One of the more crowded stands at drupa is Hewlett-Packard which seems to occupy about a third of Hall 4, mainly because it is so crowded that people are spilling into the aisles and almost crowding into adjacent stands. HP has rolled in just about everything they make that relates to print and it is quite the show in itself. I could easily spend an entire day in their stand to see everything, but I'll just hit the high points.

Those begin with the new HP Indigo press 5000. Although it is just being introduced here at drupa, this machine actually was in development when HP was in the process of acquiring Indigo three years ago. At first glance the most noticeable feature of the 5000 is the three paper drawers, making it a real alternative to the Nexpress and Xerox iGen3. Numerous printers have remarked to me how much they like the Indigo but said the lack of large paper capacity was a deal killer. The three drawers probably begin to correct this. Even if more capacity is needed, the 5000 has the unique advantage of offering up to seven colors. This goes a long way toward providing the excellent image quality Indigo presses are noted for. In my opinion, the Indigo has long had the best image quality of all the digital presses, and the 5000 should be well-positioned to compete in the commercial print and the purely digital print market. While it still lacks inline finishing options, there should be room in the market for this box and it may well make the marketplace a little more interesting. There's a nice virtual demo of the 5000 on the HP web site, so if you weren't at drupa (or couldn't elbow your way through the crowds) be sure to check it out here.

Being Xclusive

But what is a digital press without good variable data capes? HP-Indigo has been lagging in this area, and the company is seeking to gain lost ground by joining forces with Quark to provide a graphic-designer-friendly extension for QuarkXPress called Xclusive. Xclusive picks up were some third-party extensions for designing with variable content leave off and delivers a reasonable mid-level tool for variable data. But there's good news and bad news. The good news is that Xclusive works pretty much like everything else in Xpress and should be easy enough for most designers to use. And if they are already sending jobs to an Indigo press, it will present the job as a single ready-to-RIP file. The bad news is if the designer happens to be sending the job to an iGen3, Nexpress or Xeikon, that file is going to go out as a string of separate PDFs. This means if the job is a direct mail piece with 10,000 records, the printer is going to find 10,000 PDFs in their inbox, waiting to be RIPed. Call me crazy, but this doesn't seem like a good thing for either Quark or HP. But it's early days, and Quark may find their customers will be asking for a little more flexibility. One hopes Quark will find a way to deliver.

On the other hand, there is good news on the color management front. HP's new and evolving color management system, CMYK Plus, is intended to help ensure color consistency across multiple platforms, including the Indigo color presses, several HP large format machines and the DesignJet series of six-color desktop proofers. The idea behind CMYK Plus is to streamline production and proofing processes, especially back upstream the designer level. For example, an ad agency or design firm might have a campaign that involves direct mail (run on an Indigo), offset printed brochures (proofed on a DesignJet) and signage (run on large format printers). With CMYK Plus, the designers can be assured all materials will look the same. Of course, this is the idea of color management anyway, but HP has made it easier for users of their equipment, which in turn may increase brand loyalty because handling color on an HP device becomes more of a known quantity. A good move all around.

And speaking of good moves, we have Nipson and Xeikon telling the world they are back in the game. That's coming next.