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Reasons Behind Single vs. Multi-Technology Printing

Three imaging companies explain why investing in specific printing equipment was the best move for their business.

By Susan Veoni, SGIA

The biggest reason for the transition was the fact that digital technology provided us with a more efficient way to produce the work we were already doing.

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  • The specialty imaging community has transformed dramatically over the last 10 years. The industry has progressed from a marketplace dominated by a single imaging technology - screen printing - to a multi-technology marketplace, where digital imaging is the primary technology.

    According to SGIA's 2011 Market Trends and Product Specialties Benchmarking Report, more than 97 percent of companies are using digital technologies exclusively, or within a multi-technology facility. The number of companies using screen printing exclusively is very small (less than three percent), but many are using it as a significant 'value-add' to offer a broad range of imaging services. (See graphs below)

    To gain a better sense of why imagers choose the technologies they do, SGIA spoke to representatives from three member companies: Scott Crosby, of Holland and Crosby; Terry Corman, of Firehouse; and Chuck Huttinger, of GFX International. These industry professionals share reasons for moving from one process to another, utilizing one process over another, and/or adding more than one process to keep their business strong and competitive.

    Holland & Crosby, Limited

    Transitioning From Screen to Digital
    Holland & Crosby, Limited (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) designs, produces and distributes point-of-purchase (POP) signage and displays for the retail marketplace throughout North America. Established in 1997, as a result of the merger of Holland & Neil and J.W. Crosby Advertising, the company's roots date back to 1932. Historically, Holland & Crosby started in screen printing, but today operates 100 percent digitally.

    According to Scott Crosby, vice president of sales and marketing, in 2004, the company invested in digital technologies by purchasing the digital assets of a small shop. At the time, they were farming the production of digital signage to an outside vendor, and thought they would have better control over costs and timing by bringing the process in-house.

    "We started with a 54-inch Arizona, a Roland and a small Gerber edge," said Crosby. "Very quickly, we realized that we needed to upgrade our equipment to suit the marketplace. We replaced the Arizona with a VUTEk 3360, and added the Inca Columbia Turbo Flatbed within the first year. At this point we had the best of both worlds, with a four-color, in-line screen press; a two-color, in-line screen press; roll-to-roll digital and the digital flatbed."

    In 2007, the launch of the Inca Onset S70 was a game changer for Holland & Crosby. They became the first company in North America to install the press, in February 2008. According to Crosby, the S70 replaced the Columbia Turbo and the two-color, in-line screen press. In 2009, they added the Inca Onset S20, which enabled the company to move away from screen printing altogether.

    "In 2010, our last piece of screen printing equipment left the building, and we were then 100 percent digital," Crosby said. "The biggest reason for the transition was the fact that digital technology provided us with a more efficient way to produce the work we were already doing. The labor savings, speed to market, environmental impact and quality of the finished product have all been benefits of the change."

    Crosby said the hardest part of transitioning away from screen printing was the effect it had on their staff. Some were quick to see the need and adapt to the new technology, and others not so much.

    "There have been a lot of changes to the layout of our operation, the people in the operation, and the roles that each of them play. All of those changes have been hard on some," Crosby explained. "For the others, their efforts in adapting to new technology have helped Holland & Crosby reach a new level of excellence, which, in turn, has added value to our client base."

    Firehouse Image Center

    Moving From Photographic to Digital
    Founded in 1971, Firehouse Image Center (Indianapolis, Indiana) was one of the first full-service photographic labs to cater to the growing commercial market. Today, they have successfully transformed from a photo lab to a national large-format imaging business, producing a variety of specialty graphics using only digital technologies.

    "During the last 20 years, the survivors who have come from the photo industry learned digital workflow on copiers, film recorders, film scanners and other devices, and this has given us a broad range of experience, in regards to color management and profitable workflow," said Terry Corman, Co-CEO of Firehouse.

    At the time when the traditional commercial photo lab business was declining, Corman was president of the Association of Professional Color Imagers (APCI) - the photo lab section of the Photo Marketing Association (PMA). And in 2000, he knew that transitioning into wide-format imaging was the answer for discovering a new revenue stream.

    According to Corman, most of the photo labs at that time did not have digital technology (Lambda, Lightjet, Pegasus LED, etc.). Firehouse took what seemed like an enormous risk in buying a Lambda in 2001 to get into the digital wide-format business. While the Lambda machine was suitable for printing indoor projects, the company needed to invest in inkjet technology to capitalize on the outdoor printing market.

    "I made the decision not to buy a solvent printer right then because I knew UV curing was on the way. The resolution requirements are different for outdoor graphics compared to indoors, and I wanted to wait for UV curing technology to become commercially available. When it did, I bought one of the first flatbed printers in the US - the Durst 205," said Corman.

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    For the first time, Firehouse had both a digital Lambda printer and a Durst digital inkjet flatbed/roll-to-roll hybrid printer in their shop. This enabled the company to broaden their customer base and increase sales.

    By investing in the latest digital imaging technologies over the last decade, Firehouse has been able to keep up with the changing marketplace, and produce a wide variety of products, including POP displays, trade show graphics, corporate décor, window signage and more.

    GFX International

    Utilizing Screen & Digital
    GFX International is a design and execution firm for retail communication, located in Graylake, Illinois - a suburb of Chicago. While the company's roots are in large-format screen printing, today, GFX designs, engineers, manufactures and distributes graphics using a combination of digital and screen printing technologies.

    According to President and CEO, Chuck Huttinger, utilizing more than one imaging technology allows GFX to be more creative, flexible and competitive.

    "Our technology mix allows us to be more creative in the design and execution of our products," he said. "GFX digital and screen print presses are in alliance, meaning the same sheet can be registered on a digital press and also a screen printing press. This type of synergy allows for maximum color customization. We often print digital four-color process, and then hit the same sheet with a specialty color only a screen press can accomplish."

    In terms of flexibility, Huttinger says it's all about run length and color fidelity. With a combination of digital and screen printing presses, GFX can efficiently accommodate a wide range of production quantities. Short runs and one-off prototypes are output digitally, while rollout quantities are produced on screen presses.

    "Being a multi-technology facility, our clients don't need to shop around based on their quantity requirements," Huttinger said."Our flexibility is a competitive advantage."

    While the company's digital imaging technology produces stunning four-color process, Huttinger says that only their legacy screen printing equipment has the ability to deliver specialty colors and treatments, like fluorescent and neon, corporate PMS callouts, glitter treatments and spot clear overcoats.

    "At higher quantities, our screen presses are more effective from a cost standpoint," Huttinger explains. "The quantity threshold varies depending on substrate and graphic size, but there is a point where it just makes more economical sense to screen print."

    Although transitioning to only one technology isn't in the company's future, they are constantly looking for differentiators in products and services for their clients. According to Huttinger, there is a wide range of options available through using different, but compatible, print technologies.

    "Of course, the mix of our business (from screen to digital) will switch over time, but I think it will always be a competitive advantage to offer both," he said.

    There are many different reasons why specialty imaging companies choose to employ the technologies they do. And while digital technology has become the go-to choice today for almost every imager, screen printing continues to serve as a value-added technology.

    Specialty imaging companies looking for the next best thing in digital printing, or a screen press to gain a competitive advantage, the 2012 SGIA Expo (Las Vegas, October 18–20) is the best place to see the broadest range of equipment on the market. Learn more at, Keyword: 2012Expo.

    Susan Veoni has been with SGIA since 2009. As an editorial associate, she assists with a variety of communications materials, including the SGIA Journal and Industry Ink e-newsletters, and covers the annual Expo.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, July/August 2012 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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