Classic Cards installs new Heidelberg SX 74 sheetfed offset press

Stagnant commercial print propels packaging diversification

K Kanagaraj, managing partner, Classic Cards, with the news new Heidelberg SX 74 sheetfed offset press at his plant in Coimbatore. . Photo IPP
K Kanagaraj, managing partner, Classic Cards, with the news new Heidelberg SX 74 sheetfed offset press at his plant in Coimbatore. . Photo IPP

Two insights emerge from a recent visit to Classic Cards, a commercial printer in Coimbatore, perhaps common threads in the country’s print business growth. The first is that what started as a design firm in 2004 and with a little help from friends became a commercial printing unit in 2008, has experienced ‘numerous hiccups’ in its upward journey.

K Kanagaraj now hopes to achieve some stability with the installation of a new 4-color sheetfed offset press from Heidelberg. Another insight into both the struggle and vitality of print business in India emerges from Kanagaraj’s determination to grow. For him, growth means diversification to offset monocarton production – not merely a wish but a plan under implementation. A purpose-built plant for packaging is already under construction, and his plan to start carton production with a used Mitsubishi offset multicolor packaging press is also underway.

Kanagaraj has experienced the ups and downs of building a printing business. He imported his first offset press – a single color machine from Japan – in 2008. Taking what he thought was a logical step in 2013, he imported a used Komori 4-color press also from Japan. For six months, no one was ready to assist him in installing the used press – months in which he had no press at all since he had sold off his single-color machine.

Outsourcing all its printing resulted in a loss-making period. Nevertheless, in the next couple of years, Classic was able to establish itself as a quality color printer, and it purchased a couple of used Komori 426 presses. The current Heidelberg SX 74 4-color press is a replacement for two of the old 4-color presses.

“The reason for investing in a Heidelberg was that my customers were pressing for this brand. Almost all my customers wanted me to buy a Heidelberg because of its print quality. We currently have two presses in our plant: one old Komori 4-color sheetfed offset press and the brand new Heidelberg 4-color press. We print close to 60 sets daily, and each job has a run length of 500 to 2000 copies. Working two 12-hour shifts, we consume close to 240 plates to print anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 sheets every day, says Kanagaraj.

Diversification to packaging

Although Classic produces books, brochures, and magazines, Kanagaraj is keen on entering the packaging segment. “We’re planning to diversify to packaging, and that is the reason why I plan to install a second-hand Mitsubishi press. I want to work on that press during the initial phase of my monocarton diversification. Once I establish some customers, I’ll invest further in the dedicated plant for monocartons,” Kanagaraj adds.

“Since the profit margins in commercial printing are shrinking, we’re planning to diversify to packaging. Initially, we plan to work with dealers, and then in later stages, as we gain competence, we will supply to end-users directly. We are initially looking to Tiruppur’s carton market that is dominated by undergarment packaging,” Kanagaraj shares. In addition to the offset packaging press, Classic intends to install a digital press for sampling work.

According to Kanagaraj, the Tiruppur undergarment market has a demand for at least 5,000 printed sheets in 28 x 40-inch size for each design that the manufacturer or end-user provides. Usually, each Tiruppur garment brand places orders for at least three designs at a time.

“Although we are surviving somehow in a very competitive market, it is devoid of any healthy profit margins. Currently, we work with a vast number of mini-offset printers in and around Tamil Nadu. Even though we work with such a huge customer base, we’re struggling with the low profitability of our commercial printing business. Hence, we’ve decided that this is the right time to move to packaging printing,” Kanagaraj explains.

With the new year just around the corner, Classic hopes to regain its momentum in the market with new orders. “There used to be ups and downs in commercial printing, but now it has become stagnant. Post the new year season; we will get some demand for book printing work and are looking forward to it. Overall, we’re gearing up for a busy season ahead,” Kanagaraj concludes.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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