Steve Winn, managing director of Black Dog Digital Printing has worked with Xeikon digital press technology ever since he came into the trade in 1997, as planner and platemaker apprentice. His first Xeikon press was an IBM badged Xeikon DCP-1 and Steve has worked with Xeikon technology ever since. Black Dog Digital runs litho presses as well as wide format digital machines and two Xeikon engines, and “that’s the core of the business”.
Over the years Steve’s business has thrived and he considers that success has been due in part to modern communications technology as well as advances in digital printing. He says “the internet plays a huge part but email … what did we ever do before email? That’s where the files come from and without that connection between us and a client, it’s basic, but without it where would we be?” Key to that is “PDF of course [is a] very important innovation.”
For businesses like Black Dog, typical of the industry and the bedrock of the graphics business, Steve recognises that the past thirty years have brought much change. “The trade’s becoming more difficult in many respects … but the Xeikon machines allow us to take in many, many more jobs. A big advantage of the machine is its flexibility”. The company’s diverse client base includes rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and Queen, the UK’s BBC and the Woodland Trust, and custom wallpaper designers. Much of the work produced for these clients would have been economically unviable without digital print technologies. But there’s more to it than technology. Steve says “Speed of service means we can deliver work within a couple of hours of the order and you can only do that with a digital press.”
The industry still has room to develop further especially with new applications such as variable data printing (VDP). For Steve it’s the most innovative application of the last 30 years, but “it’s under-used still … there’s a lot more that you can do with it, but there’s a whole education around it and it should be in the forefront of everyone’s mind”. Personalisation is important alongside knowledge of technologies such as PURL (Persistent Uniform Resource Locator software for redirecting HTTP clients). “We’ve got a data team and we recognise peoples’ strength and you need a good data team behind you who understand data and can make things happen. PURL technology is not used enough, but when people see what can be done with it they get blown away.”
The application of broader communications technologies, as well as a strong service ethic, underlies success for digital printing companies. The combination provides a unique advantage for organisations that can offer “speed of response and service within a few hours” but this alone isn’t enough. Steve reckons a business still “needs a good machine, flexibility of size and versatility, speed and quality. Thirty years ago at the birth of digital colour printing [prints] weren’t that amazing, but now that’s never mentioned because they’ve come on leaps and bounds”.
Traditionalists in the printing industry reckon there has been much to lament in the last 30 years, but for innovators and entrepreneurs the story’s been one of opportunity and invention. The graphics industry still faces many challenges and Steve says “It’s changed, and not only positively. Print management companies have become a bit of a problem. I don’t think they add much value. I’d like to see printers offering services beyond print such as design, data. It’s a shame we’ve lost some of the skills and not so many youngsters are coming into the trade. Youngsters are the future of the trade and should be learning some old school traditional stuff as well [as modern production].”
Beefing up the graphics industry’s skills base should be a serious priority within the communications business, because 30 years from now the industry will look very different. Unless something changes Steve is not confident for the future of many printing companies. He reckons that “unfortunately there’s going to be less of us – that’s inevitable, but hopefully it will come full circle. I’d like to think that in the next thirty years printers will still be there and at the heart of the [communications] industry … we’ve got other services and people will come back to print because they want something tangible. People are going to want to see real books, brochures, magazines, all of it. We need to embed technology into print and enhance it.”