Can Nanography Challenge Offset in the Color Arena?

It takes quite a salesman to convince printing companies to pony up more than 400 deposits for a product that won’t even be in beta testing until the end of 2013, but Benny Landa is quite a salesman. I saw that first-hand several years ago when I was part of a press junket to Israel to see Landa’s Indigo digital press line. To a large degree the Indigo line was still in development, and it would take quite some time and acquisition by Hewlett-Packard for Indigo presses to become reliable enough to earn the status of mainstream players in the digital color production output arena.

Well, Landa is back. This time he is touting his new line of Landa Nanographic printing presses, which he says will revolutionize the printing industry. Supposedly, the Nanographic printing process combines “the versatility and short-run economics of digital printing with the qualities and productivity of offset printing.” Of course, there’s still work to be done, and Landa doesn’t expect to hit high-end offset quality until around 2016. In fact, the print resolution on the Landa S10 cut-sheet, B-1 format device (one of six presses in the line) only recently was increased from 600 to 1200 dpi.

All this said, his new printing technology is causing quite a stir and attracting interest not only from printers but also from other press manufacturers. Heidelberg, Komori, and manroland have already signed partnership agreements.

Nano Technology

The heart of the Nanographic printing process is Landa NanoInk, which contains ultra-small pigment particles that are “tens of nanometers in size.” Typically, good quality offset inks have 10 times larger particles. Landa’s research in nanotechnology—which also includes other areas, such as material coatings and pharmaceutical delivery systems—discovered that ink pigments reduced to nanometric scale become “unusually powerful colorants.”

These water-based NanoInk particles are jetted in the billions of droplets onto a heated blanket, which dries the ink into an ultra-thin polymeric film, which is then pressed onto the substrate being printed. With eight print bars, the presses can either print eight colors (CMYK plus spot or white, etc.) or use two color bars for each CMYK color to double the print speed. The NanoInk is shipped in concentrated form and diluted with water at the site, thus saving shipping costs.

According to a company whitepaper, this process creates much smaller dots than offset, an extended color gamut, high gloss uniformity on various substrates, and the ability to print on coated paper, uncoated paper, plastic, newsprint, film, and other substrates. The paper claims that “the combination of Landa NanoInk and the Nanographic printing process allows digital production at up to 13,000 B1 sheets per hour for sheetfed and 656 feet per minute for web-fed presses.”

 

Drama at drupa

Nanography was introduced to the market at the 2012 drupa last May, following months of secrecy and rumors. While all six of the planned press models were on display, only two sheetfed presses were running demonstrations—the B1 format S10 (13,000 sph) and the B2-format S7 (12,000 sph). Not running were the S5 B3-format and the three web presses, the W5, W10, and W50. That still was enough to attract a reported 400 orders amounting to an estimated $1 billion in press sales, according to the Israeli financial press. Money raised during and after drupa is earmarked for final product development and the establishment of facilities to manufacture presses and inks.

Alas, drupa was likely the last time the public will see a Nanographic press on display until the B1-format device goes into beta testing at the end of this year. Landa did not display at Graph Expo 2012 and is not on the list to exhibit this year at IPEX or China Print. However, Landa officials have been all over the various industry event programs such as Graphics of the Americas, EFI Connect, etc. touting the coming Nanography revolution. Landa says the emphasis now is to get manufacturing up and running so they can start filling their seemingly healthy backlog of orders.

One of those orders came from EarthColor, a large provider of “print and digital communications” headquartered in New Jersey with facilities in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas. According to EarthColor CEO Robert Kashan, “We are excited about the future and how the Landa solution will transform existing technology and fulfill the promise of merging offset and digital printing into a single format, allowing for a true print-on-demand solution.”

 

What Now?

While the idea of combining the quality and productivity of offset with the short-run capabilities and versatility of digital is certainly attractive, there is still a ways to go before this can or will be realized. Almost every new technology is buggy at the outset and I don’t expect Nanography to be any different. Engineers are still working on finalizing the one press model that will roll out in beta at the end of the year, and the predicted arrival at high-end offset quality is a couple of years in the future. Then there are considerations such as pricing, service, reliability, operating costs, and proprietary consumables to take into consideration.

That’s not to say that Nanography won’t eventually have an impact on the printing industry and it is not to say that folks should wait until everything is perfect or high-end offset quality before considering the technology. All of the current technology used in our industry has evolved and improved since it was introduced. In the meantime, most of it has made money along the way.

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