Web printing is an amazing technology. It is fast, given the right parameters it is cheap and with today’s modern high speed web presses, you cannot tell the difference in quality between web printing and sheet fed printing, except maybe for the glossier sheet from the paper coming off the web printer’s rolls, which tend to pick up a bit more “polish” from the run. So, when does one rely on web printing to run a and sheet fed commercial printing job and no longer consider the one sheet through the press at a time of sheet fed printing? Answer: When you have sufficient quantity and/or page count and can work within the stricter variables of web printing.
Let’s take a look at some of the variables that should enter into your decision in order to choose between a web printing company and a sheet fed printing one.
1- Quantity: Generally speaking this can vary between half webs, full web printers, cold set web and heat set web, so my answers will in fact be general at this time. Suffice it to say, that the less expensive to run cold set web printing press, would be able to run large page counts, with smaller overall quantities than heat set web printing presses. This is why you see many book printing web printing companies quoting jobs starting at one thousand books. That said a typical starting point for a heat set web printing press would be a 64 page periodical at about 5,000 copies at full page size or 10,000 at digest size.
2- Price: Per the above, it may be a tossup sometimes whether web printing or sheet fed may come in best price wise at the bottom quantities, but once running, web printing will rule. The problem with costs on a web printing press is that the startup cost to run these behemoths are massive as compared to sheet fed. But once running, it is the cost per impression that brings the price way down with web printing, once you are past the initial start up costs. As an example 100,000 of the same 64 page booklet may be a quarter to half the cost on a web printing press than on a sheet fed one.
3- Quality: Moot, so long as you are on a modern digital web printing press, with direct to plate technology quality is no longer an issue. It may have been prior to the economy going south, when ad agencies wanted to print with spot colors in addition to process ones for an effect, but then it was a waste of money and now it is simply not affordable. There are many more six color, as it is the state of the craft, sheet fed presses, than web printing presses.
4- Press Checking: Here is a sticky point, in that simply due to the start up and running costs of a web printing press, if you insist on a press check, you better have two things going for you: 1-your files were perfect and 2-your knowledge of printing is perfect, otherwise if the press check takes forever on a web printing press, you will not be overly welcome back. If there ever was a phrase that is well put, as in web printing, it is “time is money”!
5- Usual Suspects: The items one associate most with web printing due to quantity and page count, are books, magazines, catalogs, manuals and even brochures if the quantity is large enough. Runs with post cards, business cards, flyers in most cases are generally relegated to the sheet fed press.
6- “No Sheet, I Did Not Know That”: Many periodical web printers do not have sheeters at the end of the press and that printing press produces folded signatures at the end of the web. This way it is best suited for magazines, books or catalogs, as the bindery just has to “marry” each signature, usually anywhere from 16-32 pages with double web press, and bind. This makes it difficult to produce things like poster printing on a web press, unless that rare web press has a “sheeter”, which is capable of cutting the roll into sheets without folding them first into signatures.
7- Paper Stocks: A great advantage over a sheet fed press is had by a web printer due to the fact that the paper comes in roll stock and does not have to be fed, sheet by sheet through the printing press, the web printer can run very light paper stocks. Typical would be news print at 27.7 pounds or 32# gloss for mass run magazine printing. Sheet fed must start with 60# gloss book, or 50# uncoated offset as the minimal weight that can be run through a sheet fed printing press. Even then many printers do not like to run the 60# as it jams the printing press and will charge the customer the same price to run 70# due to the waste from the lighter paper stock. The converse is also true in that web presses cannot run heavy stock to the same extent as a sheet fed printing press. Most web printing companies will only go to 9 pt (approx. 100# cover) and then only run C2S, as the uncoated side of C1S leaves too much dust in its wake on the web printing press. Many sheet fed printers will run 24 pt cover.
8- Automation: Here is a great advantage, which also adds to the speed of the web printing press. The modern web printing presses, as an example can do plate changes, with adjustments to color and registration within ten minutes versus the same on a sheet fed press which could be an hour or longer to do the same. As this saves time it saves money for time is money and thus you save some as a result of press efficiency.
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