By Melissa Donovan
Keypoint Intelligence—InfoTrends 2016-2021 Global Forecast cites the global continuous feed inkjet market growing from 265 billion pages in 2016 to almost 550 billion in 2021. In addition, continuous feed inkjet is expected to account for half of all digital color pages by 2020.
This statistic is bolstered by the many drivers of adoption. With such demand in place, continuous feed inkjet is poised as a primary future player for digital color pages. Challenges in relation to hardware and workflow are still present, but some of the newest feature sets address these issues. Consistent product introductions and enhancements are evidence of manufacturers’ devotion to this technology.
Above: Konica Minolta partners with Super Web to distribute the WEBjet 200D and 100D continuous inkjet printers.
Primary Drivers of Adoption
Continuous feed inkjet is attractive due to its high speed and reliability. It found favor early on in direct mail and transactional segments, however as technology advances it is more commonly used by commercial printers as well.
According to Michael Poulin, director of product marketing, Canon Solutions America, reasons for direct mail houses and subsequently commercial printers choosing to use continuous feed inkjet include not only its high speed and reliability, but affordable cost-per-piece price point and ability to leverage variable data in large print runs.
“With today’s advancements more commercial printers are moving into the world of inkjet due to its ability to rival the look and feel of offset print, while allowing for personalization and more cost-effective printing of variable run lengths,” continues Poulin.
Avenues beyond commercial print drive continuous feed inkjet adoption. “For new application growth of continuous feed inkjet press pages, keep an eye on higher quality color books and journals, business to business catalogs, and specialty magazines. And packaging—folding cartons and labels—is a nascent market for inkjet web presses,” explains Will Mansfield, director of worldwide product marketing and category management, Kodak Enterprise Inkjet Systems Division.
Bill Papp, product manager, Document Data Solutions (DDS), cites companies in the retail, automotive, cell phone, and healthcare space, as well as other large volume mailers that require a low-cost way of producing personalized direct mail pieces as main integrators of continuous feed inkjet.
In all scenarios, print providers are looking to continuous feed inkjet as a next-generation technology to better service customers, shares Deana Conyard, worldwide marketing manager, continuous feed inkjet, graphic communications business group, Xerox Corporation. “The drivers for adoption typically focus on driving more volume at a lower cost in the most simple and efficient way possible—all without sacrificing quality.”
“This is what continues to drive interest in the platforms—the promise of printing as economically as conventional print, at speeds fast enough to address medium to long runs, but with all the advantages of digital,” agrees Mark Schlimme, VP of marketing, Screen Americas.
Another driver of adoption, as pointed out by David Murphy, PageWide industrial, worldwide marketing director, HP Inc., is the shortage of skilled labor among print service providers (PSPs) with tenured offset press operators. “PSPs are challenged in hiring skilled operators to backfill vacancies as well as recruiting early career, unskilled operators who want to work on analog presses. High-volume, high-quality inkjet presses are easier to operate and tend to be more attractive to early career workers.”
Continuous feed inkjet offers benefits, but doesn’t come without challenges. Some issues are in the process of being overcome, others may take a bit longer to be solved. Main concerns include substrate compatibility, ink costs, and workflow.
“One of the most significant challenges users face is not being able to print on traditional offset coated papers with aqueous inkjet inks. These papers are lower in cost than inkjet-treated papers, but designed to work with oil-based inks, making adhesion difficult for aqueous inks,” says Mike Herold, director of inkjet solutions, commercial and industrial printing business group, Ricoh USA, Inc.
In response, many manufacturers offer adhesion promoters, but Schlimme admits these can cause issues. “Printing to coated stocks is a challenge without adding some kind of adhesion promoter—either at the mill or inline with the press via aqueous coating or jetting of an adhesion promoter. This can add cost, affect the appearance and performance of the paper, and have implications for finishing as well.”
