What To Look For When Buying Used Offset Printing Equipment

When I have bought used offset printing equipment for our company, I generally look for the same things each time.  I compare it to looking for a vehicle.  Things like mileage, body condition, age and maintenance records all play a large bearing into what I perceive as it's worth.  Buying used offset printing equipment is much the same way.  Here is a list of the elements that I look for when buying a printing press or any other type of printing equipment.
  • running condition
  • bearers, cylinders and auxiliary equipment
  • age
  • brand
  • upgrades
  • dealer support
  • price
Let's talk about each of these points one by one.

1.  Running Condition
If you cannot see the press running this is not unusual.  However it certainly affects your estimation of it's running ability.  Approach it much the same way as you would buying a car that is not running.  Be skeptical and cautious.  At the very least, ask for samples of the printing and examine them closely.  These are no doubt the best samples the press can produce so critique them and look for any type of slur or dot gain that is unusual.  Some questions to ask:
  • What is the top speed of the press?
  • Did you routinely run it at that speed?  If not, why?
  • May I see your records of production?
  • What was your maintenance schedule?
  • What was your number one source of downtime?
  • What was the last part you replaced?
These questions in themselves may not reveal everything, but they will no doubt provoke a conversation about its running condition.

My favorite is to try and talk to some of the pressmen nearby and casually ask some of these questions.

2.  Bearers, Cylinders and Auxiliary Equipment
Knowing the condition of the bearers is like knowing how often the oil was changed on a car.  It tells much about the life that remains.  Well maintained offset presses will have bearers in good condition.  Ask for the blankets to be taken off and examine the condition of each cylinder.  Did anyone drop a tool in the press which required a major repair?  

Examine each piece of auxiliary equipment and ask how it runs.  

3. Age
I quote Indiana Jones, "It's not the years, it's the mileage."  This saying rings true for presses.  The downside of an older piece of equipment however are the following factors:
  • Availability of parts.
  • Profitability (speed)
  • Ability to upgrade
I would have no problem purchasing a 20 year old Heidelberg GTO, but I would never touch a TOK sheetfed.  Definitely, when it comes to age, brand also is a factor.

4.  Brand
Good brand equipment is
worth the extra money.
The best offset press manufacturers are in business for many years because they make good equipment.  I return to the example of Heidelberg.  Older equipment from this press maker is still regarded as high quality because of its dependability and durability.  On the other hand, some press manufacturers are long gone.  News King is a good example of this.  They made coldset offset newspaper presses for a number of years.  You can still get support and parts for these presses, but they are no longer a player because they had a sub standard product.  Goss however built a better brand behind a solid product.  The old adage stands - "You get what you pay for."

5. Upgrades
With used offset presses nowadays, there is much more to the press than just the printing units.  Press manufacturers will partner with other companies to include a complete press line.  Products like a UV coater or a dryer are not necessarily made by the press maker and are also subject to scrutiny.  Ask the seller the following questions:
  • What auxiliary equipment does the press have?
  • Is it all functional?
  • Does it in any way limit the speed of the press?
  • Have any upgrades been performed on the press since it's installation?
6.  Dealer Support
This is important.  You will pay a small premium by buying used offset printing equipment from a reputable dealer.  This is okay.  Be certain though that you will get the necessary support from the seller.  Good dealers may charge a little more, but they will ensure you get a good running product.  Don't be cheap.  This can pay for itself many times over.  Have an expert on your side.  Here are a few:

7. Price
I leave price last because it is certainly not the most important factor.  When buying printing presses, good equipment is worth every penny as the press will no doubt pay for itself many times over if you have done your homework right.  The competition is fierce and prices are certainly negotiable.  


  1. Perfect!
    My company also have a bad experience buying used offset machines before.
    You are right Bill, I also agree with you that PRICE is the LAST FACTOR.

  2. I totally agree with you,last year we bought used HD CD 102-6LX and we look almost the same elements you mention in your post.
    And thanks for the comment about my web site.

  3. I believe the best is to have a independent technical press expert inspect and evaluate the press.
    You want to print with it what is wrong with a test print? ANy serious seller will agree even if it cost you money but it could prevent a costly mistake.

  4. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Send your best pressman,electrical person and mechanical person to look at the press while it is running.