By Cassandra Balentine
Production inkjet breaks barriers in terms of impressions per minute (ipm) and maximum monthly output. These devices continue to move closer to the speed and price of traditional offset. However, it’s improved print quality, uptime, and color gamut that attract new users.
Above: Kodak’s new PROSPER ULTRA 520 Press incorporates ULTRASTREAM technology. It is designed to improve image quality and expand substrate ranges, while continuing to produce the lowest cost per image at production speeds.
In the ultra high-volume segment of digital print—which we classify as devices capable of handling upwards of ten million impressions per month—market leaders continue to advance technologies for continuous inkjet (CIJ), thermal, and piezoelectric drop on demand (DOD) inkjet printing.
Environments for Inkjet
The capabilities afforded by inkjet are ideal for a growing list of market segments.
“Any high-volume print operation interested in reducing labor and production costs is a candidate for the new generation of large-scale inkjet technology,” believes Bill Papp, product manager, Document Data Solutions.
Michael Poulin, director, marketing, Canon Solutions America, Inc., agrees, noting adoption in every segment served by Canon Solutions America—including transactional, books, direct mail, commercial, and in-plant.
More specifically, Will Mansfield, solutions marketing director, Kodak, sees two segments investing in ultra-high volume inkjet presses—heat-set web offset shops and mid-volume inkjet press users that have outgrown their press’ capabilities.
Mansfield explains that offset web press customers look to ultra high-volume inkjet presses to migrate work for faster turnaround, short run, segmented, or even personalized jobs. “This often results in cost savings by reducing paper waste, slashing production time, and eliminating plates. They can also capitalize on revenue growth through new sales opportunities,” he offers.
On the other end, “mid-volume inkjet customers typically have an older model DOD press, so a press like a Kodak PROSPER model can help them increase their application range beyond the capabilities of DOD presses. This is often done by moving from low-to-mid ink coverage jobs on uncoated papers to mid-to-high ink coverage jobs on coated and glossy papers, resulting in revenue growth through new sales opportunities and/or cost savings for higher coverage work,” suggests Mansfield. Kodak’s PROSPER presses utilize CIJ technology.
The market for high-speed production inkjet is evolving past early adopters—like books, transactional, and direct mail—and the latest advancements attract new markets, including commercial printers.
Initially, high-volume inkjet presses were adopted almost exclusively by transactional printers and service bureaus, comments Tim Bolton, senior technology portfolio manager, Inkjet, Commercial Printing Business, Ricoh USA, Inc. He explains that at the time, inkjet had not yet made big strides in image resolution and media flexibility, so it was primarily attractive to print environments with a stronger focus on variable data than show-stopping color. “Today, inkjet presses deliver on color gamut, print quality, and substrate flexibility at a level that would be at home in even the most demanding commercial print shop. As a result, modern inkjet sees adoption in nearly all print environments, from book manufacturing and heavy direct mail shops to full-line general commercial printers.”
Poulin agrees, stating that the early days of high-speed inkjet printing were mostly limited to transactional statements and some bulk direct mail. “With continued improvements in quality and ink options, improved color management, broad range of media, and lower total cost of ownership, we are seeing placements in almost every market we serve.”
“Commercial printers are adding a level of versioning and personalization to super high-quality mailings, direct marketers are getting targeted products in the mail in record time, book manufacturers are printing books on demand and shipping to you within hours, and transactional statement printers are adding personalized messaging like never before,” adds Poulin.
Once used primarily for transaction documents, trade and color educational books, journals, and simple direct mail printed on uncoated, inkjet treated paper, the latest ultra high-volume inkjet presses now support customer demands for higher ink coverage or gloss-coated papers.
“The Kodak PROSPER presses stand out thanks to Kodak’s nanoparticulate pigment inks and unique continuous inkjet writing systems,” offers Mansfield.
“Any business that requires variable print or versioning including packaging, balloting, and lottery is a candidate for this technology,” says Papp.
Several advancements follow customer demand to attract new markets.
New users are shifting to inkjet due to a combination of several factors. The biggest reason is the increased overall print quality—including improved color gamut, color consistency, and resolution, shares Bolton.
“The ability to print higher quality—200 lines per inch offset equivalent—at 500 feet per minute (fpm) on glossy papers is attracting new customers to the ultra high-volume segment,” states Mansfield. “This comes from Kodak’s low humectant, nanoparticulate pigment inks and continuous inkjet writing systems, most recently Kodak ULTRASTREAM.”
For applications that don’t require the highest quality, presses like the Xerox Trivor 2400 Inkjet Press provide options. The press offers optional image quality levels including 600×600, 1,200×600, and 360×600 dpi.
The HP PageWide T250 HD includes quality focused updates like HP Brilliant Ink and an expanded application range with the digitally printed HP Optimizer, which provides smooth color gradients and fills by compensating for batch-to-batch mill variation on coated media while delivering high optical density with reduced show-through on offset uncoated media.
“On top of that, today’s inkjet presses support a broader range of substrates—including, in some cases, commodity offset coated sheets. They also offer increased speeds and reliability. Taken together, the best inkjet presses today are capable and cost effective in nearly any printing segment. This has opened up inkjet to an array of new markets and users,” offers Bolton.
Poulin believes that the biggest change bringing in new users is the quality and media flexibility available today. “Inkjet has always been fast but now the number of applications available to print providers is staggering. New paper choices are added every day—including offset coated stocks.”
Canon recently launched the new Canon ProStream 1800 continuous feed inkjet printer, the newest model in Canon’s ProStream 1000 series. Featuring increased speeds of up to 436 fpm, it is designed to help boost production levels, reduce turnaround times, and increase profit margins across a range of applications, including premium and high-volume direct mail, books, catalogs, and magazines. It features a higher web speed of 436 fpm—66 percent faster than the ProStream 1000—and can produce up to 114,245 letter images or 11,300 B2 sheets per hour while maintaining superior print quality.
