By Olivia Cahoon
Black and white (B&W) output is well suited for a variety of applications from books, legal documents, and financial statements to newspapers and transactional communications. Print providers with high volumes of B&W output favor monochrome production presses for low costs and quick turnarounds. Devices with K-only modes are also available to streamline B&W applications in a color print environment.
By leveraging monochrome printing capabilities in a mixed color/B&W environment, digital print providers are able to take on more jobs and offer competitive prices.
Comparing most digital toner-based devices, monochrome costs can be as low as 25 to 30 percent of a color printed page. “Monochrome printing on average has lower toner coverage than color and combined with the fact that is uses K toner only, it uses significantly less toner,” shares Anthony Agliata, director, production solutions business planning and marketing, Canon U.S.A., Inc. Because of this, it also has fewer consumable parts, which contributes to lower costs for parts and labor. He says these all contribute to the customer’s click price.
Above: The Konica Minolta AccurioPress 6136 provides high-quality B&W output at up to 135 ppm.
As prices for monochrome printing continue to drop and availability improves, faster speeds, higher volumes, and the ability to print on demand stirs new interest in monochrome production equipment and K-only modes.
Many factors influence a print provider’s decision to print B&W over color. “We are in a price-sensitive market, so certainly cost is a factor as B&W printed sheets typically do cost less than color,” admits John Dembia, manager, product marketing, production print products, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A, Inc.
While price pressure continues on the digital color side, it is still more cost effective and productive to print B&W pages on a dedicated monochrome device. For example, print providers with high B&W volumes that invest in monochrome print engines receive the best cost and highest productivity for B&W pages, shares Agliata. With a higher adoption of inkjet in the very high-end market, this cost difference is less significant.
Monochrome printing systems offer speed, productivity, and affordability not only compared to digital color, but also to offset technology. “This is a key factor that continues to fuel the transition of monochrome-only jobs from offset technology to digital,” comments Eric Hawkinson, senior director of marketing, Production Print Solutions, Canon Solutions America.
High-volume digital printing—including toner and inkjet—enables B&W applications such as forms, manuals, books, and newspapers with the quality, productivity, and cost-effectiveness print providers need. According to Hawkinson, determining which digital technology to invest in depends on the print provider’s needs regarding application, print quality, media latitude, and price.
Digital printing continues to expand into B&W applications due to the continued migration of publishing page volumes from offset to digital. “From textbooks to workbooks to trade books, run lengths are decreasing,” shares Dan Denofsky, business development director, enterprise inkjet systems division, Kodak.
With the proliferation of online ordering, run lengths shorten to books of few. As a result, publishers want shorter run lengths at lower costs with faster turnaround. According to Denofsky, offset printing cannot produce the required number of prints in such a short period of time so print providers turn to digital to meet market demands.
In the monochrome digital printing sector, trade books are the highest volume application. Today’s book publishers reduce inventory costs and waste by shifting from print-then-sell to sell-then-print models. David Murphy, marketing director, PageWide industrial division, HP Inc., believes this strategy is transforming the publishing market and driving demand for high-volume continuous feed inkjet.
“Short-run book production requires the flexibility, print quality, and efficiency that inkjet can provide,” he explains. In response, monochrome device manufacturers develop presses that print more pages in one run.
At the same time, there is a substantial market for transactional print and direct mail that leverages monochrome output. These applications often include relatively little color, so many printers still find it worthwhile to complete an initial color pass on an offset press before moving it to the inkjet platform to drive down costs, explains Tim Bolton, senior technology portfolio manager, inkjet, commercial printing business, Ricoh USA, Inc.
Versatile Cost Savings
Monochrome presses remain popular due to cost savings compared with color pages. Savings per page depend on several variables including application, run length, paper, ink usage, labor, and finishing. For example, Hawkinson says optimizing the color/ink usage tradeoff to achieve sellable quality can have a significant impact on cost per piece. Additionally, the speed and productivity advantages can make existing jobs more profitable.
Digital printing and inkjet production are becoming more important when considering run lengths. This is because offset printing is more costly during startup due to plate production, proofing, and paper startup waste. “Even though it is faster once printing is underway, it’s still a more wasteful procedure than inkjet production,” explains Hawkinson. Shifting short-run books from offset to inkjet can potentially reduce waste by 50 percent. It also reduces costs from electricity to labor, less paper usage, and wasted inventory.
In addition, production inkjet’s efficiency and flexibility drives cost savings through equipment consolidation, eliminating warehousing and waste, and optimizing workflow efficiency. “All of this ultimately enables customers to right-size their production to optimize run costs and thereby impact their cost savings per page,” adds Hawkinson.
In inkjet, cost per page is highly dependent on the amount of ink applied. “It should be known that inkjet is typically less than lithography, especially in short- to medium-run lengths due to the fundamental economics of analog and digital print,” explains Murphy. In comparison with dry toner technologies, there is also the same consideration for image coverage and run lengths. “Increasingly, inkjet technology replaces dry toner for higher volume, lower coverage applications,” he adds.
Comparing most digital toner-based devices, monochrome costs can be as low as 25 to 30 percent of a color printed page. “Monochrome printing on average has lower toner coverage than color and combined with the fact that is uses K toner only, it uses significantly less toner,” shares Agliata. Monochrome devices tend to have fewer consumable parts, contributing to lower costs for parts and labor. As previously mentioned, toner, parts, and labor all contribute to the customer’s cost.
