Confessions of an offset terrorist and his conviction in digital sanyasa

I hail from that generation, which had the luxury to manage their entire life with a single technology called offset lithography. Maybe this long association also made me fall in love blindly with offset technology and whenever I got an opportunity, I ferociously attacked every other technology with all my might and intellect justifying the unquestionable status (in quality, cost, consistency and time) of offset technology.

04 Jun 2021 | By Dr Rajendrakumar Anayath

Anayath: Digital will be the primary medium of print, without any doubt

But today, I am realising rather convinced the power of digital and its encroachments to every nook and corner of business and life. Offset as a technology is still there, but almost swallowed by the modern digital systems. I mean, if you do a dissection and make a comparative chart between various components, segments or sections of a “most modern  digital printing machine” (any make) and a “most modern offset machine”(any make), I am  sure you will come up with a chart having 95% components same except the image career.

Just to keep up the old ego, we still call that machine a simple offset machine, but in fact it is not so. It is almost incarnated and converged as the very intelligent new digital animal. Since huge investments from the good old past are still lying down in the market and only because of the economic theory of comparative advantages, it is still functioning and it will be in the market for some more time.

One day you will realise that it is swallowed like how our typewriting institutes vanished from markets to DTP centres and now to the most modern two finger mobile typing or audio typing apps. Our new generation is not interested in wasting their time to learn the ink-water balance, fingerprinting techniques or similar sciences today. This is the Generation of Millennials and Gen Z. They are the people who matter as consumers, leaders and trend-setters in the new world. They are the major drivers, chunk of consumers, and the opinion makers everywhere. Modern world will have to listen to them.

What they bring to the table or what they represent

  • Experience seekers: They need new experiences; they don’t care much about the past or normalcy.
  • Social media crazy: Not only do they like to have new experiences, they want to flaunt it, too. The first thing they do is to enter social media. They live there, eat, drink, enjoy, share and communicate everything except sleeping. That’s the only time you don’t see them online.
  • Unique and differentiated offerings: They need things, which are different from others. They need everything unique and personalised. If the fashion trends were released annually or in season earlier, now they are released every day or every hour. Yesterday is like last century, even today is outdated, and tomorrow is that matter for them. 
  • Brand agnostic: Don’t care about established brands, they are value conscious. What am I getting out of it? They don’t fear the brands; rather brands get frightened by them. They are eager to accept anything that offers value – convenience, speed, beauty, experience and many small things that matter.
  • Individualistic: They don’t care about others, less about family or even parents. They are happy in their own world. They want them to feel elevated at every moment of life.
  • Mindset to question, defy hierarchy and norms: They don’t care about vertical hierarchies; they are horizontal in nature. They want to keep everyone on the same plane. CEO is just a designation for them. They have the power to defeat any movements if they decide to.
  • Convenience and time matter to them: They value this more than ever. Gone are the generations who were ready to spend time to save a few rupees, to wait at the queue or to go on the local compartment of a train. Today’s generation prefers the fast route.

What is the relevance of today’s topic with these trends?
Yes, we all know that print is a communication medium, be it books, newspapers or a marketing material such as catalogue or a product brochure. Packaging has more to do as you know.

So we know that the majority of all these communications are aimed towards the millennials or Gen Z. So, it shall take their preferences into account. 

Obviously the millennials being the greatest influencers, their preferences are most important for communication effectiveness. They need to consider this important – set who generates maximum value out of that communication.

How can print satisfy their demands as a consumer set or as influencers? 
And the answer lies in the trends that shape the future – obviously digital. It is not only in print, digital is everywhere. And its influence is only growing and the reasons we know well, convenience, distance don't matter; it just compresses the space.

For that convenience, people are ready to compromise a lot. Even if quality is compromised, they are ready to spend more for that convenience.

So when we compare the traditional print and digital printing, digital scores very high. Without any doubt, I must say digital is the future. My friends and colleagues in the print industry may find it hard to digest. Many say hybrid and co-existence and so on. 

But clearly, in a few years, digital will be the primary medium of print, without any doubt. Now, it is in the nascent stage, but it has matured and it penetrated to every field of print. It can print cartons, packaging, labels and more. There are limitations obviously such as paper thickness and cost of production. These were the challenges faced by every technology, including the offset at one point. People used to say letterpress is better than offset. You know the rest, its history now. 

Print industry is going through a convergence. It has to offer many value added services to their customers – mainly the brands and large corporates. 

When digital started, it was an evil for the traditional printers – a competitor. Then it became a necessary evil – same time competition and a friend in need. Now it has become a necessity – most printers also have a digital printing machine, some have large set-up with many machines. Few even shifted to digital, selling all their infrastructures.

When profit from printing is diminishing and production cost increases, the digital is a blessing in disguise.

Offset production has many advantages as a reliable high volume production technology. But it has its own baggage – large production set-up, too many variables, need highly skilled workforce, chances of rejections/production halt, depends too much on machinery and infrastructure and so on. Also, it has few glaring shortcomings for the print consumers.

Lack of personalisation: As you know, it is not possible to integrate data into printing. It limits the value of print as a marketing medium.

Inability to produce a shorter run: Due to time taken for set-up and process, it is very expensive.

Repeatability issues and time taken for production: Due to many processes, it is not easy to produce without extensive planning and to repeat a job, it takes the same effort.

Overall flexibility is an issue for the traditional print.

But for digital, all these are just a click away. The copies are printed from the digital file, no more a copy from a physical medium. Every copy can be personalised with little or no effort. Any amount of copies is possible. Repeat the job without any difficulty. All you need is the same file.

And it is overcoming many other challenges such as substrate variety, colour, special colours, pantone shades, embellishments, special coating, and even embossing are possible without any additional operations on a digital machine.

It readily offers:
- Shorter turnaround time.
- Personalisation and customisation and variable data printing.
- Production at the last moment incorporating any changes.

These points become relevant against the mega trends that were brewing for quite some time – demise of high streets to moving online, sourcing of products closer to point of consumption, and moving away from big brands to local brands and suppliers who offer better value. Covid-19 only accelerated these changes; industry and business will never be the same again. It is moving away from a carbon economy to a sustainable, energy saving new world order.

Here, digital scores much above the traditional medium. This is the relevance of digital. So if you don’t want to be dinosaurs, embrace digital. Look at possibilities of digital. It has to grow manifold; it has to move away from being miniscule to a large production set-up, which it will when large players throw money on it, and it is only a matter of years, not decades anymore.

Accelerating technologies

  • OPC-UA (Open Protocol Communication-Unified Architecture)
  • AI
  • Cloud
  • Data & Analytics
  • Robotics & IOT, ML
  • Material Science
  • Industry 4.0 
  • Society 5.0