Once you waded past the mega booths of Kodak, Océ and Xerox there was a whole show floor back there. And for what it's worth, it was a lot busier at the On Demand end of the hall than it was at the AIIM end. No idea why: just my observation and that of others I talked with. Anyway, as I cruised around there were demos and presentations going on while big print engines clicked and hummed and finishing equipment clacked and clattered. In all, it was fairly busy, and that's a good sign for the industry.

Tom Wetjen, Vice President for Worldwide Graphic Communications at Xerox said he believes the crowds were indicative of the state of the market. "There's a lot of excitement in the business," he said. "Print providers recognize that digital printing works well and that while there'll always be a place for offset, digital is how more and more printing will get done. They see that this is what it's going to be."

At the same time, he noted, people are realizing that it's really not just about printing. "Andy Paparozzi [Chief Economist at NAPL] says that putting marks on paper is in trouble. Print providers really have to position themselves as being in the communications business. And people are getting this message. When we talk to them they are asking the right questions and making the hardware and software selections that help them go to the next level."

People go to trade shows to see new things and it was clear that there was more than a passing interest in new print engines and software at this show. Xerox had crowds around the newest version of the iGen3, a slightly detuned (90-ppm) and less expensive version of the 110-ppm model. Wetjen told me the new model fits a couple of different needs in the market. First, there were print providers who wanted to expand their color offerings and felt they needed to have iGen3 quality but whose volume or budget didn’t allow for the 110-ppm box. The second group are those who already had an iGen and wanted to get a second but didn’t have enough volume to justify the top-end model. For each, the 90-ppm box made sense with of its lower cost of entry and because it can be field-upgraded to meet future demand. While it does cost somewhat more overall to do it this way, the economics are attractive to printers working to grow their business and it lets them deliver the level of quality they need.

Elsewhere on the floor other vendors were also rolling out their latest machines. Nipson continues to provide some of the fastest continuous form printers on the planet. The company's VaryPress 400 already runs at 415 feet per minute, making it the digital engine of choice for ultra-high volume operations like Moore Wallace or R.R. Donnelley's digital book production facility in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Working with Nipson, RRD has added a second line that's integrated with Muller Martini finishing equipment and can economically manufacture books in quantities between 500 and 2,000 per run--a sweet spot for backlist titles and advanced reader copies. Another customer, Transcontinental, Inc., the seventh largest printer in North America, had added six VaryPress 200s to its Philadelphia plant to increase its direct mail capacity.

And as anyone familiar with deadlines knows, speed is good; more is better. So to meet demand for still greater throughput Nipson is increasing the speed of the VaryPress to 500 feet per minute. Shipments of the new VaryPress 500 will begin early in 2007, with upgrade kits for the present VaryPress 400 available after launch.

Robert Stabler, president of Nipson, USA, told me that the speed of the VaryPress is getting the attention of direct mailer printers who can put it inline with offset presses to add variable content to preprinted shells--immediately after they are printed. The advantage is that the offset device can print the shells as needed, with personalized content such as a letter and other materials added inline at a speed much closer to the running speed of the press than is possible with other digital printers. He also pointed to reliability and durability as a big plus for his customers. In fact, the first VaryPress ever shipped was installed at Wallace in 1991. Since then Moore Wallace and RR Donnelley have added over 20 Nipson units in plants across the U.S. And the VaryPress with serial number 1 is still in operation. Not bad for a 15-year-old press.

Xeikon, another of the roll-fed digital press from Europe was also on hand in Philly and the company's new U.S. president, Patrick Canavan and outgoing president Kristof Vereenooghe were pleased to talk about one of its latest installations. Two Xeikon 5000 presses are being installed at DME (Direct Mail Express) in Daytona Beach, Florida. DME is perhaps best known for the high level of personalized communications they do for the automotive industry and their relentless focus on highly targeted messages sent out using print and the internet in tightly related ways.

The two Xeikon presses join four Xerox iGen3s at DME, substantially increasing capacity and adding the unlimited sheet length that's unique to roll-fed machines. This is another example of a trend I've been seeing in that print providers will have multiple color machines that are used for different types of jobs. This is a sign that, at least in some instances, the market for digital color is growing up a bit, and that print providers are expanding the applications they will take on. There is nothing but good about this.

Under Vereenooghe's hand, Xeikon has grown it's customer base and increased the range of jobs the machines run while rebuilding the brand, both in the U.S. and abroad. He's headed back to Europe leaving the company in good shape for Canavan to move forward.

Moving away from presses, I talked with Quark about the latest iteration of QuarkXPress, which will be rolled out publicly in about a week. This seventh version of XPress (I think I have a copy of Quark 2.0 sitting on some floppy disks somewhere in my office) is being rolled out under the theme of "Simply Faster." I managed to get a few hints about what we'll see in the new version.

  • It has expanded features that let you visualize graphics and work with OpenText type.
  • There are ways for creative teams to collaborate more easily on an XPress document regardless of where team members are located.
  • The Job Jackets Quark previously talked about being incorporated into the program will be in the new version, letting users to better control jobs and all related specs from start to finish, including prepress and output specs.
  • Repurposing content is the norm today, and Quark says XPress 7 will let you leverage and re-use any content, image or design element in ways that enable multi-channel publishing. If this is done seamlessly, it is something of a Holy Grail move, so I'm quite curious to see how this is implemented.

Having used XPress since about 1991 I'm very interested in seeing the latest changes. Will let you know as I learn more.

But as you can guess, there's still more from On Demand. Cary Sherburne, Pat Henry and Gail Nickel-Kailing all have more to come, and so do I. I managed to get a look at a great new finishing device from Horizon, the Screen inkjet printer and some other things. So look for more from me in a day or so.