Wide-Format Aqueous Inkjet Getting Fresh Ink

It seems to surprise some people that while newer technologies get most of the “ink” so to speak—every year there are a lot more wide-format aqueous inkjet printers sold than any other technology. I’m not just including those wide-format technical printers that serve the architectural, engineering, and construction market either. If we look at the wide-format aqueous inkjet graphics printer market there are three major categories; “creative” wide-format, what I have started calling “conventional” wide-format graphics printers, and a new category I call durable aqueous inkjet. Add up all of the printers sold in these three graphics-oriented categories and you have almost five times as many aqueous wide-format printers shipped in 2009 as solvent and UV-curable inkjet printers combined.

Aqueous inkjet is the most flexible technology available, able to print a wide range of applications from economical technical documents to high-quality proofs and fine arts prints to outdoor durable graphics. The initial investment cost of aqueous inkjet is the lowest of any of the wide-format ink technologies and then there is the confidence that users get from dealing with equipment brands like HP, Canon, and Epson.

It is also incorrect to suggest that aqueous inkjet technology has matured. There have recently been very significant technology improvements and product introductions that illustrate that the leading suppliers of wide-format aqueous inkjet printers continue to innovate to improve their products and open new markets for aqueous inkjet print technology.

Speed is an area where there have been dramatic improvements in aqueous inkjet printing technology. The latest printers from HP and Canon in the technical inkjet market make these printers much more competitive with low-end toner-based devices, both companies offer color wide format printing of 2 D-sized pages per minute. Bear in mind that these color printers cost about half of what monochrome toner-based printers cost.

At the other end of the market are printers that are typically used for printing proofs, photos, and fine arts prints. One of the most interesting product developments of the year in the aqueous inkjet market was just announced by Epson. They have a new version of their Epson Stylus Pro 7900 that is able to print white, which makes it a better proofing solution for flexographic and gravure printers who often need to print onto clear films. Printing white is made possible by Epson’s new UltraChrome HDR White Ink. This ink uses Epson’s all-new Organic Hollow Resin Particle Technology, which forces light to randomly scatter, producing the illusion of seeing the color white, according to Epson. This is a great example of continuous innovation, the Stylus Pro 7900 printer platform is several years old, but the use of new technology makes it more applicable to new proofing markets.

Another example of bringing innovation to market is HP’s Latex ink technology. InfoTrends factors Latex ink technology in with aqueous inkjet. Latex offers the durability of solvent inkjet printing with the environmental properties of conventional aqueous inkjet, with running costs comparable to eco-solvent inkjet. Here in 2009 we think HP took a big second step in bringing Latex forward when the company introduced the second set of products based on the Latex ink platform, the 42- and 60-inch wide DesignJet L25500. The smaller version and smaller price of these models make Latex technology much more accessible to the overall market than the original 100-inch wide $100,000 DesignJet L65500 launched in 2008. There are just a lot more shops able to spend $20,000 than are able to spend $100,000.

Necessary Adjustments

The manufacturers of wide-format aqueous inkjet printers all recognize the need for continuously improving these printers in order to sustain year-on-year business. Even factoring in a lot of these improvements we can’t get away from one key factor related to aqueous inkjet and that is running cost. Conventional graphics printers have a higher running cost than, for example, eco-solvent inkjet, especially for printing outdoor graphics. We think this factor limits the future growth of conventional inkjet, but is a major factor for the growth of durable aqueous inkjet printers. As noted, HP’s Latex inkjet printers have a running cost lower than conventional aqueous inkjet with comparable environmental characteristics. This combination makes Latex a very attractive proposition. As the chart below illustrates, InfoTrends expects the creative market segment to rebound somewhat as the economy improves and more company’s take wide-format proofing and printing in-house. We also expect the durable aqueous segment to grow from just a few hundred units placed in these early years to several thousand in the out years of the forecast. Conventional inkjet graphics devices are being “squeezed” by those two segments and the ever-improving image quality achievable on eco-solvent inkjet printers.

Summary

When it comes to wide-format printing equipment, aqueous inkjet certainly has a strong value proposition, and one that is getting better all the time. Aqueous inkjet has proven to be a staple of the wide format industry, and through continuous improvement, will remain so for the foreseeable future.

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