The Hybrid Model

We have reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of both digital print-on-demand and conventional offset print programs, but what about when the choice between digital and offset is not an either/or decision? A combination of both models can allow you to have your cake and eat it too by achieving a balance of customization and scale. As many print suppliers employ both offset and digital as part of their production capacity, the two technologies can be complementary.
“Allowing these two production methods to complement each other creates a holistic process that lets you leverage the strengths of both,” advises Joe Kaelin, Director of Manufacturing and Technology for Dexter Solutions. “When volumes are such that the conventional portion can be engaged, a hybrid solution can create a tailored workflow that will decrease unit costs.”
This approach is a strong fit for corporate programs with property or location-level customizations. In this scenario, a corporate program can produce an inventory of items via offset and then applies the location-specific content through a digital print-on-demand process.
Essentially with this hybrid model you are breaking your project up into two production runs. The first production run utilizes offset to produce the printed “shell” or “base run.” This method allows you to tap into the efficiencies gained through large offset runs. As properties and locations order their specific versions, the shell is then run through a digital press to apply the customized content.
The hybrid model leverages the best of both methods and allows you to realize the efficiencies gained from large volume, offset runs with the customization and speed of digital methods. Limitations to consider within this approach include the need to carry the inventory of the offset base run, and the additional time required to set up the program.
You will need to work with your print partner to ensure your art files are correctly set up to accommodate the two production runs. Previously, to fit in this hybrid model the artwork needed to feature a lighter background to allow for the visibility of the content printed digitally. This factor, of course, limited the design of options within a piece such as reverses or knockouts. Advancements in digital capabilities and special effects have brought the addition of white ink as an option, which allows for the white or a layer of white paired with color to be printed on dark backgrounds to provide the necessary contrast.
Bottom line: When is a hybrid approach right for your project?
  • Corporate program with location-specific customization or variable data needs.
  • Higher volume (> 1,500 is a good rule of thumb).
  • Unique special effect or strict color matching requirements.
  • Allows for longer corporate program set-up, but shorter order completion turn-times at the property level.
Make sure not to overlook how you can leverage aspects of your program to reduce costs or improve product quality. If you have a large volume program and need to provide your network of locations with personalized items, automatically opting for a print on demand model will leave money on the table.
It is imperative to work with a print partner who will dig deep to understand your program and the desired outcome to ensure you utilize the best production model for your needs. The real value exists when a partner is willing to break out of their rigid processes and get creative in designing an end-to-end program tailored to your needs.
“Whether your needs drive you to digital or conventional printing, having the right partner to assist you along the way and to ensure consistent color management and brand identity across multiple platforms and substrates will allow you to meet corporate objectives and needs of individual properties and locations,” shares Ploucha.