Schlimme believes challenges from substrate compatibility contribute to the hesitation of continuous feed inkjet adoption. “What holds back adoption is the economics associated with premium inkjet papers and the technologies developed by OEMs to promote adhesion to coated substrates. Premium inkjet papers carry a pricing premium of between 20 and 30 compared to common coated offset papers. That’s a significant cost when paper compromises between 40 and 50 percent of a job’s total costs,” he shares.
Directly related to substrate concerns is ink. It is important the correct ink and media are used for optimal results. “The inks for a high-speed inkjet printing system must be matched to the inkjet writing system. Different writing systems require different ink formulations. For example, piezoelectric drop on demand writing systems require higher amounts of wetting agents—humectant—in their inks. These wetting agents make it difficult—if not impossible—to print and dry high ink coverage jobs, especially on coated or glossy papers,” explains Mansfield.
Ink costs are higher for continuous feed inkjet jobs with heavy coverage, adds Murphy. “The higher cost of inkjet ink is challenging for the economics of heavier coverage graphics applications. Inkjet inks cost more to develop and manufacture compared to lithographic or flexographic ink. There is a high degree of chemical engineering and related sciences involved in harmonizing the ink with the printhead and media.”
Workflow is another challenge. “There is a need for improved integration with faster speed inkjet nozzle technologies and affordable integrated finishing options to address a growing range of applications. As we migrate to digital from legacy systems, workflow optimization is important for continued adoption,” admits Dino Pagliarello, VP, product management and planning, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc.
“It is important to fully automate the entire process from printing to finishing. Creating efficiency and automation means solutions need to anticipate job changeover and address shorter time to market with smaller runs. We need to overcome this challenge by educating users that there is more than just faster speeds. End-to-end workflow optimization is essential,” adds Kevin Marks, VP of marketing, BlueCrest.
As enhancements are made to printheads and print engines, as well as in response to new substrate introductions, ink sets are also updated. Many ink sets seen on continuous feed inkjet printers are second or third generation.
Canon Solutions America offers many different ink sets for its Océ ProStream Series of inkjet platforms. Its newest iteration, the Océ ColorGrip polymer pigment ink set is designed for offset coated media.
DDS acknowledges that the ink market has changed. “We no longer wait months and years on the promises of a next generation ink set. Now multiple partner companies are rapidly developing better inks for our customers’ applications,” says Papp.
Kodak has gone through three generations of its continuous feed inkjet technology and its forthcoming ULTRASTREAM is its fourth generation. “Each technology builds on the last, adding new capabilities and providing upgrade paths without the fear of obsolesce,” explains Mansfield. The company develops and manufactures its own inks for each system. Kodak also creates custom software for each ink, referring to it as an ink-dex file. It provides customers with the ideal settings by ink type and writing system technology.
Konica Minolta and Super Web’s WEBjet presses use patented Versapass drop on demand thermal aqueous dye inks developed specifically for WEBjet printheads by Memjet.
According to the company, Ricoh has developed more than a dozen different ink types to support a variety of applications printed on its continuous feed inkjet portfolio. It continually invests in new ink offerings.
Screen works with ink manufacturers to develop proprietary ink formulations for its presses.
Xerox’s first generations of ink were dye-based for uncoated paper. It has since moved to pigment inks. The company’s High Density Ink is optimized for printing on low-cost plain bond/offset coated papers. High Fusion Ink is used for printing on offset coated media to achieve vibrancy and quality.
Pigment vs. Dye
Both pigment- and dye-based inks are used in continuous feed inkjet devices. They each offer a range of advantages as well as disadvantages.
General consensus states that while dye-based inks are easier to print with and are more cost effective, pigment inks offer more water fastness, lightfastness, and vibrancy. “Dye-based inks are 100 percent fluid based. Pigment inks, meanwhile, use a solid, physical particle for the colorant. While dye inks are typically more cost effective, pigment inks provide more archival qualities, such as water fastness, lightfastness, and more vibrant output,” explains Herold.
“A pigment is a colorant that is insoluble in the carrier liquid, but is dispersed or suspended in the form of small particles. With pigment inks, paper acts as a filter to capture particles and hold them in the paper fibers. Pigment inks tend to sit higher on top of the paper, making them less likely to show through, even on lightweight media. Pigment is more light and fade resistant—good for applications that need to be archived,” says Poulin.
