The Printwell building on the Wandle industrial estate in Mitcham is a warren. You climb the stairs, pass the boardroom, then drop a few steps to the office area. From here another door takes you downstairs again, but not before passing a striking mural painted when the company rethought its brand identity last year.
A new logo, with a retro 1980s feel was introduced, and the artwork, development director Hussein Ghor explains, hints at the British Gas logo of the time. Four characters in the primary print colours are depicted playing as members of a pop band. “Staff like it when they pass. It reminds them we are a team,” Ghor says.
Downstairs there is another part of the team. A small office opens into the workshop for Grays Bookbinders, a very traditional craft finishing business which receives commissions for hand binding, box making, foil blocking and case making. It is something of a gem, a bastion of artisanal craftsmanship against the soullessness of machinery perhaps, but also understanding that high quality requires skills and experience. It does not necessarily require highly sophisticated machinery.
And the equipment here is by and large far from sophisticated, and is decades old. Book presses to hold work in progress; Singer sewing machines to stitch sections together; a hand operated hot foiler; a device for clamping a book block while an operator uses a hammer to achieve the rounded back that is a hallmark of quality binding. Not everyone here is in their mature years, though younger members of staff have often been initiated into Grays by older relatives.
As traditional as this business is, it has its place in a modern print industry where print buyers are seeking high impact. There is no denying the effect of a true leather bound book. Presentation boxes for a number of Premier League football clubs are used to impress highly valued sponsors. Gift boxes for perfumes help justify the price tag on an exclusive scent. Boxes which nest inside each other or lock together can hold product catalogues secure against inadvertent damage.
There are racks of different coloured leathers, Colorplan papers in all colours of the rainbow and various silks and cloths that provide the all important finishing touch.
London property where investors are paying high prices for high rises comes with presentation boxes, perhaps covered in silk, a material that few would commit to mechanical covering. If manager Gary Williams is prepared to accept mechanical and semi-automated means to cut the boards to make the boxes, he is not going to accept that mechanical wrapping can match the carefully honed hand skills.
It has used online ordering both for print and a range of goods that franchise and retail customers might want in addition to brochures and banners. Digital print has been added to its litho printing and more recently large format print for point of sale.
From the relatively narrow street frontage it is impossible to guess that behind the factory goes on and on, ending with the litho departments. Before then there is the digital room, home to the company’s latest investment. This is a Xerox iGen5, the only one in London and the south east to be able to offer each of the three additional colours that the technology offers.
These have a double impact. Printwell can print some of the most awkward corporate colours on a digital press and it can deliver four-colour print with a jump off the page impact by using orange, blue or green to add oomph into what be an otherwise flat image.
The samples that have been printed during the commissioning process justify the claims for impact if not those for colour consistency and automation that Xerox has built into the press. It shares the family look of the older iGens, but the youngest member of the family is easily the smartest.
The consistency during a run and for repeat runs and across substrates will be key to persuading image sensitive customers who treasure their brand image to the extent of insisting on litho printing that the iGen5 can provide short runs and personalisation without compromising that crucial PMS colour. The fifth colour is added as part of the standard printing process so does not slow the machine in any way.
The larger sheet, enabling the company to print six pages of A4 instead of four, creates a further dimension to the advantages of the technology.
“It sits between SRA3 and B2 digital printing, is more environmentally friendly than some technologies and offers the productivity before you get to inkjet printing. And it delivers quality that I never thought that digital would ever reach,” says Ghor. “And this quality has changed the mindset of our litho press operators.”
There is no more belief that switching to running the digital press is a second best choice or that the understanding of colour is being replaced with a push button approach where there is no room for operator intervention.
The iGen5 comes with a dedicated version of the EFI Fiery Rip that allows the press operators to adjust colour much as they might on a litho press, increasing magenta here or dropping the level of cyan perhaps. The big difference, says commercial manager John Smith who began his career as a press minder, is there is no concern about tracking issues that result.
Instead the operator identifies where the colour change is needed using a cursor to mask off an area and the change applied. The software will make suggestions about the use of the fifth colour in a four-colour image showing how this will improve the image, but allowing the operator to step in. “It gives us the control that we have on a litho press to adjust colour,” says Smith.
The challenge is how to spread the word to agency customers that have been used to Indigo being the final word in digital print quality. The spot colour facility enables the press to hit 95% of the PMS range. “That puts us in the elite of digital printers,” says Ghor.
“Everybody can claim to be a digital printer, but not everybody really knows what digital is. So we moved to the iGen5 because of the quality of engineering and of the print output.”
The company had looked at Heidelberg's offering in terms of digital print, and as the investment would have been substantially less, might have been tempted. There would have been a lingering question about the suitability for digital all customers. That is no longer the issue. “The marketing agencies we want to speak to know the difference in quality and that is where we want to stand out. We believe we can match the big boys in terms of quality.”
Property companies will get brochures where the sky gets a vibrancy they are perhaps not used with digital printing. Green enhances brochures for natural products, as clear varnish adds droplets of water while orange tackles the most popular options for branding involving reds and oranges.
The task is get across the message that high quality digital printing is not all about Indigo. And that Printwell can perhaps go places where Indigo users cannot. The trick is communicating that to customers.
Smith says that many suppliers do not do this, recalling how it was only by chance that he visited the toilet at a local trade supplier and walked past an array of wire binding equipment that he did not know was there. “I hadn’t realised that this local supplier had made that investment. They had not educated their customers to what they could do.”
Printwell will not fall into this trap. Nor is it about to chase commodity pricing. There is a clear synergy with Grays. The limited run presentation cases and boxes need a book, brochure or other printed item that matches the quality of the outer skin of the product. The iGen5 provides this. With the skills in the Grays section of the building, the way is open to high quality photo books, particularly with an investment in lay flat binding. Open flat landscape books fall into this category.
The long sheet also plays to this type of product while the ability of the digital press to handle carton boards should open the way to specialised packaging.
Already, Smith muses, some of the West End stores have presentation boxes created for them by the leading perfume providers. The uniqueness of this can be enhanced with packaging personalised with a gift message. Printwell has the experience at web to print, it has the box making skills and now it has the digital print capacity.
“The marketing agencies we want to speak to know the difference in quality and that is where we want to stand out. We believe we can match the big boys in terms of quality,” says Hussein Ghor.