by Cassandra Balentine
Toner-based devices have played in the high-volume production print space for decades. Throughout this time, specific advantages and limitations have emerged.
“Toner-based digital production devices meet the needs of today’s customers who demand cost-effective variable and short-run print jobs,” shares Bill Troxil, SVP, strategic business development, Konica Minolta. He says a well maintained and properly calibrated system can provide quality output with quick turnaround times.
Toner production presses are well-established in the commercial print market and their quality has increased markedly over the years. “They offer digital flexibility for on-demand work with the option for personalization and provide a real alternative to offset for the increasing number of short-run jobs the sector requires,” shares Lisa Weese, director of product marketing, Canon Solutions America, Production Print Solutions.
Ed Pierce, product marketing manager, Fujifilm Graphic Systems Division, agrees, adding that one of the advantages of toner is that the technology is well known and has been around for years. “It is familiar with those that have incorporated it and does well for shops running very short print runs,” he offers.
Another benefit is that many toner devices can now be seamlessly integrated with workflow software, as well as with feeding and finishing solutions, driving more automated and efficient production processes.
Toner systems also have the advantage of requiring a significantly lower upfront capital investment than inkjet, so businesses need to think carefully and weigh all the pros and cons before making a decision, stresses Weese.
Randy Vandagriff, SVP, digital print, Kodak, adds that high-volume sheetfed toner presses offer the widest choice and availability of substrates, the smallest install footprint, and the lowest CAPEX investment. “Sheetfed toner presses also allow printing companies to leverage their existing sheetfed finishing equipment while realizing the highest print quality, especially in solids and vignettes,” he offers.
Glenn Toole, VP, sales and marketing, MCS, sees benefits for toner in terms of high color saturation on standard uncoated offset stocks without any special treating as well as the ability to support thick or heavy coated stocks that may be out of the range of some inkjet production presses.
For jobs or applications where water-fastness is critical, toner may have an advantage, shares Toole. “If extended exposure to water or other chemicals is anticipated, some toner devices may provide better print durability.”
Bill Bay, business manager, iGen and Baltoro platforms, Xerox Corporation, points out that toner presses tend to offer premium quality with business expansion opportunities. “Advantages are the exceptionally high IQ of toner combined with the ability to address a range of substrates and media types to support a range of applications at very cost competitive rates. Add to that the lower capital acquisition cost compared to production inkjet presses. Furthermore, beyond CMYK capabilities enable adding embellishments and specialty enhancements with colors such as white, clear, metallics, or fluorescents to add significant value and impact to prints. Adding these embellishments inline is much more cost effective, saves time, and doesn’t require special equipment or extra labor versus traditional offline processes, while allowing new application and growth opportunities.”
There are also limitations to consider, especially when handling higher volumes of digital work.
Toner devices tend to require many processes and moving parts to image each and every print. “Paper transport, electrostatic charges, drums, toners, corona wires, transfer belts, heat rollers, blankets, pips, and the like all have limited lifespans,” shares Troxil. Each component can affect image quality and performance. Because of this, they can be service intensive. “As print volume increases, so does the need for service. The maximum monthly print volume on a toner-based system is limited due to wear and tear. While some components are user replaceable, most service on a toner engine requires a trained service technician resulting in excessive down time,” he adds.
Another consideration is expected advancements. Weese points out that as an established, mature technology, it’s not developing at the same speed as inkjet and cannot produce high volumes of output as quickly. “While toner remains a viable option for very short-run work, its lack of speed, compared to inkjet, is another disadvantage, making it less commercially viable for medium-run cross-over jobs where printers need to calculate whether to print offset or digital,” she explains.
Toole says toner is at a disadvantage when it comes to costs/click charges; more wasted/used consumables when compared with inkjet; image color stability can change during the lifecycle of consumables; electrostatic and fusing processes add static and heat to the paper, which makes it more difficult to process in bindery and mailing operations; print and mail producers will typically add a waiting period before toner printed pieces are run through folders, cutters, etc.; cracking; and high power consumption.
Andre D’Urbano, executive director, sales, RISO, Inc., points to heat as the center of the disadvantages of the toner process. “Toner printed output can be wavy. Having had the moisture drawn out of the paper, printed material can feel somewhat crisp. The wave-like shape can be a challenge on inserters/folders and can create unexpected paper jams. High-volume toner presses often require ventilation and are at the mercy of the humidity—or lack of—in a given environment. All this talk of heat and the required ventilation for production toner units points to high electrical usage. This too can be a disadvantage for end users depending on which region of the country they are in. The cost of CMYK images on toner is higher than offset or inkjet. In some cases, color printing is either limited or banned in organizations with restricted budgets,” he adds.
Pierce says the limitations of toner become apparent when a lithographic, or better, quality is required for a print job. “Toner has improved greatly over the years but has limitations with regards to registration, color gamut, consistency throughout a run, and repeatability.”
Toner is a mature and viable digital print technology offering exceptional quality, extended media support, and generally lower upfront investments compared with production inkjet. There are limitations to consider as well. dps
Jul2021, DPS Magazine