Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant

Man using digital pressIn case you missed it, last month’s blogs asked if e-books were killing printed books. We were pleased at the feedback. We had about 20 comments, over 100 LinkedIn shares and over 50 tweets. Clearly big picture issues and disruptions due to different technologies is a critical subject that affects many people. Let’s tackle another important issue. This time the shifting landscape of pages in the production printing space, between electrophotographic (laser), inkjet, and offset. Lets start by setting up the conversation.

First, let’s start with some definitions. For simplicity’s sake let’s use the definition that traditional printing is any technology that uses a printing plate and digital is any technology that does not. I like that definition because it defines inkjet and toner as digital and categorizes Presstek’s DI or Direct Imaging as a traditional printing technology.

Second, we should acknowledge that this type of question is not unprecedented. Some may argue that one technology does not displace another, because TV did not kill radio but more accurately redefined it into more discrete segments such as “drive time” or talk shows. But when we focus on printing technology one thing is clear, offset did displace letterpress as the dominant printing technology.

Third, this is not the first time we have heard claims that one printing technology would displace offset. Years ago after improvements were announced for the DI technology some experts said that DI technology would become the dominant form of offset technology. Around the same time frame a CEO of a digital equipment manufacturing company claimed that their digital printing technology would replace offset.

And fourth are some recent annoucements. Surrounding the last few Drupas we’ve heard arguments that inkjet will become the dominant production print technology. The most recent development that has rekindled this debate are the announcements of larger format digital devices that are being offered by a host of different companies, which are all referred to as the B2 format presses (approx. 20″x28″).

With that in mind, here are some questions for you:

  • Do you think digital printing will displace offset printing as the dominate technology?
  • If you said “yes,” what is your timeline: 5, 10, 20 years?
  • If you said “no,” why did you say no?

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Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.