B2 Digital Presses: Sometimes Size Does Matter

Back when the entrepreneurial segment of the printing industry was looking for a defining moniker, some of the suggestions included “small commercial printer” and “small press printer.” Despite jokes about the printer’s height limitations the term implied, the former appellation pretty much caught on. However, “small press printer” was probably more accurate.

From the outset of this industry segment, the most common sheet size early presses such as the AB Dick 360 could handle was two-up. In other words, one sheet could produce two 8.5x11-inch pages. While that size could handle most of the type of work coming into these smaller printing operations, larger printers with larger presses could handle larger jobs and longer run lengths more efficiently. Even when xerography entered the picture, the size limitations generally remained two-up. The early digital evolution did little to change this, but at drupa 2008 digital inkjet presses in B2 cut-sheet format—also referred to as half-size or 29-inch size by offset printers—began to appear. The earliest introductions came from Screen and Fujifilm, although those introductions only started to come to market in 2012.

The move to this larger format by digital inkjet press manufacturers has continued, sometimes with interesting twists.

At PRINT 13, Fujifilm was showing its ready-for-delivery JetPress 720 and offered testimonials from early customers. Screen also has a ready-to-go offering with its TruePress JetSX. It did not exhibit at PRINT 13, but can boast a modest installed base of customers. Meanwhile, HP was showing and taking orders for its B2 HP Indigo 10000, which was rolled out prior to drupa 2012 and has had beta customers since shortly after the show. So, as of this writing, there are three B2 inkjet presses ready for sale. Don’t look for any additional ready-to-ship choices for commercial printers until later next year or early 2015, but you can still shop around.

Landa Digital Printing, whose founder Benny Landa developed the early Indigo line, also skipped PRINT 13, but supposedly will have a digital inkjet press with nanography technology ready for the folding carton market by the end of 2014. However, there is no firm date set for the roll out of its B2 S7 model for commercial printers.

One other PRINT 13 offering in the B2 arena came from Konica Minolta, which was previewing its KM-1 UV inkjet press. The KM-1 demonstration drew great interest because of its hybrid technology that incorporates Konica Minolta imaging technology with Komori paper transport technology. The KM-1 is expected to be ready for sale by the end of 2014 or early 2015.


B2 or Not B2

So what’s all the fuss about these new digital inkjet B2-sized presses, and where do they fit into today’s graphic communications mix? We asked two vendors that exhibited at PRINT 13 for their insights.

Todd Smith, manager of product marketing at Konica Minolta explained that: “Speaking from a digital printing perspective, the B2 format breaks through the limitations of paper size where most digital electrophotography (EP) production print devices are typically limited to A3+ paper sizes (13x19-inch) for two-up applications. However, some digital EP devices can print longer sheets in banner mode, like the KM bizhub PRESS C6000/C7000 series and other competitive devices.”

“Some other presses are B3 size (13.9x19.7-inch) format, such as the Xerox iGen and Kodak Nexpress,” continued Smith. “Konica Minolta’s KM-1 offers a paper size larger than B2 (29x23-inch), which allows for six-up letter size capabilities and other larger applications like posters, book dust cover jackets, light packaging, etc.”

HP’s Rolando Martinez, Category Product Manager for HP Indigo and Inkjet Press Solutions, noted that the B2-format is a standard industry size commonly referred to as half size or 29-inch size by traditional offset printers. “Based on data collected by HP from top printers in the US, nearly any commercial print job can be produced in this size,” said Martinez. “This means that B2-format digital presses can cover virtually any application in the commercial printing space, leading to greater versatility. This versatility creates cost-effective business opportunities for new applications, such as short-run pocket folders as well as variable, personalized, or short-run printing of point-of-purchase displays and marketing materials.”

Martinez said that another advantage of the larger sheet size and image area is that B2-format digital presses are much more productive. “There are a number of applications today produced on offset presses that are not cost effective due to run lengths and cannot be transferred to a smaller format digital press because of size limitations,” he said. “With this new B2-format, customers can transfer even more work from their traditional B2-and B1-format offset presses to the B2-format digital press, freeing up press time for longer runs more suitable for a traditional offset press.”


In a Bind?

Everyone knows that a print job is far from finished when the sheet comes off the press. So, how will this new B2-formt fit into a finishing workflow?

“Most commercial printers that would be looking at a B2 digital press would typically have bindery and finishing equipment already, assuming they have offset equipment,” said Konica Minolta’s Smith. “For pure digital printers, since this is a larger format, there are a lot of offline finishing solutions in place to take care of needs for finishing.”

“Finishing and bindery systems have been created for use with traditional offset presses for this size output,” said HP’s Martinez. “Most of these existing systems can be leveraged to finish the output from digital B2-format presses. Any finishing and bindery equipment that can handle standard B2-format size can be used to finish digital B2-format prints. The finishing industry’s challenge is to develop finishing systems for short-run and on-demand digital printing required for the new B2-format.”

According to Martinez, there are a number of systems in development to meet the needs of digital B2-format service providers, including an automated cutting and stacking system, developed by Horizon. This is an automated finishing system that was developed to work in-line with the HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press as well as near-line with the JDF industry standard protocol.

Despite the finishing developments in the pipeline, printers who today are exclusively two-up operations will have some significant hurdles to overcome if they plan to move into the B2 digital inkjet arena. Finishing is obviously one of them. As for larger commercial printers used to dealing with B2 sheets in their offset operations, the transition will be easier.

Considering the costs, workflow considerations, and unfamiliarity, I don’t see B2 making any major inroads in the small commercial arena in the near future. It appears that the vendors of these B2 offerings are aiming squarely at taking work off similar sized offset equipment and putting it on the digital inkjet devices, thus adding variable data and short-run capabilities, while leaving the longer and/or more quality critical runs on the offset press.