High-speed inkjet is changing the print marketplace, having a profound impact on the industry as we know it today and continuing to do so as it evolves. The application of ink at a specific location on a substrate allows many different applications and processes to be considered. As it develops, there are certain market applications particularly suited to the technology. While developments in one area of the industry can drive change in others, such as significant reductions in makeready seen over recent years in offset, there also are continually changing economics when one process is more cost effective than another. The way these can operate in parallel with each other, each being complementary and optimally color-managed, can offer many advantages to both the producer of the printed material and, more importantly, to the consumer.
There has been a great deal of development in inkjet technologies. In 2009 alone there were more than 4,000 worldwide patents issued for inkjet. This has led to a rapid development in inkjet print engines by manufacturers. Inkjet solutions look to produce higher-quality products at faster speeds. Facilitating the introduction of these machines has been the development in the print heads themselves and their compatible inks, from both dye and pigment-based approaches. The developments in nanotechnology have provided more reliable, consistent heads that are not susceptible to jet blockages. This has greatly simplified the application of inkjet. The technology has the possibility and capability of producing engines where there is only one chance to place the droplet in a specific area. Some inkjet solutions are now approaching speeds comparable to other processes, such as lithographic printing. Different print engines are available commercially from Agfa, Fujifilm, HP, InfoPrint, Kodak, Océ, RISO, Screen, TKS, and Xerox. (This is not an exhaustive list, and new vendors are continually entering the marketplace.) Information and specifications on the different digital solutions are available at www.printing.org/inkjetproducts, where the capabilities of the various devices are discussed, including a free Printing Industries of America members-only webinar. Some of the larger print companies have also developed their own proprietary print devices, as highlighted by those from RR Donnelley.
During the coming months, there will be further developments and innovations as the application of the technology improves.
Wide- & grand-format
Wide- and grand-format inkjet devices primarily impact the screen printing industry, with some impact on large-format offset. These inkjet devices have been available to produce personalized and short-run products for more than 15 years. However, the majority of the work is still carried out using the screen printing process as this is much more cost-effective (and faster). When run lengths start to increase, inkjet will be used more frequently. High-speed inkjet will affect many traditional print processes dependent on the target market application, including flexography, sheetfed, web, and digital.
There is an opportunity for medium-run document printing for companies and organizations to utilize different inkjet technologies in a centralized and managed manner or for the individual office environments. Depending on the application, we are seeing several devices capable of providing a service in this area. This is normally in direct competition with a digital toner-based product.
Transactional and book printing
Transactional printing is one of the main touch points with customers via the use of statements, bills, invoices, and other communications. This market is challenged by the use of electronic billing, but the majority of customers still prefer to have a printed copy for archiving and recordkeeping—even if they are paying bills online.
The printing of books and catalogs has traditionally been carried out in an offset environment. This is one of the main target marketplaces for many of the inkjet vendors. The inkjet process facilitates short-run production away from the traditional mindset of publications where longer runs meant carrying a larger inventory, the associated warehousing costs and the issue of returns. Digital production reduces all of these issues, since it can be much more responsive to customer demands and allow the delivery on demand.
High-speed inkjet is a technology that is evolving at a rapid pace. Its speed and quality continue to improve. Cost-effective substrates that can be used are expanding. The costs will reduce over time. This affords new opportunities for the production of many different products and printed media. It will challenge many different printing processes on a cost and productivity basis, depending on the process. While being disruptive, it will be complementary in the short to mid term in many of the market segments and also offer new opportunities for printed products.
Excerpted from an article that first appeared in the July 2011 issue of Printing Industries of America The Magazine.