Commentary & Analysis
The Scale of Inkjet
Sean Smyth of Digital Demand World, the publication for the digital print industry, looks at how the advancing inkjet market is changing to accommodate new technologies
By Sean Smyth
Published: June 24, 2013
Recent indications of the wide scale progress of inkjet technology have been seen at numerous events around the globe, helping to illustrate the various markets in which inkjet technology is succeeding.
A rapidly changing sector is ceramic tile printing, where inkjet provides many economic and production benefits over screen printing. The technology’s greater flexibility includes infinite variability of natural designs to the edge of the tile, faster response times and lower breakage levels.
For rotary screen printing a job changeover can take a day; while every tile can be different in inkjet, which makes short runs more economic.
There are some 600 inkjet print lines installed, with sales in 2012 of 500 more systems predicted, ranging from $350,000 (€274,000) up to $1.5 million.
The other area growing rapidly is textiles, where digital printing is taking off with new, faster technology coming on stream.
Inkjet is well established in signage and point-of-sale using wide-format equipment, but the really dynamic sector is in high-speed inkjet, with many print providers moving away from high-volume mono laser printing.
Aurelio Maruggi, vice president of HP’s high-speed production solutions, says that high-speed inkjet is now part of the mainstream, with HP having installed over 50 of its high-volume inkjet press lines.
Screen announced it has 380 inkjet printing engines in operation, which includes the Ricoh InfoPrint version.
Océ is steadily increasing its user base and there are systems from Impika and Miyakoshi.
Kodak has probably the largest range of inkjet lines with 10 years of Versa Mark installations and it is now shipping the Prosper XL5000. Xerox is launching its Ci Press 500 that uses phase-change, waterless inks.
It is difficult to determine the installed base accurately, as vendors categorise the installations differently, some counting each engine in a duplex line as a separate line.
Pira International estimates an installed base of some 600 press lines, with perhaps 1,000 individual colour print engines across the world.
Most applications are in transactional and direct mail, security, book manufacturing, and remote printing of newspapers.
Now buyers are broadening the applications into commercial print, with installations at Bluestar Print in Australia and at Veritas Document Solutions, a US Consolidated Graphics company based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, that is using the press for direct marketing.
Another Consolidated Graphics company, Frederic Printing in Denver, Colorado, is using its inkjet press for printing full-colour maps, for the US Geological Survey.
After several well-publicised delays Kodak is now selling the full-colour Prosper5000XL presses.
In Japan, Toppan Forms bought three of the Kodak Prosper systems, in order to print education books and to help expansion into new markets.
Toppan says customer reaction to the inkjet output has been extremely positive in Japan, helping it to win several contracts for work specifically designed for the presses.
The company plans to increase its offerings in direct mail and advertising, leveraging its expertise in variable-data optimisation and further differentiating its service offerings to capitalise in these markets.
Toshiro Masuda, senior managing director of Toppan Forms, comments: ‘Our experience shows that the Kodak inkjet presses handle a staggering volume of work and produce extremely high-quality results, at a low cost.
‘The potential is huge: we’re confident that we can achieve almost 40% more throughput on the presses than we’re producing now. We have three colour presses running in full production and we are considering additional investments.’
Océ broadened the range of the JetStream inkjet presses in December 2011, adding a series of mono systems for books, and as a more efficient alternative to laser overprinting.
Océ is the leading supplier of mono laser, and is seeing this market collapse. It has three models: 2300, 3300 and 4300 mono all have 762mm paper width and 741mm print width, with speeds of 100, 150 and 200m a minute respectively – equating to 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 A4 pages per minute.
The standard configuration will be roll-to-roll for offline finishing, but users may also opt for third-party integrated book or document finishing.
Sebastian Landesberger, vice president of Océ production printing, says: ‘With these monochrome models of the Océ JetStream wide series, we’re building on our vast installed base of toner printers that wehave put in place over the years in the book market.
‘We pioneered in this field – and with more than 200 webfed systems installed since 1996, we’re recognised as a highly competent leader in this market.
‘The new mono series is set to continue this success. It allows larger production runs of books, such as straightforward trade books, to be produced at a competitive price.
‘These kinds of jobs were, until now, the province of conventional printing.’
Modern sheetfed presses incorporating automation aids can be set up in five minutes, making short runs economic, particularly using work and turn, where one set of plates covers both sides.
The print speed of 2,700 B2 sheets per hour is slow against the 15,000sph of offset, in long perfecting or straight, so inkjet has a lot to do to make commercial print companies desert offset.