Printing on All Papers without Primer: the Canon Oce ImageStream 3500

Continuous feed color inkjet printing has been a big success story over the past seven years especially in transaction print and with some book and direct mail printers. However the market lost a bit of momentum recently. While the move to inkjet in the transaction market is in full swing a lot more opportunities rest in short run publishing and promotional applications, especially when some degree of customization, personalization, and just-in-time manufacturing. Inkjet has had limited success so far in areas requiring higher print quality, particularly on coated papers. Canon’s launch of the ImageStream 3500 is intended to address that challenge.

On the 22nd of May Canon invited a small group of analysts to the Miyakoshi Akita plant in northern Japan, where all of Miyakoshi’s digital print engines are manufactured. At the manufacturing site Canon presented the latest launch in its inkjet portfolio, the ImageStream 3500. At first sight the ImageStream 3500 looks like a JetStream 3300 – part of Océ’s Wide series. In fact, both products share the same press base. Accordingly the maximum print speed is set with 160 meters per minute and the paper width is 30 inch.

The differences between a JetStream and the new ImageStream lie in the inkjet heads and the ink. The printer uses the latest Kyocera printheads with a native resolution of 1,200 dpi and three drop size levels. The printer can print with 1,200 x 600 dpi resolution at full speed, or 1,200 x 1,200 resolution at half speed, which is still an impressive 1,600 A4 pages/minute. The high resolution results in tiny droplet sizes with 1.3, 2, and 2.8 picolitre. Canon is using a new, waterbased ink as well, not only optimized for the tiny droplet size, but also engineered to stick on the surface of the paper – any paper.

The result is that the ImageStream is able to print on all kinds of substrates without a primer or bonding agent. According to Canon, all stocks tested so far have yielded good results. Obviously it would be impossible to test all offset stocks sold worldwide, but so far Canon has tested ten papers ranging from uncoated to gloss coated from a range of paper mills.

Using the JetStream base is an interesting move. Despite the fact that Canon/Océ is the largest customer of Miyakoshi’s inkjet engines and has used them as their press base since 2008, the number of commissioned presses has declined because of the success of the ColorStream Series, which is manufactured at Océ’s Poing factory and is Océ’s own design. And while it’s true that Miyakoshi sells printers under its own brand and also supplies Fujifilm and Fuji Xerox with the press base for their inkjet models, these numbers are lower. The ImageStream 3500 is definitely a boost for Miyakoshi, which is transitioning from a manufacturer of analog presses to a supplier of digital printing equipment. According to Miyakoshi, digital products already account for 60 to 70 percent of the company’s revenue, which includes digital textile printers and finishing systems for digital as well. Océ’s choice of the JetStream base means that the ImageStream has a relatively compact size and 3-up width, but it does not have some features that are popular on ColorStream, such as the head safe design, zero-speed start of print, the modularity, and the low system weight.

One of the most remarkable facts about the event was that Canon handed out a set of print samples for the analysts to keep. InfoTrends has participated in many early product announcement events, but rarely are we given a set of samples to keep when the product has not yet launched. Doing this is a sign that Canon is very confident in its ability to execute on the ImageStream 3500 testing and rollout. The samples on standard offset grades look good – given that some minor artifacts are to be expected on a device that won’t be fully launched until next year. The press will be shipped to Canon/Océ’s Poing factory soon for fine tuning in color management, but even at this stage the samples show a very high edge sharpness, little show-through, and very good rub resistance, even on coated paper. Samples at the 1,200 by 600 dpi resolution setting look a little light, but at 1,200 by 1,200 dpi the density is good. Further improvements are likely by the time of launch, since there will be some more fine-tuning on the inks as well according to Canon.

Canon has its first customer already lined up. This beta site, a manual printer in Germany, will start operating late in 2014. Full product availability is planned for early 2015. Depending on configuration the ImageStream 3500 should have about the same price as a JetStream Wide (about €3 million or US$ 4 million). While Canon expects the ink to be more expensive per litre compared to the JetStream, the company expects that the lower consumption will mean that overall ink costs will stay about the same.

At InfoTrends we have been expecting inkjet to move into commercial markets like books, magazines, advertising, high quality direct mail, or catalogs for some time. Last year we summarized key trends and expectations in an analysis of the production color inkjet market (http://store.infotrendsresearch.com/product_p/135145.htm). So far the adoption outside of transaction print and some corners of the direct mail and book printing market has been slow. The inkjet systems were challenged to meet the needs of publishers & advertisers looking to reinvent their business processes. Products like the ImageStream 3500 represent a big step forward in addressing these markets and have the potential to open up new growth opportunities in production color digital print.

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