Twelve of the vendors that will take part in Print 09 gave previews of their show offerings at an extended press conference called “Media Days” in Chicago on June 16 and 17. The 12 represent about 2% of all currently registered exhibitors, and the question is whether testimony from so modest a sample can be taken as a credible forecast of what the event as a whole will be like. The answer is no, and yes.

Hosted by the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC), Media Days is a public-relations exercise that helps GASC build interest in Print, the largest of the trade shows that it produces. Participating vendors pay GASC a fee in return for a two-day captive audience with graphic arts trade media personnel, and this year, their investments netted them the undivided attention of about 50 editors and analysts from 12 countries.

One thing that struck the writers straight off was the conspicuous absence of most of the major offset press manufacturers. Just two litho vendors were there: one (Presstek) that makes presses in formats no larger than B3; and another (manroland) that probably will not bring any equipment at all to McCormick Place. Nearly all of the remaining 10 presentations at Media Days were by makers of digital presses and/or supporting workflows—a mix that didn’t yield much insight into what Print 09 will have to offer on the conventional production side.

Ralph Nappi, president of GASC, cautions against reading too much into the mostly digital character of the briefings at Media Days, noting that these days, news of technological advancements tends to be made more frequently in digital output and workflow than in conventional offset. He says that although there’ll be no less emphasis than usual on conventional production at Print 09, GASC has taken steps to make the Print and Graph Expo shows “more inclusive of newer technologies and processes that are growing exponentially in our industry.”

Media Days left no doubt, if any existed, that digital technologies—particularly inkjet—constitute a force to be reckoned with in high-volume production applications.

Kodak, for example, asserted that with a 241/2" wide inkjet press that it plans to commercialize next year, it will move the “tipping point” in book production—the top of the run-length range within which digital is cheaper on a per-unit basis than offset—from 1,000 to 7,000. That’s high enough to make digital inkjet feasible for most book runs, according to Kodak.

And although nobody at Media Days called the September show “the inkjet Print,” it may turn out to have at least as much claim to that sobriquet as drupa 2008 had to “the inkjet drupa.” Riso, for example, will leap into the space in a big way with the launch of no fewer than five inkjet platforms.

Over the summer, the pace of announcements like these—from both conventional and digital equipment makers—should allay concerns that Print 09’s diminished size might make it a less significant event than previous editions. Anticipating about 600 exhibitors—about the same number as were at Graph Expo last year—it will host notably fewer vendors than Print 05, in which 954 companies took booths. Nappi says that owing to slack sales and booth downsizing by those who have signed up, floor space is down 18% at this point compared with Print 05.

GASC is trying to stanch the bleeding with an “economic stimulus package” that pays exhibitors’ drayage costs or credits their space rental fees. During the briefings, GASC vice president Chris Price said that the package, which could cost GASC as much as $4 million, “has slowed the downsizing down to a trickle.”

Nappi says that since most people don’t begin registering for Print and Graph Expo until 30 to 45 days from the opening of the shows, it’s too soon to forecast attendance. But, he’s confident that Print 09’s drawing power will rest on the same foundation that brings tens of thousands of visitors to all of the GASC shows: the fact that they’re the only venues where printers can satisfy their ever-present urge to see the latest and greatest production equipment in action.

Capsules of the Media Days briefings follow in order of presentation. The much-improved Print 09 web site has complete information on what to see and how to see it from September 11-16 in Chicago. Stay with WhatTheyThink for extensive written and video coverage before, during, and after the show.

The principal announcement from Kodak (booth 6907) was that its Stream inkjet technology, introduced at drupa, has a new family name: Kodak Prosper. It will apply to all products using the formerly named Stream S10 inkjet printhead, the first of which is the Prosper S10 Imprinting System. This is a 4.16" monochrome device designed for printing variable data inline with web equipment at speeds up to 1,000 fpm. The system, in beta sites around the world and now commercially available, is a continuous inkjet (CIJ) printer that uses a thermal “pinch-off” technique to vary the size of the droplets.

The same technology will be used in the digital press with which Kodak proposes to change the digital vs. offset “tipping point”: the Prosper Press Platform, a four-color press slated for commercial availability in the first quarter of next year. It will debut with a 24 1/2" wide printhead array (expandable, according to Kodak) and will be targeted at book, newspaper, direct mail, and transpromo applications.

Kodak’s other line of CIJ presses, Versamark, will continue to be available, but no updates were mentioned. The company is expanding its toner-based systems with the additions of the Nexpress SE and Digimaster EX300 production systems. The Nexpress SE, a 120 ppm, A3+ color printer, has an on-board scanner that transmits color information to Kodak for on-the-fly recalibration as needed. The Nexpress SE platform will be offered as an upgrade path for existing Nexpress equipment. Kodak is billing the Digimaster EX300 as the world’s fastest cut sheet, monochrome, electrophotographic device, capable of printing 18,000 A4 sheets per hour.

Jeff Jacobson of Presstek (booth 3646) confided that two years ago, before the start of his tenure as CEO, the company had been thinking of exiting the CTP market and leaving it to “the oligopoly of three major players” that dominate it. But he reaffirmed the company’s commitment to plates and platesetters, noting that Presstek’s currently tiny share (.5%) of the $4 billion market gives it plenty of room to grow—especially in processless solutions. New plates may be announced at Print 09, Jacobson said.

