Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you drupa 2008.

My apologies to Emerson Lake and Palmer, but given the hype surrounding this show, I just couldn't resist. The drupa circus opens tomorrow here In Dusseldorf and the world will finally get a look at a lot of amazing new technology in the evolving world of print. Whether you'll be wearing down a pair of shoes cruising around the messe or taking it all in remotely, there's an amazing amount of stuff to see. In no particular order, here's a look at a few things I'll be getting a closer look at ---while giving you first-hand reports from the show and trying to cut through some of the propaganda.  Watch for both articles and video over the next few weeks.

New Thinking in Large Format

One of my first stops is going to be at EFI VUTEk. I have absolutely zero details on this, but they are saying, "the future of digital screen print technology" has arrived. I'm usually impressed each time I see the new technology that comes out of VUTEk and I'm especially looking forward to seeing this latest development. I'll be grabbing some video, too, including an interview with Chuck Dourlet, VP of Marketing. We'll get that up online as soon as we can.

Also on the large format front is Océ's new ColorWave 600. This looks like a breakthrough in inkjet technology but I don't know the details yet. But tune in here tomorrow to read Cary Sherburne's interview with Océ's Neil Westhof, who gets into some of the details of the company's new CrystalPoint inkjet system. Watch for video on this new box in a few days.

iGen Automation

For top-of-the-line digital color presses, the target is to deliver quality equal to offset printing. And to do so with a minimum of pain and frustration. To that end, Xerox is rolling out the Automated Color Quality Suite Press Matching System, for its Xerox iGen3® 90 and 110 Digital Production Presses.

Automated is the key term here. The new suite takes over manual operator tasks such as calibration and color matching. Xerox says this provides more uptime and faster time to press, yielding more productive press time. Other automated features include color checking and overall and spot color calibration, all helping raise the bar on iGen print quality. Under the hood, an in-line spectrophotometer measures the color of sample prints in the iGen's paper path. This works with profile creation technology to control color saturation, better shadows and highlights and more. According to Xerox, files designed for offset printing can be sent to an iGen3 press and achieve the desired output. This is a common need in many shops with both offset and digital presses, and most vendors have an approach that works to some degree. I'm going to try to see how well this system lives up to its billing.

Xerox also claims to be rolling out something big. They sent around some invitations last week, using terms like "breakthrough news," and enticing people to come see what they are terming the "hit of the show." At a 19-ring circus like drupa that is either overstatement, presumptuous --or maybe even accurate. I know of a couple of things they are cooking up, but the folks from Webster often have a few extra tricks up their sleeves, so one never knows.

Kodak is Everywhere

Kodak is going to have a big stand of its own, but even if you don't get there, it will be hard to get through drupa without seeing Kodak technology, especially workflow software, in stands throughout the show. The software will be showing the integration of digital and offset workflows, while a variety of Kodak print engines will be configured with various finishing systems and even offset presses. The MAN stand for example, will have a Versamark DS6240 Printing System imprinting variable data onto newspapers at newspaper press speeds. This ultra high speed systems offers newspapers the capability to drive readership through more interactivity with the paper by printing games, variable coupons, 2D barcodes that link to the internet via cell phones, and other creative applications.

Wider? Faster?

I've talked with a number of printers lately who told me they were pretty happy with the speeds of their digital machines but the best thing equipment makers could do is make the press wider. This would give them more yield per sheet, which all said was more valuable than simply printing faster. Then after a pause, they all said more speed would be nice, too. This is a bit like talking to a race car driver about whether he wants handling or speed. Races are really won or lost in the corners, so great handling is critical. But having both handling and speed --or print width and speed-- is even better.

So I'm going to be looking for and asking about what vendors are doing to really change the playing field. Inkjet seems as if it has fewer limitations with regards to width than electrophotographic presses, but it's still a developing technology. I don't know that the answers are apparent yet for either inkjet or EP, but I'll see what I can find out.

And so it begins. As you read this, some pre-show events are going on, last minute adjustments are being made to hundreds of machines and anticipation is spreading across Dusseldorf and around the world of printing. It's going to be a great ride. Come on along.