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Put Up Your Dukes!

Put Up Your Dukes!

By Staff Writers
Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 5:24 PM EST
What’s the difference between a digital press and a copier? This was the question posed in the LinkedIn discussion group “Digital Printing.” The explosion of input that resulted reflects the intensity of emotions on all sides of the issue.

What’s the difference between a digital press and a copier? This was the question posed in the LinkedIn discussion group “Digital Printing.” The explosion of input that resulted reflects the intensity of emotions on all sides of the issue. There are those who hold that it is the printing process that defines a press. Others see speed, printing tolerances and other technical specifications as more important. Yet others look at how the press is operated, tolerance for downtime, or the applications it runs—even marketer opinion.

Paul Vermeersch, print specialist at, explained the view that presses and copiers can be defined by how the ink or toner is laid down on paper. “If you consider a digital press [to be] a digital version of a printing press, only HP-Indigo presses use parts of gravure and offset principles (liquid ink and indirect print with plate blanket and pressure cylinders),” he wrote. “Most others today are sophisticated high-end xerographic color printers.”

Joel Lukacher, technical director at Family Labels, Margate, Fla., is representative of the view that speed, printing tolerances, and other technical specifications are more important to determining a pedigree. “Both [digital presses and copiers] use photo xerography. The difference is the faster speed (70-200 ppm), tighter tolerances and the tighter color controls. Also, a digital press would have more sophisticated inline bindery options, such as a saddle stitcher with three-knife trimming.”

The challenge, as discussion participants pointed out, is that some of the higher end color copiers offer faster speeds and tighter tolerances, too. “Faster speeds don’t necessarily mean a press can give you higher quality, and what about inkjet technology?” asked Rick Ciordia, regional sales manager at MGI USA Inc., whose question sparked the discussion. “Will inkjet technology take over xerography? The Indigo 7000 is closest to a traditional press, but its liquid ‘ink’ is just a very fine toner suspended in oil.”

Ciordia suggested that a better start for distinguishing between the two might be wide color gamut, FOGRA/GRACOL certification, tightness of register and color consistency over the length of the run.

The limitation on using the length of run as a determining factor, pointed out Andrew Simmons, publisher at DigitalPrint 360, however, is that these devices aren’t always run in their designated duty cycles. “I know NexPress owners that only print 75,000 impressions a month and Konica Minolta [owners who are] doing 300,000 a month.”

Martin Koebel, research and development analyst at Taylor Corp. (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area), suggested that an external RIP, the rated monthly page volume or duty cycle, as well as response time for repair service calls, separate a digital press from a copier. “A digital machine rated for 300,000 a month [as an example] would be 75,000 per week in a four-week month,” he said. “With five days a week, that works out to 15,000 per day. In an eight-hour day, that is 1,875 pages an hour. That is a lot of pages for a copy machine in a typical office environment, and would probably be better classified as a press. On the service side, copiers can be down for eight to 48 hours (as usually a company has more than one) and a person just has to walk down the hall to pick up prints or copies. If service is set up and designed for one to four hours on site with the most common parts, it could be classified more appropriately into a digital press category.”

Michael Kile, owner of an AlphaGraphics franchise in Indianapolis, suggested it’s not any aspect of the technology that determines press from copier at all. It’s the operator. “Any machine that is operated with a push button mentality is a copier,” he argued. “Even light-duty machines with an external RIP can be operated as digital presses with an operator who understands color calibration, registration, etc. Likewise, a color copier is pretty much just used for printing standard sheets without much bindery consideration.”

Kile argued that this is why some of the same machines in a copy center can be successfully used for short-run, commercial-quality projects. “Undeniably, the bigger boxes handle the larger volumes much better,” he wrote, “but that doesn’t stop the smaller machines from being credible digital presses for a certain volume range.”

Micah Rush, manager at Select Impressions, Portland, Ore., wryly suggested that the marketing department seems to be the one that decides if it is a press or not depending on their targeted customer base. “If they are going to sell it into a true production environment they will apply the label “press,’” he said.

Industry pundit Michael Jahn, now working for Homecare Health, added spice to the discussing by kicking in, “No one sells a copier anymore [anyway]. There is no such thing as a device that is not connected to a network and is standalone and only copies. I can’t find one, even on eBay or Craig’s List.”

Bob Walter, direct mail data specialist at Circular Marketing, rounded out the discussion by comparing the issue to one that exists in the offset world. “A Multi, A.B. Dick, and the like are considered offset presses, but they don’t have the speed, sheet size, registration and other factors of a larger press, but they still are considered a press,” he wrote.

Walter continued, “We run a KM6500 and KM6501 and neither of them are a perfect solution to all of our printing needs, but we still have put over one million impressions combined on them in under a year....I’d love to have a machine that would print even faster, but they definitely fit the bill for the price category that they are in. As far as the comments about ‘If it has a scanner, it’s a copier,’ my 6500 has the scanner, but I bought the 6501 without it. Does that mean I have one copier and one digital printer/press? Sometimes I think people put too much stock in a name instead of looking at their real needs and buying equipment to suit.”

So the debate rages on.

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro is an industry writer, an analyst specializing in digital workflow and technologies. Her e-mail address is

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