At Media Days, though, Presstek’s focus was on the market where it’s almost an oligopoly of one: direct imaging (DI) presses, which it promotes as the most cost-efficient platforms for small-format color work in the 500- to 20,000-copy range. At Print 09, Presstek will take orders for a new 52 cm (20.47" x 14.17") model with a built-in aqueous coater, the 52DI-AC. Capable of flood and spot coating, the 52DI-AC also features high-pile feeding and inline drying. Orders also will be taken for UV versions of the 52DI and 34DI platforms (the 34 cm format has a maximum sheet size of 13.39" x 18.11"). Existing 52DI and 34DI presses are field-upgradeable for printing with UV inks, making them suitable, Presstek says, for packaging, labels, and POP as well as commercial work.

For Ricoh (booth 2074), Print 09 will be an opportunity to showcase its new Pro C900s color production system, an update of the Pro C900 platform that it introduced at Graph Expo last year. Aimed at commercial print environments as well as corporate users, the Pro C900s is a printer/scanner/copier that also can distribute documents in electronic form. As a printer, says Ricoh, it's suitable for duty cycles up to 400,000 color images per month. The Pro C900s has an EFI Fiery front end, a variety of inline finishing options, and trays that let it handle sheets from 8.5" x 11" to 13" x 19.2" in weights from 16-lb. bond to 110-lb.cover. Printing speed is 90 copies per minute at an output resolution of 1,200 x 1,200 dpi.

The Pro C900s also can print variably, a capability that Carl Joachim, vice president-marketing for Ricoh's production printing business group, said in-plants would find attractive. Feedback from an in-plant focus group led Ricoh to decide to bundle a VDP package with the Pro C900s in the future, Joachim said.

Frank Mallozzi, senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for EFI (booth 2500), said that the company would come to Print 09 with “a new generation of Fierys” featuring support for VDP and Adobe’s PDF Print Engine (a workflow automation tool). Fiery print management systems drive digital production presses such as the Xerox iGen4, which now can be equipped with the EX Print Server—a controller that supports the built-in color management capability of the iGen4 as well as its variable-data capability. Fiery servers can be enhanced with Command WorkStation 5, a job manager that can be extended with plug-ins such as the SeeQuence suite for imposition and makeready.

EFI also can be expected to promote Digital Storefront, a Web-to-print e-commerce solution that Mallozzi called “a sleeping giant” of opportunity for EFI because of its widespread installation. EFI’s show offerings also will include its MIS applications (Monarch, PrintSmith, and PACE) and a new product called Web Control Center: a web-based color management and workflow solution that facilitates remote proofing.

In Ivry sur Seine, France, MGI Digital Graphic Technology (booth 4329) has been building digital printing systems for paper and plastic since 1982. MGI wants this equipment to become more widely adopted in the American market, and to that end, it will bring a trio of new products to Print 09. Michael Abergel, executive VP and managing director for the U.S., said that these will include the Meteor DP60 Pro and Meteor DP20 digital presses and the JETvarnish inkjet spot UV coater.

Abergel positioned the DP60 Pro as a production alternative for jobs that fall between high-volume copying and low-volume offset. A sheetfed, four-color toner press that can handle the most commonly used paper, plastic, and synthetic substrates, the DP60 Pro accepts formats from 3.9" x 5.9" to as large as 13" x 47". Maximum print speed is 3,900 A4 sheets per hour. Abergel said that the DP60 Pro’s price is one-third to one-half that of paper-only digital presses and that the pricing model involves no click charges or volume requirements.

The DP20 is a four-in-one digital photo printer that can print, laminate, cut, and crease in one pass on papers up to 12" x 18" at 20 ppm. Abergel called in “a true business in a box” for photo prints, postcards, calendars, and above all, photo books. He claimed that the device can turn out 10 24-page photo books per hour, duplexed in color at 1,800 dpi, for a unit cost of about $8. MGI surrounds the press with a package it calls My PhotoBook Shop™, a book-on-demand workflow that covers all production steps from design through finishing.

Spot UV coating via inkjet is the innovation of the JETvarnish machine, which uses drop-on-demand inkjet technology patented by MGI. An offline coater for sheets up to 20" x 29", the JETvarnish can deposit fixed and variable spot UV on paper and plastic at a speed of about half a meter per second. The all-inclusive unit cost of spot UV coating with the JETvarnish, according to Abergel, is $.07 per sheet.

Mark Twain said: “A classic is a book that everybody wants to have read, but nobody wants to read.” In a very similar vein, but on a very different subject, Luther Erland, the newly appointed president of DiMS! organizing print Inc. (booth 6951), said: “Nobody actually wants to implement a print management system, but everybody wants to enjoy the benefits of having installed one.”

DiMS! makes MIS solutions specifically for printing, and the company’s goal at Print 09 will be to convince printers that installing an end-to-end business management system doesn’t have to resemble the jumping-frog contest that Twain famously satirized. DiMS, said Erland, comprises “holistically” designed components that share a common, underlying technology in a single software package. This means that they are seamlessly integrated, not merely “interfaced” in ad hoc fashion as competitive solutions with less homogeneous origins have to be.

At Print 09, Erland and his team will present the solution in detail and discuss its implementation by customers that include Brown Printing Co., Doran & Ward Printing Co., and Japs-Olson in the U.S. They will emphasize that the solution can be templated for every type of printed product and every printing process.

In the next installment: briefings by Xerox, Henkel, Riso, Lake Image Systems, Konica Minolta Business Systems U.S.A., and manroland.