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COLOR DIGITAL PRESSES--Decisions, Decisions . . .

February 2001
Now there is a color digital production press to suit every printer's desire. Is it time to throw your hat in the ring?


BY CAROLINE MILLER


Color digital press manufacturers are setting their sights on the commercial printer. No longer is digital printing just for the on-demand and quick printing market segments; it has finally matured to the point where commercial printers can begin to seriously consider integrating these output devices into their business strategy. Today, digital presses offer print quality that is close to offset quality. The mix of improved quality, coupled with quick turnaround, speed and flexibility, is a recipe that digital press manufacturers are betting on as the industry heads into 2001.

But it's not just manufacturers who are wagering on the impact that color digital printing will have on the graphic arts industry in 2001. An NAPL "State of the Industry Study" found that 46 percent of the printers polled expect that digital printing will be the fastest growing market over the next two years.

Similarly, almost 40 percent of those polled said that if they could add one new product or service in the next two years, digital printing capabilities would be their top choice.

The move into digital printing can be a profitable one for commercial printers. A CAP Ventures study concluded that DI users have a gross profit margin of 42 percent, on average, when compared to the industry average of 29 percent.

As the commercial printing industry begins to migrate toward digital printing, vendors have responded by creating color digital presses to suit every need. Whether you are looking at entering the digital sheetfed market for the first time or you are ready to upgrade to a web-based digital press, manufacturers are able to fulfill every digital press fantasy.

Here's a look at what's currently, and soon-to-be, available in the market.

Heidelberg USA
Heidelberg currently has two offerings in the digital color press market: the Speedmaster 74 DI, a four-up direct imaging system, and the Quickmaster DI 46-4, an entry-level direct imaging press.

The Speedmaster 74 DI has a maximum printing speed of 15,000 sph and offers thermal imaging technology that attains "first-generation" dot quality without the dot gain that can occur with conventional platemaking processes, reports Eric Frank, vice president of marketing, direct imaging and digital printing, for Heidelberg USA.

The Speedmaster 74 DI images processless thermal plates at a resolution of 2,400 dpi. The press is available in 17 configurations featuring up to six colors, perfecting and in-line coating. It also offers Alcolor, Heidelberg's digitally controlled, speed compensated, continuous film dampening systems. The imaging time for plates is just 31⁄2 minutes.

The Quickmaster DI 46-4 has a maximum speed 10,000 sph and an imaging time of four minutes at 1,270 dpi or 12 minutes at 2,540 dpi.

While the Speedmaster 74 DI is targeted at the high-end commercial offset printing market, the Quickmaster DI is targeted at commercial printers and prepress houses looking to enter the digital printing marketplace, as well as small-format printers looking to get into digital four-color offset work, states Frank.

"The Quickmaster DI enables printers to maintain offset quality and attributes, while offering a pushbutton-friendly system. It eliminates the prepress platemaking part of the operation; it preregisters plates, determines ink profiles and sets up your feeder directly from prepress data," Frank says.

"All of these features make the Quickmaster DI an excellent choice for those who are just beginning to work with digital offset printing," he adds.

Frank sees Heidelberg's niche in the digital press market as a company that offers a complete solution with which customers can begin and grow. "We are in the stage where we can focus on the software, prepress and the finishing—basically all the surrounding parts—which are just as equally important as the press itself."

Xerox Corp.
Xerox entered the digital offset printing arena first at DRUPA 2000 with its DocuColor 400 DI and DocuColor 233 DI offerings. The DocuColor 400 DI is based on an Adast design, while the 233 DI is based around a Ryobi press.

Both presses offer the same fifth-generation Presstek ProFire direct imaging technology. ProFire is a filmless, laser imaging system designed to produce printing plates directly from the computer. The system includes all the components needed for high-quality output, customized computer system and control of the imaging process, as well as an IR-based laser diode array.

The DocuColor 400 DI is designed to enable a larger format while providing higher volume runs in shorter times. It offers a 12,000 iph maximum print speed, uses a landscape 15x201⁄2˝ sheet and can image a printable area of 141⁄2x19.88˝.

An optional fifth printing tower on the DocuColor 400 DI can be used for custom color applications, versioning or for varnishing. The press is equipped to provide either 1,270 dpi or 2,540 dpi resolution, depending on application requirements.

The DocuColor 400 DI is the fastest total-makeready press of any direct imaging press that is commercially available, according to Xerox's David Tashji, general manager of business development, worldwide graphic arts industry marketing. "The total makeready time for the DocuColor 400 DI is nine minutes—and that is from the end of the last job to the first usable sheet of the next job, as was shown in recent live demonstrations," he states.

The DocuColor 233 DI is designed specifically to produce on-demand, short-run color. It is a small footprint, entry-level system that provides 7,000 iph maximum print speed. The 233 DI uses a portrait format, maximum sheet size of 18.11x13.39˝ and a maximum image area of 12.99x17.72˝.

Both machines are currently in beta testing. The 400 DI is expected to be commercially available in the first quarter of this year, while the 233 DI is expected to be available in the second quarter, according to Tashji.

