflow with print quality that equals offset, he states.

Kodak has announced significant enhancements of its Digimaster EX system that allows print providers to integrate new workflows, expand finishing services and improve the overall reliability of their black-and-white operations. The Digimaster machines print at speeds from 110ppm to 150ppm on A4.

At drupa 2008, visitors to the Kodak stand will see a system upgrade with new print production software that improves workflow efficiency for all Digimaster EX systems by providing support for JDF capability and connectivity to Kodak's Prinergy 4.1 workflow, using Kodak's SmartBoard document mastering software for full job ticketing.

On the machine itself, engine enhancements allow the Digimaster to print on a wide range of substrates, says Steve Fletcher of Kodak's GCG group.

Fuji Xerox offers its Nuvera 120 MX Digital Production System, which can print double-sided A3, at speeds of 72ppm (and 120ppm for A4). Its Nuvera 144EA prints double-sided A3 at 72ppm but is rated at 144ppm for A4, as is the top-of-the-range Nuvera 144 MX.

Canon Australia's imageRUNNER high-end mono range includes the iR7086, iR7095, iR7095P and iR7105. All models except the 7105 share a 50ppm rated speed for A3 documents, with the 7105 outputting at 53ppm (and 105ppm for A4).

Konica Minolta offers its Australian customers the bizhub PRO 1050e for high-speed, high productivity and at 60ppm in black-and-white A3 printing and 105ppm in A4. The bizhub PRO 920 offers output up to 54ppm on A3 and 92ppm on A4, featuring the company's Tandem Print and Tandem Copy capabilities, which allow the connection of two bizhub PRO 920s in tandem for up to 184ppm output.

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