Quality Improvement in Offset Printing Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Operations Management

This a Masters Business Administration (MBA) Paper Operations Management There a paper required, due parts. Each part a maximum 4 pages long , counting text exhibits, excluding bibliography references.

Current state

Offset and digital printing often faces quality issues related to several factors. The differences and similarities that exist between offset and digital print in the quality assurance process though the two methods share common demerits. Offset printing, which is applicable to a wide range of materials, produces more frequent quality issues than digital print, which has been referred to by White (1975) as sharper and suffering from less technical constraints such as resolution. However, for digital print, resolution also serves as an issue because where a lower-resolution design is used, the print quality suffers as well. Moreover, digital printers suffer from lack of digital printing standards which means providers who use digital print have few tools and standards than they need to address their quality-related problems compared to offset printers who have a multitude of tools and standards to work with.

For both offset and digital printing, the print production system is based on two components. These are the image generator and image reproducer. These two systems receive the digital files, process them and reproduce them on the paper or other material. Though this seems a lot simpler, the two components are more complex depending on the type of printing being used, as offset or digital.

In offset printing, the image generator receives the digital files, processes them to address issues such as imposition, pagination, and proofing then the job is sent for platemaking. The image reproducer then combines substrates and colorants under the nip of the printer. In this process, the pressman acts as the controller of the process and loads paper and ink to the right setting and adjusts the settings of the press to reproduce the image. The pressman would be directly involved in assuring print quality because he would need to visually inspect each print job for possible defects and would adjust the print setting based on the findings (Norberg, Westin, & Lindberg, 2001).

Digital printing, on the other hand, conducts image generation and reproduction in a different way. Image generation receives the digital files and depending on how they were designed may or may not need to further process these to address issues of pagination, proofing, and imposition. After this process, the print job is sent for hardcopy output, the only major difference between image generation in offset and digital printing. The image reproduction system uses substrates and colorants under the imaging nip. Here, the imaging or printing system controls the process and sets all print settings without any intervention from human beings. The pressman is only involved in loading the paper and clearing any paper jams where they exist. Therefore, digital printing uses a hands-off approach in quality assurance.

The major difference between how the two printing systems ensure the quality of the print lie in the process control. The offset printing system uses a hands-on approach whereby the pressman chooses the materials, substrates and colorants and chooses how these are managed to ensure the quality of the output. This brings about the issue of profit maximization since the pressman would ideally want to use the least expensive or least amount of inputs to maximize profit. In the digital printing system, the consumables and other technology for printing are inseparable from the printing machine provider. Therefore, the pressman has a limited choice of options and though may want to reduce cost of inputs, may not ultimately be able to limit production quality.

The quality assurance process for each of the two printing systems, offset and digital printing in terms of fulfilling customer needs for large print runs also differs considerably. Digital printing is often preferred for smaller print jobs of say 100 print runs and print jobs that include variable data. Offset printing is preferred for print jobs that are large such as 10,000 print runs, and where the job uses spot or process colors. This, together with the quality assurance issue related with offset printing creates significant issues since large print orders have the largest possibility of margin of error thus leading to larger number of print items with defects.

Offset printing also suffers another problem as a result of its reliance on human intervention for quality assurance. Since print companies often hold more than one print job at a time, they struggle with checking each individual item in the attempt to meet timelines. They thus, compromise quality for the sake of timeliness.

Importance of quality assurance

Quality assurance for the print companies is important because it is a source of competitive advantage. Companies that strive to ensure higher quality prints through continuous improvement of their printing processes often have greater market share compared to other companies. Quality assurance is also an integral element of the ISO 9000 Certification of Product or System. Therefore, print companies seeking to achieve ISO certification or working with companies that are ISO certified need to ensure the quality of their print job is high because the quality of print is an important element of ISO 9000 certification. As suggested by / / /, only the companies that are able to ensure high quality print jobs during the period of slow economic growth. Therefore, the value of quality printed items will be higher than the value of bulk printed items.

Quality problems also cost companies greatly. When print orders are issued, the customer may levy chargebacks if the print job has been paid for or may refuse to accept the shipment altogether. Refusal of shipment leads to triple payment of postage charges since the print company has already paid for shipment to the customer's base and needs to ship the items back to their office and shop the new items to the customer again. Chargebacks may be done at a flat rate or may be a percentage of the total print order value. Quality problems that may be seemingly small can cause the supplier to lose revenue at the present and lose future revenue when the customer decides to go with a different supplier. Similarly, if the print order was to be delivered in batches, the first or other batch it may take several days for the batch to be rejected during which the printer may continue to produce defective print items. Before the situation is resolved, the number of print items with defects may be extremely high leading to loss of revenue. Customers may also have penalties on top of the chargebacks for delayed shipment leading to increased loss of revenue for the print company.


The relationship between the customer and the printing company depends largely on the quality of the print job that the customer receives. Print defects often impact negatively on this relationship and lead to loss of revenue by the printing firm. The root cause of the print defects that arise from offset printing is the human intervention required to ensure the print job continues. There is need for the print firm to make continuous improvements to the print quality to survive and maintain competitive advantage.


Norberg, O., Westin, P., & Lindberg, S. (2001). A Comparison of Print Quality between Digital and Traditional Technologies. Paper presented at the International Conference on Digital Production Printing and Industrial Applications.

White, I.C. (1975). The Print Quality Index - A Management Tool (pp. 259-269): TAGA Proceedings.

Future state

Several quality assurance strategies have been considered for printing and advertising companies. One is the quality assurance through attributes program (QATAP) that involves providing the specifications for printed materials and providing other quality assurance procedures to ensure the desired quality levels are achieved. According to / / /, the QATAP identified five quality levels, at each of which the quality requirements of the printed product should be clearly identified and described in attributes that can be defined and measured. QATAP is an integral system that is the solution to the printing quality issues.

To implement QATAP, the printer would need to discuss the needs of the customer with the customer and define the product quality level, tolerances, predefined percentage of defective items allowed in a shipment, sampling levels, and other attributes for judging the acceptability of the print job. It is important to discuss these with the customer before starting production in order to ensure the printer does their best to meet all quality requirements of the customer and to reduce chances of rejection of the print run.

Traditionally, visual detection of defects was the primary way to evaluate the quality of the printed image. The customer would often identify undesired attributes through visual inspection such as poor readability of text, extraneous marks, excess variation of color, and hickeys. These would often lead to rejection of a poor print job. Using the QATAP model, the printer would need to define the attributes of the print job that matter to the customer and define data collection…

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