Xerox's other digital press offerings include the DocuColor 2060, the DocuColor 2045, and the DocuColor 100 and 130, as well as the FutureColor.

Karat Press
The 74 Karat is a four-color, digitally integrated, waterless offset press that is the result of a partnership between Scitex and KBA. The press delivers print quality equal to any high-quality, four-color offset press, notes David Bartram, vice president of marketing for Karat Digital Press.

The 74 Karat can print up to 10,000 sph, in formats up to 201⁄2x29˝, on a wide range of papers. Bartram states that it takes six minutes to image a full set of 2,540 dpi Presstek plates.

It is the only press to offer the Gravuflow inking system, which is designed to minimize operator intervention and place the responsibility for color management with the prepress department. Sensors in the ink chamber detect ink consumption and initiate replenishment, when necessary. A precision-engraved roller sits under the ink chamber, right above the form. Doctor blades maintain a measured volume of ink in the engravings on the Gravuflow roller, so that a consistent amount is transferred to recharge the form roller.

The rubber blanket-coated form roller, which has a circumference equal to half the plate cylinder, meets the plate only when it carries a perfect layer of ink. The plates get an even supply of ink so that there is no mechanical ink ghosting, regardless of image or coverage during each revolution.

While the 74 Karat is configured for the short-run market, the manufacturer points out that it is versatile enough to compete in the medium-run market. "Our customers have found that the number of jobs per day they get off this machine is far superior to a conventional press operating in a conventional platemaking environment," says Bartram.

Xeikon North America
Xeikon offers a family of six digital color devices, ranging from its CSP 320 D sheetfed press to its DCP 320 D and DCP 500 web digital color presses. The CSP 320 D outputs 1,920 full-color pages per hour (pph). It also incorporates Xeikon's One Pass duplex electrophotographic technology, which prints both sides of the sheet simultaneously—reducing total run times, eliminating the reprocessing of substrates and ensuring front-to-back registration.

"The CSP is targeted at small-to-medium and even larger size commercial printers that want to offer high value digital printing applications," remarks Robert Barbera, vice president of the commercial print business unit for Xeikon.

"If you look at the market research, a lot of printers have to make an investment in digital printing. The CSP is a complete solution that offers the benefits of a true digital press, including full-color variable printing with an attractive, entry-level price. We see the CSP as being the door opener for commercial printers to enter the digital printing market," he says.

The DCP 320 D and DCP 500 D are third-generation designs and feature web widths of 12.6˝ and 20˝, respectively. They also incorporate Xeikon's duplex technology. Two speed modes are offered on both systems: a standard speed mode of 70/100 ppm and a higher speed mode of 130 ppm.

Printers interested in label or packaging work can take advantage of the Xeikon DCP320 S digital label printing press, as well as the DCP 500 SP paperboard packaging press.

NexPress Solutions LLC
The NexPress 2100 is a high production, digital color press targeted at the true commercial printer. NexPress, a partnership between Heidelberg and Kodak, allows the traditional commercial printer to offer 100 percent variable data and color digital printing, explains Chris Payne, chief marketing officer for NexPress.

The NexPress 2100 features an auto-perfecting engine with a blanket cylinder that produces ready-to-bind sets incorporating a variety of paper stocks. It also offers printing speeds of 2,100 A4 pages per hour. "Not only does it look like a conventional press, it also offers the robustness and reliability of a conventional offset press," Payne reports.

"If we look at the general printing market, we see a move towards shorter and shorter runs. Customers are reporting that time, not money, is now their most critical factor," he adds. "As a result, more and more commercial printers are interested in NexPress' capabilities—especially when you factor in that it can do any form of commercial printing and at quality levels similar to those from a traditional offset press," he claims.

While NexPress has certainly garnered interest among traditional commercial printers, Payne notes the most excitement has come from printers that currently provide digital printing and, consequently, better understand what the product can do for their business.

The NexPress 2100 is expected to be commercially available in the third quarter of this year. Support will be provided through Heidelberg.

Scitex Digital Printing
Scitex Digital Printing is targeting the market in a somewhat unique way. With the introduction of the VersaMark Business Color Press, Scitex Digital is courting the direct mail, billing and statement, catalog, coupon and personal, as well as book printing segments. "We do not see ourselves as competing against a Xeikon, Indigo or NexPress," explains Jason Oliver, director of page printing systems for Scitex Digital Printing. "Our ink-jet technology enables us to run at speeds three to 10 times faster than other digital printers. We provide a very good quality unit for the direct mail printer that wants to get into four-color or multiple spot color work."

The VersaMark is capable of 100 percent variable data output in CMYK process color. With print speeds ranging up to 500 fpm, the press is designed to handle heavy-duty production, yielding more than 2,000 ppm, and with a low operational cost per page. It is completely modular and can be upgraded as a printer's needs change.

Komori America
Komori plans to begin offering its "Project D" press at PRINT 01 in Chicago this September. Project D is a 40˝ sheetfed press that combines Komori's offset press expertise with CreoScitex's digital imaging technology.

