faded color not a good look

Why Business Color Won’t Cut It for Transaction Print

By Elizabeth Gooding / Published:

Direct mailers are heavily invested in inkjet. In the US 42% of direct mail page volume runs on inkjet – that’s only 6% behind offset and growing. Now, commercial printers are getting into the inkjet game too. What does this mean for transaction printers? More competition and higher expectations.

Many direct mailers have already started to branch out into aspects of transaction print. This is a bit of a stretch for most commercial printers using inkjet – but they are still going to be working for some of the same customers as transaction printers – just doing different things.

As Inkjet moves into these more quality sensitive segments – customers are getting introduced to a whole new level of inkjet quality. It’s not “business quality”, or “good enough” quality, it’s offset quality or even better. And once your customers know what is possible with inkjet, they may start to expect it from you too.

Customer Color Expectations and Cost

Transaction printers were early adopters of inkjet because, even when moving from mono to full color printing, replacing preprinted forms was incredibly efficient. But pretty quickly, just replacing preprinted stock with a static form was not enough to compete. Customers wanted the whole document in color with charts and graphs and variable message with cool icons and boxes around them. But mostly they only worried about getting the logo color right – or close to right – or good enough.

Honestly, some major suppliers of customer communications today deliver color that is truly abysmal. It’s not the fault of the press (although some are using pretty dated equipment). It’s because they are using the cheapest paper possible and dialing the ink levels waaaaay back. And, most of the time, they are getting away with it – at least for a while.

Until, as I have seen several times in the past year, the customer got a bit more educated on inkjet, paper and color from another supplier. Or had to match colors with a digital project or a direct mail project and really took a look at the quality of the transaction print they had been sending out. Whoops!

Be Ready Before They Ask

Customers have been okay with business color for transaction print – and we’ve all gotten a little too comfy. Conversations about color quality are going to start happening more often. Get ready. There are costs  to delivering great color that your customers may not fully understand. You need to know the facts, and need to be able to discuss them intelligently with your customers. Get up to date on the capabilities of your own press and upgrade options, and also be aware of what your customers may be seeing in the market. It’s a drupa year (and a half) and there have been a lot of announcements.

Several OEMs have dramatically improved inkjet quality in the past year. Many are targeting commercial print, but quality for transaction print oriented presses has also come up along with productivity. Performance of updated heads may be boosted with jetted or anilox precoating, more sophisticated inks, or both. These fluids cost more than the previous generation due to additives that allow compatibility with a wider range of media. So you can save money on the paper, but you will pay more for fluids.

It may or may not make sense to update your press based on your current business. But you should periodically run the numbers and look at the investment relative to the potential to expand into new markets – cause let’s face it – printed transaction volumes continue to decline. Is a more expensive ink, or use of precoating worth the cost if it opens up new media options? Or are you better off tuning up your existing presses and looking at some other inkjet paper options if you start to see some customers with higher quality expectations?

Do you really know what the top quality is that your press can deliver? Or have you been in business color mode for so long that you don’t profile for anything but the “minimum viable product?” Make sure you understand what your press can do and what it costs you to run your press at a top quality, mid-quality and whatever you call that “get away with it” color you’ve been sending me on my statements lately.

If you are not already profiling and optimizing color on the papers you support – get help. You don’t want to use more ink than you need to, but you also want to be able to ramp up color and quality when that becomes a competitive necessity (and it will). You also want to measure the results and price it profitably. Test some different papers. You may find that a smoother paper, even if it is not formulated for inkjet, will give you a better result. Don’t wait for customers to find out about their options from a different supplier. Educate yourself and your customers on the cost factors with improved inkjet quality.

Do you have questions about getting the most out of your press, whether to upgrade your press or how to identify cost effective papers? Give us a call.



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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