By Melissa Donovan
While color is essential to some print applications, B&W still suffices for many. Monochrome pages play a significant role in the growth of production digital print. Analyst firm InfoTrends’ 2012-2017 production digital print application forecast for the U.S. and Western Europe details application volumes and volume growth for 28 print applications in seven main groups including office, promotional, publishing, transaction, packaging, utility, and consumer.
The report cites the biggest gain in pages is books. In Western Europe in particular, absolute page growth for books between 2012 and 2017 is estimated at 21.1 billion pages. Volume is shifting from analog to digital presses due to shorter runs and on demand production. B&W inkjet installations contribute to that high volume as certain books do not require as much color compared to other applications.
This is further indication that the overall opportunity for B&W pages in digital—whether electrophotographic (EP)/toner-based devices or high-speed inkjet—is viable. Dedicated B&W printers are ideal for certain print service providers (PSPs). In addition, color devices are available with B&W modes to offer versatility.
In the past, researchers, analysts, and manufacturers declared B&W would go by the wayside, especially as color became more accessible. Today, however, the oversaturation of color on a page and the regulations that affect much of that media requires that B&W remain in the mix.
“We predict that the decline in monochrome digital pages will flatten and the current 700 billion page market (2014) will stabilize, even with pressure on direct mail marketers. Changes in consumer communication regulations, as well as the economic climate stalled monochrome to color migration in many financial service organizations, which contributes to the leveling off of the monochrome page decline,” explains Pat McGrew, print, inkjet, production mail evangelist, Hewlett-Packard (HP).
The number of B&W pages in digital remains strong due to the variety of applications that require little to no color. Chris Payne, VP and director, worldwide commercial marketing, Eastman Kodak, points to direct mail, as it uses B&W or monochrome ink to produce two-dimensional barcodes and coupons—a trend currently growing in popularity.
He also cites book printers, especially those publishing trade books, journals, and educational books, as ideal users of dedicated B&W presses.
Brian Dollard, director, product marketing, production solutions division, Business Imaging Solutions Group, Canon, foresees continued growth in B&W digital printing in the next five years, thanks in part to the rapid transition of long-run offset printed books to shorter run digitally printed books. “In addition, many companies are investing in new B&W digital printing solutions to help improve overall productivity, expanding inline production capabilities, and leveraging more energy efficient and environmentally friendly solutions.”
“We’ve seen reports that indicate an opportunity for growth in B&W digital pages run on high-speed printers over the coming five year period. Much of this is due to the growth of on demand publishing as well as B&W printing onto pre-printed color shells,” shares Mike Fego, manager of product marketing, production print, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc.
Considering the Breakpoint
Dedicated B&W EP/toner-based and inkjet devices are efficient and economical in their own way. In terms of duty cycle and cost per page, the breakpoint between the two often differs based on application.
Payne uses book printing as an example of how subjective the breakpoint can be. “Toner devices are ideal for book runs of one or very short on demand applications. When run lengths approach 100 copies of a typical book, give or take 25, it generally becomes more cost effective to move to inkjet.”
John Santoli, worldwide product marketing manager, Xerox Corporation, says a number of factors go into the breakeven point between the two technologies. “The majority of the inkjet systems on the market today are continuous feed and therefore most customers who opt for this device are doing so based on the economics associated with running millions of prints in a short period of time.”
“Inkjet presses are extremely efficient and consistent. If paper selection is a non-factor, then the breakeven point is between 3,000 and 4,000 images,” advocates Eduardo Navarro, manager, marketing and CTP/flexo products, Screen USA.
The number of B&W pages printed on dedicated EP/toner-based devices versus inkjet varies.
According to Navarro, EP/toner-based devices still account for the majority of B&W page volume, but a shift into high-speed inkjet is in process.
Santoli says this is because inkjet handles anywhere from two to six times more volume than EP/toner-based devices.
