(This article has been updated by its author since initial publication.)

  • The cost of consumables, specifically inkjet ink and liquid or dry toner, plays a vital role in the economics of high-coverage commercial applications.
  • Roll-fed production inkjet systems offer high speed in relation to electrophotographic systems (both dry and liquid toner) and in recent years have made important advances in terms of print quality at high coverage on coated stocks.
  • New speed levels for production inkjet are being achieved by printers like Kodak’s Prosper 7000 Turbo, a device supporting a 25.5-inch-wide web and speeds up to 1,345 feet per minute (410 meters per minute) while printing 600 x 450 dpi.
  • Though clearly targeted at the label market, HP’s new Indigo V12 could be the forerunner of future roll-fed Indigo systems targeted at the commercial print market.

By German Sacristan


Production inkjet has been getting a lot of attention over the past decade due to great productivity and low running costs. Today, thanks to ongoing enhancements in print quality, some inkjet presses are comparable to electrophotography and offset technologies in terms of output quality. This is driving a further increase in production inkjet system sales.

Yet because offset printing volumes shares are still so large, they represent the lowest-hanging fruit for production digital printing vendors that are hoping to help their customers gain some of this volume. These days, economic factors have the potential to drive the offset-to-digital transition faster than ever. The higher cost of raw materials and supply chain disruptions have an impact on all print service providers (PSPs), but the increased cost of aluminum for plates and the desire to minimize paper waste during make-ready weigh heavy on those using offset. In addition, skilled offset press operators are harder to come by, even though many PSPs have increased their hourly rates by as much as 30%. Another big issue for offset is the large amount of energy that is required to produce plates—in today’s world, energy consumption is a major concern.

New Speed Levels for Production Inkjet

Kodak recently introduced its PROSPER 7000 Turbo press, which is now the fastest inkjet press on the market at up to 1,345 feet per minute while printing at 600 x 450 dpi. As we all know with inkjet, though, speed can be compromised for applications requiring higher ink coverage on certain paper types, particularly coated ones. Kodak notes that its new press enables PSPs to choose based on application—do they need speed, or do they need commercial print quality?

Kodak’s PROSPER 7000 Turbo Press

A Potential Challenge to Inkjet from Liquid Electrophotography

Inkjet has been seeing great growth, especially after the enhancements in print quality, but the HP Indigo division continues to advance its liquid electrophotography due to its value—particularly for higher ink coverage applications. Since the announcement of the HP Indigo V12 label press, it’s possible that a future Indigo press based on this technology might be able to output commercial print work. In fact, this device could be outputting commercial print work/quality right now—albeit only in simplex mode as this press is for label applications. If conditions were right, a future duplex Indigo design might be able to compete with inkjet roll-fed machines.

At 400 feet per minute, HP’s V12 electrophotographic roll-fed press is comparable in speed to many inkjet roll-fed devices in the market today. More importantly, electrophotography does not have the same challenges that inkjet faces when dealing with large ink coverage and the requirement for extensive drying systems. The V12 builds the image onto a heated blanket for drying, so its speeds are not expected to slow down when producing large ink coverage applications. That being said, inkjet systems have shown high levels of reliability compared to dry and liquid toner technologies, and this ultimately results in strong uptime and productivity.

We have seen that inkjet running costs can be lower than electrophotography, particularly for jobs with low ink coverage. For higher ink coverages, though, electrophotographic large production presses (such as the B2 series from HP Indigo) compete well against production inkjet cut-sheet machines. Depending on the application, it does appear that a roll-fed liquid electrophotographic press based on the V12 might compete well against roll-fed production inkjet systems in terms of running costs for high coverage commercial applications.

Finally, Indigo’s V12 can accommodate up to twelve colors, whereas inkjet presses for commercial and publishing applications don't typically print beyond CMYK. While the demand for color embellishments is higher in the label and packaging market, we are still hearing a lot about CMYK+ in commercial printing environments—even though implementation is slow at this time. A roll-fed high-speed liquid electrophotographic system with the ability to print more than CMYK could be an interesting option for commercial printers.

The HP Indigo V12 Label Press

The Bottom Line

Although some factors could accelerate the transition from offset to digital, we mustn’t forget that offset inks can sometimes be as much as four times cheaper than consumables for production inkjet and electrophotographic devices—and this might never change. This means that production digital print still holds the greatest promise for short run applications, just-in-time manufacturing, on-demand production, and variable data printing. If the offset plate market collapses (which is unlikely, despite its ongoing challenges), or if offset-focused PSPs continue to struggle to find skilled labor to run their presses (which is a valid concern), things may change.

Only time will tell how the market will unfold, but modern printing technologies are certainly keeping us all on our toes. In addition, as soon as we think we’re sure about what the future will bring, some technologies or market disruptions/changes will likely challenge that.

German Sacristan is the Director of Keypoint Intelligence’s Production Print & Media group. In this role, he supports customers with strategic go-to-market advice related to production printing in graphic arts and similar industry segments. German’s responsibilities include conducting market research, industry and technology forecasts, custom consulting and development of analyses, editorial content on technology, as well as support to clients in the areas of production digital printing.