Here, CHRIS MCNEELA (No 1 Litho Printer) from Platinum Print, talks about the high-tech HP Indigo digital print machinery, its transformative effects and how it is now helping the Harrogate-based print business stride forward in so many different ways.
What is your position at Platinum Print and how long have you worked in the company?
I’m a Litho printer and a digital printer who’s worked at Platinum for eight years.
How long have you worked in the print industry and what have you specialised in over that time?
I’ve worked in the print industry for 30 years and specialised in a number of printing techniques since then: Litho, thermographic, letterpress, foil blocking… I’ve pretty much done a bit of everything over the years.
Which have you enjoyed the most in a career spanning three decades?
It’s always been Litho, really. I’ve progressed with the technology and gone from the smallest machines to the biggest in the industry.
How did you feel when you initially found out Platinum had invested in the HP Indigo digital print technology?
It reassured me. I knew they were looking at new technology but, with it being quite a difficult time due to Covid and the pandemic, you’d maybe have expected them to go backwards. However, instead, they have pushed forward and, when I initially found out about it, I knew I definitely wanted to be involved with the machine as I’m very interested in keeping up with the latest technology.
I thought the HP Indigo would be brilliant for Platinum, as they’re a company who like to stay at the forefront and cutting edge of printing techniques: we have the newest print machinery and this places us in a good position to compete.
Can you talk us through a typical day when working on the HP Indigo?
We do shifts from 6am-2pm and 2pm-10pm so, if I’m on in the morning, the first job is to simply switch the machine on as it has to warm up. But once it’s on, we’d do a colour calibration to make sure the colours are accurate. We’d then do some press transfers which need to be set for the day ahead – which is a computerised process.
Once we’ve got the calibration right, we’d look at what jobs we’ve got throughout the day and put them in order by date; we’d also make sure we have all the stock ready to fulfill these. With the machine being digital, the files are sent straight from the computer to the press and so this minimises the time it takes to make sure everything is ready to go. Once everything is set up correctly, we’d carry on printing consecutive jobs throughout the day.
How does your current day differ from when you were primarily working on the Litho Print Press?
I’ve got a bit more responsibility now. I liaise with different departments more, whereas before everything that I needed was provided and then I was left to get on with it. It is good as it’s something new for me: I like to do new things when I can and embrace new technology. I like to learn on the job and so I was keen to work with the HP Indigo 12000 – I’m grateful for the opportunity.
What have been the main pros and cons when adapting to the new digital print technology?
The cons are it’s always harder to learn something new, especially as there’s a lot to this machine. Usually, you have to go to Barcelona to undergo the training which is offered from Level 1 to Level 3, however, due to the pandemic, they actually came to us for two weeks for our Level 1 training. The technology is quite complicated, but once you’ve completed the training and understand its capabilities, the pros become very obvious. It’s important that you’re qualified to operate the machinery and so the training is an essential part of the process.
Another pro, for me personally, is that I’m responsible for operating the newest and most advanced machine in the print factory, which makes me feel quite proud.
And are you impressed with the finished product…?
Yes. I couldn’t believe how closely connected it is to Litho and, in some aspects, better. I’ve seen a lot of digital machines before and I’ve never been interested in crossing over into digital until now.
I’ve been in printing for a long time and when previously asked if I’d like to move over to digital, I’ve always politely declined!
I’ve always been more interested in the hands-on work… getting involved with the machine… getting filthy and covered in ink! But when I actually saw the results that came off the HP Indigo, I thought to myself ‘wow, I can’t believe just how much the technology has come on.’ It is an expensive piece of kit and there’s a lot of maintenance involved, but the actual output is amazing. It’s definitely the future.
Can you provide some examples of interesting projects you have recently worked on using the HP Indigo – demonstrating the range of materials / techniques / finishes that can be achieved?
Yes, we’ve used different whites where you can print on a black substrate, producing a high-quality white image which really stands out. We’ve also used bespoke ink including fluorescent and invisible inks which create an amazing end result – the possibilities to the machine are endless. HP are constantly coming out with new features and finishes and you can use different substrates, too. We’re looking at using sparkly paper and all kinds of material which you wouldn’t normally see.
Is there anything you miss about working on the Litho print press?
The only thing I really miss is that if there was a problem, I’d always instantly know what it was. Whereas, with HP Indigo, I sometimes have to work with the customer support team at HP to resolve an issue.
On the reverse however, because the quality is so good, in a way, it is much easier on the digital machine. The quality now is just as good as Litho and, in some ways, better: it is a cleaner, sharper image. It all depends on the nature of the job. I have to admit I am amazed! I’m now 46 and have been in this industry since I left school. I thought I’d seen everything, but when I first saw the HP Indigo in action, I was actually stunned by what it could do; and the speed at which it operates.
That’s not the speed of the sheets going through the machine, but the time it takes to set the machine up for the job: a couple of clicks and you are good to go.
It can queue jobs up and add three different substrates – so you could be running a booklet, including both the cover and then the inner pages – and you’d do one straight after the other for the finished job.
I’ve had a guy who came to me a few months back and he wanted a job doing there and then. He actually waited in his car. We ran the job off on the HP Indigo and it went straight over the road to the finishing department, before handing it back to him in his car and off he went. It was almost instant. And that’s what the future holds in this day and age: people want a job done ‘now’ but don’t want to compromise on quality.
What advantages does Litho have over Digital and vice versa?
Litho can be better for a long job run. If you’re looking at thousands of sheets and cost is an important factor, we would tend to use Litho for these long print runs. It takes a bit longer to set up and turn around, but it has the capacity to do runs of up to 100,000 sheets.
With digital and the HP Indigo, it’s beneficial if we have a quick-turnaround project on the go.
One challenge sometimes with Litho is the drying times, as the printed material needs to be dry before you can turn it over and print the other side. The digital press will print both sides at the same time. Digital print is so efficient and the quality is now so strong, that inevitably some typical Litho jobs will now be fulfilled on the digital machine – as it’s just so advanced.
Something we’re doing now is, if you’re on the Litho machine and doing a spot colour for a specific pantone like for example an unusual shade of purple – you could actually mix that colour on the digital machine using your four colours and a violet in green ink. The HP Indigo digital press can match 95 per cent of what you couldn’t match on the Litho. It really is ingenious.
How do you believe digital print technology – like the HP Indigo – will affect the future of print?
I think it will be the future. It is evolving so fast now. I’ve just seen the technology where you put the VR glasses on and, if you have a maintenance problem (with HP Indigo), you’ll actually see how to fix the problem through the glasses.
This type of advanced troubleshooting is just going to further speed up the entire process, improving efficiency and meeting customers’ needs instantly. HP is a recognised company and technology brand: when you’re talking digital print, everyone knows Indigo. It’s the go-to machine.