The Project D press offers latest-generation, 830nm thermal heads, which are capable of simultaneous imaging no-process thermal plates at a resolution of 2,400 dpi in under four minutes. Press speed is rated at 16,000 sph performance. Its ability to image plates mounted on-press works with Komori's automation systems to ensure a fast turnaround.

The Project D is designed for printers needing a 40˝ press that can meet the demands of deadline-driven production environments, on-press digital imaging, while facilitating last-minute changes and late modifications of the job.

Indigo America
The Series 2 generation of Indigo presses provides printers with a wide variety of choices that include both sheetfed and web presses. The UltraStream 2000 and UltraStream 4000 are suited for commercial printing, publishing and direct mail. The UltraStream 2000 is a single-engine sheetfed press that operates at process speeds of 240 fpm, producing 2,000 four-color A3 images at 136 letter-size ppm.

"The UltraStream 2000 is a perfect fit for both smaller and larger commercial printers," remarks Merrill Clark, director of marketing for Indigo. "It feels like a press—it's more robust looking. The 2000's ability to print up to seven colors, and do duplex printing, really sets us apart from our competitors. We're very near-offset quality."

The UltraStream 2000 is available presently; the UltraStream 4000, which runs at the twice the speed as the 2000 and offers a second tower, will be available in the first half of this year.

The Publisher 4000 and Publisher 8000 webfed presses are also based on the same Series 2 technology, and will be available at the end of 2001. The 4000 prints at a rate of 4,000 four-color A3 images per hour. The 8000 prints at 8,000 four-color A3 images per hour.

MAN Roland
MAN Roland touts its development of the first digital offset press with on-press imaging and erasing. The DICOweb offers imaging/erasing and reimaging for the next job, format versatility, platform flexibility, and prepress, press and postpress integration. The three elements that constitute the DICOweb are imaging technology, format variability and platform flexibility.

What MAN Roland calls "Image Management" technology includes three automated steps that make mechanical changeover and plates unnecessary. Data from the prepress workflow is transferred onto a form cylinder using CreoScitex SQUAREspot thermal technology to image a thermo-transfer ribbon.

The DICOweb is targeted at short-run, full-color jobs ranging from 1,000 up to 30,000 copies, and minimizes the risk of an overspecialized investment for the printer.

Sakurai USA
For the printer who wants the ability to switch from digital to conventional offset printing, Sakurai has developed a "hybrid press"—the Oliver 474EP II DI press. The four-page press will initially be available in a four-color version with perfector and can be run in either DI or conventional mode. Five- and six-color versions are planned for introduction at a later date.

The Oliver 474EP II DI incorporates Presstek ProFire integrated imaging technology. "What sets us apart from our competitors is the press' ability to run the ProFire DI technology or conventional offset plates, reports Steve Bruno, national service manager for Sakurai. "The press is not dedicated to just being a DI press. We can also run it with conventional plates."

xpedx, Import Group
Also taking advantage of Presstek ProFire technology is the xpedx Import Group, which offers the Ryobi 3403 DI, an A3-size, portrait format, four-color offset press with built-in direct imaging.

Jointly developed by Ryobi and Presstek, the DI press employs an infrared laser to burn images directly onto mounted plates, enabling CTP handling of digital prepress data and eliminating film output and image exposure onto the plate.

The FirePower laser diode emits four beams through a single lens. Six such diodes are mounted on one imaging head. Therefore, 24 laser spots can be addressed simultaneously by each imager. Also, the plate cylinder rotates at 18,000 rph during imaging.

Screen (USA)
Screen offers the TruePress 544 B3-size, four-color digital press that uses on-press imaging to expose and develop the printing plate. The company also offers the TruePress 744, a four-color, B2 press that is fully automated and capable of 8,000 iph with on-press imaging.

The TruePress V-200, a toner-based, sheetfed monochrome printer for A3-plus sheets, is capable of RIPing data and printing at 400 ppm for A4 and 200 ppm at A3. Its 12,000 pph, single-sided printing is on par with conventional sheetfed offset. For two-sided printing, it exceeds offset at 24,000 pph.

Adast America
Adast America's 20x26˝, 700 DI sheetfed press is continuing its evolution, reports David McMaster, managing director. "We were the first press in the four-up format to incorporate Presstek technology. We have been delivering the press for three and a half years. It is a very proven technology when compared to everything that is out there."

The 700 DI comes equipped with Press Intelligence, Adast's press operating system, and an in-line coater. According to McMaster, it is designed for the medium-size commercial printer with some digital expertise or for the trade or service bureau with some digital expertise that's looking to add its first press.

A.B.Dick
The A.B.Dick Colour Digital Press is targeted at small- and mid-sized printers looking to buy an entry-level, four-color digital device.

The Colour Digital Press is capable of printing on multiple substrates and is ideal for on-demand, short-run work such as brochures, sell sheets and advertising. Its digital offset technology helps reduce overall production time; printers that have installed it are seeing significant savings with their digital workflow functions. Reports from A.B.Dick indicate that the quality is excellent, since the press relies on a dye-based liquid ink, not toner. The unit is also receiving high marks for front and back registration, and for allowing its users to have the flexibility to use a wide variety of substrates.
 

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