by Cassandra Balentine
The high-volume digital production print segment encompasses devices that handle millions of impressions per month.
The latest in cutsheet inkjet and toner presses play in this space. The latest advancements and announcements continue to push inkjet into the limelight in this segment, which we currently define as one- to ten-million impressions a month. In this article we focus on inkjet.
Above: The Xerox Baltoro HF Inkjet Press is a cutsheet production press that enables clients to print high-volume, transactional work and high-quality direct mail and catalogs on a single press with superior image quality and productivity.
In a space once dominated by toner, color cutsheet inkjet has made big waves in the past decade. Inkjet presents advantages over toner in some production scenarios. It can offer a better environmental footprint, lower energy, minimized maintenance costs, extended maximum color gamut, repeatability, simple operation, and equipment durability.
According to Bill Bay, business manager, iGen and Baltoro platforms, Xerox Corporation, the ability to solve the cost-speed-quality equation without the customer having to make a sacrifice is a benefit of inkjet. “The biggest advantage is being able to solve all three parts of the equation with superior total cost—especially for low to moderate coverage jobs on centerline substrates. The other advantage of inkjet for this space is print speed, as inkjet presses are able to achieve two times or higher print speeds than other technologies.”
Kevin Marks, VP, global production print, BlueCrest, boils it down, noting that economics, increased uptime, and excellent print quality are all reasons why clients are adopting color inkjet printing.
“Current projections all point to inkjet as very much the print technology of the future,” says Lisa Weese, director of product marketing, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America. She feels the most advanced inkjet systems already print consistently and reliably at a level of quality on a par with offset and toner and at high speeds, no matter if you’re printing a run of one or thousands.
While it’s still a technology in its infancy, inkjet has reached a new level in the last two years and is advancing very rapidly. “This makes it a more obvious alternative for taking on the growing range of medium-run work that is difficult to produce profitably on offset,” adds Weese.
She emphasizes that no other print technology is forecast to grow like the rate of inkjet in the coming years. “The fact that inkjet’s value is so disproportionately large compared with its share of print volume is an excellent indicator of how this technology can help print service providers (PSPs) succeed in a market in which overall volumes are falling. Inkjet will help to address the declining volumes of existing offset work and will also provide the capability to create new applications such as high-volume, mass-customized, and hyper-personalized print applications that don’t exist today, but could add so much value to the overall communications mix. This will all be driven by innovative business models that offer better value and services to the market,” predicts Weese.
Randy Vandagriff, SVP, digital print, Kodak, says the main advantage sheetfed inkjet brings is the potential for lower running cost and higher volume capability compared to toner presses. “But the fact of the matter is that sheetfed inkjet systems can be expensive for their level of productivity,” he adds.
Bill Troxil, SVP, strategic business development, Konica Minolta, points out that UV-based sheetfed inkjet devices like the KM-1 LED can print on highly textured paper stocks and canvas since the ink is applied to the media surface without high heat or pressure. “Lower heat also allows for reliable printing on a variety of plastics without melting or distorting synthetic substrates.”
Further, since ink is applied directly to the print surface, color quality is maintained across the sheet and throughout the print run. “In the inkjet space, the KM-1e is uniquely capable of printing on standard offset lithographic stocks without the need for pretreatment or precoating. In addition, the durable UV inks do not require a post coating or lamination for protection,” he notes.
Heatless operation is a big strength of inkjet, according to Andre D’Urbano, executive director, sales, RISO, Inc. “There are countless benefits to printing without the use of heat and yet, it is one benefit that is sometimes overlooked. No heat means output that is cold and flat. If you are in the business of folding and inserting documents into envelopes, inkjet is the way to go. It involves less wear and tear and parts, which means increased uptime as well as lower operating costs,” he states.
Production inkjet is a newer option in the high-volume print segment and it is continuously improving.
Historically, the cost in use and run length crossover was a limitation of inkjet, says Ed Pierce, product marketing manager, Fujifilm Graphic Systems Division. “This varied all over the board depending on the customer, their work, and typical run lengths. Today it can be argued that because of the high level of productivity and attractive cost in use, many 29-inch presses may be rendered obsolete because of the very high crossover the High Speed model brings to the J Press platform,” he notes.
With the recent improvements in sheetfed inkjet, many believe it can now print shorter runs as, if not more, cost effectively as toner but at far greater speeds. “And with a press like the Canon varioPRINT iX, PSPs don’t have to sacrifice on image quality or paper selection when they move work from toner to sheetfed inkjet,” suggests Weese.
Marks believes users of inkjet printing report significant cost savings over toner, noting that until the introduction of systems like the EvoluJet, the high capital cost of inkjet printers was an economical barrier for clients that produce one to ten million impressions.
Substrate support is an evolving consideration for production inkjet.
“The choice of paper—either offset, treated, or coated—plays a large role in image quality and cost of the final product,” shares Glenn Toole, VP sales and marketing, MCS. He says many jobs with uncoated or offset stock fit the sweet spot of inkjet printers very well with results comparable to toner print while some jobs requiring high-gloss stock have visual differences to toner or specially treated stock may be required to enhance saturation.
D’Urbano admits that glossy or coated material can be challenging for most devices, but more so with inkjet units. “However inkjet units hovering around the seven-figure mark have overcome much of the challenges associated with printing on coated material,” he adds.
