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Luis Virgos, Sales manager for digital printing and POD Fujifilm Spain

The digital transformation of the graphics industry has brought significant changes to the personalisation services that printers can offer their customers. Luis Virgos is a specialist in digital production systems. He has over 20 years’ experience of high production inkjet and toner technologies, software, variable data composition applications and finishing equipment. At Graphispag he explained some of the aspects of personalisation in digital printing. 

When we refer to personalisation in digital printing, we may perform it by using toner or inkjet printing technology (ideal for short and personalised print runs) or hybrid printing technology (integrating inkjet systems to add variable data to the analogue printing equipment). Both of them pursue solutions that we can apply to either improve our applications and increase our turnover or reduce our costs by applying variable data or customisation solutions.

Hybrid printing: when conventional printing and digital printing come together

To sum things up in one sentence, we could say that hybrid printing increases production efficiency. This system consists of adding variable data to the offset production process itself by integrating it into the finishing processes, enabling us to personalise the printed documents with analogue technology.

But what do we mean by variable data? We tend to think of 1-to-1 customisation, and this indeed comprises variable data, but there may also be 1-to-500 customisation or even 1-to-1,000. In analogue printing, to make a change every 500 or 1,000 copies we have to stop to change the plate, clean it, print again, clean it again and repeat the process over and over again. However, if we integrate an inkjet system with variable data we can continue to print while adding the variability, thus optimising the downtime during the production.

Translated into a specific example of packaging, it’s a matter of making a product that arouses a certain degree of interest, such as a case with a personalised name, or segmenting a product with different recipes or making a geographical segmentation enabling us to relate the product to the consumer in the distribution area.

What’s the point of adding segmented or personalised information to packaging? One of the most frequent cases involves considering the connection between the brand and the end customer. When we purchase a product, there is really no direct communication between the end user and the manufacturer, because there’s a retailer in the middle with the traditional system. With personalisation or segmentation, the brand seeks security and traceability, eliminate counterfeiting while connecting with the end consumer in such a way that, by establishing unique codes, it can collect data and generate a closer relationship with the customer so as to offer benefits such as personalised discounts.

The system is very simple to apply: conventional printing allows us to perform very long print runs, such as one for a coffee capsule case, in which each reference represents a print run with 20 or 30 million prints a year. The current technology doesn’t allow us to do so digitally at a reasonable cost, but, since we need this variability, we can add it by integrating systems of this kind into the finish. In the case of these systems, we can print with, for example, water-based inks, pigment inks and UVI inks.

One of the sectors in which it’s most frequently to be found is perfumery. In these cases, we use inkjet technology integrated into a conventional system. However, we sometimes don’t just need a short code or traceability, we may need more personalisation and shorter print runs, at which point digital printing equipment can help to increase the production volume.

Digital printing technology: contributing added value to the personalisation

How can we make short runs on demand (POD) with inkjet systems that are integrated into offset printing processes? We can perform short runs, segmentation or medium-length runs with inkjet.

Nowadays. we come across products that can be customised and add values or references, which is also possible in conventional systems, although large print runs are required to produce them and this segmentation isn’t sustainable. One of the clearest trends we’re encountering is what’s known as CMYK Plus or CMYK with speciality colours. The ability to add special colours is a trend and more and more manufacturers are offering it. It permits the addition of special colours to add value to the personalisation. It can be done with analogue printing technology, but this requires major production and higher costs than for a short and personalised print run.

Significantly, the turnover margin can be increased by 60%-85% by using special colours or data in the production. Fujifilm therefore has 6-colour technology capable of producing special applications. This technology is able to print in 6 colours in a single pass and easily interchange them in a process lasting about 15 minutes. For example, we can add a varnish or selective silver to increase the attractiveness. We have software that can add silver or metallic colours without having to use a complex or time-consuming editing tool. We work directly with a pantograph to print directly onto various materials such as gold or silver and metallic colours, with a high degree of opacity in white that’s suitable for selective and personalised packaging. Another aspect we should highlight is that, in spite of using toner, we can also print on film-like materials, enabling us to create mirror and transparent effects.

If we add our creativity and imagination to the potential provided by technology, we can give a differential value to the product in short or personalised print runs.

Inkjet technology – halfway between analogue and digital toner printing

The inkjet that Fujifilm has developed permits customisation for medium-length and long print runs, such as book covers, for which we need high quality in medium-length print runs totalling 500 to 2,000 copies. One of the things we’ve seen is that print runs are getting shorter and shorter; it’s common for offset and digital to co-exist in print runs. We’re therefore looking for new technology to deal with medium-length print runs with up to 5,000 or more copies which are personalised without foregoing the quality offered by cutting-edge offset.

The message we’re witnessing in the market is that inkjet technology is on the rise. Conventional offset printing is bigger due to the volumes it handles, but inkjet printing is increasing by double digits each year on a constant basis. For these kinds of print runs we propose technology that can print the B2 sheet size (50x70cm) in a standard format for the graphics sector in a single pass, allowing us to co-exist with the current finishing equipment, perform numerous applications in short runs and print on any of the materials in a consistent manner. It should also allow us to print on a certain range of synthetic inkjet media, create large formats by using B2 and, above all, make packaging and wrapping, as it can be configured for customised compact cardboard with up to 600 microns. Together with flexible packaging, the market is demanding a trend of growth towards segmentation from us.

Moreover, the printer can make a spot colour with its conventional offset technology. With CMYK inkjet the trend is towards accounting for more than 90% of the Pantone colour range.

Reduction of the carbon footprint  

One of the key issues facing printing systems is that of sustainability, as one of the things that inkjet has been blamed for is that the water-based pigment penetrates the paper fibre and the de-inking to recycle the paper is highly complex. By using a primer (rapid coagulation fluid) we can guarantee the colour consistency on any substrate, particularly in the repetition, and, in addition, with this primer we can ensure that the pigment remains in the upper part of the substrate, in such a way that we can guarantee that the de-inking of the paper has the same degree of certification as offset printing.

Cristina Benavides, Graphispag contributor