Print Tender Fundamentals
A Changing Landscape of Print: Gravure, Web Offset, Sheetfed and Digital Print.
Like most modern communication channels, the print industry is in a state of flux; an evolutionary change that is transforming the way ink is put onto paper as well as the way marketers and publishers are communicating their messages using print.
Which means, if you’re running a print tender, it’s vital you have an understanding of both the older printing technologies that you’ll still find widely used – as well as modern technologies which are disrupting the marketplace and look set to play an increasing role in the modern print marketing landscape.
As a side note – and something you’ll find we underline all the time on these pages – a key aspect of finding the lowest cost and best quality printer for any given print tender, is ensuring each project is run on the correct type of press. Run it on an inappropriate press and you’ll usually pay unnecessarily high prices and your project could well take longer than anticipated; and the project may well not fulfill its intended creative or marketing objectives.
Again, this underlines why it’s vital to understand the variety of print technologies available when running any print tender that’s aiming to find the best value print suppliers.
Older Printing Technologies
Print has a long history of producing unchanging, static communications. Books, journals, magazines, brochures – all printed and distributed en-masse, and all containing the same content.
Over time, the presses used to manufacture this print have slowly evolved to be more efficient, print a wider colour gamut at higher resolution for a lower unit cost and in longer print runs.
But the underlying technologies have remained much the same across the years.
There are a multitude of printing technologies with names like flexo (flexography), letterpress, dye sublimation, thermal and screen printing. But we’re going to concentrate on the main processes you’ll find in commercial print that will undoubtedly be more relevant to the types of product you’ll be looking to include in your print tender.
Size of the 2021 UK Print Market Place by Printing Press
Graphic – Gravure 10%, Web Offset 40%, Sheetfed x 30%, and Digital 20%
The earliest letterpress presses used wooden blocks with raised areas which would be inked then pressed onto vellum or paper. Modern gravure presses use a similar yet opposing technique called intaglio where it’s the recessed areas that hold the ink and the text or images are made up from thousands of tiny ink dots.
Gravure presses are typically the largest type of printing press and are mostly used for very large runs of magazines, catalogues and newspapers. However, although gravure presses remain important for printing packaging, as traditional high volume print runs of magazines and newspapers have declined over recent times, much of this kind of work has moved over onto litho presses to remain cost-effective.
Web Offset and Sheetfed Lithographic (litho) Printing
Web offset and sheetfed are two of the most common commercial printing processes you’ll find in the UK.
Both web offset and sheetfed use the same lithographic printing process but the names reflect the way the papers are used in the press, with web offset using a large continuous roll of paper and sheetfed taking pre-cut individual sheets.
Offset lithography is the process that’s used for around 70% of high volume UK print.
The lithographic process exploits the fact that oil and water repel each other and this property can be used to attract or repel oil based inks. In simple terms, a printing plate is created, carrying the image to be printed. The non-print areas are coated with water and the print areas are covered with an oil-based emulsion. This emulsion attracts the ink which is simultaneously repelled by the non-image water covered area to produce an accurately defined print area.
Ink is not printed directly from the plate onto the paper. Rather, it’s transferred – or offset – onto a printing blanket which then prints directly to the paper. Printing cyan, magenta and yellow layers builds up a colour image on the paper – followed by black (key) to add depth and contrast. It’s what’s known as the CMYK process.
There are pros and cons to both Web offset and sheetfed presses, but between them they are excellent generalist presses, used for everything from brochures, catalogues, leaflets, packaging, maps, books and so on.
The Move to Digital in Print
Digital communications such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have the great advantage of message flexibility, speed to market, instant/direct response mechanisms and immediate campaign measurement.
So, it’s not surprising that many marketers and print buyers began to demand that print followed suit. While the best print campaigns can indeed deliver quickly, encourage direct responses (usually telephone or online orders) and be measurable, the simple analytics and response mechanisms built-in to digital campaigns inevitably encouraged their rapid adoption, and print has been trying to catch up ever since.
This is where digital presses come in.
Digital Inkjet Printing Presses Come of Age
Small scale inkjet printers linked to computers have been widely available since the 1980’s. Since then, they’ve developed into cost-effective larger scale printers, both in terms of the speed and length of print runs they can handle, as well as the physical size of the print projects they can output.
They can also be used across a wide range of substrates and have challenged offset printing for an increasing range of print specifications.
Not only can they cost effectively print small to medium runs of print, but the quality has improved over the years to the point that it often challenges the quality of lithographic print.
But arguably the greatest strength of inkjet printing over recent years, is that it’s computer-driven. And that means variable data can be fed into each printed item to create infinitely variable print that’s unique on every page.
This leads to individual and personalised printed communications that can display different images and text to each customer. And that increased relevancy to each reader means it can be more effective and drive more sales.
In 2021, digital accounts for around 20% of UK print: and that’s expected to grow over the coming decade.
Data Management, Commercial Inkjet Printing and Print Tenders
Because creative personalisation of inkjet printing is dictated to a large extent by data manipulation, it’s important that you partner with creative and secure data management companies too. The best data analysts can uncover new ways to leverage your data and can liaise with printers to provide data in usable formats which will streamline processes too.
Being able to access and manipulate your data is key to unlocking the creativity and effectiveness of personalised digital print. But get it wrong and it can damage brand messaging as well as bring the unwanted attention of the ICO. So the right data partners are a vital component in the modern printing mix.
If you need help with finding the best printer mix for your tender or further insight to help understand the print marketplace, Webmart’s here to help.
Webmart has established partnerships with a wide variety of quality-ranked data handlers and traditional/digital printers across the UK. We work with organisations who run print tenders as well as participate in print tenders ourselves to help organisations optimise their print procurement.
To invite Webmart to get involved in your print tender or for advice on print or UK printers, please get in touch by either filling the form below or calling 01869 321321 firstname.lastname@example.org.