Print 09, Chicago

Once again, we made the trek to Chicago for the annual Print Expo at McCormic Place. There were a lot of vendors there this year (probably more vendors than attendee’s), and it’s just kind of impossible to say that there was any one big ground breaking thing that we saw. Probably the biggest overall theme was automation through out the whole printing process. The other thing that I learned was that the Mike Ditka’s restaurant signature steak is a 22 oz Ribeye (I didn’t get one though, that’s just too over the top). Chicago can be such a blast.

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The crowd was very light this year, so much so that you could talk to any vendor you wanted to and usually get them to do a demo of whatever they were selling. That was good for us, but tough for the vendors. I was trying not to make eye contact with vendors I did not want to talk to, cause if they get the eye contact thing going, there’re all over you.

We started by going to EFI’s booth, who owns Printsmith & Fiery (Printsmith & Fiery process a lot of information in our company). Once again, the theme was automation throughout the whole shop. What we saw confirmed that over the next couple of years, we should be able to really lift the level of the On Line services we offer, like tracking orders on-line &  pushing account history to the web, as well as back room enhancements to make the whole system work better. Of course they are selling outcomes, and all of this automation takes a lot of work & training on our behalf. We are trying to picture what our shop (and the industry) will look like in 2011 and beyond.

We also went to Xitron’s booth (we just purchased their workflow), and they had an incredible add on to our workflow for uploading any file over the internet and having it converted to a Certified PDFx proof while you wait. That actually made a lot of sense to me for cutting down on preflighting and proofing time.

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Heidelberg had some incredibly automated machines that are cool to look at, but I think they are having a hard time moving their million dollar + presses, cutters & folders in this market. Heidelberg has the capability to completely automate a print shop (Oregon is a Heidelberg shop), but you could spend a lot of money doing that. The trick is to focus their best features that apply to a shop like ours and leave the rest behind. Unfortunately, I think their sales people in that 3 acre booth out numbered attendee’s 2:1.

At the Xante both, they were showing a full color printer for envelopes that added variable capabilities. I had heard about it and was afraid it would be something that would break after a year, but I was actually pretty impressed with how simple but effective it was. Think of the variable data and messages you could put on #10 envelopes (in full color) in this upcoming 2010 election season.

My friend John Chabut (Stewart Industries), makers of PMI High Die Cutters had a booth showing one of their  models . A “High Die Cutter” is a specialized die cutter for labels and things you want a very “clean” cut on (think of a beer bottle label). I was impressed to hear thats what 4/Over uses to die cut out their round cornered business cards…Kudos on that one John!

There was a lot of wide format printing, a lot of Web-to-Print applications and a lot of cool bindery applications…I just got the feeling that nobody was spending any real money. I think mostly people are waiting to see which way the economy goes and also waiting to see how many of these high tech promises really pan out.

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