By Noel Ward October 4, 2004 -- I remember my first GraphExpo. The air of the giant hall was redolent with the scent of ink and fountain solution, an unmistakable aroma that was the elixir of life to many walking the aisles. There were huge printing presses, some the size of school buses, with spinning cylinders, drums, and rollers clattering, clicking and clacking away. They churned out slick images of cityscapes, wild animals, gorgeous women and exotic cars. Or was that wild, exotic women and gorgeous cars? I forget. I'd been in plenty of print rooms, but there was something about a whole hall full of large presses that just amazed me. One hall led into another with every possible item related to putting ink on paper that any printer could want. At some point I found the stands of Xerox and Canon and Ricoh and others where the machines put images on pages with toner instead of ink. The machines all looked like the hot-rodded copiers they were, and went largely ignored by the vast majority of printers who stalked the floor looking for new ways to image film, make color separations, plates, and finally print. Today those toner-based machines and their supporting technologies consume acres of floor space. More vendors seem to be taking up less overall area, but then even the largest digital press is smaller than many offset machines. The largest offset press vendors--Heidelberg, Komori, and MAN-Roland, along with numerous finishing equipment companies-- still stake out large territories. But the digital presses from HP-Indigo, Kodak Versamark, Nexpress, Nipson, Océ, Xeikon, and Xerox are leading the way to the future--and there's no turning back. Crisp and clean-looking, the machines operate with a hum and whirr rather than the heavy thrumming of the big iron. There is none of the drama associated with the big presses, but the work still gets done. And more print providers are buying digital boxes. All these companies have enjoyed good successes this year, and GraphExpo is an important staging ground for 2005. It's not drupa, but then it doesn't need to be. Which is probably a good thing, as most of the vendors have already shown most or all of their new technology at drupa. And the things they haven't shown I am enjoined from revealing until the doors open at McCormick Place on October 10. So here are a few hints of what the print engine vendors are going to have on the show floor in McCormick Place. Hewlett Packard will showcase its portfolio of color imaging and printing solutions, including an enhanced line of digital presses and large-format printers. A variety of demonstrations will be running, along with products and workflow solutions from alliance companies. Among the products will be the HP-Indigo press 5000, making it's U.S. debut. This machine-- first of the new series of commercial presses co-developed by HP and the former Indigo organization--drew such crowds at drupa that it was difficult to get a close look. Paper handling, seven-color capability and PANTONE-licensing are some of its claims to fame. HP's stand will also have the HP-Indigo press 3050, which targets medium to large commercial printers with throughput speeds of up to 4,000 4-color, A4 images per hour (two-up). Other Indigo models will also be on hand along with some Designjet models that I'll tell you more about at the show. Kodak Versamark will be demonstrating and taking orders for its new VX5000e high-speed inkjet printer. I reviewed this at drupaand the big machine will make it’s North American debut in Chicago. Orders have already come in from KV's European customers and some U.S. print providers reportedly see the potential as well. Bigger than the 5000e is the application KV will be running. The demonstration shows a campaign involving personalized solicitation letters, thank you letters, multiple postcards, and more being produced on an array of Versamark printers. The process includes hybrid printing using a two-color shell printed on an offset press, then personalized using black and highlight color inkjet printing. The whole campaign will be linked to the mailing pavilion to show a complete host-to-post solution involving digital and offset technologies. In sum, it will show commercial printers a way to add VDP to their service offerings while leveraging their core offset press investment. Nex Press will be showing off some of its new solutions--both hardware and software--associated with the NexPress 2100 and the Digimaster black-and-white cut sheet presses. The fifth imaging station on the 2100 will be showing its ability to add an additional color or a clear coating to images. Leveraging the clear coating--which provides a matte finish is the near-line NexGlosser unit, which was demonstrated at drupa (see above linked article). This is a pretty cool device that adds some unique value to the NexPress, and proves there is still nothing like a nice gloss to really pump up an image. Look also for a very interesting web and print workflow solution. Nipson will feature a VaryPress 400 printing inline with a Muller Martini Concepta color offset press showing how traditional printers can combine offset quality color with variable data for direct mail and transactional documents. For example, the shell for a 4-color brochure can be printed offset with targeted content added by the VaryPress. The 600-dpi Nipson device is fast enough (410 ft. /min.), and features variable controls to allow operation in line with traditional offset presses as well as in multiple stand-alone configurations. We will probably see more of this type of hybrid system in the future and it will be interesting to see this one in operation. Océ North America will take a focus on showing attendees how to streamline their workflows, reduce costs, increase efficiency and why it's important for their businesses to do so. Océ will demonstrate PRISMA workflow software solutions that span document life cycles in multiple print environments. Those solutions will be driving a range of equipment, including new versions of the company's VarioPrint 5000 cut-sheet family and the new VarioStream 9000. This is the U.S. debut of the 9000, Océ's color-capable continuous-form press introduced earlier this year. It was a one-color press when I saw it at the Océ Open House in Germany and at the show will feature a 2/2 color configuration at GraphExpo. And before the show starts, WTT will have an exclusive interview with Jan Dix, the new CEO of Océ North America. Xerox will be rolling out its new 80-ppm DocuColor 8000 press, which fills the price-speed-capabilities gap between the DC6060 and the iGen3. The 2400 x 2400 dpi resolution will make some friends for this box, as will its ability to run heavy stocks at 60 ppm. Other new machines are being rolled out as well, but a bigger focus will be on workflow. Xerox just announced four new products--Web Services, Print Manager, Process Manager and Makeready--for its FreeFlow collection. I wrote about Process Manager and Makeready at drupa and am interested in seeing how these have been tweaked since May. Look for an interview here on WTT next week with Xerox's Mike Harvey for more details on these products. So welcome to WTT's Real Time Show Coverage of GraphExpo 2004. Coming up is our usual in-depth look at the show, starting today and running through October 22. Our team of pros is already at work and you'll see articles from Cary Sherburne on prepress, DI printing and workflow. Gail Nickel-Kailing is looking hard at the MIS systems and tools that help keep a modern printing operation on track and profitable. I'm doing digital presses and taking on wide format machines, which are accounting for an increasing slice of the printing business. And Pat Henry, our man of big iron will be keeping us up-to-date on those big machines that once were center stage at GraphExpo but are now sharing space with all these digital interlopers. We can't go back, but I can still go by their stands and get a whiff of ink.