Everyone's a winner

June 1, 2007

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

I've just won a prize, and if you are a digital printer, I invite you to share it with me.

My digital printing company has won hundreds of awards. We've won for our marketing campaigns, our technical bulletins and our newsletters. We've won awards for Web sites — our own and those we've designed and implemented for our customers.

Yours truly has even won awards for articles in AMERICAN PRINTER.

We've also won awards for sound business practices, meteoric growth and high sales; for community service, and commitment to education and literacy; and for progressive practices in quality analysis, measurement and monitoring.

Am I bragging? A little bit, perhaps, but to make a point: Our most recent winnings are different.

Aside from all the great things mentioned above, the majority of competitions we enter are for quality. They are beauty contests judged by just how gorgeous our dots on paper are and how much better they look than our competitors' dots.

Digital, the ugly stepsister

As a digital printer (no offset here) we find ourselves entering two types of beautiful dot contests. The first are the ones that were originated jointly by Gutenberg and Ben Franklin. These venerable contests survived the American Revolution, the Civil War and the transition from letterpress to offset. The coveted grand prize often is called something like the “Smokestack Award” (“Smoky,” for short).

Some of these yearly exercises have added “digital” categories. My company, Copresco, eagerly submits entries in these categories. In the beauty contest world, digitally printed entries are the homely stepsisters. Digital categories were created under the premise that digital can't possibly compete with conventional sheetfed offset for image quality. So we judge digital separately based on the outdated notion that, otherwise, it never could win.

Some of the beauty contests don't even judge digital print by quality. Instead, such criteria as data merging and personalization are honored, which tells the world that digital is homely but has a great personality.

The second group of beautiful dot contests are “digital only.” Sponsored by vendors or trade associations, these upstart competitions, miffed at second-class treatment in the Oaken Typecase awards, have changed the rules by excluding all but digital entries. Even these contests usually require some sort of explanation to accompany the entry: “Tell me why this was printed digitally.” The answer, “Because we are a digital printing company,” just doesn't cut it.

Fact: In the right hands, digital printing can be as good as or better than offset printing. Corollary: There is an awful lot of bad digital printing going on, just as there is a lot of awful sheetfed offset printing.

Fact: Most digital processes have a wider color gamut than offset. Yes, folks, one of the (many) advantages digital holds is its ability to reproduce a greater range of colors accurately using the four-color process.

Fact: Digital printers need not choose between quality and workflow, and print buyers must reject the notion that if digital is chosen for efficiency, quality must take a back seat.

Quality first

This year, as in every year, I entered some of our best work in an annual regional contest that is judged solely on print quality. This year, unlike years past, I submitted duplicate entries in standard product categories.

Plainly put, the catalog I entered in the “digital 4/C static” category also was entered in the “catalog” category. The first submission was accompanied by the requisite explanation of the digital process employed, while the duplicate entry carried no such baggage.

My duplicate entries sat side by side with their offset counterparts on the judging table with nothing to indicate that they were printed digitally. And two of them won.

The judges either couldn't tell or didn't care how my entries were printed. They were brought in to judge print quality, and they knew it when they saw it.

Why is this more than just another prize? It means digital is mainstream. Digital has gone from being disdained as copying and reviled as a threat to printing — a poor cousin of offset — to full citizenship. What I'm doing is not unique; it is the very future of our businesses, and that future is here.

When I accept my plaques and statuettes at the awards banquet, I'll be doing so officially on behalf of my company and all of my employees. I'll also be accepting these awards informally on behalf of every Johnson's World reader who is doing digital print. Congratulations!