Pioneering Print: Wilen Grows 4-color Variable Data Printing Capabilities with Kodak

About 18 years ago, we broke ground on our first direct mail manufacturing facility in Deerfield Beach, Florida. You might think that entering the printing business (or any labor-intensive manufacturing business for that matter) in the late 1990's was a gamble at best. It certainly wasn't without risk. However, after working with many printers to produce marketing communications for the prior 26 years, and dealing with the challenges and limitations of the old, traditional printing equipment in place at many manufacturer's facilities, we knew there had to be a better way.

So, we set out to build a facility equipped only with the latest, most innovative technology we could find—the kind of technology that would produce what worked in the modern arena of direct marketing. I don't think that anyone in the print manufacturing industry during this time would disagree that a change was imminent. The industry saw many shifts and consolidation during this period. But with a lean, focused plan and operating model we pressed ahead.

Wilen soon grew from a start-up print manufacturing plant to the largest mailer by volume in South Florida, and Variable Data Printing has been a huge part of that success.

From the onset, we recognized that VDP, then commonly referred to as VDI (Variable Data Imaging) provided direct mail marketers the opportunity to communicate with consumers in a more personal way. At that time, inkjet technology was only used for the addressing portion of direct mail manufacturing, or "Lettershop." Once a piece of mail was printed on a press, it was carried over to a separate machine that would imprint your address, similar to a desktop postage meter, on a larger scale. For all the effort that went into creating a piece of direct mail up to that point—this was the only part of the package that actually spoke to the recipient personally. We wondered, "Why should we limit this to an address panel?"

Around this time we began what would become a long-standing partnership with Kodak. Many people recognize Kodak as a brand of cameras, or photography related products—but Kodak's commercial print products and services focus specifically on imaging technology, in clear alignment with Wilen Direct's aspirations. Before long, we adapted some of the same equipment previously used to print address blocks to image unique offers and information on direct mail pieces during the printing process—driven directly by data. What sounds so simple now was unheard of at the time, and this innovation set the stage for what was to come over the next few years.

The terms "printing technology" and "innovation" are not often paired in the same sentence, but the fact is that "More has happened in four-color variable data printing in the last two years than the previous 30 years" The first iteration of on-press, inline variable data imaging imprinted black images at only 240dpi. This soon made way to monochrome, duplex imaging at 600dpi, which was then adapted to lay down 4-color content. Before long, Kodak engineered high-speed web presses around their high-definition inkjet heads, combining the speed and quality of traditional offset web presses with the unlimited flexibility of variable data printing. Wilen Direct became the first manufacturer to adopt this new technology, serving as the North American beta site for the Prosper 5000xli.

Last week, we announced our agreement with Kodak to purchase the next generation of variable data printing technology—the Prosper 6000C. This new press builds upon the capabilities of the 5000xli with faster operating speeds, higher quality and a wider variety of compatible substrates. While we continuously evaluate the platforms offered by other manufacturers, and employ a variety of other equipment in our facilities, we feel confident that Kodak once again will enable us to provide the quality and speed to market our partners have come to expect from us.

We've come a long way from imprinting address blocks, and look forward to pushing the boundaries of this new technology over the next few years until the next iteration is developed.

Published on April 8, 2015