Inkjet Still Coming of Age

May 26, 2011  |  Canadian Printer Staff  |  Comments

The implications of new high-speed inkjet printing technologies being introduced to the market sparked a standing-room-only crowd for the latest meeting of the Digital Imaging Association in Toronto.

Close to 70 people attended the DIA’s May meeting, held at Konica Minolta Canada’s headquarters, to hear Jim Hamilton, group director with U.S.-based digital printing consultancy InfoTrends, present his insights into the state of production inkjet printing. (Hamilton’s appearance was sponsored by Xerox).

Over 90 minutes Hamilton sped through some 47 slides outlining the growth in digital printing capabilities, specific inkjet developments and various technologies currently on the market or announced.

The latest high-speed roll-fed colour inkjet engines from HP, Kodak, Screen and Oce are true production machines, noted Hamilton, and with Kodak’s Prosper monochrome inkjet devices capable of printing inline on a web offset press at speed, he believes this is an indication that this technology is crossing a threshold for digital printing.

Hamilton indicated that the quality of output combined with wider web widths—up to 42 inches with the HP T-400 Inkjet Web Press—as being significant technology advances that are allowing colour inkjet to turn the corner into high-volume print.

“Commercial printers need to acknowledge that it’s a different world now,” says Hamilton.

In his accounting for most of the high-volume full-colour digital inkjet web presses installed worldwide (73 sites through March of this year), Hamilton indicated that one-third have landed in transaction printing locations (bills and statements), 19 percent in book printing plants and 15 percent in direct mail focused facilities.

With the appropriate supporting software and inline finishing, the digital printing lines are achieving very close to no-touch—data in, finished product out—production.

Inkjet’s share of digital colour production printing volume is anticipated to almost triple, from 12.4 percent in 2009 to 37 percent by 2014, taking volume away from electrophotographic (toner-based) technologies, a trend that will continue to grow.

Infotrends estimates that installations of inkjet colour presses with a duty cycle of more than 10 million impressions (letter-sized pages) per month will climb at a growth rate of 28% annually, with the volume of work coming off these machines accelerating at an annual rate of 47%.

Challenges for the short term include increasing the compatible paper supply for these machines (including coated papers) and further developments in finishing-line technology.

Hamilton also touched on other inkjet products that have been announced, or are on the market, including: Canon’s DreamLabo 5000, targeting the photo lab and photo book market with high quality production; Fujifilm’s Jet Press 720 cut sheet four-up ink jet technology; as well as Screen’s Truepress JetSX, another sheetfed inkjet product running four-up sheets; the Xerox production inkjet technology using solid ink; as well as new products being announced that will be using the Memjet inkjet head technology (Delphax).

He also handed around samples of unique inkjet coating applications, using MGI’s Jet Varnish product, and stunning samples from Israel-based Scodix, a sheet-fed UV coating technology capable of adding dimensional feel.

Overall InfoTrends estimates that digital colour page volume in production printing will experience a compound annual growth rate of 15.1% through 2014, with the largest number of pages coming from promotional commercial print and publishing.

Going forward, the most significant transition Hamilton foresees will be pages moving from black-and-white to colour, with huge implications for current offset and monochrome digital printing applications.

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