Digital Printing Observations — The Technology Race Is On

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.

It is what is happening!

There are, however, wider differences of opinion as to the eventual degree and timing of digital’s displacement of offset. PrintCom’s analysis detailed in the accompanying Process Share chart is that by the 2012 to 2015 timeframe, lithography and digitalography will each have about a one-third share of the process market, with the final third split among flexo, gravure, screen and hybrid press technologies. This forecast, which is considered to be bullish by some analysts and conservative by a few others, is contingent upon the continuing development of several strains of digitalography.

But the PrintCom analysis of digital print systems just coming to market, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at research and development efforts and products in the pipeline, suggests that the one-third digital process market share estimate by 2012-2015 may be conservative.

The penetration of digital printing into mainstream commercial printing has been limited by the relatively slow output speed of the process, as well as the high cost of toner. Although ink-jet printers are the dominant output technology in the small office/home office output equipment market segment, and are the almost universal method for addressing catalogs, magazines and a significant portion of direct mail, the process’ penetration into digital production color has been almost nil.

Ink-jet has a speed advantage over toner and its water-based dye inks can be an order of magnitude less expensive than toner. What production color ink-jet has lacked is commercially acceptable print quality.

All of the established boundaries are now changing.