Inkjet for Direct Marketing Print– What Matters?

By Elizabeth Gooding / Published:

The market for direct marketing print is a good news – bad news story. Bad news: according to the Direct Marketing Association and the USPS, the volume of direct mail fell to 149.4 billion mail pieces in 2016. The good news? I.T. Strategies* projects  that digitally printed direct marketing volumes will increase by 31 billion images between 2016 and 2020 and account for 58 percent of the category- approximately 198 billion images. The really good news is reserved for direct marketers with inkjet: 85 percent of those growing digital print volumes are projected to be produced on production inkjet devices by 2020.

Not surprisingly, a lot of direct marketing operations are looking to get on the inkjet gravy train or protect their position if they are already riding it. Of course, not all direct marketers are the same, some of them don’t even print. What’s with that? For those that print, what and how they print can be very different. At Inkjet Insight, we want to discuss direct marketing print segments based on what companies actually do rather than general market jargon. We tackled the categorization problem by organizing direct marketing segments based on production requirements, such as paper types used, and key performance indicators (KPIs) for visual quality. For instance, we look at a segment requirements and tolerances for the following KPIs:

  • Visual Coverage
  • Total Ink Coverage
  • Black Optical Density*
  • Black Ink Strike*
  • Process Color Optical Density
  • Average Process Color Ink Strike
  • Positive Small Text Raggedness – Black Text
  • Reverse Small Text Raggedness – Black Text
  • Chroma
  • Gamut Volume

With advances in print heads and ink sets, we must also consider that some devices have both a standard black ink, which we refer to as Matte K and a high density pigmented black or fast immobilizing black pigment (HD K) in the same device. In these cases, we need to discuss relevant KPIs for both Matte K and HD K.

Looking at these KPIs and related paper requirements, we’ve broken the market into three distinct subgroups:

  • Direct Marketing – Postcards & High Color Direct Advertising
  • Direct Marketing – Self-Mailers
  • Transitional Printing

As you will see, each of these application segments has slightly different needs that can be defined and measured.

Direct Marketing Print – Postcards & High Color Direct Advertising

As the name implies, this segment is focused on high color direct marketing applications. With high color and often high coverage requirements this is a very demanding application segment.

The characteristics and KPI tolerances will vary by paper type. Visual coverage between 25 to 40 percent is typical, with the potential for pieces with visual coverage as high as 80 percent. Consider that even when a sheet appears visually “covered” there is typically some knock-out text or even just space between those tiny picoliter sized dots on the page.

Total Ink Coverage (TIC) is also demanding with TIC of up to 240 percent which approaches offset SWOP TIC boundaries. Due to high coverage and color demands this market relies on pigment inks and increasingly high density pigment inks with polymer and other ink chemistry to enable printing on conventional papers.

To date, companies have primarily been using papers formulated specifically for inkjet. However, there is high demand to use conventional papers including matte and gloss coated stocks, ideally without the need for flood coating or primer. This application segment requires thicker papers typically ranging from 145 to 200 GSM to handle heavy coverage.

Direct Marketing Print- Self-Mailers

This application segment includes self-mailed direct marketing with middle-of-the-road color requirements. It’s not as demanding as the Postcards and High Color application segment, but more demanding than Transitional mail.

Visual coverage is typically between 15 to 30 percent visual coverage with Total Ink Coverage at between 200 and 240 percent. This market segment is color sensitive and concerned with both color matching and color consistency with a wide range of price sensitivity. It relies on pigment inks to enable high ink coverage.

In terms of paper usage, this is a very broad application segment. Typically, applications use papers formulated specifically for inkjet at weights of 90 to 145 GSM to enable higher coverage and better color. Some applications with less demanding coverage may print on conventional uncoated papers between 67 and 90 GSM. Companies who use a mix of traditional and inkjet devices may also be interested in printing on conventional coated stocks also at a range of 90 to 145 GSM based on coverage needs.

Transitional Direct Marketing Print

Transitional Print includes direct marketing letter mail which tends to get lumped in with transaction printing or with other aspects of direct marketing. This application segment has more images, graphics and overall use of color than transaction printing, but is not as demanding as other segments of direct marketing. Documents in this category typically have 15 to 25 percent visual coverage and Total Ink Coverage of less than 200 percent.

Operations may be using dye or pigment depending on sensitivity to cost and color quality and whether they are tuned more for transaction printing or for direct marketing. This will also impact paper selection which include inkjet formulated papers or conventional untreated stocks with weights between 75 and 90 GSM.

So, with different paper, coverage and color sensitivity needs it doesn’t make sense to try to put all of these applications segments into the same direct marketing envelope. These segments tend to have different tolerances for KPIs like process color and black density and the size of the color gamut. These are the kinds of things that we will be digging into on a segment by segment basis.

Are we on the right track? Do you see your company focused on one or more of these application segments? Please let us know if segmenting the market from a performance standpoint makes it easier for you to think about your inkjet needs. Suggestions for additions or clarifications to segments are very welcome.


End notes:

Source: Megatrends in Printing Applications by IT Strategies, Inc., for PRIMIR 2016

Optical Density (OD) is measured on a logarithmic scale where:

  • OD of 0 means that no light is absorbed and 100% of light is transmitted
  • OD of 1 means that 90% of light is absorbed and 10% of light is transmitted
  • OD of 2 means that 99% of light is absorbed and 1% of light is transmitted
About the Author

Elizabeth Gooding


Elizabeth is the Editor and Co-founder of Inkjet Insight. She has a rare ability to see print related issues from many perspectives. She has managed creative teams on complex design projects, selected outsourcers for major brands and helped print organizations to retool operations, focus their market positioning and educate sales teams to accelerate growth. She works with a team of top analysts to translate experiences into tools, data and content to help print organizations evaluate the potential of inkjet, optimize their operations and grow pages profitably. She is a founding member of the Inkjet Summit advisory board, the co-author of an award-winning book on designing for inkjet and a curious consultant constantly seeking innovative ways to drive new pages onto inkjet presses.

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