Holiday parties are well under way and, like most people, I look forward to the warmth and good cheer that this time of year can bring. It always is fun trying to explain to family and friends about the printing industry and what it is I actually do for a living as a business writer/editor and trade...
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Improvements in print quality and media range, particularly matte and glossy media, have opened new opportunities for customers in what HP calls high-volume general commercial printing, Maruggi noted. “The idea is to marry the benefits of digital, in terms of customization and personalization, with the high-volume productivity that was previously only possible with offset technology,” he explained. “The result is the ability to do mass customization. We anticipate this to be a big area of growth for production inkjet,” especially as cost per thousand continues to drop.
Higher print quality levels and a broader range of less-translucent media have enabled new applications, such as personalized advertising for magazines, customized catalogs, and fully personalized coupon booklets, including those that Symeta began producing for the Colruyt grocery store chain in Europe 12 months ago on an HP T400 color inkjet web press. (Samples were distributed at Graph Expo 2012.) Rather than send out a 64-page catalog that included a dizzying number of some 1,000 products, four-page mailers now are distributed every two weeks in Belgium.
Beyond books, the inkjet migration into the color publication market has begun. While “dye inks are okay for transactional printing, pigment-based inks offer more permanency and better color resolution,” Hamilton said. Kodak’s Mansfield explained that an ink formulation containing less glycerin and less water is one of the secrets to Stream’s ability to jet ink onto glossy, coated media. So, look for magazine-catalog hybrids to grow as well, predicted Hamilton of InfoTrends.
A magalog is a promotional copy of a magazine, usually in a 12-page catalog format. They already are popular among automotive industry marketers for both educational and entertainment purposes. “Car companies are using the magalog format to communicate with owners and leasees,” said Mansfield. Content changes are based on demographic and sociographic information, such as age, geographic location, and interests—outdoor enthusiasts may use their vehicles differently than family minivans, for example.
Despite ink prices coming down, when more ink gets laid down on pages, consumables costs can add up, warned Hamilton. “That’s why you need jobs with high volumes,” he said. “These inkjet webs are paper eaters.” Nonetheless, he sees magalogs as a sweet spot for inkjet, noting that the toner-based, electrophotographic printing process involves more overhead with fuser and developers, and also has speed limitations “of about 200 ppm.”
Mansfield concurred, adding that the same is true for computer-to-plate in Kodak’s offset print niche with its plates, platesetters, and Prinergy workflow products. “CTP hit a threshold, too,” he said, which is why the firm decided to make commercial inkjet moves six years ago and develop its proprietary, “always firing” Stream inkjet writing system beginning in 2009. Jetting ink at speeds of more than 400 kilohertz (kHz), “Stream can keep up with offset press speeds,” Mansfield stressed, while drop-on-demand systems are slower, more akin to squirt guns where the trigger needs to be pulled, he said.
Print Heads, Ink, and Paper
“Traditional continuous inkjet breaks up the flow of ink using a vibrating crystal in the nozzle to form droplets,” Eric Owen, worldwide VP of customer development for Kodak Digital Printing Solutions, explained in a blog. “It’s like tapping the end of a garden hose to break the flow. Unwanted droplets get an electrostatic charge and the charged droplets are steered away by a deflection bib and collected for recycling.
“Stream technology uses solid state heaters that flick on and off instantly, changing the surface tension of the high-pressure ink stream and introducing ‘kinks’ that make it break into droplets of different sizes,” Owen continued. “Big drops land on the paper, exactly where they are aimed, while the smaller drops, where no ink is wanted on the paper, get blown aside by a continuous airflow system. This is really fast stuff. Stream technology can already form droplets 400 kHz 2.5 times as fast as regular continuous inkjet systems and 10 times as fast as the theoretical maximum for drop-on-demand.”