And Now For Something Completely Different Walking Wide with Inca and VUTEk, plus Highlight Color from Océ and Xerox By Noel Ward, Managing Editor, WTT Show Coverage October 20, 2006 -- I've been thinking that since the fastest growing segment of digital print is wide format, we should probably be paying some attention to it in our show coverage at WTT and also on ODJ. So I trekked past purveyors of inks and foil stamping, rollers and sucker cups, to the far reaches of the show floor and the Wide Format Pavilion. Here crowds of people oogled outsized prints streaming out of machines up to twelve-feet wide that ran to the very edges of the booths. So tightly packed was the area it was as if some vendors either hadn't realized that a 30 x 30 booth is a very literal measurement and tried to fit in too much gear, or someone stuffed an extra 8-foot wide printer on the truck and they had it fit it into the stand. Wide format has always been a roll-fed business but market demand has driven the development of a variety of flatbed solutions that can print on stuff like 1/4" foam core as easily as on a sheet of plywood or even a door. Two of the most impressive (and massive) I saw were from Inca Digital in the FujiSericol booth. Here the Spyder 320 and the Columbia Turbo were cranking out posters at 840 and 1720 square feet per hour, respectively. Both machines have vacuum tables with retractable registration pins to keep the substrate in position for printing. On the Spyder the whole imaging head--an enclosure about eight feet long and a couple feet wide--slides back and forth while laying down four or six UV ink colors. At more than double the speed, the heads on the Turbo model stay in one place while the entire 126" x 63" flatbed slides back and forth in a blur of color and motion. The Columbia Turbo moves the whole print table to run at 1720 sq. feet per hour. While these machines can print on almost anything from paper to board to plastics, one of the cool things I saw was the monochrome image shown here, produced using only one color--white-- on a matte black foam core. (Please spare me the arguments about whether white is a color!) Your computer screen does not do justice to this image--trust me on this. It was absolutely photographic in quality at a distance greater than 5 feet. White ink (typically titanium-based) is a relatively recent development in superwide format printing and white toner is now showing up on some toner-based elecrophotographic presses as well. Look for more digital prints using white ink in the near future. Is white a color? It is when it's printed on black. Regular readers of WTT and ODJ will recall Cary Sherburne's interview with Bob Raus, vice president of marketing at EFI VUTEk and my own Tales from the Open Road story on VUTEk this past summer. Graph Expo was the first chance the mainstream printing industry had to take a look at what EFI VUTEk have to offer and their booth was well-populated with print providers looking for the right machines to fit their markets and customers. I was able to connect with a very busy Raus for a few minutes and he explained how many customers moving into superwide printing or expanding existing operations are seeking the most versatile equipment. "Most superwide printing is roll-to-roll, but as printing on rigid substrates becomes more popular customers want that capability as well. Most of our machines are modular so the tables needed for rigid media can easily be added, yet the machine can still run roll-to-roll." VUETk's versatile new 3360 model can use traditional solvent, dye-sub solvent as well as the new BioVU inks. Raus says this is part of VUTEk's strategy to produce printer platforms that can adapt to customer requirements. One example of this is the 3360 model that comes in entry-level and full production flavors and can be changed from solvent to dye-sublimation inks at the flip of a switch or use four-, six- or eight-colors of the company's new BioVU inks. The small white knob between the two ink supplies changes the flow from one supply to the other. It takes about five minutes to purge the lines and you are ready to print with the other ink, making changeover between jobs a simple matter. On the VUTEk 3360 you can change the type of ink in minutes with the turn of a knob. It was only a couple of years back that Graph Expo organizers were having a hard time filling the space designated as the Wide Format Pavilion. This week it was bursting at the seams and word on the floor is that with Pavilion will be moving a lot closer to the front of the show to vie with the likes of Heidelberg, Kodak and Xerox for the attention of printers looking for the latest and greatest. Highlight Color Gaining Momentum I noted on Wednesday that both Océ and Xerox are touting their highlight color technology and both firms came out at Graph Expo loaded for bear. Océ had the latest iteration of the continuous-feed VarioStream 9000 family, the 9230, which puts down black plus two spot colors. Xerox had its DocuTech 180 HLC which is essentially a two-color DocuTech with that brand's legacy of production prowess. Both machines offer a small core selection of highlight colors but that's only for starters. Océ has long offered a substantial palette of its CustomTone colors that are achieved by mixing its standard colors and can also be further blended to match many corporate colors. This ensures that a key shade will always match without the overhead or complexity of traditional color management. At the show Océ used a VarioStream 9230 to produce a three-color newspaper called print on to show off the machine's abilities and present the company's concept of Job Appropriate Color, which Océ's Guy Broadhurst Print On was a 3-color newspaper produced on the Océ VarioPrint 9230. discussed in a WTT interview on Monday. Aside from the speed of the press--231 three-over-three impressions per minute--most notable in print on was the ability to produce duotones and tri-tones, thanks in part to the tight web of the continuous feed engine which ensures the registration necessary for multi-color halftones. Having lots of colors, though, only works in a production environment when the colors can be changed quickly. Océ handles that with Quick Change Color Stations which enable a color to be changed in just a few minutes to keep the big press running. The interesting thing about the VarioStream 9000 family is its flexibility--it's not just for highlight color. Océ calls it a black and color-capable printer, and sees it fitting into multiple environments including publishing, direct mail and transactional print. Giving credence to that claim, Océ announced on Monday that Lightning Source, one of the leading poster children for digital book production, has ordered 15 VarioStream 9210 monochrome printers to bolster its burgeoning book production operation. Meanwhile, Xerox has been putting a lot of effort into its DocuColor HLC family, which comes in 115, 155 and 180 pages-per-minute (field-upgradeable) models. The 180 ppm model can be configured in either stitching/binding or high capacity stacker configurations. There's also an internal perforating option that eliminates the need for pre-perforated paper. The DocuColor HLC line uses an electrophotographic engine for black toner while the color is printed with a LED system. Both black and color are both transferred to the paper at full production speed and Customer Changeable Units help make short work of color changes. Eight standard colors will be available by year end and with more coming in early 2007, including the start of a wide range of custom colors. Colors can be changed easily to keep One transactional service bureau I know--OSG Billing in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey-- evaluated a number of inkjet and highlight color solutions over the past couple of years and finally locked and loaded on the DocuColor HLC as the right fit for its cut-sheet operation. They have found customers increasingly asking for highlight color in statements and decided the time was right to bring it in as a solution and as a differentiator. While it's easy to look at the VarioStream and the two-color DocuTech as archrivals, that is not necessarily the case. While the two approaches to highlight color will certainly compete in some instances, applications and print volumes will, as always, drive customers' choices. Mixed equipment has long been common in the monochrome space and is now business as usual in full color, with machines typically chosen based on specific applications and capabilities. As digital highlight color expands--primarily at the expense of basic black, in my estimation--some shops will have both cut-sheet and roll-fed highlight color devices. This will not be the case indefinitely, but for the next two to five years highlight color will be a cost-effective alternative to full color, and will continue in certain niches long after that. In an interview before the show, Jerry Murray of Xerox noted that some 25 percent of the printing market is highlight color, which amounts to a significant number of pages. Some of that will migrate to full color, while some monochrome jobs will move up to highlight. And where there are clicks to be had, vendors will be there to sell them. So what's next? I also talked with Kodak, HP and Xeikon, plus a few others. Then there's the heat being generated about cut-sheet duplexing, from, you guessed it, Océ and Xerox. But I have about three more articles to write on this show, so stay tuned.