Innovations in Inkjet Technology

Changes in inkjet technology in the wide-format industry have altered the way people are doing business. Perhaps the most important change has been the introduction and advancement of durable aqueous inks including latex and resin. The introduction of these inks makes it possible for print providers to increase speed, reliability, and quality over solvent-based inks providing higher revenues and decreased production time. However, these inks are not necessarily for everyone as our experts attest.

The Need for Speed

Greg Lamb, founder and CEO of Global Imaging and PrinterEvolution, states that one of the biggest selling points of new technology—including the improvements in ink—relates directly to speed. However, there are issues with focusing solely on speed when it comes to aqueous-based inks, such as the drying time that may be increased when printing certain items. If a print provider can print at a high speed but does not adhere to proper drying procedures, the entire process could be in jeopardy.

David Conrad, marketing manager at Mutoh America Inc., also discusses the high temperatures required when using aqueous-based products. “You probably don’t want to leave it unattended. And the other thing is that with those high temperatures and printing on different materials, a lot of the materials that you are running through there aren’t printing well. Because of the high temperatures, you see shrinkage of the media which then limits you...”

Regarding focusing solely on speed, Lamb says, “I’m not sure that’s a good thing. On the top end, things are going faster, faster, and faster and it’s really about how much you’re going to output in an hour and how much money you’re going to make.”

Conrad supports the need for speed, but makes it clear that other factors need to be taken into consideration. Mutoh focuses on the addition of process controls which offer additional capabilities.

“The ability to print fast gives you the opportunity to have higher production capability, satisfying what customers want but while you’re doing that at the same time you want to make sure you’re providing them with something that is of more value. The process control and color management tools I think are some of it.”

Conrad offers advice to print providers interested in exploring the market: “Look at the total solution as far as innovation and technology for wide-format inkjet. There’s not a lot that has been going on from an innovation standpoint that makes a lot of difference. Manufacturers are trying to make bigger, better, faster. Faster seems to be what everyone keys in on—how fast does it go?”

Potential Profitability

Rich Reamer, director of product marketing at Canon USA, discusses the benefits of aqueous ink and the versatility it affords print providers.

“It’s allowed production type facilities to offer other types of prints, Reamer says. “I think it’s added a little bit more versatility to some print shops if they want to eliminate special coatings whether it’s a laminate or spray and things like that. I think it’s a technology that’s still developing. You’ve seen solvent, UV curable, eco-solvent, latex—you’re seeing so many different types of ink hit the market that you’re still trying to see what is for that outdoor and longevity type of prints—what is that real true solution?”

Reamer states that Canon’s introduction of 12-color and eight-color units gives print providers more choices in supplying their clients with options depending on the job at hand.

“Production environments in areas that are printing high volumes, they don’t necessarily require the absolute highest of quality,” Reamer says, “Sometimes they just need to get very good quality and print more within a day to really match their revenues and profitability. By taking out four colors, we’re able to increase the speed over the 12-color by as much as 40 percent. So you still get very good quality, just not as high of a color space as the 12-color product and you still get a very good cost per print.”

It is not only the presence of aqueous inks and upgrade equipment that will determine a shop’s profitability, however. As Lamb points out, businesses have to be savvy in all areas from their business models to pricing and reputation if they area going to thrive in an industry that is increasingly competitive.

“The companies that are prepared for the economic turns are the ones that are accelerating in those turns where others have to stop and they scramble and it creates more of this division where there are the haves and the have nots. I continue to see that and liken it to the middle class.”

Conrad says that being informed about the products on the market is the key and it is vital that print providers become well informed before making any purchases. Conrad says, “Know what you’re going to be dealing with with the printer, know what market you’re going to be playing in and what’s important to your customer and then be sure that the printer and the ink technology satisfies those requirements. There’s a lot more going into wide-format printing than how fast it is.”

Looking Toward the Future

Reamer states that all-in-one solutions are definitely something that people are looking for when purchasing new equipment or investing time in exploring the use of aqueous inks.

Reamer says, “I think you’ll see that continue to develop and continue to be kind of a hot commodity—being able to get everything all in one solution for under $10,000. I think it’s amazing what Canon, Epson, and HP have been able to offer, but I think you will see color spaces continue to expand.”

As aqueous inks continue to improve and create more opportunities for the market, more profitable solutions will arise.

In regards to the improvements and innovations in the types of ink and technology being introduced and used, Lamb believes that one of the toughest competitors in the industry is the newly introduced AquEpoxy, a resin based ink from Global Imaging.

“AquEpoxy is a water-based resin ink, much like the CPX ink, but it has a fifth channel, so we have CMYK plus we have a reactant in a channel that is jetted onto paper, vinyl, rigid materials—it creates a chemical bond so it doesn’t require heat. It can print on rigid materials, which has always been a drawback for the latex and why you don’t see flatbeds running latex ink.”

“I certainly think this AquEpoxy is certainly going to change some things just because it has so many uses. The industrial applications and what may happen seem pretty amazing.”

Conrad gives his input on future trends: “The trends are going to be based more on what you can do with the inks and how the inks are applied to the materials. You can try different substrates and print better with better adhesion. You can print faster because it will dry quicker. I think the technology on the ink side is going to have to keep up with the technology on the equipment and hardware side.” Conrad adds, “There will have to be other advantages other than just faster. The message is that you need to look at what you’re getting for your dollar and the advantages and disadvantages beyond ‘is latex good for the environment? Is it cheaper?’”