You already know how to print, therefore adding small format cut sheet digital printing makes sound sense for wide format display printers. Paul Stead looks at how to avoid sending your customers into the arms of your competitors for small format short-run digital colour printing.


The print buyer of today is increasingly looking for a one-stop shop because it makes his/her job much easier. For example, put yourself in the print buyers shoes: “WXYZ Sign Co have always given us great service but they just can’t do the cut-sheet printing, so I will have to find another supplier for that. Oh look! ACME Signs & Digital Limited can do everything and there aren’t any delays in getting proofs back. I’ll go with them instead.”


It is easier for this print buyer to route all their work through ACME Signs & Digital Limited because he/she has less people to call, less accounts to manage, less invoices to handle, less admin and the result is just the same. So if there is one primary reason that I can give you for expanding your service portfolio it is to prevent you from continuing to send your customers into the arms of your competitors. 


So if you are a sign maker, what can you do to add cut sheet print production to your workflow, and how do you go about it? Let’s look at the following pointers:


1. You already know how to print
Cut sheet devices rely on skills that you already have although in some cases they are much easier. Most digital printers have a RIP as the front end and these days most of them are supplied by EFI.

The RIP will enable you to impose jobs, create hot folders for specific applications, control colour, proof jobs, add variable data, queue jobs…the list goes on and on.

The most important thing to remember is that they are blissfully easy to use. You are reading this online aren’t you? So, you already know how to use a computer? You are half way there already.

The rest is part of a training programme that you SHOULD get with your printer. Training is key and when you choose the printer that suits you, make sure that your supplier is fully aware of your training needs.


2. Where to learn?
Most training is carried out on your machine, in your premises, and at a time that suits you.
Are you getting the message? It’s all about YOU and what YOU need, when YOU need it.
It is possible to find training courses through local colleges and even extended training through your supplier. The bad news is that this can cost money. The really great news is, that if you get in touch with me, I will tell you where to find money that will pay for your training!


3. Cost of the cut-sheet printing kit?
Pieces of string are at play here, but this does depend on what you want to achieve. Perhaps the best way to measure the affordability of cut-sheet printing is to calculate how much you have spent on sending the work out in the last 12 months.

Once you know your expenditure, against the number of sheets you buy, with or without finishing, then you are in position to interrogate a digital supplier about getting something in-house that costs less than you spend. 

Cost should not be the main driver, but it is one aspect. Of course, this does depend on how big a jump you want to take, but starting out is not expensive and the market holds a fair number of low-cost second user devices that will allow you to get started without spending a fortune. Second-user does NOT mean second quality.


4. Can I afford it?
Going back to the top of this article, the real question is can you afford to ignore it?
Digital cut-sheet printing is not expensive, and being without it could cost you a lot more.
Machines can be leased or purchased and allowing for a service contract that is all-inclusive, you should be able to manage your output costs accurately. (N.B. Keep away from suppliers with a contract that includes the rental with your service costs. These are labelled ‘Managed Print Services’ or ‘Total Volume Plans’ and are financially BAD news.)


5. Complimentary equipment
You know what your customers ask for and you know what you can support, but what about the print jobs that you turn away? Cut-sheet digital printing can offer extended colours with 5th colour kits but his isn’t going to revolutionise your business overnight.

If your existing printers can output white then you don’t need to have it in your cut-sheet, do you?
Start with a straight forward CMYK printer, with a reasonable speed that can support the business cards, greetings cards, newsletters and direct mail jobs that you know your own clients need. Aim for the more bite sized chunks first and chase the big fancy stuff some other time.


6. Damaging your existing business?
You are principally a sign and wide format print provider. This is your bread, butter and jam. All you want from cut-sheet printing is to give your existing customers that little bit more so they don’t look elsewhere.

Don’t be drawn into discussions about 500 business cards for £5. Leave that to other people who probably won’t be around for too long anyway.

Cut-sheet printing should not drain your time and if you have the right device with the right type of workflow, you should find that automation gets the work out quickly, with the minimum of handling.

If the company who you are talking to you about the print device can’t help with automation, then you are probably talking to the wrong provider.


7. Finishing
You probably already have a cutting table, and the good news is that you don’t need much more.
Cut-sheet devices can be equipped with in-line booklet makers, often for costs lower than buying an off-line system. This can include a square-fold finish giving you high quality booklets, or maybe C/Z folding to support direct mail jobs.

The point is this, cut-sheet digital can give much more than you think without breaking the bank or crowding your floor-space with multiple devices. After all, you need that space for those enormous signs!


8. Workflow
You already have this too. Your wide format printers need to get their jobs from somewhere, so I’m guessing you are sending them from your Macs/PCs direct to the engine RIPS.

No doubt your website is receiving jobs too, often by FTP or email (customers do like to email huge files don’t they?). There is no real need to change the way you do things in the short term, however, at some point you might want to automate your workflow too. This includes linking to MIS and automating job submission, even linking to credit card systems so that you get paid BEFORE you do the work.

There are many workflow systems available, although as a starting point, I would suggest getting a robust and flexible web2print solution that can grow with your business.

Web2Print should support all of your print devices, wide-format, cut-sheet and offset with links to your finishing devices.


9. Paracetamol
They are in your colleagues’ top desk drawer. She needed them the last time you had to farm out some cut-sheet work! You remember, it started with: “Who can we get to do the booklets that go with these banners for the exhibition? Oh, and can they provide the flyers and business cards too?”


Get your cut-sheet process right and you will be sending less work out and spending less at the local chemist.