By Frank J. Romano The announcement of the 110-ppm iGen3 outside of a major industry event leads me to believe it anticipates a competitive announcement. May 11, 2005 -- Digital color printers are slower than the slowest printing presses. But in a world that's gravitating to shorter and shorter runs, speed is an important consideration. And the manufacturers of high-end digital color presses are relentlessly extending their product functionality and productivity. Take the announcement of a 110-ppm iGen3 from Xerox, up from 100-ppm. It may only seem like a 10 percent increase, but, in the real world of production, it is huge. The fact that it was announced outside of a trade show or major industry event leads me to believe that it anticipates a competitive announcement. For instance, we have not seen a major change in the Kodak NexPress line since it was introduced in 2000. In fact, I think it took less time to create the machine from scratch than it is taking to extend the product line. Now at 70 ppm, I would guess that 90- to 100-ppm is possible. I am not announcing anything; just saying that, from a marketing point of view, they must expand the line. Konica Minolta could expand its 50-ppm printer to 60-ppm. Canon has been tweaking their product line (50- to 51-ppm), but we expect something big from them--maybe 70-ppm to 80-ppm. Many small- and medium-sized printers have bought two of these 50-ppm for less than the price of one 100-ppm machine. The worst thing you can say to a customer is that his/her job did not get done because the machine broke down. Printers always worry about back up. The worst thing you can say to a customer is that his/her job did not get done because the machine broke down. Presses are mostly mechanical and usually reliable. Digital printers have a lot of electronic stuff (as do newer presses), so printers think of buying two if they can afford it. The HP-Indigo line has been tweaked to increase speed and the $1 million plus roll-fed version at the top of the line is the fastest in the industry--292-ppm or so. HP achieves this by linking a few print engines in a row. Océ and IBM learned about this years ago with their black-and-white printers--print one side on one engine and then flip the roll and print the other side on the next engine in line. Xeikon has been experiencing a virtual renaissance with the new model called the "5000." At 20-inches wide, it produces 130-ppm and is the only color printer that can print something a few feet long at high speed (wide-format inkjet is still pretty slow). It even prints an 8-page signature. And remember, on sheet-fed digital color printers all these speeds are cut roughly in half when you print duplex. That is why a high speed for simplex is so important--it also impacts duplex printing speed. Importance of Quality and Throughput Productivity and throughput are now the important trends. The suppliers still spend a lot of time talking about quality. I think quality is now a given. Digital color quality is more than acceptable for the majority of color jobs. Is it the same as a 6-color offset job with UV coating? No. That is why both technologies will live in some uneasy synergy for a long time. Productivity and throughput are now the important trends. It is as much workflow as it is the speed and capability of the print engines. That is why sheet sizes are increasing beyond 12x18 inches as suppliers look over the horizon at printing signatures rather than pages.