Today’s inkjet devices are impacting and changing the dynamics of the graphic communications industry, both with existing products and the introduction of new types of communication media. New inkjet developments include print heads, print engines, inks, and the workflow required to run the different devices. There is a great deal of research and development in all of these areas and the updates are happening at a great rate.
Production inkjet segment devices print medium to high volume jobs, primarily from rolls, though there are some solutions that will print cut sheets. The print quality obtained from the different solutions depends on the actual application, though there is a consistent improvement in the quality, with near offset becoming a possibility.
Migrating from toner
Certain products will be transferred from traditional toner-based digital devices. The cost reduction is significant in these products and the displacement of markets will be driven by this with the acceptance of a quality change, especially in technical products where the information that is communicated is the most important feature of the printed material. The quality differential between production inkjet and other processes is reducing and in several years will be minimal. In addition, there will be a migration of some jobs from lithographic printing directly to inkjet. In many cases they will bypass the toner-based digital devices completely.
We are already seeing changes in the book market. There will be organic growth with new products becoming viable with the low-cost variable content allowing the introduction of personalized/regionalized materials, such as newspapers, direct mail, and magazines. We are also seeing growth in the packaging market for production inkjet solutions, which allow rapid and cost-effective target marketing of regional products or specific special events.
A number of different companies offer production inkjet solutions. (Many of these inkjet manufacturers are exhibiting at GRAPH EXPO) These print engines are now getting to speeds that are comparable to speeds obtained from lithographic printing. Some of the solutions available are listed here (please note this is not a complete list).
• AGFA (Booth 844):Dotrix, a piezoelectric drop-on-demand solution with UV-curable inks that can be used in many packaging applications.
• Fujifilm (Booth 1469, 627): Digital inkjet press with printhead technology developed by Fujifilm Dimatix .
• HP (Booth 1200): T300/T200 web press, utilizing thermal drop generation and utilizing a scalable architecture.
• InfoPrint (Booth 2017): 5000, piezoelectric drop-on-demand used extensively in direct mail, transactional, and by service bureaus.
• Kodak (Booth 1227, 5227): Prosper Series, using the stream inkjet head technology producing a continual inkjet stream. These heads can be mounted on web presses and in-line finishing equipment.
• Kodak (Booths 1227, 5227): Versamark Series, used for many high-volume variable solutions, such as transactional and direct mail.
• Océ (Booth 1217): JetStream Series, piezoelectric drop-on-demand water-based inks, used in transactional and direct mail solutions.
• RISO (Booth 3111): ComColor series, whose engines are developed to print on cut sheets, with applications in medium-volume production.
• Screen (Booth 1637): Truepress Jet520, piezoelectric drop-on-demand water-based inks with modular designs for magazines, newspapers, books, and transactional products.
One of the challenges with the production inkjet market is data management. Printing speeds have increased significantly and the variable data needs to be supplied and processed very effectively not to slow the print engines down. Now some of the leading companies using toner-based devices for variable production have reported engine speed reductions of 50% or greater dependent on the actual application. To control these devices that have data rates of 40GB/second requires vast processing capabilities in order to effectively handle the management of data. The files that are handled can be in many different formats. Some of the most common used will be PDF, PostScript, and Advanced Function Presentation (AFP). The size of these files in certain instances can be millions of pages long, and the way in which these need to be handled and color managed introduces a new range of challenges to the process.
Production inkjet is a technology that is simple in comparison to the complexity of offset. Research and development is being carried out at an exceedingly fast rate by major companies involved in the industry, and we will see more of the printed matter transfer to this process, with some major changes occurring in the near future.