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Technological Developments — More Changes Reshaping the Industry

January 2008 By William C. Lamparter
Print has become a digital-centric process with software, the glue that controls and holds the diverse elements of print production together. As traditional printing processes decline in volume, digitalography is growing with a developing technology race among the diverse strains of digital output (as is detailed in the January issue of Printing Impressions).

This PI e-posting picks up where the print article left off with the forecast of a process race between toner and ink-jet digital printing. Product showing and announcements at Drupa 08 in May will serve as a process competitive benchmark in the race, which really seriously started at Graph Expo ’07, continues with the pre-Drupa analysts and trade press briefings, into the Düsseldorf fairgrounds and the two weeks of the global print superstore operations.

During the four years between Drupa ’08 and the global show’s next outing in 2012, the two digital processes will offer often confusing claims and counter-claims as they fight for market share. By 2012, each will have claimed the market segments most appropriate for their capabilities while offset process share continues to be displaced and shrink. Don’t be surprised if during this time period a new, probably digital, print technology is unveiled. Large amounts of money are being spent to improve current digital process, as well as to identify new imaging concepts.

Three digital production applications that were not included in the PI printed version analysis are: hybrid presses, mail table and similar digital imaging applications, and wide-format production.

Hybrid Presses

A hybrid press is one that includes two or more printing processes in a single, integrated printing press. Hybrid presses linking two processes such as screen printing and flexo are frequently found in package printing plants. Single color and spot color ink-jet have been coupled with offset printing for more than 30 years.

PrintCom has previously forecast growth in this approach mating ink-jet with both sheetfed and webfed offset processes. This forecast has proven to be too optimistic for 2007. PrintCom has no indication of any showings of this approach being planned for commercial printing applications at Drupa. However, at a recent IFRA newspaper conference, Kodak Versamark announced the availability of mono color ink-jet as an auxiliary for newspaper presses at 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 fpm. This is a concept that may have application on high-speed web publication presses, as well as on newspaper equipment.

Mail Table Digital

At the Spring 2007 HP Graphic Arts Summit in Rome, a small three-color (CMY) print engine with six thermal ink-jet heads printing a width of 1.7˝ was demonstrated. The equipment, called the mPrint 1700c, was designed to be integrated with an existing black printer, primarily for use on equipment such as mailing tables and folders. The equipment had a rated top speed of 300 fpm at resolutions lower than its top rated 600 dpi. The interesting thing about this technology was its potential to bring process color ink-jet imaging to envelopes, postcards and solo mailers. Scheduled for U.S. showing at Graph Expo ’07, the mPrint 1700c was a no-show withdrawn at the last minute for product improvement. PrintCom suspects that this product will show up at Drupa ’08. It is worth watching for.

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