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Glass Houses: Beauty, Practicality, and Digital Printing
Posted Apr 1, 2002 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

Beauty and practicality are two words rarely combined in describing disc manufacturing. But digital printing, a new disc decoration technology developed by Kammann Machines, may change all that. What initially attracted me to the story of digital printing was the beauty of the first digitally printed discs I've seen. At 230 lines per inch, the resolution exceeds that of magazine print quality, which averages 170. Of course, disc pricing being what it is, I first thought, what a shame this will never take off. But I've since changed my mind. Digital printing also offers piracy protection, a key ancillary benefit that should offset any added costs. That's the primary reason Now Disc Solutions has become the technology's first U.S. adopter.

According to Now Disc president Brian Powell, current piracy statistics estimate content owners' lost profits in the billions. Powell says Kammann's digital printing machine, the K 15 Digital, addresses this issue effectively, thanks to its ability to serialize product directly on the face of the media. Until now, serialization has been printed on the label, invisible to the naked eye. Digital printing eliminates that step. "We can serialize or personalize discs and make them unique in their own right with this machine," says corporate marketing director Sherri Ingalls. This type of serialization will help everyone involved. For example, about 30 percent of what Sony receives back in returns is not even Sony product, she says. But if a disc is digitally printed, you can actually hold it up to a light and see if it is an authentic disc, potentially saving millions for a publisher that size.

Digital printing came into focus for me while researching Midbar Technology's Cactus Data Shield, a new type of encryption being tested by Universal's Island/Def Jam label. The music industry is so desperate to find a solution to copy protection and piracy, companies like Universal are willing to put out discs that may not work in every player. In fact, Def/Jam's More Music From Fast And Furious CD shipped with a letter to retailers from Universal's executive vice president that said they would change return policies and accept opened or breached product. From reports I've heard thus far, there haven't been a lot of returns; still, that level of risk boggles the mind. Universal was reportedly expecting 10 percent of the product to be returned.

Another strike against encryption of course, audiophiles say, is that it changes the sound of the music. Digital printing does not change anything, and its protection may even grow stronger with time as the sealant hardens, making it very difficult to scratch off the label. No one can claim a technology to be 100 percent effective, but Ingalls is very encouraged by the offerings of the Kammann K 15 Digital.

Kammann's K 15 Digital does not require films or plates. Ink and images are all self-contained. Images are sent to the replicator via an electronic file. This file is usually delivered to the prepress department and downloaded into a computer, which rips the image and divides it into colors. The system prints white, plus up to six additional colors, and the disc is then sent to the printer either by disc or via a network system. Since this printing is a digital process, the need for film is eliminated, and human intervention doesn't happen until the packaging stage. That, in theory, should improve quality and save time, an important feature for today's fast turnaround demands. Ingalls estimates that using a digital printer will save Now Disc 45 minutes on each order.

Will digital printing on DVD go as smoothly as it has with CD? Steve Agler, president of Kammann's North American operations, St. Charles, Illinois, says they have had great success meeting DVD's requirements so far. These include ink durability and issues related to disc tilt. "We have run DVD product from all of the major manufacturers and have found that disc quality varies a great deal. Keeping this in mind, we've focused our energies on building as much flexibility as possible into the system to accommodate this wide range of product variation," he says.

Neither Kammann nor Now Disc offers exact pricing information, but they do position the product based on suitable economies of scale. Agler says, "We see that the competitive price advantage of digital versus offset and screen print are for order sizes in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 discs." Ingalls says there will be a cost difference for discs printed digitally, but it won't be significant. "Our pricing schedule is pretty close to what it was before. The setup fee has gone down. The more a customer does, the cheaper it will be." Now Disc duplicated 1.7 million CD-Rs last year. That number is expected to increase by more than 100 percent as they dive into DVD, CD business cards, and MiniDiscs this year.

Kammann does have some competition in the field. Another digital printer, Xeikon, is available from Digitran AG, Thayngen, Switzerland. The first printer was installed in May at OMD in Diessenhofen, Switzerland. Digitran's process is said to be somewhat different than Kammann's; however, sources at the company were not available for comment at presstime.

Now Disc expects to have the K 15 installed at its facility in Boise, Idaho by February. The process will be referred to as Variable Image Processing and its new disc product will be called Identity Disc.

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