Pagliarello argues that dye-based inks offer several advantages over pigment inks—except in instances were long-term fade resistance is critical. “Dye-based inks use a colorant that is fully dissolved in a carrier liquid. This provides greater interoperability among advanced inkjet nozzle technologies to enable higher resolutions. With the correct substrate partner, dye-based inks offer a high color gamut with an environmentally friendly, water-soluble colorant.”
According to Poulin, it is important to remember that pigment- and dye-based inks each have advantages, and the choice to use one over the other comes down to the application. “Many transactional customers with fixed applications and media may look toward dye inks, whereas many direct mail printers and commercial print shops lean toward pigment for the media flexibility,” he adds.
Recent hardware developments on continuous feed inkjet presses include media handling/feeding features, drying systems, print modes, and ink sets.
BlueCrest and HP partner to offer a complete solution from the hardware to the software that fully automates the process. For example, HP presses are outfitted with High Definition Nozzle Architecture (HDNA) printheads that can be retrofit in the field. This is possible because HP controls all parts of the process from the main frame to the printheads. BlueCrest enhances the process with its Clarity suite of products, a set of processes for printing and inserting that track, measure, and analyze workflow for maximum efficiency.
At Canon Solutions America, the Océ ProStream 1000 features a new engine design with the latest piezoelectric drop on demand printheads, a floatation drying technology, and improved heavy media paper handling. Unique to the Océ ProStream, the floatation drying technology keeps the web free floating to maintain consistency and control.
For DDS, advanced printheads affect its continuous feed inkjet product development. The new Fuji Samba-based FS-1200 family found in its hybrid printers supports a range of ink types.
To address demands of high speed and quality, HP offers the Performance HDK or high-definition black feature on its HDNA-enabled PageWide Web Press T240 HD Presses. In this mode, the printer operates up to 500 feet per minute with black printheads engaged in high-definition quality mode at 1,200 nozzles per inch.
Increased drying times are possible with Kodak PROSPER Presses intelligent inter-station drying architecture, which uses infrared energy to dry inks faster than other water-based presses. “This gives a customer’s work that high-value look, feel, and bulk of offset they expect, without the cockle and curl seen in other inkjet presses with less capable drying,” shares Mansfield.
Konica Minolta partners with Super Web to offer WEBjet 200D and 100D printers. Latest advancements on the presses include a smart stacker configuration that automatically cuts and stacks paper up to 22 inches. The systems can be configured as roll to roll, roll to sheet, or roll to fold. The presses can be integrated with inline finishing equipment like stacking, punching, perforating, folding, die cutting, and booklet making.
Ricoh continuous feed inkjet presses include three recent hardware developments. New paper transport handling inventions make handling heavier, lighter, and more coated papers simpler and more cost effective. Improved vision systems allow for high-resolution image capture of printed documents. Ricoh’s new drying technologies allow users to print on standard offset papers with high ink limits at faster speeds.
Screen also focuses on enhanced drying time with its optional Integrated InfraRed Dryer (IIR Dryer), which provides faster printing at higher image resolutions on coated lithographic stocks. The IIR Dryer works in conjunction with air assist and heat dryers, totaling three available drying technologies. Drying configurations can be set per paper type and saved as part of the press’ paper profiles.
Xerox developments on its continuous feed inkjet product—the Xerox Trivor 2400 HF Inkjet Press—include optional capabilities like a rewind unit, puncher, cutters, folder, stacker, and additional printheads.
Continuous Feed Inkjet
High-volume, continuous feed inkjet production presses bridge the gap between digital and offset. Continuous feed inkjet targets a range of applications including high-volume commercial print, production mail, publishing, and even packaging. Manufacturers continue to make changes to their printheads, ink sets, and print engines to offer more cost-effective ways to print on offset-quality substrates. dps
Nov2018, DPS Magazine