Does that seem counterintuitive? Inkjet is the faster, cheaper way to print! Image quality potential has consistently improved as higher resolution, better inks, and a wider range of substrates are supported across a growing range of inkjet platforms and print modules. Some inkjet platforms now include closed-loop colour control with onboard spectrophotometers linked to the controlling profiles with the goal of ensuring that the intended colour is the colour produced and if there is a problem the operator is alerted. Some platforms are loaded with sophisticated drying and chilling technology, and substrate moisturizers to ensure stability before finishing.
The heads that jet the ink have become ever more sophisticated, with abilities to produce droplets of different sizes and shapes. Some heads are able to accommodate a growing range of inks, while others are purpose-built. Two common types are water-based inks and solvent-based inks, but there are ranges of latex inks, oil-based inks, UV inks and even hot-melt melt inks, each with dedicated purposes making inkjet technology versatile.
So, why shouldn't you invest in inkjet? Let me amend that: don't invest in inkjet unless you are prepared to make some changes in what you sell, how you prepare the print work, and in your expectations.
Inkjet technology is one of my favourites. A printing company that plans, prepares, and executes can be very successful, but inkjet is not offset, it is not gravure, it is not toner. It is a technology that requires a careful review of expectations before writing the check. And that is where many companies go wrong, and why I urge caution.
An idle inkjet press can be a financial disaster. An inkjet press producing work that customers will not accept can be a financial disaster. A sales team that refuses to sell the work produced on an inkjet press can be a financial disaster. I have seen all these situations. Some of the unhappiest companies I have encountered in the last ten years have been those who jumped on to the inkjet racetrack without doing their homework.
That homework means more than listening to the sales pitch of a hardware vendor and sharing their beautiful print samples with your team. It means looking with clear eyes and calm hearts at the customers currently served, the customers that could be served, the sales team, the marketing organization, and the production team. It is going to take some changes - will they be on board? No one wants to believe that their team will have mixed emotions about a new piece of equipment bringing new capabilities, but you might be surprised. One naysayer in the mix turns into two and three, leaving you with a major capital expense and a problem making money from it.
Before you consider an inkjet press, or even if you have already acquired one, do these things:
Look at the work you have produced over the last year. Physically find it, stack it on a table, and look at it. No matter what technologies you are using, separate the work into stacks of what could be produced on the inkjet technology that is available today and what could not. Consider why you made those decisions, and then consider the customers who ordered that work. Does the work they usually order lend itself to the substrates and print quality supported by inkjet presses? Remember, you need more proof than some vendor-produced samples before you make this decision. What about format sizes and finishing needs?
Now consider your customers. Do you have customers who like to innovate? Try new things? Do you have customers who might be willing to accept different substrates if you showed them new options for their print needs? Or, are your customers tied to specific technology and substrates. Some agencies are. Some brands are. Some customers just like what they like. Look at your customer base and ask the hard questions. And, consider potential new customers, but remember, they are potential and not current.
Look at your team. Start with your sales team. On more than one occasion I have been called to work with a sales team because the company leadership invested in new technology and never discussed the changes with the sales team. Teams were selling work produced on other available technology and the inkjet presses sat idle. The most successful companies were those that had a plan from the beginning, ensured their sales teams understood their customers and were able to articulate the inkjet opportunity to them.
One quick side note. I have known companies that invested in inkjet and moved customer work to the devices without ever consulting their customers or educating their sales teams. Some are very successful, but it's not what I would recommend.
Run Some Work
Every vendor who sells inkjet presses will work with you to run some tests. Use that time to take customer work from across the spectrum of things you produce to build an understanding of what could work, and what will not work as it is currently designed and executed. Work originally designed for offset presses often has ink limits embedded in the file that may need to be adjusted to get the best print quality. Inkjet is a technology that wants less ink, not more, to provide crisp print.
Ask questions about colour profiles, colour management, and file preparation. How much freedom do you have to adjust profiles? Can you lock a profile to a job? Do you have an option for last-minute profile changes at the press? Would you have to change processes in your prepress department? If you run a fully automated workflow, would changes be needed to support this new device?
Ask as many questions as you can think of, and consider asking for a reference. Is there a printer you can speak with who runs similar types of work who has this device? Ask for a private call, without the vendor on the line. Don't be afraid to post in forums. Inkjet presses can be amazing devices, but they are not for every shop!
Consider Your Strategy
Many companies are using the current global challenge as a time to look at their long term plans. Some companies are investing, while others are looking at ways to survive. If you are considering an investment in inkjet, remember that there is more to that investment than the machine. You will need to build a quoting and estimating model. You will need to consider your substrate options. You will need to identify training for everyone on the team. And, you will need buy-in from everyone to accomplish your expanded capabilities.
Assess readiness before you make a decision.
And, if you decide to go forward, there are many of us in the consulting world who have the experience to help!