As far as inkjet limitations, many systems utilize aqueous inks requiring specially treated and approved stocks. “Substrates can be very limited. Aqueous inkjet systems can require heaters, blowers, and long dry times. This can mean a delay before printing on the second side of the sheet and/or delivering sheets to the bindery,” says Troxil, pointing out that the KM-1 and KM-1e are UV inkjet devices.
Another consideration is the perception of quality. “Inkjet quality is flat whereas toner sits above the substrate. Everything has its place. Those who prefer the lower cost of inkjet color will embrace it while those prepared to pay more for high-quality toner images will do that,” shares D’Urbano.
Choosing the types of jobs that are produced with inkjet presses is important. “Not all inkjet presses have as high a color saturation as some toner devices. Having said this, inkjet presses can be a great compliment to toner presses where cost savings can be introduced to an organization and the critical color-quality jobs can still be run on the most appropriate device,” offers Toole.
The real discussion isn’t whether inkjet or toner is a superior technology, but more about the specific advantages that continue to drive inkjet purchases for high-volume production.
“Toner and inkjet both have a place in today’s market. A decade ago, or even less, digital devices could not match offset color quality. But with the latest innovations with inks, dryers, and printheads, that gap is nearly non-existent. When deciding between toner or inkjet, it’s important to remember that a print provider’s mission is to sell value—not print output,” says Heather Poulin, VP, commercial and industrial printing, marketing and portfolio management, Ricoh USA, Inc. “Therefore the conversation should center more on the customers’ needs than features and capabilities. Once that is determined, a printer can assess which technology can best deliver what the customer wants.”
“As the demand for variable print jobs grows and the frequency and length of short-run jobs increases, digital printers must meet the demand by adding additional toner engines or investing in new, more reliable technologies. Inkjet printing typically utilizes a simplified imaging process allowing for greater productivity and reliability,” argues Troxil.
“As mentioned above, inkjet really does seem to be the way of the future, especially in the mid-range volume of one to ten million pages per month,” suggests Weese. “Inkjet quality and paper selection continue to advance rapidly, which we foresee continuing in the coming years.”
With the introduction of the Canon varioPRINT iX series, she points out that PSPs can achieve 1,200 dpi output on a wide selection of media including some specialty options like textured, linen, and gloss stocks. “So PSPs don’t have to sacrifice on application options or quality when they chose sheetfed inkjet. Thanks to the iQuariusiX innovations, the varioPRINT iX-series print quality rivals any other established print technology. It prints coated and uncoated media up to 350 gsm, with consistently high quality,” says Weese.
Further, the uptime and reliability offered by sheetfed inkjet allows PSPs to produce more, in less time, with less maintenance. “Inkjet is ideal for printers who need predictive and fast production with minimal calibration and time-intensive setup. Furthermore, the iX offers attractive running costs and savings in labor and processing costs, so PSPs can maintain healthy margins on their services,” she offers.
“Anyone making a capital purchase decision should take a close look at the cost factors involved. Calculate the consumables associated with the print process and their cost,” argues Vandagriff. He says inkjet printheads can be considered a consumable, just like the inks, since for some systems they need to be replaced frequently. This adds cost. Also consider if there is any cost penalty at higher coverage levels. Look at the drying method and particularly the energy costs associated with it. Be sure that all of the substrates that you want to use can run on the device. Are special stocks required? Will you have to maintain two paper inventories for digital print and offset? What are the service requirements for the technology, and how easily can your operators be trained to provide self-service? What are the floor space and operator training requirements?
“There has always been a need for ink on the printshop floor,” offers D’Urbano. “But with the minimized—often eliminated—use of offset, the print shop was left with digital toner as the only option. All jobs where ink is required are outsourced. Inkjet re-introduces ink to the equation but on a digital platform. Gone is the need for a dedicated operator. Today ink is printed by an individual skilled in using an EFI Fiery controller and is capable of managing color matching software.”
Inkjet brings affordable color into the mix. “The print shop today offers two sets of pricing, B&W toner as well as color toner. Monochrome is low priced but bland, color draws attention but at a prohibitive high price. Inkjet introduces a third level of pricing that falls in between the current extremes. Color, but at a price that is just slightly higher than B&W,” says D’Urbano.
Converting B&W jobs to color inkjet is very profitable. “For all those accounts that in the past have said no to color, a print shop can now offer this innovative third option and increase profits every time they make a conversion,” he says.
Pierce sees productivity as the biggest driver for inkjet over toner, followed by quality. Inkjet simply is faster and runs a larger sheet size—more output in less time equals more productivity and more profits.
However, the two technologies don’t have to compete. Pierce points out that toner can complement inkjet in many ways and sit beside inkjet in a production environment. “Whether it be running concept pieces or less color and quality critical short-run work, toner can play an attractive role in a production environment.
Toner also brings a level of familiarity to the scene,” he adds.
Bay says ultimately, it gets down to the customer applications. The biggest drivers for investing in inkjet are simplifying production and improving productivity, while exponentially improving the economics for low to moderate coverage jobs. “The drivers for inkjet are providing unique value with CMYK capabilities and short run hyper-personalization,” he notes.
A New World
Production inkjet has transformed the high-volume production market. While there is still a space for toner-based color production systems, inkjet is pushing through with advancements and advantages it didn’t hold ten years ago. dps
Jul2021, DPS Magazine