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Digital Printing Observations — The Technology Race Is On

January 2008 By William C. Lamparter
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THE PRINTING industry is bulging with new and improved process technology, but implementation of what is available proceeds at a faltering snail’s pace. With Drupa 2008—the global printing big box superstore—opening its showroom in late May, the technology bulge is about to turn into a confusing avalanche of competing technologies and products.

Suppliers have started to hold their pre-Drupa show briefings for analysts and the trade press. Clearly, the technology race is on.

While the announcements of new print software to the introduction of heavy pressroom iron and automated, fault tolerant postpress equipment accelerates, what leads the differentiating innovation pack with the promise of a quantum leap forward is digital printing.

The commercial printer’s growing interest in digital printing was evident at Graph Expo ’07 where, for the first time, there were more digital presses on the show floor than offset units.

Color digital printing circa 2008 is well beyond the digital color capabilities of the turn of the century color digital technology. It is faster, more reliable and less costly. Quality is not an issue. Digital color has a wider gamut than offset, and most digital presses have more built-in color controls than the typical offset press. Digital color has/is replacing offset at increasingly longer run lengths and, with variable imaging capability, creates new applications not possible with other processes.

It is the combination of this evolving technology and its creative application that has led to on-press “digitalography” capturing an estimated 17 percent of the print process market share by the end of 2007, as is detailed in the above “Process Market Share” table.

Name any printing process except digital and the nature of the technology is immediately clear. Digital printing encompasses multiple technologies and a variety of different technology subsets. Digitalography is a collective term used to describe the multiple imaging processes that are employed by a digital printing technology. Digitalography includes ink-jet, electrophotography, ionography, magnetography, laser ablation, direct thermal, thermal transfer, field effect imaging, electrocoagulation, various forms of digital imaging changeover and others—when used to print fixed, variable or a combination of output directly to paper or other substrates.

Among the printing industry analysts and consulting community there are differing estimates and opinions as to how much digital printing is actually being produced. But there is virtually unanimous agreement that lithography is declining and digital printing is growing. The only difference of opinion is on the degree of change.
 

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