Nipson Energy, Big Blue Does Color, Let the Duplex Battle Begin Conducted by Noel Ward, Managing Editor, WTT Show Coverage October 18, 2006 -- It was a pretty good crowd for a Sunday as all the usual suspects filtered into McCormick Place. At 8:30 in the morning the corridors and hallways were already well-populated as people schmoozed, inhaled Egg McMuffins and guzzled Starbucks' Coffee of the Day while waiting for conference sessions to begin and the show floor to open. There's a lot going on here, especially in the realm of digital print, so let's take a look at some of the new toys that might be of interest to you and your operation. And be sure to catch Cary Sherburne's and Barb Pellow's stories on the latest on the software that's heating up the market, Pat Henry on prepress, and offset and Gail Nickel-Kailing on consumables and finishing. Nipson Sunday morning began at Nipson, where I talked with Robert Stabler, President and CEO. The high-energy Stabler usually vibrates at about 2 Gigahertz but on this opening Robert Stabler, President & CEO, Nipson America day was operating noticeably faster as he talked about the industry, rather than the fast green print engines his company sells. This guy is excited! Stabler sees the industry at a tipping point driven by market demand and technology developments. "Print quality is improving, price per page continues to drop, and productivity is increasing. At Nipson we've been investing in speed, print quality and controlling the total cost of ownership to connect market demand with the possibilities for many types of documents." Stabler sees direct mail, transactional and book printing as the core segments for Nipson's machines--all places where speed, quality and productivity are of prime importance. "With print, book-on-demand and specialty applications, the integration of digital technology into traditional operations is taking place because of the improvements in digital print quality," says Stabler. "From us and all the other vendors, cost is coming down and this is leading to greater adoption industry-wide." Nipson’s technology is based around magnetography and non-heat flash fusion. This enables it to run a wide variety of substrates--even some synthetics--adding to the range of documents that are a good fit for the machines. The fast print speed of the top-end VaryPress 400--some 415 feet per minute--is being shown here running a mix of tech manuals, direct mail, print on demand, transactional, and specialty applications. The press is integrated with finishing equipment from EMT International to show the flexibility of Nipson’s technology to effectively serve a wide range of markets. One specialty app some Nipson customers are running these days is ballots, so when you go to the polls next month you may find yourself filling in forms printed using Nipson's magnetographic toner. A Black Box at Big Blue Already behind schedule for reasons that escape me, I went to see IBM and their technology demo of the yet-to-be-named inkjet printer they will OEM from Screen. This machine is the first from Big Blue that will take advantage of the work of the company's AFP Color Consortium. The big black box is a continuous form, full-color printer using Epson-based piezo-electric drop-on-demand inkjet technology designed to IBM's Big Black Box with Chris Reid, Bonnie Whittaker and George Promis efficiently jet water-based pigmented inks that are resistant to fading and smearing, including on digital papers. "The ink droplets are wrapped in a resin that limits how much they penetrate the paper, which dramatically reduces the amount of cockling due to moisture absorption," explains George Promis, Director of Color Programs at IBM Printing Systems. "This means customers can actually use the same paper as they would in one of our Infoprint 4100 printers rather than the more costly inkjet paper." The inks for the machine may wind up being slightly more expensive than those used in other high-speed inkjet printers but this is likely to be offset or neutralized by the ability to use plain paper. Some service bureau owners I know are going to find this a compelling ability and a couple are probably going to be asking to be beta sites. The machine is said to run at speeds of up to 209.9 feet/minute (64 meters/minute) or 916 full-color, two-up tandem duplex, letter-size impressions/minute (862 A4 impressions/minute). The engine uses a 20.4” web with up to 19.96” print width with 720 x 360 dot per inch (dpi) resolution. Promis points out that this technology demo is the physical part of IBM's statement of direction for the new machine: “IBM intends to offer a new production color printing platform using ink jet technology in a phased release that, over time, will leverage IBM’s server and controller technology, advancements from the AFP Color Consortium and IBM’s workflow portfolio.” Well, OK. IBM's policy on such statements is to bring actual product to market within 24 months. Seems a tad long, to me, and I'm betting we'll see something more definite in Q 1 or 2 of 2007, probably by the AIIM/On Demand show in Boston. But we'll see. At the moment all we can really say is that the one here is big, black, and the output looks good. Epson Print Certification Back when I worked in ad agencies we used to ask for a MatchPrint or a Chromalin to provide an essential sanity check on color before going to press. They were lovely, accurate--and expensive. Today designers are accustomed to printing samples of their layouts on inkjet printers and showing those to clients, knowing (and sometimes hoping) the color will bear a passing resemblance to what will come off the Speedmaster or Komori when the job goes to press. Now they can use an Epson inkjet printer along with some very slick calibration and color management software to produce a contract proof. The advantage is that the printer is not some exotic beast but one of the common Stylus Pro printers (models 3800, 4800, 7800, and 9800). The system combines these printers, Epson UltraChrome K3 high-density pigment ink with expanded third-party RIP support for ColorBurst, CGS Publishing Technologies, EFI, and GMG. The system also features advanced Web-enabled color process control software from ColorSciences to ensure uniform certified output and remotely manage multiple proofers at multiple locations--as in different studios in different cities or even countries. The color accuracy of an Epson Certified Proof is determined by printing an Epson PrintCertification color bar that is read by an industry-leading spectrophotometer device. A RIP then verifies the accuracy of the print based on the color standards defined within the RIP color management interface. If passed, a print can be affixed with an Epson PrintCertification label. Ronald Dahl, ColorSciences, Inc. Ron Dahl of ColorSciences ran me through the process a designer might use in creating a contract proof and showed how the system even provides feedback to tell where a problem may lie, letting it be diagnosed before it becomes something that would cause an inaccurate proof. For example, if say, the cyan ink in a printer is too old and is causing the image to print incorrectly, the designer is alerted so they can simply change that ink supply and get an accurate proof. ColorScience's tagline of "You can't manage what you don't measure" describes exactly their approach to the processes being used in Epson's system and this new, cost-effective approach to proofing should be a clear winner for designers who are serious about delivering accurate color. A Glimpse of What's Next Sunday also gave me some time in Océ's booth where I got a look at the VarioStream 9230 continuous feed highlight color press that was busy printing one of Océ's show collateral pieces and I got a fresh look at the new 250 duplex prints-per-minute VarioPrint 6250 that was noted in the interview with Guy Broadhurst on Monday. I'd last seen this box at On Demand in May but now it's ready for prime time and the crowds were gathering around this innovative and productive machine. Both units here are producing books and I'll give you more details in a later installment. I also went over to Xerox where there were the usual crowds around the iGen, and I got a quick look at the as yet unnamed tandem-engine Nuvera, capable of up to 288 duplex prints per minute. The one here--being shown as a technology demo--is set up with a roll-feed system and is cranking out a variety of perfect-bound books, thanks to a "book factory" on the back end. For some of the thinking behind this don't miss the interview with Xerox's Kevin Horey and Jerry Murray that ran last Friday. Océ and Xerox are clearly aiming at some of the same markets with these duplexing machines and it's interesting to see such different approaches to the same challenge of printing duplex pages quickly on a cut-sheet device. I'll be back with more on this soon. And that wrapped my first day. There's a lot more to come, and it's a good thing our WTT coverage goes for a couple more weeks because we all have a lot of stories to tell. Stay tuned.