Papp comments that improvements in inks and substrate compatibility, lower operational costs versus that of legacy toner and CIJ technology as well as improved uptime all factor into the segment’s ability to attract new markets.
The heightened appeal of inkjet is both complementary and disruptive to other segments of the print industry.
“With inkjet’s strides in recent years in terms of color quality and paper choices, many print environments are migrating offset volumes to comparably powerful inkjet presses,” offers Bolton. As volumes grow for certain jobs, those jobs are moving to continuous-feed inkjet. Inkjet and toner can co-exist—they are both offset migration options and migration choice is driven primarily by volume.
Poulin sees a diverse mix of applications from its customers. “With the lower total cost of ownership compared to toner, our customers have been able to transition digital applications to faster and more reliable inkjet while saving money. Other customers have been able to move even larger and longer print runs off offset to high-speed inkjet because the transition point is much higher. However, with the flexibility and productivity of the Canon portfolio, our customers have been able to add a significant number of new jobs to their workload resulting in them growing their business,” he says.
Traditional offset or flexographic printing and legacy continuous inkjet or toner technology may lose pages from ultra high-volume inkjet. However, Papp sees a scenario for a more complementary setup. “In the case of ultra high-volume hybrid inkjet printing—the combining of inkjet with traditional offset—it can be a complementary set-up to reduce operating costs and minimize paper waste,” he notes.
Mansfield has noticed customers with multiple cutsheet toner presses or a cutsheet inkjet device, now investigating inkjet presses in order to lower their running cost and increase productivity.
While speed and productivity are huge factors in the decision to invest in an ultra-high volume inkjet press, other major considerations factor into the decision to add to or update output capabilities with production inkjet.
“Speed is important, but simply looking at the ‘top speed’ of a press on a data sheet can be misleading. Many machines have limitations that impact their speed such as resolution, ink coverage, and paper type, so it’s important to ask the question—‘when printing at the highest resolution on glossy paper with heavy ink coverage, what’s the top speed?’” suggests Mansfield.
“We advise our customers to consider the full picture,” says Bolton. Take into account the platform’s color quality, media flexibility, ink consumption, and finishing options. “Color quality, media flexibility, and finishing options help your applications stand out in the unending competition for audience attention, while ink consumption factors into the size of your margins,” he adds.
Papp explains that one of the time-proven metrics for investing in new variable printing technology has been, “what is my total cost of print?” Ink can be the largest component, as prices can range from $25 to more than $600 per liter for ultra high-volume inkjet technologies. “When combined with coverage that can range from five to more than 300 percent, you will need to know an easy and accurate way to calculate your total cost of print, as your profitability can change significantly based on the type of work that you anticipate producing on your inkjet printer.”
Bolton says drying capacity is another underrated aspect that helps drive down turnaround times and get applications to the finisher faster, as well as helping to preserve crisp, clean images. “At the end of the day, the more types of jobs it can run, the more diverse customer needs you can take on with the same platform.”
Ricoh developed a new drying technology for the RICOH Pro VC70000. According to the company, even when a dense image is printed or a thin sheet of paper is used, the technology prevents the paper from cockling.
The air floatation drying system of the new Canon ProStream 1800 dries all jobs evenly to effectively print on a range of paper without compromising the standards of the finished output. By not coming into contact with the paper, the system protects the print image to ensure an optimal result and to preserve the gloss and paper surface. Further, artificial intelligence linked to a sensor continuously makes adjustments to the drying system during the print run to ensure the best quality.
Screen provides drying options for its Truepress Jet520HD line. The Truepress Jet520HD features air heating and heat drum; while the HD+ model features air heating and heat drum plus an additional near infrared dryer; and the Truepress Jet520HD AD is the advanced dryer unit that combines a constant temperature dryer with small diameter heated rollers.
Today’s print providers have more choices than ever. “Therefore, it is important to look beyond the speeds and feeds and look at all factors,” says Poulin. “Reliability and uptime are critical to your business.”
Several press specifications are essential to an ultra high-volume production inkjet press, including uptime, reliability, media flexibility, output quality, dry time, and productivity.
Papp feels that uptime is a particularly important characteristic. “Today, there are many inkjet technologies that operate with 95-plus percent uptime. This compares to older inkjet technologies that averaged around 80 percent uptime,” he shares.
Poulin agrees, adding that besides reliability, these machines need to be productive. “Productivity doesn’t just mean speed, they need to be easy to use, produce little waste, and have features that print providers need.”
“It goes without saying that uptime and reliability are table stakes for high-volume inkjet production,” adds Mansfield. Beyond that he says versatility and low operating cost are two of the most important factors. “If your press can print on a wide range of papers—including glossy—you can win more jobs. And if your ink costs are affordable, you can transfer more work from offset to inkjet.”
According to Bolton, media flexibility and output quality are incredibly important in high-volume production because they are capable of expanding a business’ horizons, empowering them to add new offerings, and grow the business. “With the right inkjet platform, users can print near offset quality color on traditionally offset-exclusive papers, without priming or pretreatment. Digital inkjet’s ability to incorporate variable data in a single pass takes those offset-comparable characteristics and elevates them, which is why inkjet has been on the rise,” he explains.
Papp also points out that mean the time between printhead cleaning is also important as the cleaning process can use a significant volume of ink and paper and reduces production uptime.
The latest ultra high-volume production inkjet presses offer higher speeds, increased image quality, improved media flexibility, and impressive uptime. A segment once dedicated to straightforward transactional statements, books, and bulk mail now appeals to a much broader base, including higher end commercial print.
Sep2020, DPS Magazine