By Noel Ward, Executive Editor of and Managing Editor of WTT's Trade Show Coverage October 15, 2004 -- It was Marathon Sunday in Chicago, a happening that has put hotel rooms at a premium, packed restaurants and clearly cut into the crowds at McCormick Place, or at least that's conventional wisdom about the thin crowds on the show floor opening day. Then again it was 72 degrees out under a perfect sky, a great sailing wind coming in off Lake Michigan, and about a million people in town to watch what I'm told is the world's largest marathon. Why would anyone want to go to a print show on a day like this? Beats me, but the ones who did had a great opportunity to get a close look at the latest technology with much less jostling for position inside McCormick. You needed to do some jostling, though, at Kodak's booth, set against the far back wall of McCormick South. It was a hike getting back there, but what was interesting was how many people made the journey, walking right by a hundred other booths along the way. Here's the set-up: about a quarter of the way into the hall Xerox and HP are across an aisle from each other. After them there is everything from plate makers to office/network copiers to assorted rollers, cylinders and humidification systems until you get to Kodak. Xerox and HP had fair crowds, then it was all but empty until you got back to Kodak, where there was a lot happening. NexPress "People want to see what we have," says Venkat Purushotham, president and CEO of NexPress Solutions. "This is the first time in the U.S. that NexPress and Versamark and Encad are all under one banner, so people can come to one place and see our full range of digital print offerings." Puru says visitors are very interested in the NexGlosser unit for the NexPress 2100. First shown at drupa, the device will be in final beta testing through the end of the year and should be reaching the market in the first quarter of 2005. It works in conjunction with the fifth imaging unit on the 2100 which puts a clear matte coating on the sheet. The matte finish provides some protection to the image on its own. But when run through the NexGlosser unit, a device about the size of a small horizontal file cabinet, the matte toner is turned into a high gloss that looks at first glance like a lamination. There is no apparent loss of image quality or color accuracy, and it enables a NexPress owner to provide a durable coating option without the need for a lamination system. "When laminating, printers usually make extra prints to allow for mistakes and damage during lamination," explains Puru. "Since the NexGlosser is simply using toner applied during printing, the potential for waste is eliminated, and permits any document to have a high gloss finish." Puru says most new NexPress 2100 units being manufactured have been ordered with the fifth station that can apply the clear toner as well as one of three additional colors (red, green or blue) which increase the color gamut of the machine. He says most customers want the flexibility to add the colors or matte finish when necessary. And this clears the way for them to add a NexGlosser when the device becomes available. In addition, the extended gamut has enabled the NexPress 2100 to gain Pantone certification, which requires spot color accuracy and repeatability for the 1,114 colors in the Pantone matching system. Digimaster NexPress also rolled out the new Digimaster E125 black and white printer, which joins the 150-ppm E150 announced earlier this year. The E series machines feature a variety of print quality adjustments and can handle a broader range of substrates than the earlier Digimaster machines and can be configured to use MICR toner. The MICR imaging unit can be easily exchanged for one with conventional toner, enabling one device to be used for both everyday and MICR printing. Conventional and MICR capability, along with the speed of the two machines, gives NexPress an entrée into the cut-sheet transactional print market where check printing and other applications demand MICR capabilities. Kodak Versamark A practical demonstration provided by Kodak Versamark shows how a common application--a print-and-mail campaign can be handled seamlessly using a variety of KV equipment configurations. The example was a DVD club membership campaign that began with a full-color personalized letter and order form printed on the new VX5000e printer. The initial offer letter included full color pictures of DVDs based on the prospect's video viewing preferences. The next step used a Rotatech 2-color offset press to print a shell for a personalized welcome letter which was imaged inline (at about 1000 feet-per-minute) using KV's DS9100 and DS6240 print heads to add black and red variable data that included the letter copy, the new member's name and a membership number. Next, the shell and letter were placed on a DS4135 that used a camera to read the membership number and a unit that tipped on a blank ID card that was then printed with the club logo, member's name and ID number, including a 2D bar code. It was the kind of operation many printers could identify with and ably demonstrated how inkjet technology and variable data printing can be integrated into many printing or print-and-mail operations. And by the way, the colors used on the offset printed shell--a blue and an orange--matched the same colors used in the offer letter printed on the VX5000e. Not bad. Encad Also at Kodak was the Encad NovaJet 1000i wide format printer. Barry Lathan, president and CEO of Encad said the machine, which was announced earlier this year, has been successful almost immediately. "It fills the needs for several types of businesses. Retailers, print-for-pay, in-plant print shops, corporate print centers all have a lot of pent up demand for a wide format printer with the features we offer," says Lathan. "Overall productivity, image quality and total cost of ownership of the 1000i place the machine well ahead of competing devices." These features and capabilities were developed and implemented based on careful research with customers and developing an understanding of market needs. Learning how and where images are being used, production concerns, application-specific quality requirements were all part of the research, and have driven the device's productivity and image quality specs. Another key customer requirement, a lower TCO, has been achieved by keeping ink and media costs down which increases the margin available to a print provider. "Being part of Kodak," says Lathan, "gives us a great advantage in developing inks and substrates. Kodak's expertise in color, imaging science and in substrates helps us provide the best possible image quality and productivity for our customers while controlling their TCO." After all that I walked back through the lightly populated hall. Location is supposed to be important, but maybe if a company has a lot to show, people will still come, even on a nice day in Chicago.