There is a shift in the digital production monochrome market for books and transactional applications from EP to inkjet, says McGrew. “Other high-volume applications, such as marketing collateral, direct mail, and magazines in both color and B&W are also fast growing segments for production inkjet,” she adds.
Dedicated B&W devices are ideal for certain print providers that manage a high influx of specific applications. However, that isn’t to say the typical color shop doesn’t need effective B&W capabilities. Many digital color production devices feature B&W modes to serve this purpose.
“There is great practicality in printing B&W on a color press, especially if you only own a color press. There is a PSP in the U.S. that uses a color machine, but dedicates one shift a day just for monochrome production,” explains Payne.
Managing B&W and color in the workflow is beneficial. “Documents with a high percentage of B&W pages can sometimes be more cost-efficiently produced using a workflow that streamlines the splitting of color and B&W pages in the makeready process. Color pages are printed on the color digital press and intelligently inserted into the document during the production of the B&W pages,” says Dollard.
However, practicing this process is not always recommended. Color production presses are designed to output a completely different type of application, according to Santoli. “Although these systems are capable of producing amazing B&W image quality and can be used to do so on an exception basis, there are no advantages to using this system in a dedicated manner.”
Fego explains that the duty cycles and print speeds when using a B&W mode tend be lower than a dedicated B&W device, with the cost per impression higher—sometimes triple that of B&W-only presses.
Dedicated to B&W
Here we highlight dedicated B&W presses as well as solutions that offer B&W or monochrome modes on color devices.
The Océ VarioPrint 6000+ series of monochrome printers offers duplex printing at high speeds. Océ Gemini Instant Duplexing Technology uses a single engine to drive two imaging belts that print both sides of the page in a single pass.
The VarioPrint DP line also provides dedicated B&W printing. Océ DirectPress Technology provides uniform, stable, and high print quality, consistently, by eliminating unstable variables such as charge, static, and light. There are three models available in the series, the VarioPrint 135, 120, and 110.
Additionally, the Canon imagePRESS 1110+/1125+/1135+ line features monochrome printing. Built on the same core architecture as the imagePRESS C7000VP, the printers target small, mid, and large production environments, respectively.
Canon offers both the imagePRESS C7010 and C7011 series of digital presses and the Océ ColorStream series as color printers with B&W options. In addition, its new production color inkjet press—Niagara—is being developed with capabilities to allow users to run color and B&W.
The HP T260 Mono Inkjet Web Press is available with a 26-inch paper width printing at up to 800 feet per minute with three-up A4 and four-up 6×9-inch impositions. The press was specifically designed for the publishing space and introduced in May of 2014.
Kodak’s Digimaster HD (B&W) is available in three different versions. Modular, PSPs can increase the capacity of their current system without purchasing a new printer.
The company also offers its Prosper 1000, which is built specifically for book and publishing applications.
Additionally, the Kodak Prosper 6000 features a monochrome mode and a four-over-one mode. Users can disengage the line heads not required when running either type of job to enhance the printheads’ lifespan and reduce the cost of click charges.
The bizhub PRESS 1250/1250P series utilizes Konica Minolta Simitri HD toner. A high-volume monthly duty cycle of three million impressions and real-time image density and toner ratio sensors maintain image stability over long press runs.
The new Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS 2250P also utilizes Konica Minolta Simitri HD toner and is a twin engine monochrome device.
Screen offers its TP-J520EX Mono, TP-J520EX Color, TP-J520S, and TP-J520ZZ—all with either dedicated B&W or B&W modes included.
The Xerox Nuvera EA Production Print Systems offer high image quality, media latitude, and inline finishing options.
B&W Here to Stay
Dedicated B&W devices remain an important and viable option for any print provider that has enough work to justify the purchase.
“Until the cost per impression of B&W printing on color digital presses approaches that of B&W only, there will still be a place for B&W digital presses,” says Fego.
Depending on the run length, both EP/toner-based and inkjet offer capabilities that fit into more B&W-focused work. Books, transactional, and even direct mail represent applications that still rely on monochrome. dps