Precoating inkjet stock also better controls dot size/shape and allows for a wider range of paper types. But InfoTrends’ Hamilton contends that the largest barrier for inkjet right now is the inability to print on economical coated papers. Still, the inkjet process can be more cost-effective for large volumes, counters Henry Freedman, a print scientist and inventor who publishes the Technology Watch newsletter. Atkinson concured, touting more jobs per shift as one of the technology’s primary advantages. It also is “cleaner, quieter, [and has] far less waste …,” he added. While Atkinson and many other people in the industry laud inkjet’s environmental benefits, skeptics wonder if the overall energy consumption of the big, new inkjet web presses is excessive.
In the real world, “run lengths are getting shorter,” observed David Allan, president/CEO of Rhino Print Solutions. With operations in Calgary and Vancouver, Rhino is getting web-offset work that now runs sheetfed, Allan recently told Graphic Monthly (Canada) magazine, “and a lot of sheetfed work is going digital. There are changes in the way print is being used.” That’s why “minimum turnaround, makeready time and waste are more important than ever for productivity, competitiveness and profitability,” added Atkinson.
Rhino Pronto, the firm’s 120-day-new dedicated digital division, uses a five-color NexPress 2100 and a six-color HP Indigo 5500 digital press in different ways. The Indigo is targeted to a slightly different market, explains Allan, who has been a Kodak customer for five years. He notes his firm is leveraging the HP inkjet technology on projects thought of as traditionally offset.
Like most things in the printing business, picking inkjet over toner, or vice versa, from a cost standpoint can be complex. Is one type of technology inherently better than the other? How do they stack up, side by side? Should you use both? Your answer, as you may guess, depends on some variables. How important is output quality for transpromo print applications, for example? In the direct-mail world, turnaround is only half as important as print quality, according to recent research. Is it any surprise that two-thirds of survey respondents rank printing costs as the most important criteria, after response rate?
“Inkjet has allowed us to print full color in a very inexpensive way,” said Waleed Ashoo, president of LithExcel, a $6 million variable-data print firm in Albuquerque, NM. “These are applications where the color requirements are not as stringent as they sometimes are in the marketing area, where you’re working with designers and ad agencies.”
To determine total cost of ownership, OEMs point out that printers need to compare not only equipment running costs but also response rates (customer ROI). “Per-sheet cost for inkjet typically is one-third less than toner-based printing,” Atkinson said. Tom Mason is the business development VP for One2One Communications, a high-volume billing statement and transactional printer in Wheeling, IL, near Chicago. “Inkjet technology can be maintained at a lower cost and the inkjet consumables are much less expensive [than toner],” said Mason, whose shop installed an InfoPrint 5000 system two years ago.
Last year, research consultancy Interquest conducted a study commissioned by Riso, whose 150-ppm ComColor 9050 sheetfed inkjet printer has the compact footprint of an office machine. (Freedman noted that Memjet’s 60-ppm color device fits on a desktop.) Riso’s piezoelectric, drop-on-demand (DOD), duplexing system employs proprietary ForceJet print technology that yields up to 300-x-600-dpi fine resolution. For the test, half of the 5.5-x-8.5-inch postcards in a 10,585-piece mailing were printed two-up inkjet (sheetfed) and the other half were reproduced on a toner-based, electrophotographic printer/copier. Based on the running cost of the equipment, the $2.47 cost per response for postcards produced inkjet was 62 percent less than that of full-color laser equipment ($6.45) (Per-impression printing cost per card was $.018 inkjet vs. $.049 toner for supplies and maintenance, not including paper, labor, amortization and overhead.) Of larger-scale inkjet, Atkinson added, “Given virtually no startup waste or plate costs, the net per-sheet costs are quite close to standard litho printing.” But remember that your numbers may add up differently, depending on what you typically print on your digital devices.