Monochrome presses are advantageous to print providers with B&W work but also those in mixed color/B&W environments.
In particular, print providers operating in a hybrid environment with both monochrome and color roll-fed and sheet-fed solutions have the most flexibility to accept more jobs and ensure price competitiveness, especially for monochrome jobs, says Hawkinson. This allows print providers to continue carrying customers’ seasonal items, multiple versions, variable data, and with varying run lengths.
In mixed color/B&W environments, print providers analyze output and determine what processes are more cost effective by looking at efficiency in mixed jobs on a color engine. Depending on the ratio of color pages to B&W within a job, Agliata says it might be more cost effective to use a makeready solution to mark color pages and split the job running the color pages first, followed by B&W with color pages as inserts. Select devices fully automate this process so the digital press knows exactly where to insert each color page, allowing print providers to leverage the low cost of a monochrome engine.
If the digital monochrome volume is high enough, Murphy believes a monochrome-only inkjet press can be cost justified, especially in trade book and transactional printing. If the volume isn’t high enough, most color-enabled inkjet web presses include a K-only print mode. “The economics depend on volume, run length, time requirements, business model, and the overall value proposition of digital.”
For the past several years, monochrome production presses as well as K-only modes have improved with faster speeds, larger media handling, and new productivity and security features.
Improved security features are important additions to the latest monochrome devices. “Many B&W applications contain sensitive or personal information, such as medical, financial, legal, or government applications where security is a high priority,” shares Agliata. Security measures such as user authentication or white listing features such as the Canon Integrity Checker continue to evolve.
In terms of available equipment, the Canon varioPRINT 140 toner press handles a maximum monthly duty cycle of 2.2M pages with speeds up to 140 impressions per minute. The varioPRINT’s DirectPress Technology helps provide higher and more consistent quality while using fewer parts.
Monochrome device improvements also target maximum media sizes to expand the range of B&W applications. The Canon VarioPRINT 6000 TITAN was improved to offer a 13.8×19.7-inch media width. The TITAN produces monthly duty cycles up to 10M images per month with up to 320 letter pages per minute (ppm). It is a toner-based device that features Canon’s Gemini Instant Duplex Technology for ultra high-volume duplex printing and simultaneous double-sided B&W printing.
Enhanced drop placement accuracy helps printers achieve offset quality and speed. For example, Kodak’s Stream inkjet technology produces over 400,000 drops per nozzle per second while creating round and uniform drops, which due to its high pressure drop ejection also provides better drop placement accuracy, shares Denofsky.
Kodak’s Stream inkjet technology is available in Matti Technology’s Matti MonoJet monochrome printing system. The Matti MonoJet offers print speeds up to 300 meters per minute at a resolution of 600×600 dpi. It is available in 330- or 660-millimeter web widths and offers roll-to-roll and roll-to-sheet configurations.
To rival offset technology, today’s monochrome presses are also designed for better productivity, quality, and versatility. For example, the HP PageWide T490 HD Press monochrome production speed now achieves up to 1,000 feet per minute (fpm). Launched in 2016, the press offers a duty cycle of 200M pages per month using inkjet. High Definition Nozzle Architecture is designed for high quality and fast speeds. The Thermal Inkjet technology platform offers continued upgradeability and improved unit economics and reliability. The press features a complete end-to-end printing system with options for roll unwinding, inline priming, full duplex imaging, and inline rewind, sheeting, or book block finishing.
According to Dembia, other monochrome device improvements include image quality from an overall hardware perspective, operation efficiency due to user interface improvements, non-hardware profitability due to reduced servicing time, enhanced system compatibility with open API and IWS-related applications, and integration with workflow solutions and inline finishing.
These improvements are found in the Konica Minolta AccurioPress 6136, 6136P, and 6120. Released in February 2018, the presses use Konica Minolta Simitri HD toner. The 6136 and 6136P provide maximum monthly duty cycles of 3.24M while the 6120 offers 2.5M. The presses feature the IQ-501 Intelligent Quality Optimizer designed for higher monthly volumes, larger input sheet capacity, faster scanning, automated real-time density, and front-to-back registration control.
Marybeth Gilbert, VP/GM, production business, Xerox Corporation, says Xerox is always trying to meet customer requirements and keep up to date with trends. To address a trend toward lighter media, the company introduced an ULW kit that can be used for any application that requires the reduction in weight for a publication. “This gives the customer the opportunity to expand into larger volumes and/or additional markets and titles with this new ultra-weight stock. In addition to books, pharmaceutical prescription pamphlets, SRA3/12×18-inch sheets that need to be very thin in order to fold down to small packets, financial prospectus materials, manuals, handbooks, and dozens of other applications that can all benefit form ultra-lightweight paper.”
Xerox offers the monochrome Nuvera Presses. The Xerox Nuvera 1XX Series offers 15 ways to finish output inline or near line and handles media from 44 to 300 gsm. The machine produces up to 2.2M pages per month and prints at speeds of up to 157 ppm. The Xerox Nuvera 200/800/314 presses print at speeds of up to 314 ppm for a duty cycle of up to 4M pages per month.
While digital color is continually more attainable, popular B&W applications such as books, direct mail, and transactional documents are still in high demand as prices continue to drop and availability improves. Monochrome production presses allow print providers to save on shorter run lengths.
Jan2020, DPS Magazine